Dispelling the ‘Kafkaesque’

2nd November 2013

News, Student news, Alumni news

Demonstrating that Franz Kafka is not only fascinating but fun, a new book from Wadham Fellow and Tutor in German, Dr Carolin Duttlinger, is a revealing introduction to Kafka and his work.

  • Author, Carolin Duttlinger

Kafka’s darkly fascinating novels and stories have given him the reputation of being an ‘isolated’ and ‘other-worldly’ genius. But Carolin Duttlinger, who co-directs the Oxford Kafka Research Centre, was eager to dispel this myth.

“When I was asked to write an Introduction to Kafka aimed at students and the general reader, I was very keen, partly because this would force me to go back to first principles, but also because I think that being able to explain one's own field of research in terms which are simple but not simplistic is an essential skill for any academic,” said Carolin.

Franz Kafka (1883–1924) is one of the most influential of modern authors. The themes of his novels and stories – such as power, punishment and alienation – have become emblematic of modern life.

Carolin’s Cambridge Introduction to Franz Kafka offers a clear and accessible account of Kafka's life, work and literary influence and overturns many myths surrounding them. His texts are in fact far more engaging, diverse, light-hearted and ironic than is commonly suggested by clichés of 'the Kafkaesque'. And, once explored in detail, they are less difficult and impenetrable than is often assumed.

Through close analysis of their style, imagery and narrative perspective, Carolin gives readers the confidence to (re-)discover Kafka's works without constant recourse to the mantras of critical orthodoxy. In addition, she situates Kafka's texts within their wider cultural, historical and political contexts illustrating how they respond to the concerns of their age, and of our own.

Writing the book was not without its challenges as Carolin explains: “I've taught Kafka for many years, so I've got a fairly good idea of the sorts of questions his texts throw up. That said, writing this (relatively slim) book took a lot more time and effort than I'd anticipated. One of the challenges was finding original and thought-provoking angles on his texts while also covering the basics; another key aim was to situate Kafka in his time and culture, countering the myth of Kafka the isolated, otherworldly genius. I hope that I've been able to show that Kafka is fascinating as well as fun, and that my book will give readers the confidence to make up their own minds about his works.”

Carolin’s first book on Kafka dealt with the role of photography in Kafka's writings. Kafka’s first novel Amerika (also known as The Man who Disappeared) was set in the United States, but since Kafka had never travelled to the New World, he drew on photographs of the States for information and inspiration. In a short film (below) produced by the Irish photography magazine Source as part of special issue on photography and literature, Carolin talks about the different ways in which photography underpins Kafka’s text.