Josef K.'S (A + X) Problem: Kafka on the Moment of Awakening (Franz Kafka) (Critical Essay) - The German Quarterly

Josef K.'S (A + X) Problem: Kafka on the Moment of Awakening (Franz Kafka) (Critical Essay)

By The German Quarterly

  • Release Date - Published: 2009-09-22
  • Book Genre: Social Science
  • Author: The German Quarterly
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Josef K.'S (A + X) Problem: Kafka on the Moment of Awakening (Franz Kafka) (Critical Essay) The German Quarterly read online review & book description:

In his diary on July 31, 1917, Franz Kafka poses something of an epistemological puzzle. He writes, "Als Kaspar Hauser soweit aufgewacht war, dass er Menschen und Dinge um sich erkannte" (Tagebucher 814). Al-though incomplete, the diary entry offers a succinct formulation of a problem that occupies much of Kafka's fiction: the relation of sleep and dreams to waking consciousness. Like the first sentence of Die Verwandlung, Kafka's thought on the nineteenth-century wild child proposes a drastic metamorphosis. What, after all, would it mean for Kaspar Hauser to be "soweit aufgewacht"? The idea that he might be awake enough that he recognized or knew ("erkannte") people and things around him suggests a movement from a childlike state of sleep and dreams to a sudden perspicacity. It is a curious statement, since Kafka's stories that deal expressly with awakening and its repercussions are mainly confronted with the reverse. Read against the cases of Gregor Samsa and Josef K., who emerge from sleep into nightmarish conundrums, the diary entry would appear to be an optimistic conjecture about the transition from a dream life to waking lucidity. While at some level Kafka's comment on the dream- and waking-life of Kaspar Hauser might be attributable to his own troubles with sleep and a fascination with dreams many of which he recorded in detail in his diaries and letters--his fiction complicates a commonly accepted divide between waking and sleeping. When they do not overtly describe dreaming states, (2) Kafka's stories present numerous examples--ranging from the early "Beschreibung eines Kampfes" to an exhausted K.'s comical attempt to fall asleep in the Burgel episode of Das Schloss--that explore the confluence and interference of these two ostensibly different states of consciousness. If Kafka, around the time he began writing Der Process, expressed the concern that his writing should depict his "dreamlike inner life," (3) the narratives that begin at the emergence from slumber--Der Process and Die Verwandlung--show that he is occupied not only with dreams, but also with waking as a dreamlike condition.

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