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Lambent Traces

Lambent Traces: Franz Kafka

Stanley Corngold
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 288
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7rx53
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    Lambent Traces
    Book Description:

    On the night of September 22, 1912, Franz Kafka wrote his story "The Judgment," which came out of him "like a regular birth." This act of creation struck him as an unmistakable sign of his literary destiny. Thereafter, the search of many of his characters for the Law, for a home, for artistic fulfillment can be understood as a figure for Kafka's own search to reproduce the ecstasy of a single night.

    InLambent Traces: Franz Kafka, the preeminent American critic and translator of Franz Kafka traces the implications of Kafka's literary breakthrough. Kafka's first concern was not his responsibility to his culture but to his fate as literature, which he pursued by exploring "the limits of the human." At the same time, he kept his transcendental longings sober by noting--with incomparable irony--their virtual impossibility.

    At times Kafka's passion for personal transcendence as a writer entered into a torturous and witty conflict with his desire for another sort of transcendence, one driven by a modern Gnosticism. This struggle prompted him continually to scrutinize different kinds of mediation, such as confessional writing, the dream, the media, the idea of marriage, skepticism, asceticism, and the imitation of death.Lambent Traces: Franz Kafkaconcludes with a reconstruction and critique of the approaches to Kafka by such major critics as Adorno, Gilman, and Deleuze and Guattari..

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2613-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  4. ABBREVIATIONS FOR KAFKA CITATIONS
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  5. Introduction: BEGINNINGS
    (pp. 1-12)

    “Kafka is not systematic, but he is coherent.”¹ Yet for all the progress made in cataloguing the stereotypes of Kafka’s social environment (sexual politics, family politics, ethnic politics, technics of script and the other media), the fundamental figures of his thought remain unsolved.

    After more than a half-century of investigation, one would think, there ought to be an answer to the question, What, then, is Kafka’s argument? And yet a critic as incisive as Erich Heller, addressing the question of the meaning ofThe Trial, throws up his hands in the end, asking: “Whatis[K.’s] guilt? Whatisthe...

  6. Chapter 1 IN THE CIRCLE OF “THE JUDGMENT”
    (pp. 13-36)

    The importance for Kafka of writing his first great story “The Judgment” cannot be overestimated. He composed the piece on the night of September 22–23, 1912, in a single sitting, in a single inspired thrust, and it thereafter became a permanent reference to the stations of his career—his breakthrough and his vindication. What remained crucial was the way the story was written: it came out of him like nothing he had written before, in “a complete opening out of the body and the soul” (D1 276). Only work written in this fashion deserved to survive. Toward the end...

  7. Chapter 2 THE TRIAL: THE GUILT OF AN UNREDEEMED LITERARY PROMISE
    (pp. 37-44)

    Accounts of Kafka’s “guilt” are by now legion—his guilt is overdetermined—yet this is not a category that can easily be ignored. In adding more words to the account, one might simplify it or lend it an energizing direction. “Kafka never missed an opportunity to accuse himself,” writes Detlef Kremer, “always quick to assume the position of the guilty party.” According to Kafka’s script, “the harmony of the family Kafka was disturbed only because of him, the one son Franz, for he is a failure,since he writesand hence never leaves the family.”¹ Christ was a figure of...

  8. Segue I ON CULTURAL IMMORTALITY
    (pp. 45-50)

    The craving for the immolation of the empirical self; the guilt of writing or not writing; ecstasy; the risk of crossing over the limits of the human—all this involves choice and free activity. Kafka represents these longings and troubles as intelligible, as things about which he can make up his mind to pursue or to resist as dangerous. At the same time, however, he is a philosopher of constraint—of the force exercised on him by the patriarchy above all. And in his imagination, a crucial subdivision of this authority is its system for the transmission and preservation of...

  9. Chapter 3 MEDIAL INTERVENTIONS IN THE TRIAL; OR, RES IN MEDIA
    (pp. 51-66)

    From the start, the narrative ofThe Trialdisplays various kinds of media. The basic medial device is theater.¹ This theatrical performance in turn includes (“intermediates”) two other medial types—first, popular literature, especially travel literature; and second, the archive, the very manuscript or manuscription from which the diegesis, the world of the novel, emerges.² Kafka’s talent for dramatizing different modes of presentation (Vorstellung) and of reading includes even the ways that readers read—ways of reading and interpretation, “symbolic” and “allegorical,” that themselves amount to different kinds of media. “Types of Kafka interpretation can be identified and their validity...

  10. Chapter 4 ALLOTRIA AND EXCRETA IN “IN THE PENAL COLONY”
    (pp. 67-80)

    In the midst of writingThe Trial, a process that continually sputtered, Kafka composed “In the Penal Colony,” which reads like a dreamt commentary on the themes ofThe Trial. In “In the Penal Colony,” the bureaucracy ofThe Trialhas been turned into a medial apparatus, a murderous writing machine. This transformation is an event in Kafka’s ongoing allegory of writing, a torture machine depicted as an intermedial translation device, converting the signs of one medium—written texts and embellishments—into the signs of another—the stabbed tattoo—a machine not in principle unlike its more beneficent brothers and...

  11. Segue II DEATH AND THE MEDIUM
    (pp. 81-93)

    Kafka, as we know, was acquainted with a kind of death that brought him a maximum of enjoyment, an ecstasy that carried him to the limits of human experience. It happened in connection with his nocturnal writing. The most important of the early texts that tells of this bliss is the story assembled by Kafka’s editor Max Brod from Kafka’s notebook fragments, beginning, “‘You,’ I said. . . .” (1910). The narrator is a hybrid figure, part bourgeois with “literary inclinations” and part emaciated bachelor-figure in a state of existential extremity. Together they prefigure the complex that Kafka would call,...

  12. Chapter 5 NIETZSCHE, KAFKA, AND LITERARY PATERNITY
    (pp. 94-110)

    A good death consists in an illumination before dying. One such illumination is the prospect of cultural immortality, and yet it can seem odd to describe the death that consists in an illumination before dying as an affair ofculturalimmortality. But if we leave out of this account the good Gnostic death—which Kafka did not die, as witness his deathbed concern with the textual body of Josephine the Singer—both kinds of death we have described involve a cultural reference. In the instance of the ecstasy of writing, the product of Kafka’s states is literary works meant to...

  13. Chapter 6 SOMETHING TO DO WITH THE TRUTH Kafka’s Later Stories
    (pp. 111-125)

    Kafka’s later works continue his struggle to articulate the writer’s task against its only justification—thefulljustification of his existence. These are the pieces produced in the years after 1915, following Kafka’s abandonment of work onThe Trial: they include diary entries, the aphorisms of 1917–18 that Max Brod entitled “Reflections on Sin, Suffering, Hope and the True Way”; and lengthier stories like “The Great Wall of China,” “The Investigations of a Dog,” “The Village Schoolmaster,” “The Little Woman,” and “Josephine the Singer, or The Mouse People.” To employ Martin Greenberg’s useful distinction, many of these are “thought...

  14. Chapter 7 “A FAITH LIKE A GUILLOTINE” Kafka on Skepticism
    (pp. 126-141)

    Kafka’s claim to justification is embattled: he is insomniac in his awareness of the disparity between the truth of a righteous life and his own ineptitude for living it. The question now is whether Kafka was inclined to palliate his consciousness of failure by assuming a skeptical attitude. According to the historian William M. Johnston, “Kafka outdid Marcion by contending that any gospel of hope was merely another delusion invented by an inscrutable demiurge.”¹ This claim is more vivid than true.

    Ancient skepticism issues into repose; modern skepticism, into a disquiet of mind that prevents it from remembering its origins...

  15. Chapter 8 KAFKA AND THE DIALECT OF MINOR LITERATURE
    (pp. 142-157)

    The immediate thrust of this chapter and the next, unlike the preceding chapters, is social and political. Both chapters deal with the categories of social being that are held to embed literature—linguistic capital and ecommodity capital, respectively. And both chapters conclude by subordinating the political, agonistic component of Kafka’s thought to a philosophy of writing as gnostic ecstasy.

    They proceed by addressing two of the most influential politically minded essays written on Kafka during the last half century. The first is Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’sKafka: Toward a Minor Literature(Kafka:Pour une littérature mineure), 1975; the second,...

  16. Chapter 9 ADORNO’S “NOTES ON KAFKA” A Critical Reconstruction
    (pp. 158-175)

    I begin with a precis of my argument about Theodor Adorno’s essay “Notes on Kafka” (“Aufzeichnungen zu Kafka”) that should suggest why I must address it.ₑ Adorno’s Kafka espouses, theologically speaking, a Gnosticismwithout relief; in fact, Kafka saw remnants of light come “slanting through the words.” Adorno ignores Kafka’s intermittent yet felt, redemptive immersion in the act of writing (DF 261), claiming, instead, to uncover in Kafka’s work a prime “inverse-theological” fable—a Marxian-Freudian story that tells of the collaboration of bourgeois commodity culture in its own extinction under fascism. Although Adorno pleads for a nonallegorical, aliteralreading...

  17. Chapter 10 ON TRANSLATION MISTAKES, WITH SPECIAL ATTENTION TO KAFKA IN AMERIKA
    (pp. 176-193)

    If we do not read Kafka in the original, then our understanding of him will be only as good as its translation. And then the question arises of what “the original” would be. If we do not read Kafka in the original manuscripts, would we still be reading him in the original? And would we be reading him in the original if we did not read them inhisplace and time? And can we even imagine what this place and time would be? What moment ofhisreading . . . or writing of them? The chapter that follows...

  18. Chapter 11 THE TROUBLE WITH CULTURAL STUDIES
    (pp. 194-204)

    The two chief obstacles to a good grasp of Kafka’s work are bad translations—including bad editions—and bad interpretations. There will be little profit in having purified texts of Kafka if the dominant optic through which they are read is that of so-called cultural studies, which reads the specificity of these texts through the generalities of political coercions and cultural stereotypes. In discussing the allusions towritingin Kafka’s works, Bill Dodd has put forward “The Case for a Political Reading”:

    The demonstrable existence of such veins of meaning in Kafka’s writing appears . . . to point towards...

  19. NOTES
    (pp. 205-252)
  20. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. 253-254)
  21. INDEX
    (pp. 255-262)