The Institute of Jewish Studies
Charles University in Prague
Pacovská 350, Praha 4
Phone : +420 604 617 222
ISA Spring 2010
The course is designed for students who are fond of reading such challenging, thought-arousing works like those written by the German-Jewish writer Franz Kafka. The course opts for leading its participants toward a possibly multifaceted understanding of the world of this famous enigmatic writer, whose life time was closely related to Prague. The course is divided into three substantial parts:
The first one deals with Kafka`s biography, searching for biographical clues which might prove significant for the interpretation of his work. While dealing with his private life, Kafka`s rather ambigious relation to his father will be discussed extensively, as well as his complicated amatory life. An attention will be also given to his societal life, friends and acquaintances he gained during his life journey, for example Oskar Pollak, Max Brod, Otto Gross or Yitzhak Löwy. In the same vein, the literature read or presumably read by Franz Kafka will be discussed, especially those authors who exerted an influence on his self-understanding, like the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard for example. A special interest will be paid to Kafka`s religious development and his struggle with his Jewish identity, as well as the meanings he attributed to his incurable illness that finally put end to his life in 1924. This part will be enriched by reading selected passages from Kafka`s diaries, “Letter to his father” and Max Brod`s biography on Franz Kafka. Brod`s biography is an important source on the life of Kafka, however his objectivity and impartiality has been questioned many times. This inevitably leads to a difficult question: Can be given an authentical portrait of this well-known writer? While Max Brod deliberately seems to portray Kafka as a cheerful and sociable man, other Kafka`s biographer, Thomas Anz, sets off his anxiety, loneliness, and describes him as a personality constantly haunted by feelings of guilt and inferiority.
The second part will be dedicated to Kafka`s work, the role Max Brod played in its editing and publication, and above all, to the criticism and ways Kafka`s heritage has been interpreted. If the biographers provide us with different or even contrasting portrayals of Kafka`s personality, the issue becomes much more serious and troubling with regard to the various interpretations of his work. While disscussing this problem, students will be introduced to the basic tenets of hermeneutics and the complicated relation between the author, text and reader. The starting point of the discussion will be the attitude advocated by the postmodern literary criticism (U. Eco), casting doubt on the role of interpretation as a means of discovering the truth that the writer had in mind. The interpreter, in endeavoring to find the truth of the text, may destroy the text by proposing to the reader a real equivalent of his own. The nature of the literary work is not to explicitly and unequivocably define truths, but rather enables the reader`s thought to move between various representational levels. It doen`t mean that reading ought be a totally unrestrained anarchic activity. It should be a process of endless search for the possibilities embedded in the literary experience. Criticism is an intergral part of the work. It enriches it by creating a new text and openly displays what takes place in it. Various interpretations enable the silent and undefined reality of the text to find expression.
Equiped with such an understanding, the course will proceed to its essencial part – reading of two novels by Franz Kafka, “The Metamorphosis” and “The Trial”. Viewing the text as essentially open, students will be encouraged to freely express their comments and feelings about the text in the course of reading. However, at the same time a close attention will be payed to various interpretational models – psychoanalytical explanations, those which see in Kafka`s work a critique of the machinery of patriarchal and state power, or metaphysical understanding as suggested by M. Brod and G. Sholem. The above mentioned novels will be read and discussed on a continual basis in class. Some parts will be done by students as their homework to be summarized and commented in the beginning of the following session.
Beside the sessions in class, Vratislavova 13, room 312, two excursions are envisioned, during which students will profit from visiting places related to the life of Franz Kafka, Prague's Jewish city, its synagogues, the famous Jewish cemetery in the Jewish Town, the New Jewish cemetery (where Franz Kafka is buried) and the Museum of Franz Kafka.
In the end of the course student are expected to be knowledgeable about Kafka`s biography, as well as the German-Jewish cultural millieu in Prague in the beginning of the 20th century. They will be aware of the difficulties related to the authenticity of Kafka`s portrayal by his various biographers. Beside this, they will get basic glimses of Kafka`s work as a result of the perusal of the above mentioned two novels and other texts.
Timetable of classes, office hours, excursions
Monday, 10.40-12.20 – Vratislavova 13, room 312
Thursday, 12.30-14.05 – Vratislavova 13, room 312
Office hours: by appointment
Excursion 1: Monday, 8th March, 9.00-12.20
Excursion 2: Monday, 26th April, 9.00-12.20
Attendance, final exam, grading.
Attendance is mandatory, and so is consistent class preparation and active participation. A single absence will not adversely affect the grade but more than that will automatically lower it. A small final exam summarizing some facts related to Kafka`s biography and work is envisioned to take place at the last session (Thursday, 13 May 2010).
Grades participation 30 %
Student`s personal activity 40 %
Final exam- 30 %
Students are required to purchase or borrow the above mentioned novels (“The Metamorphosis” and “The Trial”) on their own. The novels, as well as other Kafka`s works, are available in the bookstore of the Franz Kafka Society (Společnost Franze Kafky), Široká 65/14, 110 00 Praha 1, Tel: +420 224 227 452, Email: franzkafka-soc.cz (Široká street is situated in the Jewish quarter, connecting Maiselova str. with Pařížská str.)
Students may also benefit from a copy of the book “Franz Kafka and Prague” by Harald Salfellner, deposited in the office of ISA (Mrs. Daniela Neckářová), Vratislavova 10, room 501. Other materials relevant to the course will be provided by the teacher.
Dr. David Biernot