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Franz Kafka and world waR I


Wednesday, June 11 - 6:30pm
At Alliance Française auditorium

The Alliance Française has the pleasure to welcome Andrea Dahlmann-Resing, a PhD student in Germanic Studies, for a lecture about Kafka and First World War: 

Caught between swimming school, office desk,
and the “greatest theatre in the world”: 

Franz Kafka and World War I

“Germany has declared war on Russia. – Afternoon swimming school”: Such reads the oft-quoted diary entry of Prague’s most notable literary figure, Franz Kafka, on August 2, 1914, a quote that has been largely understood as laconically dismissive, typical even of the alleged navel-gazer Kafka.

While this notion never remained unchallenged (cf. for instance W. Kittler 1990), the extent to which the political events impacted his personal and professional life and to which Kafka, who never got drafted to the front line, found himself both a prisoner and confidant of war, has steadily received wider scholarly exposure (cf. most recently Kafka - Prag und der ErsteWeltkrieg, ed. by Engel/ Robertson 2012) and calls for a reformed understanding of Kafka as a private citizen, poet and high-ranking lawyer at the Workmen's Accident Insurance Institute in Prague, with regard to his continuous commentary on and involvement in the historical events coined in 1979 as the “great seminal catastrophe of the 20th century” (G. F. Kennan).

Against this backdrop, the lecture first aims to give a brief account of the setting, followed by examples of war-related imagery that Kafka employs in his unfinished novels: from the notion of a theatre stage and recruitment in America (cf. Th. Anz 1996 & 2012) to the arrest or rather capturing of Josef K. in The Trial that refers back to the newly reported phenomenon of war captivity (“Kriegsgefangenschaft”) (cf. R. Stach 2012). Furthermore, select passages from Kafka’s Office Writings (English transl. ed. by Corngold/ Greenberg/ Wagner 2009) will illustrate connections between his legal work, paying particular attention to depictions of orderly (low-risk) and disorderly (high-risk) ways of locomotion. Lastly, we will revisit Kafka’s diary entry at the beginning and investigate its overlooked second part: namely, the swimming school, revealing yet another meaning-laden imagery present throughout his writings that may have been dismissed prematurely, for Kafka is always and never to be read literally.

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