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Reviewed by:
Valerie D. Greenberg. Transgresse Readings: The Texts of Franz Kafka and Max Planck. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1990. 224 pp. No price given.

In transgressing the rigid disciplinary boundaries that separate the natural sciences and the humanities, Greenberg resolutely subverts accepted methods of perception. As outlined in chapter one, her goal is to interrogate standard logic as presented in the language and textuality of science and literature and thus provide an interdisciplinary model for reading. In lieu of purely literary or scientific vocabulary, the author adopts "transgressive terminology" drawn from various disciplines; she reconstitutes terms like oscillation, chiasmus, hierarchy and recursion to facilitate this interdisciplinary enterprise. Greenberg focuses on Max Planck and Franz Kafka as influential and representative figures of early twentieth-century thought, whose apparently dissimilar works stood for "the questioning, undermining and ultimate displacement of secure world views." According to Greenberg, Kafka and Planck never met nor is there any reason to assume that they read one another's works. Nevertheless, Greenberg insists throughout her investigation upon a "dialogue" between the writings of Planck and Kafka, even naming dialogue the "law" of her study. Given the multitude of literary and cultural studies that implement Bakhtinian dialogics, a form of dialogue Greenberg emphatically renounces, the lack of a much-needed definition [End Page 204] of "dialogue" as implemented by the author leaves its intended meaning unclear, thus muddling the arguments put forth.

Seeming to disregard her subtitle, The Texts of Franz Kafka and Max Planck, chapter two, "Planck as Reader (Nietzsche)," concentrates almost exclusively on a comparison of Nietzsche's essay, "On Truth and Lie in an Extramoral Sense" and Plank's lecture from 1908, "The Unity of the Physical World-Picture." Greenberg suggests we read Nietzsche's and Planck's texts as if they were engaged in a dialogue with each other, fictively (and metaphorically) situating them in "the position of sparring partners [. . .] in a debate on science, language, and by implication, on literature."

Chapter three, "The Trial in the Stone Quarry," divided into two parts, first offers a detailed discussion of Kafka's technical report for the Workers Accident Insurance Institute concerning "Accident Prevention in Stone Quarries." Greenberg then reads The Trial "as engaged in a deconstructive dialogue with the [previous] technical text," emphasizing mutually relevant textual implications with respect to knowledge and science.

Planck's scientific textbook, Letters on the Theory of Heat Radiation, is a collection of his papers on theoretical physics that "represent stages in [his] thinking on the quantum and other topics," and are the basis for the Kafka-Planck comparison in chapter five. In a revisionist reading of Planck, Greenberg describes his text as "reaching] out to Kafka's text," endowed with "unmistakenly Kafkaesque features" and at the same time finds it to manifest the antithesis of the Kafkaesque. Most fruitful in this chapter are the discussions which compare and contrast the usage of multiple narrative voices, the workings of light and the notion of law in Kafka and Planck.

In her conclusion, "Coda: The Sign of the Four," Greenberg reiterates the basic types of texts she has discussed: Kafka's technical and literary texts, Planck's essays and scientific papers. With her reading strategy she seeks to illuminate textual logics by focusing on rhetoric, the "story," as she calls it, of The Trial, and point out the comparative use of scientific and mathematical concepts in the texts. Although Greenberg carefully escorts the reader through her transgressive readings of Kafka and Planck, I question the facility of this study as an interdisciplinary model for reading. Her comparative readings do, however, lend some insights into certain aspects of the works of Kafka and Planck that a purely literary or scientific approach would not offer. [End Page 205]

Lynda Hoffman-Jeep
Miami University, Ohio
...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-658X
Print ISSN
0026-7724
Pages
pp. 204-205
Launched on MUSE
2009-01-01
Open Access
No
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