MFS Modern Fiction Studies 47.2 (2001) 517-518
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Scott Spector. Prague Territories. Berkeley: U of California P, 2000. xiv + 331 pp.
Subtitled National Conflict and Cultural Innovation in Franz Kafka's Fin de Siècle, Spector's book strives to cover the broad spectrum of the cultural panorama that was home to a large number of artists and intellectuals during the hectic age of Expressionism. Principally German-Jewish writers, they were caught in the maelstrom of social, political, and religious upheavals that affected Central and Eastern Europe in the turbulent years leading up to the First World War. They were outsiders looking for a home, assimilated to a degree into the Czech-Christian environment in which they were born, yet feeling alien to it at the same time. It is this lack of a firm footing which Kafka again and again so subtly weaves into his prose in his painful cry for acceptance, as a man, as a son, as an artist, and as a citizen of the world. This estrangement felt by Kafka's contemporaries was exacerbated further by the reactionary tendencies of the Expressionism to which they belonged, a literary movement in which rebellion against middle-class mores and values, particularly anything upon which paternal authority exercised hegemony--religion and politics at the fore--was a hallmark.
This carefully written book probes with thoroughness each corner of that complicated era, providing the reader with an ideal blend of [End Page 517] historical, literary, and cultural details. In the end, an understanding of that generation's cultural background and makeup emerges to the point that the reader realizes that, whether one's academic concentration is literary or historical, the text is absolutely necessary as a scholarly reference. An excerpt a third of the way into the book may provide an example of the clarity of Spector's prose in seeking to capture a point:
The family circle was a figure that was compelling in its dual representation of conflict and unity, or of a utopian projection of human bondedness inextricable from the discord and pain entailed in those bonds. In fact, the dual and conflicting functions of the family metaphor should not be unfamiliar, for they are parallel to the dialectical tensions within the figures of the circle (inclusion/exclusion) and of territory (possession/dispossession). It is easy to argue that the family is the central metaphor of nationalism; but it is also linguistically available to antinational or supranational discourse (the "family" or "brotherhood" of man/humanity). Revolutionary revolt and primordial unity were not as much diametric oppositions as they were mutually necessary, in dialectic tension with one another. That is why it is the idealized memory of childhood within the family circle that served Prague expressionists as an image of the lost primordial community of humanity, and as a utopian image of the shape of a future humanity.
Spector's integration of the various facets of cultural, historical, and literary analyses into a digestible whole gives an excellent accounting and feel for the times. He presents a scholarly perspective that is sufficiently detailed and exact and that is a boon for every researcher in the field. The book is well organized, with chapter notes at the end of the text and a very good bibliography and index.