Saul Friedländer’s FRANZ KAFKA: THE POET OF SHAME AND GUILT Review Analysis

October 10, 2018 |  Tagged | Comments Off on Saul Friedländer’s FRANZ KAFKA: THE POET OF SHAME AND GUILT Review Analysis

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 Franz Kafka is potentially one of the most discussed and simultaneously most ambiguous authors of contemporary literature to date. The author’s identity as neither fully Czech, German, or Jewish was a perpetual source of his own internal conflict. In this book published as part of Yale University Press’s “Jewish Lives” series, Saul Friedländer attempts to analyze Kafka in an interdisciplinary approach that makes the book interesting, and potentially appealing to the public, but contentious in regards to the standards of historical biographic writing. Dr. Friedländer received his PhD from the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva, professor emeritus of history at UCLA, and has written other works of Jewish history, including the Pulitzer Prize winning The Years of Extermination: Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939-1945. However, this work failed to gain that same traction from peers as well as the general populous comparatively. Academic reviews and reviews on popular sites both provide mixed opinions on Friedländer’s book Franz Kafka: The Poet of Shame and Guilt that vary from well received to ambivalent.

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Due to the interdisciplinary approach to his historical biography of Franz Kafka, Friedländer’s work has been reviewed by numerous scholarly publications ranging from theology journals to Jewish studies journals. Larisa Reznik, a PhD recipient in Theology from the University of Chicago, penned a piece in Religious Studies Review that discusses her qualms with this biographic work. She notes that the book itself has strengths in its ability to sell a narrative and take a look at the way Kafka’s personal internal conflicts potentially dealing with his sexuality, faith, and cultural identity shaped his stories. Similarly, within the book itself Friedländer states that this is a departure from his usual retelling and interpretation of history. However, she notes that there are methodological problems with telling such a complex story in a way meant for popular consumption.[1] Though short and concise, important historical, theological, and psychological concepts are simplified in such a way that it may lose its potency and thus lose the accuracy that a book attempting to cover a topic so comprehensively may need.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Paul North, a professor of Germanic language and literature at Yale University provides a much more complimentary review of Friedländer’s biography. In Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies published by Purdue University, North describes Friedländer’s work as “the first place students in college courses or the general public get an immediate sense of how Kafka is being read by scholars now … In their place is a Kafka for the present day caught in a net of ambivalences towards ethnic gender, political, and aesthetic denominations.” [2] North is impressed with Friedländer’s ability to synthesize information in a way that this is not so much assertive in nature as it is inquisitive and provocative of further questioning. He applauds Friedländer for hitting on some of the most contemporary historical issues in regards to Czech history, most importantly being the concept of identity within Austria- Hungary. Kafka is considered a poster child for the issue of ethnography within the mixed state. North also commends Friedländer on the Freudian exploration of Kafka’s sexuality and sexual preferences. Though certainly not the norm for historical biographies, North feels it provided a level of comprehensiveness that many others in their attempts to analyze Kafka contextually have failed to do.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 The court of public opinion provides analyses of books, especially academic works, which vary greatly from those of academic peer reviews. In the New York Review of Books, John Banville reviews Saul Friedländer’s work alongside those of his contemporaries for an affective examination of his literary and historical competency. Though not explicitly negative, Banville does touch on the fact that the book strays quite far from conventionally accepted ideas of Kafka based on the knowledge historians have of him. Centered on the uncensored German writings of Kafka by his longtime friend and admirer Max Brod, Friedländer suggests the idea that much of Kafka’s existentialism stems not only from his cultural identity crisis in a splintered Prague, but potentially from his repressed sexual urges. Though Kafka’s sexuality has been discussed in understanding his literature, Friedländer goes beyond his field of study in history to psychoanalyze Kafka based on these short writings. Banville is neither complimentary nor averse to Friedlander’s analysis, but based on the language with which he refers to the book’s central motifs it can be concluded that he is not completely sold on the Freudian suggestions that Friedländer puts forth.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 Perhaps the most vocal in their questioning of Friedländer’s work is an anonymous reviewer on the site The author of this review refers to Kafka: The Poet of Shame and Guilt as “reductive and speculative.”[3] The author further provides examples as to why they feel this biography “falls disappointingly short in its treatment of these intricacies.” [4] The author does note the fact that despite these contradictions that Friedländer presents within his work that brings its validity and worth as a piece of academic literature into question, it does provide insight into newly re-thought concepts on Kafka and his place in Czech literature’s history.

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 The variance between reviews for the same piece of literature can be expansive, as visible by the wide aray of opinion on Saul Friedländer’s Franz Kafka: The Poet of Shame and Guilt. When writing a biography of such an enigmatic individual as Kafka, it is often necessary to write in an interdisciplinary manner in order to be all encompassing of the individual. However, Friedländer forms much of his thesis on psychoanalyses that stem from assessment of documents relating to Kafka. For many, it provided a new lens with which one can view both Franz Kafka himself, his literature, and the ethnographically diverse environment in which he lived while in Prague. However, it did stray from the typical academic standards of historical writing as noted by multiple reviews. Though the reception of Friedländer’s book has experiences this broad spectrum of both praise and criticism, it is evident both from having read the book and reading the reviews that the work had its fair share of provocative insight as well as misgivings which may have prevented it from hitting the mainstream success of his other works.

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0  

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 References

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 Banville, John. “A Different Kafka.” The New York Review of Books. October 24, 2013.

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 [1] Larisa Reznik, “Franz Kafka: The Poet of Shame and Guilt. By Saul Friedländer. Jewish Lives.” Religious Studies Review 39, no. 4 (2013): 251.

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 [2] Paul North, “”Franz Kafka: The Poet of Shame and Guilt by Saul Friedländer.” Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies 33, no. 2 (2015): 148-51

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 [3] “Nonfiction Book Review: Franz Kafka: The Poet of Shame and Guilt by Saul Friedländer. Yale Univ., $25 (224p) ISBN 978-0-300-13661-6.” April 29, 2013.

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 [4] Ibid.


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