Thursday, July 11, 2013

Is Kafka Overrated?

Joseph Epstein, a usually pithy and insightful critic and pundit, has concluded that Kafka’s reputation is undeserved and hinges totally on Freud. “The spread of Freudianism and the rise of Kafka’s reputation ran, not without good reason, in parallel. Kafka reads like Freud fictionalized.” He concludes his essay “Is Franz Kafka Overrated?” in The Atlantic Monthly (June, 2013) by saying, “Great writers are impressed by the mystery of life; poor Franz Kafka was crushed by them.” Besides the somewhat erroneous assertion that Freud’s reputation "is in radical decline"—Freud was to human nature like Marx  to economics—while both proposed impractical programs, their analyses respectively of man and society are still hugely influential—Epstein is confusing the man and his work. Proust wrote a famous essay entitled Contre Saint-Beuve in which he inveighed against autobiographical interpretation. Just because Kafka suffered from a  horrible relationship with his father, two failed relationships and the TB which ended his life at 40, doesn’t mean that the jigsaw universe his characters occupy is lacking artistic purpose. If we make the argument that conundrums and riddles don’t comprise the makings of great art, then we’d have to eliminate Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex with its sphinx. Epstein makes the point  that none of the prominent Kafka scholars whose work he cites in his piece (amongst them Erich Heller and Saul Friedlander) explain why Kafka’s work is great. But Epstein neither defines what makes a work of literature great nor explains how how masterpieces like The Metamorphosis or The Trial fail to qualify?


  1. Interesting analysis. I always found Dostoyevsky a better interpreter of Freud...

    I recently read another piece on the same topic, "12 Reasons Why Kafka is Overrated":

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  4. Thanks so much for the link, I love The Brothers K, particularly the Grand Inquisitor, but why are Dostoevsky and Kakfa mutually exclusive re their relation say to Freud? One of the critiques provided by gala writer in the link you sent has to to with incompleteness. It could be argued that that this sense of “incompleteness,” this lack of a narrative arc is what talks to Kakkaphiles.


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