Academic journal article German Quarterly

Franz Kafka: Leben und Schreiben

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Franz Kafka: Leben und Schreiben

Article excerpt

Robertson, Ritchie. Franz Kafka: Leben und Schreiben. Trans. Josef Billen. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 2009. 174 pp. euro19.90 hardcover.

This book, a translation of Kobettsorí s Kafka: A Very Short Introduction, öfters & concise and important discussion of several major themes that the reader - and especiaUy a new reader - of Kafka's work wiU find valuable. Particularly rewarding are Robertson's strong close and comparative readings, which underscore the book's thematic elements.

Approaching Kafka from the inextricable intersections of "Leben und Schreiben," the first chapter offers a concise biography, reading the unsent letter to his father as Kafka's "längste [s] Produkt seiner Selbstanalyse" (1 1 ) . If Kafka's mythic image is that of an imaginer of nightmarish metamorphoses and bureaucratic infernos, Robertson shows the democratic Kafka, the son, fiancé, and employee "[v] erwurzelt im alltäglichen Leben" (9), whose writing speaks to his life, relationships and work but also to the fears and frustrations of us all.

Hardly mundane was Kafka's devotion to literature, to writing that gave him, if not complete freedom, at least some relief from that "everyday life." In the second chapter, "Kafka lesen," Robertson reads Kafka as a "konservativer Moderner" whose narratives present something of a compromise between Realism and Expressionism, but ultimately belong to neither movement. Though it may serve the goals of an introductory study to suggest how Kafka's writing compares to certain contemporaries, whether "Realists" (Thomas Mann) or "Expressionists," while simultaneously breaking from them, such labeling is largely unnecessary. To be fair, Robertson shows the dangers in taking such conceptions of Kafka too far (see Nabokov's speculation about what species of insect Gregor Samsa had been transformed into). More insightful are Robertson's own astute approaches to the instabilities and uncertainties in Kafka's works. Robertson's brief reading of "Der neue Advokat" is an example of how one might attend to Kafka's epistemological enigmas. After examining Kafka's "Sprachkunst," his language, his stories' moods and "Humor" in the German sense - "ein resigniertes Annehmen der Unvollkommenheit des Lebens" (57) - Robertson proceeds to model this style of productive reading in the next three chapters.

Chapter three is on the body. Contextualizing modern phüosophies of the body through "Die Verwandlung," Robertson addresses Kafka's ambivalent relationship to his own body, as well as his concerns with the gendered body, the fasting body, the wounded body ("Ein Landarzt") and with bodies both human and animal. …

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