Don’t Bend; Don’t Water It Down; Don’t Try to Make It Logical; Don’t Edit Your Own Soul According to the Fashion

Franz Kafka? Anne Rice? Russell Brand? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The comedian and controversial wild man Russell Brand released the bestselling autobiography “My Booky Wook” in 2007 and the sequel “Booky Wook 2: This Time It’s Personal” in 2010. The sequel had a fascinating epigraph on the first page:[ref] 2010, Booky Wook 2: This Time It’s Personal by Russell Brand, (Epigraph on first page), Quote Page 1, HarperCollins, London. (Google Books Preview)[/ref]

Don’t bend; don’t water it down; don’t try to make it logical; don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly.

This statement was attributed to the powerful and singular author Franz Kafka. But I haven’t been able to locate it in Kafka’s writings. Is this ascription accurate?

Quote Investigator: Probably not. QI has located no substantive evidence that Franz Kafka said or wrote the passage above. QI believes the actual author was the prominent horror writer Anne Rice whose books about vampires and witches have been very popular.

In 1995 a collection of short stories by Kafka that included influential works such as “The Metamorphosis” and “In the Penal Colony” was published by Schocken Books. The foreword was written by Anne Rice who stated that Kafka’s tales provided her with a guidepost and a decisive form of encouragement. Boldface has been added to the following excerpt:[ref] 1995, The Metamorphosis, In the Penal Colony, and Other Stories by Franz Kafka, Translation to English by Willa and Edwin Muir, Foreword by Anne Rice, (Foreword is dated June 1995), Start Page 1, Quote Page 3, Schocken Books, New York. (Verified with scans; thanks to the Beaufort County Library system of South Carolina)[/ref]

Kafka became a model for me, a continuing inspiration. Not only did he exhibit an irrepressible originality—who else would think of things like this!—he seemed to say that only in one’s most personal language can the crucial tales of a writer be told. Don’t bend; don’t water it down; don’t try to make it logical; don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly. Only if you do that can you hope to make the reader feel a particle of what you, the writer, have known and feel compelled to share.

Anne Rice did not use quotation marks in the passage above because she was not quoting Kafka. She was presenting her perception of the motivating force behind Kafka’s literary works. In fact, QI believes that the philosophy of creativity outlined above is the one that Anne Rice has adopted based on the stimulation she experienced from reading Kafka’s stories.

Here are three additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 2009 the website Goodreads posted a quotation that matched the one given by the questioner and assigned the words to Franz Kafka.[ref] Website: Goodreads, Article title: Franz Kafka > Quotes > Quotable Quote, Timestamp on first comment: Oct 22, 2009 04:34PM, Website description: Goodreads is the world’s largest site for readers and book recommendations. (Accessed on November 8, 2013) link [/ref]

In July 2013 an Anne Rice fan page on Facebook posted a quotation matching the one provided by the questioner and credited the words to Kafka. The popularity of the expression was shown by the number of positive responses: “3,485 like this”. The introductory remark for the saying stated:[ref] Web Domain: Facebook: Section: Anne Rice fan page, Date on webpage: July 3 at 11:54am, (Accessed on November 11, 2013) link [/ref]

Franz Kafka said this. Thanks to Granny Goodwitch for the quote. This is Kafka’s birthday.

In June 2015 QI contacted Anne Rice, and she kindly commented about the misattribution via a message on her Facebook page:[ref] Web Domain: Facebook, Facebook Verified Name: Anne Rice, Facebook Identifier: annericefanpage, Post Date: June 26, 2015, Message From: Anne Rice, Message Start: “I just found out something hilariously funny”. (Accessed on June 27, 2015) link [/ref]

I just found out something hilariously funny. Years ago, I wrote a brief introduction to a collection of Kafka’s short stories, including the Metamorphosis, and something I said in the intro, about Kafka’s influence on me has been recently quoted all over the internet as a quote from Kafka! This is truly very amusing. “Don’t bend; don’t water it down; don’t try to make it logical; don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly.” Those are my words struggling to define the impression Kafka’s example made on me! And it’s being attributed worldwide to Kafka.

In conclusion, QI believes that the quotation should be credited to Anne Rice and not to Franz Kafka. Rice wrote the words in the foreword to a collection of stories by Kafka. She was presenting her conjectural thoughts about Kafka’s attitude toward writing.

Image Notes: Photograph of Franz Kafka (cropped) circa 1903 from Atelier Jacobi via Wikimedia Commons. Book cover of 1916 German edition of “The Metamorphosis” by Franz Kafka. Photograph of Anne Rice (cropped). This photograph was released into the public domain by its author, Anne Rice; accessed via Wikimedia Commons.

(Great thanks to the helpful librarian at the Beaufort County Library in Beaufort, South Carolina who accessed the 1995 citation. Many thanks to Nathaniel Tan @NatAsasi whose inquiry gave impetus to QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Thanks also to the Wombats group. In addition, many thanks to Anne Rice for her response.)

Update History: On June 27, 2015 the citation for Anne Rice’s remark in June 2015 was added.

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