University of Nebraska Press
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  • Franz Kafka: Narration, Rhetoric, and Reading ed. by Jakob Lothe, Beatrice Sandberg, and Ronald Speirs
Jakob Lothe, Beatrice Sandberg, and Ronald Speirs, eds., Franz Kafka: Narration, Rhetoric, and Reading. Columbus: Ohio State UP, 2011. 251 pp.

After a hiatus of several decades, narratology is once again a major concern in literary scholarship. As the more recent publications by Mieke Bal, Marie Laure Ryan, or Sandra Heinen and Roy Sommer suggest, interdisciplinary, transmedial, and transnational approaches inform today's field of narratology, adding innovative impulses. The editors in their introduction to the volume at hand are quick to acknowledge the multifaceted quality of today's narrative theory, "for there are not one but many competing accounts of what narration and narratives entail" (1). Sandberg, Speirs, and Lothe's anthology contains the editors' introduction and ten articles by international scholars of different academic generations and approaches, including such prominent names as Benno Wagner and J. Hillis Miller. Some of the contributors are, like Gerhard Kurz, Beatrice Sandberg, and Stanley Corngold, Kafka scholars; others come from other disciplines. For example, Anniken Grave comes from comparative literature and the philosophy of language, while James Phelan and Jakob Lothe come from English literature. Gerhard Neumann and Ronald Speirs develop their articles from other research foci, namely, Classicism and Romanticism in the case of Neumann and fin-de-siècle, interwar, and exile literature in the case of Speirs. Within this volume a broad spectrum of interests and methodologies intersects. The individual contributions examine way [End Page 98] stations of Kafka's writing, ranging from the early "Das Urteil"—according to James Phelan in his essay "one of the formative experiences in his development as a writer" (22)—to Corngold's exploration of the posthumously published "Forschungen eines Hundes." Phelan and Anniken Greve, in her "The Human Body and the Human Being in 'Die Verwandlung,'" apply a more traditional, formalist methodology to Kafka's world-famous stories. Phelan does so with a focus on authorial purpose, while Greve raises questions about the text's implied meaning or ethical significance. The latter concerns are also addressed by Stanley Corngold, who in his article "Musical Indirection in Kafka's 'Forschungen eines Hundes'" concludes that for Kafka "writing was an evasion of a primary task" (191). He argues that the predicament mapped out in Kafka's narrative is associated with the author's own existential plight.

The collection constitutes a major contribution to contemporary Kafka scholarship, as it directs attention to Kafka's writing as a craft, with language, textual structures, and literary conventions constituting the author's tools and material. At the same time, the essays reveal the complex interplay between texts from different phases of Kafka's career with personal and cultural experiences, for example in Benno Wagner's intriguing essay "'Lightning No Longer Flashes': Kafka's Chinese Voice and the Thunder of the Great War" with the First World War, a rarely discussed but pivotal topic for Kafka, who was critical of the war and whose world was profoundly changed by its outcome. What makes this anthology especially appealing is the interrelatedness of the individual pieces, as the genesis of the authors' contributions started at a symposium in Oslo. Corngold's postscript commenting on Speirs's contribution is a particularly striking example of the spirit of collaboration at work.

The editorial effort is evident from the impeccable presentation and balanced language as well as the comprehensive list of abbreviations, carefully crafted introduction, informative short bios of the contributors, and extensive index for this user-friendly volume. [End Page 99]

Dagmar C. G. Lorenz
University of Illinois at Chicago