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Kafka's Jewish Languages

The Hidden Openness of Tradition

David Suchoff

Publication Year: 2012

"In Kafka's Jewish Languages David Suchoff quite persuasively argues that the Germanic interplay between high and low (Yiddish) languages and the rise of modern Hebrew account for far more of the plays and innovations of Kafka's writing than has previously been acknowledged. Suchoff's diligent, innovative, and supremely intelligent work adds significantly to Kafka scholarship and Judaic studies."--Henry Sussman, Yale University After Franz Kafka died in 1924, his novels and short stories were published in ways that downplayed both their author's roots in Prague and his engagement with Jewish tradition and language, so as to secure their place in the German literary canon. Now, nearly a century after Kafka began to create his fictions, Germany, Israel, and the Czech Republic lay claim to his legacy. Kafka's Jewish Languages brings Kafka's stature as a specifically Jewish writer into focus. David Suchoff explores the Yiddish and modern Hebrew that inspired Kafka's vision of tradition. Citing the Jewish sources crucial to the development of Kafka's style, the book demonstrates the intimate relationship between the author's Jewish modes of expression and the larger literary significance of his works. Suchoff shows how "The Judgment" evokes Yiddish as a language of comic curse and examines how Yiddish, African American, and culturally Zionist voices appear in the unfinished novel, Amerika. In his reading of The Trial, Suchoff highlights the black humor Kafka learned from the Yiddish theater, and he interprets The Castle in light of Kafka's involvement with the renewal of the Hebrew language. Finally, he uncovers the Yiddish and Hebrew meanings behind Kafka's "Josephine the Singer, or the Mouse-Folk" and considers the recent legal case in Tel Aviv over the possession of Kafka's missing manuscripts as a parable of the transnational meanings of his writing. David Suchoff is Professor of English at Colby College.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Title Page

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Copyright Page

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Table of Contents

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pp. v-

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Introduction: Kafka’s Jewish Voice

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pp. 1-12

... the authoritative figure soon tells us, not only were essential to a structure that suggests both Jewish and German culture but also evoke an openness to the outside within: “no building ever came into being as easily as this temple—or rather, this temple came into being the way a temple should.” At first the “clumsy scribblings of senseless children’s hands” (unbeholfene Gekritzel ...

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Chapter 1. Cold War Kafka and Beyond: The Return of Jewish Languages

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pp. 13-62

As the cold war came to a close, Kafka began to appear as a figure close to his own historical situation in Prague and central to the emerging critical scene. In a speech at the Hebrew University at Jerusalem in 1990, Czech president Vaclav Havel declared that in Prague’s “Kafka, I have found a large portion of my own experience in the world,” speaking as the leader of a newly independent republic ...

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Chapter 2. The Breakthrough to Jewish Languages: “The Judgment”

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pp. 63-92

Hailed as Kafka’s “breakthrough” text, “The Judgment,” composed on the now-famous night of September 22, 1912, was new only as an act of transnational consolidation, sparked by his encounter with the life of Jewish languages. 1 Kafka’s conviction that he had risen above the “shameful lowlands of writing” (sch

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Chapter 3. Hebrews in New York: Amerika, or The Man Who Disappeared

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pp. 93-130

Though the novel that came to be known as Amerika has long been seen as ending with references to the New Testament, New York is the location that sparked Kafka’s reimagination of the Hebrew voice.1 “The Judgment” had already taught Kafka how to write a German shot through with foreign sources and liberated his writing, with the model of Yiddish inspiring him to ...

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Chapter 4. Kabbalah and Comedy: The Trial and the Heretic Tradition

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pp. 131-169

According to Max Brod, the “kernel that gleams, or rather beams” through the “dark husk” of Kafka’s fiction was inseparable from its comedy and a model of tradition that, Brod argued, was best exemplified in Kafka’s novel about the Law.1 Though perhaps not aware of Brod’s use of the allusion in reference to his own writing, Kafka was privy to the Talmudic source his friend would later use ...

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Chapter 5. Open Boundaries: The Castle and the Origins of Modern Hebrew

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pp. 170-204

Kafka’s messianic concern with modern Hebrew in The Castle was first noticed by Evelyn Torton Beck in Kafka and the Yiddish Theater (1971). The would-be occupation of K. as “land surveyor,” or “Landvermesser” in German, she observes, also points us to the Hebrew term for “surveyor,” lacking only a single letter to become the Hebrew word mashiakh, or “messiah,” a form of Hebrew ...

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Afterword: The Puzzle of National Traditions, or the Art of Nut-Cracking

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pp. 205-210

The beach as the “threshold of happiness” defines “Gesang” and looks forward to “Josephine the Singer” (1924) by figuring singing as a portal, not as the essence of “happiness” (Gl

Notes

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pp. 211-260

Index

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pp. 261-266

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Acknowledgments

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pp. 267-

Gratitude does not describe the debt I owe for the colloquy about Kafka that made this book possible—beginning with my mother, who told me she could not speak Yiddish and certainly not Hebrew. Her lively conversations in Yiddish on park benches in Tel Aviv, after a lifetime of claiming not to speak the language, first exposed me to the relation between the hidden and the open ...


E-ISBN-13: 9780812205244
E-ISBN-10: 0812205243
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812243710
Print-ISBN-10: 0812243714

Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Haney Foundation Series