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Kafka's Jewish Languages: The Hidden Openness of Tradition

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This essay connects Kafka's German and his Jewish linguistic sources, and explores the trans-national perspective on literary tradition they helped him create. I begin with a critique of Deleuze and Guattari's view of Kafka as a minority writer, showing how their cold war nationalism scants the positive contributions that Yiddish and Hebrew made to his work. I continue with an examination of the "twilight of containment," when this postcontemporary Kafka began to break through his cold war canonization after 1989. Other sections include: "German-Jewish Traditions: The Echoes of Yiddish," on Kafka's cultural politics; "Hebrew: Zionism in a Transnational Key"; and "Goethe's Jewish Voices," on Yiddish as a model for Kafka's new conception of national writing. I conclude by considering the Jewish and other sources of Kafka's "linguistic turn," and the general, transnational focus on tradition that Jewish languages brought to his classic texts.

Affiliations: 1: Colby College

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