Course Description

Course Name

Kafka's World: Literature as a Form of Evasion

Session: VPGF1121

Hours & Credits

45 Contact Hours

Prerequisites & Language Level

Taught In English

  • There is no language prerequisite for courses at this language level.


**Please note there may be some additional costs associated with field trips around Prague for this course. All costs are to be paid by the participant directly to the professor of the course.


Franz Kafka is undoubtedly one of the most known and widely read modern writers. He belonged to the generation of unusually talented German speaking Jewish authors born in Prague and brought up in the cultural milieu of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the turn of the 20th century. Despite having died young at age 41, Franz Kafka succeeded in producing a wide range of stories and novels. One of many reasons people get attracted to Franz Kafka`s work, is the elusive and mysterious character of his writing, swaying between reality and imagination, as well as the alarming message about the uncertainty and vulnerability of human existence.

The course pursues two objectives: The first one is to introduce students into Franz Kafka`s biography,
focusing on Prague social and culture environment during the writer`s lifetime, personal relations in
Kafka`s family headed by his egoistic father, friendships made with other Prague writers, unfulfilled
erotic life, rediscovering of his Jewish identity, and finally his terminal illness and death. The second objective is to make students familiar with selected works of this renowned writer. These will be read and analyzed in classes, along with essays, articles, and monographs of literary critical and philosophical provenance. A special attention will be paid to the cinematographic adaptations of Kafka`s writings. Students will also profit from touring the sites related to Kafka`s life and a visit to Franz Kafka Museum.


Introduction: Franz Kafka as an elusive writer
Political, social and cultural situation in the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the nascent Czechoslovakia
during Kafka`s lifetime
SPECTOR, Scott. Prague Territories: National Conflict and Culture Innovation in Franz Kafka`s Fin de
Siècle. Chapter 2: Where is the difference? Culture, Ideology, and the Aesthetics of Nationality.
NEKULA, Marek. The Divided City: Prague`s Public Space and Franz Kafka`s Readings of Prague.

Learning Prague`s nationalistic landscapes of the turn of the 20th century
Franz Kafka: a Prague German speaking Jew facing Czech nationalism
Kafka`s childhood and youth
His strained relationship to his father
Kafka`s self-perception
KAFKA, Franz. Letter to his Father.
BENBOW, Merle, Food, Gender, and Power in Kafka`s Letters.
MURRY, Nicholas. Kafka, pp. 1-38.

FILM: House of Life: The Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague, Allan Miller and Mark Podwal (dir.), 2008
Under the sway of male authority: Interpreting Kafka`s Judgment, The Metamorphosis and the Lost in
KAFKA, Franz. Judgment.
KAFKA, Franz. The Metamorphosis.
KAFKA, Franz. Lost in America.
SOKEL, Walter, Kafka`s Metamorphosis: Rebellion and Punishment
RULAND, Richard E. A View Back from Home: Kafka`s Amerika

Under the sway of male authority: Interpreting Kafka`s Judgment, The Metamorphosis and Lost in
Excursion: In the footsteps of Kafka around the Old Town Square
MURRY, Nicholas. Kafka, pp. 40-88.
SPECTOR, Scott. Prague Territories: National Conflict and Culture Innovation in Franz Kafka`s Fin de
Siècle. Chapter 1: Prague Circles ? Backgrounds and Methods.

Kafka`s studies at the Charles-Ferdinand University.
Kafka`s occupation as an insurance company official
?Prague Circle?: Max Brod, Oskar Baum, Franz Werfel
Kafka`s Jewish identity
The phenomenon of Jewish self-hatred in Central Europe at the turn of the 20th century
KAFKA, Franz. A Report to an Academy
KAFKA, Franz. Josephine, the Singer and the Mouse Folk
MURRY, Nicholas. Kafka, pp. 89-115.
SPECTOR, Scott. Prague Territories: National Conflict and Culture Innovation in Franz Kafka`s Fin de
Siècle. Chapter 6: New Orientation ? Judaism, Desire and the Gaze Eastward

Visit to the Jewish Museum in Prague
MURRY, Nicholas. Kafka, pp. 119-266.

Jewish self-hatred in cinematography. Film: ZELLIG, Woody Allen (dir.) 1982
HOROWITZ, Riva. Kafka and the Crisis in Jewish Religious Thought

Kafka`s attitude to religion
Kafka`s Gnostic world view: on possible religious motives in his work

FILM: When Nietzsche wept, Pinchas Perry (dir.), 2007
SOKEL, Walter. Between Gnosticism and Jehovah: The Dilema in Kafka`s Religious Attitute
RUPRECHT, Louis A. Nietzsche, The Death of God, and Truth, or Why I still like Reading Nietzsche

Kafka`s women: Felice Bauer
Kafka`s women: Milena Jesenska and Dora Diamant.
Kafka`s tuberculosis and demise.
MURRY, Nicholas, Kafka, pp. 119-389.
KAFKA, Franz. Wedding Preparations in the Country.
KAFKA, Franz. Letters to Milena

Kafka a hero victimized: Interpreting ?In the Penal Colony?
FILM: Good night, and good luck, George Clooney (dir.) 2005
KAFKA, Franz, In the Penal Colony
NORRIS, Margot. Sadism and Masochism in Two Kafka`s Stories: In the Penal Colony and the Hunger
SAMOLSKY, Russell. Kafka, Kabbalah, Shoah

Kafka a hero in search of truth: Interpreting ?The Trial?
FILM: The Trial, David Hugh Johns (dir.) 1993
KAFKA, Franz. The Trial
PENDROM, Cyrena N. Kafka and Phenomenology: Josef K.`s Search for Information
KAVANAH, Thomas M. The Trial: The Semiotics of the Absurd

Kafka`s parables: Before the Law
FILM: The Castle, Michael Haneke (dir.) 1997
DERRIDA, Jacques. Before the Law
FOSHAY, Raphael. Derrida on Kafka`s ?Before the Law?

Visiting Kafka`s grave at the New Jewish cemetery in Prague-Strasnice
Visit to Franz Kafka Museum
Reading Kafka's novels at home

Course evaluation
Class preparation and activity (reading assignments, participation in discussions, small quizzes) 30%
Presentation in class 30%
Written assignment 40%

Written assignment
The objective of the assignment is to check a student`s ability to deal with Kafka`s texts, recognize the
crucial biographical elements which had impact on Kafka`s literary activity, as well as her or his
familiarity with the ways Kafka`s works have been interpreted. The essay may focus on one of Kafka`s stories or novels, a theme (e.g. paternal authority in Kafka`s works, Kafka`s Jewish identity), or a distinctive period in his life, however the assignment must be embedded in wider historical and intellectual contexts of Kafka`s lifetime. Students are to base their essays on the texts included in the
reader or other academic sources. They are expected to assume a creative attitude, setting out their
own opinions and making reasonable judgments. The length of the essay may vary between 4000 and
5000 words.

The grading scale:
100 ? 96 % A
95 ? 90 % A -
89 ? 87 % B +
86 ? 83 % B
82 ? 80 % B -
79 ? 76 % C +
75 ? 70 % C
69 ? 60 % C -
59 ? 0 % F

Attendance of classes is mandatory. Only one unexcused block of classes is tolerated and it will not
affect a final class grade.

Class protocol
Students are required to be involved in class activities. They are expected to show their preparation
by active participating in the class activities, by asking relevant questions, being critical and analytical
with the contents presented in class as well as by sharing their ideas and opinions.
It is expected that students arrive to class on time and that they return promptly to class after any
given a class break. (Regularly missed minutes could be counted together and can make another
unexcused absence, as mentioned above.)

*Course content subject to change