Literature and Psychoanalysis

By Edith Kurzweil; William Phillips | Go to book overview

PART IV
THREE VIEWS OF KAFKA

FRANZ KAFKA'S PERSONALITY, talent, and works have provided inexhaustible material for psychoanalytic commentary and criticism. His conflicted childhood -- dominated by a powerful father and a submissive mother, traumatized by the birth and death of two brothers before he was five years old, and aggravated by his mother's responses to them -- has been dissected from every conceivable perspective, if only because Kafka's literary works are so full of dreams and symbolism, transformations, and mutliple meanings, ironies, and insights, that they promise, more than most, to illuminate the relationship between art and creativity. Because Kafka died at the age of forty-one, knew for years that he would succumb to tuberculosis, and wrote about his illness as well as about his problems with women in his many letters and diaries, his life has seemed more accessible than that of other geniuses. And Kafka's cultural background, so similar to Freud's, his contemporaneity with the "birth" of psychoanalysis, and the willingness of family and friends to talk to neighbors have offered an especially vast territory for exploration.

Among the many approaches to understanding Kafka, Erich Fromm's interpretation of The Trial as a work of art written in symbolic dream language is a marvelous example of criticism that looks to the work to know its creator. Fromm begins by questioning the meaning of Joseph K.'s arrest, noting that K. is aware of being arrested by the police as well as of being blocked in his development. And he juxtaposes components of the story and uses of words and of feelings to indicate how these corresponded to dreams which could have been dreamt by an individual like Kafka, who was "aware that he was wasting his life and rotting

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