Academic journal article German Quarterly

A Report to An Academy

Academic journal article German Quarterly

A Report to An Academy

Article excerpt

Honored Members of the Academy! You have done me the honor of inviting me to give an account of the current state of Kafka studies. I will begin by saying that if the number of manuscript submissions that the German Quarterly receives every year on some aspect of Kafka is at least one valid measure of the continuing interest in this author, whose own works amount to a mere nano-fraction of what has been written about him, then the state of Kafka Studies, as we begin the second decade of the twenty-first century, is indeed healthy. Mentioning the open-endedness and lack of interpretive closure of the Kafkan text that spawns this interest has become something of a platitude, but precisely these characteristics form the grounds for the world of Kafka studies and explain, at least in part, the steady stream of inquiry regarding his life and writings.

As a faculty member of a large, land-grant university, I have many colleagues in the sciences and engineering who define successful research in their fields as always raising more questions. Nothing is ever absolute or definitive. As one of them remarked, "When you answer one question, you open ten more." I would argue that this is the precise definition of Kafka scholarship, as well.

We know that the goal of most literary research is to build upon and expand the boundaries of an already existing discourse in the hope that each new contribution can be part of an ongoing scholarly conversation on the particular subject. In thinking about Kafka studies, I realize that the ongoing conversation surrounding this perplexing writer is somewhat different from others. It cuts across many disciplines other than Germanistik. Why? Unlike many German language authors, Kafka has name recognition with a general, non-literary public. When you say you are writing about Kafka, you don't have to explain who he is. …

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