Kafka and World Literature, taught by Daniel Medin, Spring 2012

[NB – this version of the syllabus does not contain all of the information given to students]


Nearly seventy years ago, W. H. Auden pronounced Kafka the foremost writer of the age to emerge from the European tradition—a remarkable development, as the novels that achieved his reputation were never completed, much less intended for publication. Yet time has proven Auden right. Kafka’s work has left indelible traces in the pages of today’s most important novelists, in the West and beyond. In this course we will consider the meaning—and when relevant, the burden—of his global legacy. We will begin by looking closely at Kafka’s major fictions (The Metamorphosis, The Trial, The Castle), with an eye to the historical and biographical circumstances surrounding their composition. After providing some conceptual framework for discussions about literary influence, we will examine Kafka’s imprint on several of today’s most compelling writers, among them Roberto Bolaño (Chile), Sadek Hedayat (Iran), László Krasznahorkai (Hungary), and Can Xue (China), and discuss the significance of his continued relevance across cultural frontiers. Students will have the option of selecting a Kafka-inflected book from a list of twenty or so literary works published since 1945 for one of their required papers. Countries represented on this list in the past have included Albania, Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Columbia, Congo, Czech Republic, Egypt, England, France, Guinea, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Japan, Lebanon, Mexico, Poland, Rumania, South Africa, Spain, the United States, and Turkey.


•   To acquire a basic familiarity with Kafka’s principal texts

•   To better grasp the historical and biographical factors that shaped his writing

•   To understand why his work elicits such divergent interpretations

•   To identify various manifestations of literary influence

•   To recognize why Kafka has proven such a critical precursor for contemporary writers in other parts of the world

•   To reflect on two critical questions: “what is a classic?” and “what it world literature?”


•   Roberto Bolaño: Selected stories, a lecture, and poems

•   Sadeq Hedayat: Three Drops of Blood, trans. Deborah Miller Mostaghel (Oneworld Classics)

•   László Krasznahorkai: Satantango, trans. George Szirtes (New Directions)

•   Franz Kafka: The Castle, trans. Mark Harman (Schocken)

•   Franz Kafka: Collected Stories, ed. Gabriel Josipovici (Everyman’s)

•   Franz Kafka: The Trial, trans. Breon Mitchell (Schocken)

•   Klaus Wagenbach: Kafka, trans. Ewald Osers (Harvard)*

•   Can Xue: Vertical Motion, trans. Karen Gernant & Chen Zeping*

Asterisk indicates that excerpts from these collections will be posted to Blackboard

Students will select an additional text from a list of approximately 25 works during the first week of class. The translations assigned were chosen with care, and for specific reasons; please use editions supplied by the AUP bookstore. Those with German are encouraged to read Kafka in the original, but should confer with me first. Additional readings will be posted to Blackboard.

“Writers after Kafka”: Select one work from this list for a paper and presentation

Albania. Ismail Kadare: The Palace of Dreams (French trans. Bray)

Argentina. Cesar Aira: Varamo (Spanish trans. Andrews)

Austria. Peter Handke: Short Letter, Long Farewell (German trans. Mannheim)

Basque Country. Bernardo Atxaga: The Accordonist’s Son (Spanish by way of Basque, trans. Costa)

Brazil. Clarice Lispector: Hour of the Star  (Portuguese trans. Pontiero)

Chile. Roberto Bolaño: Monsieur Pain (Spanish trans. Andrews)

China. Can Xue: Five Spice Street (Chinese trans. Gernant and Zeping)

Columbia. Antonio Ungar: Les oreilles du loup (Spanish trans. Amutio)

Congo. Sony Labou Tansi: Seven Solitudes of Lorsa Lopez (French trans. Wake)

Czech Republic. Jachym Topol: Gargling with Tar (Czech trans. Short)

Egypt. Mansoura Ez Eldin: Maryam’s Maze (Arabic trans. Paul Starkey)

England. Alan Bennett: Two Kafka Plays or Kazuo Ishiguro: When We Were Orphans

France. Albert Camus: The Fall plus “Hope and the Absurd …” (French trans. O’Brien)

Germany. W.G Sebald: Vertigo (German trans. Hulse)

Guinea. Camara Naye: The Radiance of the King (French trans. Kirkup)

Hungary. Imre Kertész: Fatelessness (Hungarian trans. Wilkinson)

Ireland. Samuel Beckett: Watt

Israel. Aharon Appelfeld: Tzili (Hebrew trans. Bilu)

Italy. Dino Buzatti: The Tartar Steppe (Italian trans. Hood)

Japan. Haruki Murakami: Kafka on the Beach (Japanese trans. Gabriel) or Yoko Tawada: The Naked Eye (German trans. Bernofsky) or Yoko Ogawa: The Diving Pool

Kenya. Ngugi wa Thiong’o: Wizard of the Crow

Lebanon. Khoury: Yalo (Arabic trans. Theroux)

Mexico. Juan Rulfo: Pedro Páramo (Spanish, Péden)

Poland. Bruno Schulz. The Street of Crocodiles (Polish, trans. Wieniewska)

Rumania. Herta Müller: The Appointment (German, trans. Hulse and Boehm)

Russia. Andrey Platonov: Soul and Other Stories or The Foundation Pit (Russian, trans. Chandler)

South Africa. J.M. Coetee: Elizabeth Costello

Switzerland. Fleur Jaeggy: Sweet Days of Discipline (Italian trans. Parks)

United States. Lydia Davis: Varieties of Disturbance

Turkey. Orhan Pamuk: Snow (Turkish, trans. Freely)