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Kafka and "Religious" Texts

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  • stlukesguildohio
    I am a new member to this Kafka Club, and I thought I would begin by browsing around your past communications. I was very interested in the comments of your
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 7, 2003
      I am a new member to this Kafka Club, and I thought I would begin by
      browsing around your past communications. I was very interested in
      the comments of your post, dated 4/02/03. You note that you prefer
      to shy away from any sort of religious interpretation of Kafka's
      writings. While I would not argue that Kafka can or should be
      interpreted in a religious manner, I would suggest that it is absurd
      (not to say Kafkaesque) to ignore the numerous influences upon
      Kafka's writings, by various religious texts.
      Any truly "educated" person (such as he was) of Kafka's era would
      have had an education founded in the study of the great books of
      Western culture. These would include Homer, Dante, Cervantes,
      Shakespeare, Goethe, etc... as well as the Bible. Kafka's notebooks
      and journals make clear that he has indeed read the "Odyssey", "Don
      Quixote", Shakespeare, Dickens, Flaubert, Tolstoy, Kierkegaard,
      Goethe's plays and journals, Schiller, Kleist, and countless other
      German authors. At the same time, he makes repeated references to
      various religious and/or Jewish texts, including the Hebrew poet,
      Bialik, the Yiddish writer, Sholom Aleichem, the Yiddish theater, the
      Talmud, and various Biblical stories. Beyond this, we know that Kafka
      explored his Jewish culture to the point of attempting to master
      Some of Kafka's most interesting writings include his short
      aphorisms, to be found in his "Blue Octavo Notebooks". There, one
      uncovers numerous Borghesian (well we can't honestly say Kafkaesque,
      when speaking of Kafka himself, can we?) reinterpretations of "Don
      Quixote" as well as the "Tower of Babel", "Adam and Eve and the Fall
      of Man", the story of Abraham, Shulamith, etc... In one of my
      favorite such aphorisms, Kafka declares, "The Messiah will come only
      when he is no longer necessary" How might we apply this thought
      to "The Castle" or the famous cathedral scene from "The Trial?"
      My point is not to simply prove Kafka's awareness of
      various "religious" texts... and even less, to suggest that we seek a
      religious interpretation of his work, but rather, to suggest that
      Kafka engages in a serious dialog and reinterpretation of
      these "religious", "Jewish", Biblical texts as literature and as
      thematic sources. Many of Kafka's shortest tales reveal a clear
      affinity with Jewish parables in their brevity and unadorned
      language. They also echo the Jewish tradition of Midrash, or
      reinterpretation of parables, aphorisms, and short texts.
      If we, for example, take a Borghesian (and Midrashic) approach to
      our reading of some Biblical texts (as if the ancient Hebrew authors
      followed Kafka as opposed to him writing long after them) we might
      find nothing more Kafkaesque than the "Book of Job": We might imagine
      Kafka beginning Job as follows: "Someone must have slandered J.,
      because one morning he was arrested and all that he owned was taken
      from him, even though he had done nothing wrong." After the book of
      Job briefly introduces us to Job himself, we are immediately wisked
      into a scene in heaven (a transition as audacious as any by
      Kafka). "Heaven, it turns out," as author Steven Mitchell informs
      us, "is only the court of some ancient King of Kings." This great
      King is proudly holding court and bragging before his courtier's
      (including the Accuser... who may or may not merely be an embodiment
      of the King's own doubts) of the loyalty of his servant, Job. How can
      the Accuser not take up the challenge? That, after all, is his role.
      And so these two powerful potentates begin to toy with the underling
      Job, who can't begin to fathom what he has fallen prey to nor why.
      His whole world just falls apart one day, (just as K.'s does as he is
      suddenly arrested or turned into a giant bug). As the accuser
      returns to the King's court, having failed to have broken J., the
      Lord utters what must surely be one of the most nausiatingly sinister
      declarations in his own defense: "See, my servant J. remains loyal,
      even after YOU made me torture him for no reason." This is followed
      by the calm resolved cruelty of, "All right, he is completely in your
      power, save only his life." The fact that this blasphemous scene is
      in the Bible is alost obscene.
      Kafka must have wished he had written this scene from the ancient
      Hebrew work, for we see him returning to it again and again (in "The
      Trial", "The Castle" , "A Visit to a Mine", etc....) Kafka
      understood that Job presents us with one of the greatest (and
      earliest) versions of that most favorite of Jewish theme, that of the
      victim... the lesser or weaker mortals who are toyed with and abused
      for no other apparent reason than that of the fact that their abusers
      have the power to do so. It is the theme of weak mortals daring to
      question the morality of nature, fate, life and God himself.
      Beyond "Job" we might also explore another of Kafka's repeated
      themes: that of the long suffering endured while of waiting...
      waiting for something or someone who never comes. Kafka uses this
      idea as the basis for the entirety of "The Castle", "Before the Law"
      and in many other tales and scenes. One cannot help but see the
      obvious resemblance between these scenes by Kafka and that of the
      eternal Jewish wait for the "Messiah"... the Messiah who will only
      come when he is no longer necessary.
      Anyway, I have written on long enough. I must freely admit to
      some degree of verbosity as opposed to our author's much-vaunted
      brevity and precise prose. What can I say? I like adjectives! Anyway,
      feel free to write. And please, fear not of offending
      my "Jewishness", I was actually raised Lutheran, but would probably
      claim to be an agnostic, if anything.


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