Kafka and Photography
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Throughout his life, Franz Kafka was fascinated by photography, a medium which for him came to encapsulate both the attractions and the pitfalls of modern life. Kafka's personal engagement with the medium - as a keen viewer and collector of photographs as well as an amateur photographer - is reflected in his writings, which explore photography from a variety of different perspectives By far the most frequently and extensively discussed visual medium in Kafka's texts, photography is paradigmatic of his relationship to visuality more generally. This study not only explores photography's recurrence as a theme within his texts but it is also the first to take systematic account of Kafka's use of photographs as literary source material.
Kafka and Photography presents one of the most important modern writers from an entirely new perspective; it sheds new light on familiar works and uncovers unexplored aspects of Kafka's engagement with his time and context. Providing a chronological account of key prose works, as well as the personal writings, this study is accessible to students and lay readers. It will be of interest not only to literary scholars but also to those working in photography, media, and cultural studies. Its detailed textual analyses are set against a richly documented historical context which illustrates Kafka's interest in contemporary culture through a range of visual material taken from public as well as private sources - some of which has only recently become available. As this book demonstrates, photography had a profound impact on Kafka's literary imagination and as such helps to explain the mesmerizing intensity of enigmatic visual detail which is a hallmark of his narratives.
1927) and the posthumous edition of stories (3 and 9 September 1931). For a full bibliography of Kracauer’s publications, see Thomas Y. Levin, Siegfried Kracauer: Eine Bibliographie seiner Schriften (Marbach: Deutsche Schillergesellschaft, 1989). ⁹ Theodor W. Adorno, ‘Aufzeichnungen zu Kafka’, in Gesammelte Schriften, ed. Rolf Tiedemann, paperback edn (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1997), x. 254–87: 278; ‘Notes on Kafka’, in Prisms, transl. Shierry Weber and Samuel Weber (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press,
Pictures of Innocence: The History and Crisis of Ideal Childhood (London: Thames and Hudson, 1998), 87–108. ²² As John Zilcosky argues, the photograph’s exotic fantasy, an impossible utopia, might in fact be the source of its sitter’s palpable melancholy (Kafka’s Travels: Exoticism, Colonialism, and the Trafﬁc of Writing (New York: Palgrave, 2003), 21). 28 Kafka and Photography photographic categorizations of racial otherness. Ultimately, then, its exotic iconography illustrates the dialectic
account also emphasizes photography’s association with death and commemoration. This notion extends even to the depicted locations. The Italian cities of Brescia, Cremona, and Verona were part of the Austrian Empire only until 1859; the photographs on From Film to Photography 57 display during Kafka’s visit thus gesture back to a faded imperial glory. Yet the memorial function of the Kaiser Panorama is also a self-reﬂexive one; in a time dominated by ever more dynamic, fastmoving spectacles,
ripping open the bag to reveal the contained photograph—an act of exposure which substitutes the image for the desired body. The uncovered image, however, makes a disappointing object for such passion; its sitter responds to Kafka’s ‘insatiable’ gaze with ‘friendly and charming’ decorum, nipping his passion in the bud. In a relationship where contact was for the most part limited to letters and photographs, the coy studio portrait does little to make up for a lack of intimacy, frustrating the
described appearances preclude any conclusive analysis on the part of protagonist or reader.⁶ The medium of photography, itself the epitome of a perception limited to surfaces, exempliﬁes this dilemma. In the opening chapter, photographs feature with an inconspicuous regularity, accompanying Josef K.’s struggle for perceptual mastery. On two occasions, K. is confronted with photographs on display in the boarding house, ﬁrst in the living room of his landlady Frau Grubach and then in the room of