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Book Reviews263 Autobiography ought to be valuable, provocative reading for students of the individual writers treated, of autobiography and biography, and of Victorian literature and the Victorian mind in general. SUSAN HENDRICKS SWETNAM Idaho State University RITCHIE ROBERTSON. Kafka: Judaism, Politics, and Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985. 330 p. Franz Kafka's celebrated existential estrangement began in 1883, the year of his birth. Two times a minority — he was born to German-speaking Jewish parents in the Gentile and predominantly Czech city of Prague — Kafka struggled throughout his lifetime to come to terms with his marginal sociocultural position. This struggle wascompounded by the fact that his uneducated and pragmatic middle-class parents, who were eager to forget their Jewish background and assimilate into the Gentile community, had little understanding or sympathy for their son's literary aspirations, his inability to marry and raise a family, or, for that matter, his growing interest in his own Jewish heritage. Ritchie Robertson, in his meticulously researched and documented study offers a cohesive chronological perspective ofKafka's work by relating his awakening concern for Jewish culture and history to his development as a writer and thinker. By examining "the principal documents ofKafka's exploration ofJudaism, which have been largely ignored by previous Kafka scholarship" (vii), Robertson argues that his exploration provided Kafka not only with a rich source ofimagery, but also with a conceptual-philosophical framework for articulating and ultimately, in the last year ofhis life, making tenuous peace with his multi-faceted existential alienation. Though Robertson's primary aim is not biography as such — his professed concern is to "show how material from Kafka's reading was absorbed by his imagination and assimilated to his own central themes" (viii) — he does believe to have uncovered in his biographical research solid evidence for revising certain current and prevailing views on the nature and significance ofKafka's writing. Franz Kafka, Robertson argues, was first and foremost a "subtle and profound thinker" who was also endowed with an unusual "gift for translating his thought into imagery and narrative" (x). Kafka, he concludes, should not be viewed primarily as a novelist, but rather as one ofthose writers who, like Novalis and Nietzsche, "adopt various literary genres but specialize in the aphorism" (187). Not surprisingly, Robertson moves the often neglected aphorisms found in Kafka's Octavo Notebooks to the center of this analysis. These aphorisms, he advances, stem from Kafka's search for social, cultural, and spiritual integration. They thus represent a crystallization ofhis thought on society, art, and religion, thought which was, as Robertson's research seems to bear out, to a very large degree a response to his reading ofJewish mysticism and Hasidic lore. Written midway in his literary career, at a time when he had begun to quietly sympathize with the Zionist tenet that nothing short of the establishment of a new community with a religious basis could halt the degenerating state ofthe modern Western Jew, Kafka gropes in the aphorisms toward a dualistic system ofthought in which individual and community are linked by a shared and indestructible, yet all too often repressed or subverted, core ofspirituality — what Kafka repeatedly refers to as "das Unzerstörbare." Robertson's analysis of Kafka's writing begins with the fabled artistic "breakthrough" piece, Das Urteil. Though Das Urteil predates his aphorisms 264Rocky Mountain Review by nearly five years, Robertson is able to demonstrate not only how this short story is conceptually related to his later writing, but also, and very importantly, how this artistic breakthrough actually represents the literary result ofKafka's awakening interest in his own Jewish identity. Here, Kafka first found the means — largely derived from his recent discovery of Yiddish theatre and literature — for expressing his personal dilemma within a larger socio-cultural context, namely that ofthe modern Western Jew. "In Das Urteil," Robertson writes, Kafka's "concern with the society around him, particularly with Western Jewish society in a state oftransition and internal conflict, leads him to the private, moral problem of guilt" (37). This problem with its various "epistemological implications" (34) forms the basis ofRobertson's chronological analysis of Kafka's literary career, which, as he believes, was a sustained exploration of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-2833
Print ISSN
1948-2825
Pages
pp. 263-265
Launched on MUSE
2016-01-06
Open Access
No
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