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A New Look At Kafka

Franz Kafka. Shame, guilt and absurd injustice –and why we’re still haunted by the Kafkaesque.

Franz Kafka (Wikimedia Commons)

Franz Kafka (Wikimedia Commons)

Your memories of Kafka from a high school reading list may be a bit dim.  Something about a man who wakes up as a bug on its back.  Helpless and absurd and ashamed in a bewildering, uncaring world.  Well now, that doesn’t sound so dated, does it?  Franz Kafka wrote the book.

“Kafkasesque” is still the word for so much that is alienating, dehumanizing, disorienting in modern life.  Call an automated phone answering service, and you’re there in a hurry.  We still know Kafkaesque.

This hour, On Point:  looking back on the man who saw it all coming – Franz Kafka.

- Tom Ashbrook

Guest

Saul Friedländer, author of “Franz Kafka: The Poet of Shame and Guilt.” Pulitzer-prize winning historian of the Holocaust. Professor of history at UCLA.

From Tom’s Reading List

The New Republic: Kafka’s Inner Life — “In Franz Kafka: The Poet of Shame and Guilt, the Pulitzer-winning Holocaust historian Saul Friedländer reassesses those letters and diaries, emphasizing ‘the personal anguish’ that informed Kafka’s singular canon. Friedländer’s concise new book, born of both sorrow and affection, is an ideal place to begin among the hulking alps of Kafka studies. In a touching introduction Friedländer outlines the parallels between Kafka’s life and his own, ‘all these hidden links’ that give his delving into Kafka’s work a visceral pitch absent from much of the Kafka industry.”

The Atlantic: Is Franz Kafka Overrated? — “Edmund Wilson claimed that the only book he could not read while eating his breakfast was by the Marquis de Sade. I, for different reasons, have been having a difficult time reading Franz Kafka with my morning tea and toast. So much torture, description of wounds, disorientation, sadomasochism, unexplained cruelty, appearance of rodents, beetles, vultures, and other grotesque creatures—all set out against a background of utter hopelessness. Distinctly not a jolly way to start the day. Kafka doesn’t make for very comforting reading at bedtime, either.”

The New Yorker: Kafka for Kids — “Kafka’s œuvre is, on the surface, no more frightening than Lewis Carroll’s, Roald Dahl’s, or Neil Gaiman’s; what happens in his universe is not all that different from what occurs in traditional fairy tales. (Kafka himself was a great fan of fairy tales; his lover and onetime fiancée Dora Diamant said he used to read the Grimm brothers and Hans Christian Andersen to her.) In fact, most of Kafka’s work is in many ways superficially less gruesome than fairy tales, and the supernatural plays a more limited role, if it enters the narrative at all.”

Excerpt: ‘Franz Kafka’ by Saul Friedländer

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