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

By Elizabeth Boa | Go to book overview

6
The Body of Literature Kafka's Artist Stories

In the Penal Colony evokes institutional discourses and knowledge (law, morality, anthropology, engineering) as adjuncts of political power at a time of colonialist great-power politics and a world war. I want now to turn to texts reflecting on writing as a personal activity which yet is enmeshed in the institution of literature. As in Up in the Gallery, which belongs to this group, gender identity is deeply implicated in these stories. In his Oedipal literary history Harold Bloom's gaze is fixed upon a male battle of mighty opposites and the third, female point in the triangle appears only fleetingly.1 In a patriarchal culture, that third point is woman as Muse and model: woman is at once the figure of poetic inspiration to be wrested from predecessors through the act of writing and the substance of nature to be defined and mastered in the text. And of course she has an extra-literary existence as an actual woman who may enter into relations of various kinds with the male writer. Kafka dedicated The Judgment to Felice Bauer, but within the text the third point in the triangle is notable by its absence: a dead mother and a fiancée acquired to further business interests are mere ciphers in a melodrama fought out over the meaning not of the female but of the male body. In The Metamorphosis the brother-sister constellation rivals the father-son conflict as a centre of interest, but as a Bloomian prototype Gregor Samsa is a disaster: the sister eludes his grasp and refuses to be a musical Muse, choosing instead shorthand-typing, and as the substance of nature she looks likely to remain in the power of the father to be passed on to a husband. Here too the main arena of contested meaning remains the male body. Kafka's letters show, however, how he struggled to integrate Felice into the activity of writing, claiming that much of his writing was about her. The Muse/model in her double aspect as poetic inspiration and female

____________________
1
Harold Bloom, The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry ( Oxford, 1975).

-148-

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