Kafka the Traditionalist - Intercollegiate Studies Institute: Think. Live Free.

Kafka the Traditionalist

Franz Kafka, the “German-speaking Bohemian Jewish novelist and short-story writer,” is customarily identified with “modernism.” Thus Wikipedia (whence the above description also comes from): “the majority of [Kafka’s] output was associated with the experimental modernist genre.”

Fine. But what does that mean? We dutifully click through to the Wikipedia entry on “literary modernism” and learn that it “is characterized by a very self-conscious break with traditional ways of writing, in both poetry and prose fiction…. This literary movement was driven by a conscious desire to overturn traditional modes of representation and express the new sensibilities of [the modernists’] time.”

Though this is doubtless a standard way of thinking of Kafka in paraphrase, as it were, it may conceal as much as it reveals. Such would have been the opinion of W.H. Auden.

Auden was profoundly affected by Kafka’s writings, as shown both in his poetry (he mentions him by name in New Year Letter and quotes Kafka’s Aphorisms a couple of times in the notes to the long poem published in The Double Man) and in his prose. As far as the latter is concerned, Auden wrote about Kafka at least three different times over the course of a couple of decades with a great deal of consistency, frequently cribbing from earlier essays in his later ones.

For Auden, Kafka, far from being an avant-garde innovator, is inconceivable apart from the “European tradition,” of which he is Auden’s chief contemporary exemplar.

Read the rest over at the American Conservative.

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