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Paranoid Modernism in Joyce and Kafka


This essay considers the work of Joyce and Kafka in terms of paranoia as interpretive delirium, the imagined but internally coherent interpretation of the world whose relation to the real remains undecidable. Classic elements of paranoia are manifest in both writers insofar as their work stages scenes in which the figure of the artist or a subjective equivalent perceives himself as the object of hostility and persecution. Nonetheless, such scenes and the modes in which they are rendered can also be understood as the means by which literary modernism resisted forces hostile to art but inherent in the social and economic conditions of modernity. From this perspective, the work of both Joyce and Kafka intersects with that of surrealists like Dali for whom the positive sense of paranoia as artistic practice answered the need for a systematic objectification of the oneiric underside of reason, "the world of delirium unknown to rational experience."

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