Kafka's Critics

It can be bewildering trying to find one's way through the steamy and monstrous swamps of Kafka criticism. Here is a very brief guide to some of the critics with whose work I am familiar.

Critic

Book or essay

What they say

 

 

 

Anderson

Kafka's Clothes, Reading Kafka (ed.)

Offers delicate and sensitive reading of Josephine among others. Theme, as ever with Kafka criticism, less important than individual insights along the way. But omits discussion of clothes towards the end of The Castle, where Kafka develops this subject most interestingly.

Baioni

Zionism, Literature And The Yiddish Theater

Very interesting reading of Kafka at a crossroads in 1911: what precisely was the appeal of the Yiddish theatre?

Bloom

The Western Canon (etc.)

Erudite, confident, knowledgeable, Harold Bloom is an interesting and thoughtful critic, whose quite sensible insights into Kafka, in terms of his spiritual importance for us vis a vis his literary importance, are sometimes outweighed by his own constant invoking of other writers. In what way does the anxiety of influence apply to Kafka, who appears at times to have written in a vacuum?

Borges

Kafka's Precursors

Borges' response to Kafka is relevant because the two are often - mistakenly - connected. But where Borges features actual infinities in his stories, Kafka merely moots the possibility of them, or features it in casual turns of phrase. In his essay on kafka, Borges strives to recreate Kafka in his own image, invoking a range of delightfully dissimilar sources. Borges and Kafka are similar mainly aesthetically: both are possessed of a tremendous economy of style.

Brod

Franz Kafka - A Biography

Where it all started. Brod suggested that The Trial was about divine justice and The Castle, divine grace. He read the Sortini episode in the latter novel as a response to Kierkegaard's Fear And Trembling. This is a very wrong thing to do, and he has to stand at the back of the class and not say anything. Human law not commensurate with divine law indeed! Humph!

Camus

The Myth Of Sisyphus

Again a beautiful writer (or writer of beautiful literature), his work demands attention because he inhabits an area not dissimilar to Kafka's. The Outsider and The Fall each force readers to reexamine themselves and how they have been reading the book in question. Camus takes Amalia's side in The Castle, even if he does insist on turning her into an existentialist heroine!

Canetti

Kafka's Other Trial

Attempts to make sense of Kafka's letters to Felice. Eloquent and observant.

Citati

Kafka

Returns to Kafka's work as religious allegory, offering us a straightforward reading of it. Very beautifully written, but possibly a little out of date. Reassuring to know that people still read Kafka this way, though.

Corngold

Kafka's Double Helix

Do not be prejudiced against this author simply because his language is difficult to follow. At times he sees with a clear and open eye. But the double-helix idea is a distraction, even though he sees interesting parallels between the progress of readers of Kafka and the progress of his main characters. Corngold presents us with a critic he has discovered called Kobs, whom at first I took to be an elaborate hoax (corn-on-the-cob being a kind of food). But it is perfectly believable that a Kafka critic should have an appropriate name: Erich Heller made everything brighter (clearer), and also talked about Gnostic demons; Max Brod's readings were his bread and butter; perhaps Ritchie Robertson could regard himself as a descendant of Marthe Robert; there are some quotations in Citati; Sheppard herds together a number of thoughts... Then again perhaps not.

Deleuze and Guattari

What Is A Minor Literature?

These two writers are writing about a theory to do with the language of small peoples. If they do have anything to say about Kafka, it is in relation to the theory and not in relation to his writing per se.

Furness

The Twentieth Century

Attacks Kafka, or perhaps his followers, with more intelligence than Edmund Wilson. Observes that the divine does not impinge upon the world of The Castle, and that in the last part of the book the Castle is not even mentioned.

Gray

Franz Kafka

Attempts to make sense of Kafka without overlooking his faults as a writer. Some sensible comments on allegories and symbols.

Heller

The Disinherited Mind

Famously attacks Brod's misguided interpretations. Argues in its place for a company of Gnostic demons inhabiting the Castle. Hmmm... Probably best to quit while you're ahead.

Janouch

Conversations With Kafka

Are the conversations real or did he make them up? The proper academic response according to Ritchie Robertson is to reject his work as a reliable source. And yet, as both Max Brod and Dora Dymant felt, the recollections bring Kafka to life. Here, I suspect, one has to make one's own judgement, which is true of many things connected with Kafka.

Josipovici

The Lessons Of Modernism, The Mirror Of Criticism (etc.)

This critic has not written any books specifically about Kafka, but Kafka recurs frequently in his work. (I mention his novels on a separate web page.) He does not tend to be quoted by other Kafka critics, and yet his observations chime with my own experience. He suggests of Metamorphosis, for example, that it "brings the distance to life". There is so much more I could say.

Muir

Introductions

The Muirs are very important for their influence on Kafka criticism in the English-speaking world (perhaps further). The idea that there is some kind of religious allegory has stuck because the texts can give you that impression, not becaues of the Muirs. Their translations may have overly influenced readers but others' attempts to read Kafka in a specifically non-religious way are equally partisan. The writing is ambiguous.

Pasley

The Act Of Writing And The Text: The Genesis Of Kafka's Manuscripts

A very important text. Pasley looks at autobiographical evidence and draws credible and interesting conclusions about the way Kafka wrote. A good example of imagination used effectively in literary critiicism.

Politzer

Franz Kafka - Parable And Paradox

Argued famously the Westwest suggested the decline of decline. I think this is rather clever.

Robertson

Kafka: Judaism, Politics And Literature

Brilliant but infuriating. An academic mind has striven at last to apply strict academic standards to the reading of Kafka, in which subjective misjudgement has so often proliferated. He shows us how the subject can benefit from such an approach. But he has not enough personal understanding of his subject to my mind, and he turns Kafka into a man pursuing particular ideological ends. Nevertheless he comes up with much original insight, when the excessive pedantry has been sifted out.

Sheppard

On Kafka's Castle

Offers a number of thoughts on The Castle, but like Robertson too concerned to establish a definite view. Does suggest that the critical point in K.'s transformation comes in Bürgel's room.

Stach

Kafka's Egoless Women

At last I understand what deconstruction is. Stach compares a couple of Kafka's women with Weininger's depictions in Sex And Character, and implies that Kafka must therefore have had the same views on women that Weininger displays in his conclusions. Neat, but it begs a number of questions.

Wilson

A Dissenting Opinion

"A self-doubting soul trampled underfoot." Neither constructive nor true. Wilson doubtless felt that Kafka's existence undermined his hallowed modernism, and so endeavoured to dismiss him out of hand. But Kafka persists.

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Set up 01 March 1999

Last updated 26 March 1999

© R. Millar 1998-1999