The Break through Experience: Literary Origins in Franz Kafka and W. G. Sebald Open Access

Beeman, Naomi Cale (2012)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/gq67jr25p?locale=en
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Abstract

Abstract
The Break through Experience: Literary Origins in Franz Kafka and W. G. Sebald

This dissertation explores the intersection of autobiography and literary production in the works of two writers: the paradigmatically modern Franz Kafka, and contemporary writer of mixed-media prose, W. G. Sebald. The two cases are complementary. While Kafka's story "The Judgment" has been identified as his decisive literary breakthrough, critics maintain that Sebald, over the course of sundry publications, is always working on the same long novel. I ask why it is important for the critical reception of modern literature to situate an author's oeuvre with respect to its literary origins. In keeping with the modern uncertainty regarding what counts as literature, I examine how both writers undermine our ability to discern where the literary begins and ends. Many of Kafka's fragmentary fictions are recorded in his Diaries amidst autobiographical and theoretical passages which themselves have been canonized. Sebald's hybrid works unsettle the fictional in several ways: they are generically similar to his earlier pieces of literary criticism, and incorporate alien elements, such as unmarked quotations from European literature of the past several centuries, photographs, and images without captions. I argue that Kafka's and Sebald's mingling of autobiographical, literary-historical and documentary elements with fiction disturbs our ability as readers to ‘place' their writing in literary history. Modern acts of literary production scramble chronological approaches to the history of literature by revealing the way in which the history of writing fiction is always a fictionalized history.

I locate the emergence of each project in its 19th-century French literary sources. Flaubert's work guides my reading of Kafka. Via Kafka's fantasy of reading aloud Flaubert's L'Éducation sentimentale, I explore how the thematics of sound, acoustics, volume, breath and voice mediate the transactions between Kafka's fictions and his autobiographical writings. My Sebald chapters focus on a section of his debut novel, Schwindel. Gefühle., devoted to the life and works of the French novelist and autobiographer Stendhal. I uncover the aesthetic foundations of Sebald's project in the theory of occulted "realism" (both literary and pictorial), which he articulates anachronistically in response to Stendhal, as well as in response to the history of realisms in modern painting.

Table of Contents

INTRODUCTION...1

Overview...1

Enlargement...3

Intervention...8

Expansion...9

PART I: FRANZ KAFKA

1. "Nur so kann geschrieben werden…"...12

Writing. Reading Aloud. (Schreiben. Vorlesung.)...22

2. The Magical Wholeness of the World...31

Abortive Writing or the Fictional Crime...43

Ahistorical Breakthrough and the Birth of Fiction: a Kafkan Literary History...47

3. Breakthrough/Breakdown...49

"…in einem Zug…"...51

"…as if at home…": Freud and Kafka Write the Train...58

Kafka, Adorno, Corngold: Three Perspectives on the Onrushing Train of Modern Prose...62

4. "The Essence of Magic"...70

5. Pulsions of the Plastic Voice: Reading Aloud Between Felice and Fiction...75

6. The Advocate (Der Fürsprecher) Summons Anxiety with "A Perfect Fool"...82

Involuntary Imitation...84

Original Plagiarism...89

7. Re-wording the Wound...99

Milena's Translation as Original Wound...103

Orphaned by Language: Kafka's Mother Tongue...108

8. Kafka's Flaubert and the Failure of ‘Bildung'...112

Fictional Incompletion...113

Unlearning How to Read: Flaubert's Anti-novels...115

Unlearning How to Write: Kafka's Anti-novels...120

To Experience the Trial (Das Verfahren erfahren)...121

Metamorphosis as Premature Aging and the Subject of Missed Experience in the Post-Bildungsroman...128

Immediate Reflections on the Deformation of a Genre...135

"…though it wasn't his habit to learn from experience…"...139

Habit on Trial: the Original Disruption...144

Beyond Habit: Kafka's Naïve Reader...147

PART II: W. G. SEBALD

9. Sebald's Intertextual Romance...149

Arbitrariness and Literary Origins: the First Detail...149

"Beyle oder das merckwürdige Faktum der Liebe"...153

The Intertextual Origin: Sebald Writes Stendhal...155

On Love (De l'amour) and Flawed Beloveds...157

The Cast Hand...160

The Writer's Hand...164

10. Sebald's Realisms...168

All Realisms Intersect at the Detail...170

Sebald's Rhetorical Dismissal of ‘Realist' Readings, and Realism in Sebald Criticism...172

The Historicity and Mediality of Realism: Flawed Details in Stendhal and Jan Peter Tripp...178

The Adorable Imperfection of the Work of Art...181

False Entry: the Origin as Façade...186

The Defective Reader...190

11. Sebald vis-à-vis Stendhal: A Literary Self-Portrait Occulted...193

Autobiography's Lost Subject...194

The Outing of a Genre...195

The Psychopathology of Autobiography: Strong and Weak Subjects...197

Self-authentication and Self-counterfeiting: "The Afterlife of Henry Brulard" by W. G. Sebald...200

Writing, Hypocrisy and Polemics: Sebald's Other Face...206

12. Listless History...211

Aesthetic Homogenization and Structural Discordance...211

Brulard's Initial List...213

Napoleon--Casanova--Don Giovanni--Stendhal...215

The Original Omission...217

Writing Poorly: Incompletion and the List...220

Discrete Terms...223

13. Postmodern Revisions of Realism: the Dubious Detail...226

"…down to the tiniest detail…" (Max Aurach)...228

The Pathological Unity of Milieu: Realism Caught Between First- and Third-person Perspectives...230

Teased by the Teas-maid: Extraneous Detail...235

Sebald vs. Balzac: Fragmenting vs. Totalizing Details...240

Incongruous Details and the Scene of Writing...243

14. A History of Painterly Realism in Sebaldian Detail, Part I: Matthias Grünewald...245

‘Detail' in Translation...246

Painted Pain and the Detail that Wounds...248

Realism's Death Drive: Singularity and the Mark of Death...251

Aurach's Psychic Wound as the Origin of the Text...253

The Universal Suffering of the Realist Gaze...257

15. Part II.1: Jan Peter Tripp...259

Deviant Realism: "…a much more deeply searching objectivity…"...259

The "Worldless" Subject of Pathographic Portraiture...262

16. Part III: Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn...265

Dissecting Realism...265

Soul Murder: the Metaphysics of Surgical Dissection...266

The Anatomy Lesson vs. the Moral Lesson...270

A Closed Economy of Light and Dark...274

17. Part II.2: Jan Peter Tripp...276

Stilling Life: Violent and Non-violent Realisms...276

"Wie Tag und Nacht--"...280

Tripp's Non-photographic Realism...283

The Creation of Death in Seven Days...284

Landscapes of an Abandoned World: "…the estate we leave behind…"...286

Conclusion: the Blind Viewer...293

BIBLIOGRAPHY...297

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