Monday, October 8, 2012

The Kafka Studies Department

photo of Gabriel Josipovici,
At the conclusion of his essay/review about June O. Leavitt’s The Mystical Life of Franz Kafka, Stanley Corngold and Ruth V. Gross, editors, Kafka for the Twenty-First Century, Stanley Corngold and Benno Wagner Franz Kafka, The ghosts in the machine, David Suchoff’s Kafka’s Jewish Languages, the hidden openness of tradition and Shachar M. Pinsker’s Literary Passports, The making of modernist Hebrew fiction in Europe, (“Why we don’t understand Kafka," TLS, 9/7/2012), Gabriel Josipovici remarks, “The besetting sin of the Kafka critic is impatience, the need to locate the mystery and the solve it, as it were, the need to move…across the text from beginning to end, not stay with it, savour it, allow it slowly to come into focus. To do this we have first of all to recognize that the best way in to Kafka is not via an idea—Kafka and mysticism, Judaism, the insurance business or the condition of modernity—but via his unique way of approaching his material.” Reduction is what one does with a sauce, but not with one of the great writers of the twentieth century. Redaction is what one does with the manuscripts of a writer who was as brilliant in his elusiveness and he was in his use of language and who instructed the executor of his estate to destroy all his work. Commenting earlier on the compendium of essays Kafka for the Twenty-First Century, Josipovici says, “Two of the essays…explore those writers from Italy and Israel whose works exhibits ‘familiar Kafkaesque themes, such as metamorphosis, existential absurdity, bureaucratic nightmares, marginality, power and identity.’ One had hoped Kafka studies had progressed beyond this level, but apparently not.” It shouldn’t be surprising that even Kafka’s writings have created an industry, with its own lingua franca (watered down ideas), awards (publication), trials (phd examinations) and titans who jealously guard their castles (critical turfs). Indeed, it’s Kafkaesque.

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