Kafka in the City

Franz Kafka’s works have been characterized as surreal, expressionistic, mystical, bourgeois, socialist, enigmatic, religious, existential, symbolic, allegorical, and the list continues. This course contextualized Kafka’s work, which often seems placeless and un-placeable, by concentrating on three cities and the authors’ relationships to them: a metropolis that Kafka never saw (but wrote about), Kafka’s hometown, and a place Kafka briefly visited. Focusing on New York, Prague, and Trieste, this course aimed to materialize Kafka’s work with a selection of biographical and historical information, precursor texts, travel writings, manuscript pages, and adaptations (translations, films, literary works inspired by Kafka, graphic novels). The goal was to engage, question, and analyze closely Kafka’s texts using a variety of techniques. Students worked to develop their own understanding of Kafka’s narrative modes and the relation between his texts and their cultural contexts. Students formed their own definition of “Kafkaesque” and a greater understanding of different approaches to literature generally. Taught at Columbia University, Summer 2008.

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