Kafka: Gender, Class, and Race in the Letters and Fictions

By Elizabeth Boa | Go to book overview

2
Modernity and its Discontents
Questions of Identity

CRITICAL APPROACHES

Studies of Kafka's work have reached such proportions that to explore the mountain range would mean endless deferral of the attempt on Everest, so I shall here merely sketch some of the critical paths at whose crossing point lies my own point of departure. A gulf in Kafka criticism divides, so it seems, the formalists from interpreters who link his work to his life or to the world he inhabited. Milan Kundera, for example, scorns biographical criticism based on letters and diaries, and sociological, religious, psychoanalytic or any other appeals to extra-textual sources, none of which, so he complains, illuminate Kafka's aesthetic innovations.1 Similarly, writing of the insect-man in The Metamorphosis, Stanley Corngold argues that since form is paramount, 'any metaphor would do', for what matters is Kafka's dismantling of the very structure of metaphor; equally inconsequential is the social identity of bachelor, for Kafka's bachelors convey purely 'the misery of nonbeing' as the 'anti-self of literature'.2 But any metaphor will not do: such setting of form over content ignores the vivid specificity of the insect-body and the inescapable, parasitic dependence of bachelordom upon the institution of marriage. The hostility to interpretation is in any case hard to sustain. Kundera is interested in 'hitherto unknown aspects of existence' revealed by Kafka's work--the comic side of sex, as it turns out--and Corngold offers the kind of symbolic interpretation which he ostensibly rejects: in the moment of death Gregor Samsa's dried-out body is, in its

____________________
1
Milan Kundera, "'In Saint Garta's Shadow: Rescuing Kafka from the Kafkologists'", Times Literary Supplement, 4599, 24 May 1991, p. 3; but see also Milan Kundera, '"Somewhere Behind"', in Ruth Gross (ed.), Critical Essays on Franz Kafka ( Boston, Mass., 1990), 21-30, which relates Kafka's novels to modern history.
2
Stanley Corngold, Kafka: The Necessity of Form ( Ithaca, NY, 1988), 67,22.

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