Academic journal article German Quarterly

Auf dieses Messers Schneide leben wir...: Das Spätwerk Franz Kafkas im Kontext jüdischen Schreibens

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Auf dieses Messers Schneide leben wir...: Das Spätwerk Franz Kafkas im Kontext jüdischen Schreibens

Article excerpt

Hating, Ekkehard W. Auf dieses Messers Schneide kben wir...: Das Spätwerk Franz Kafkas im Kontext jüdischen Schreibens. Intro. Jacques Le Rider. Vienna: Braumuller, 2004. 278 pp. euro34.90 paperback.

Many scholars have explored Kafka's relationship to his religious and ethnic background, wanting to tease out the various influences that affected his writing and lent his work its intricate modernity. Haring's contribution to this endeavor takes a tremendous step forward in addressing the ultimately unanswerable question: "Welche Zusarnmenhange bestehen zwischen Kafkas Judentum und Schreiben? " (ix). Au fdieses Messers Schneide leben wir... approaches the topic of Kafka's Jewish identity by amassing an astonishing amount and range of scholarly detail. It culminates years of study into many facets of Prague history, early 20th-century Jewish identity politics, and Kafka literary analysis. The reader gains an unusually comprehensive view of the multiple intellectual currents and demographic variability that enliven a modern, multi-ethnic city.

The book is divided into three sections. The first chapter situates Kafka's production up to 1919 within the context of contested Jewish and Czech identity construction. It enmeshes Kafka's developing personal identity in the crosscurrents of Czech nationalism, Hapsburg persistence, and rising Zionism, providing a detailed observation of simultaneous influences on the intellectual life of Prague's educated Jewish elites. Jewish identity formulation ranged from assimilationist desires to idealistic Zionism, and a multitude of gradations between. By providing source materials ranging from the ephemera of everyday life (calendar covers, show announcements, private letters) to newspapers, maps, census counts, and well-chosen passages from both famous (Herzl, Buber, and Freud) and lesser-known authors, Haring illustrates prevailing attitudes and intellectual currents. This first, richly-detailed section of the book is dense reading. It would be of equal interest to Kafka specialists and to historians of Prague and Jewish studies specialists.

Haring discusses with equal thoroughness Kafka's relationship to language issues, including his attitude towards Yiddish, Hebrew, and Czech. Kafka wrote at the center of conflicting nationalisms, which were "in beunruhigendem Ausmafs mit Kunst und Kulturidentisch," (37), and competing language identities. …

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