Kafka's World: Literature as a Form of Evasion

Charles University

Course Description

  • Course Name

    Kafka's World: Literature as a Form of Evasion

  • Host University

    Charles University

  • Location

    Prague, Czech Republic

  • Area of Study

    English, European Studies, History, International Studies, Literature, Literatures in English, Religion

  • Language Level

    Taught In English

  • Course Level Recommendations


    ISA offers course level recommendations in an effort to facilitate the determination of course levels by credential evaluators.We advice each institution to have their own credentials evaluator make the final decision regrading course levels.

    Hours & Credits

  • Contact Hours

  • Recommended U.S. Semester Credits
  • Recommended U.S. Quarter Units
  • Overview

    **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.)