PERFORMING THE LETTER OF THE LAW: THE ROLE OF ORIENTALIST RACE THEORY IN KAFKA’S WRITINGS

Open Access
Author:
Toth, Adam Joseph
Graduate Program:
German
Degree:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Dissertation
Date of Defense:
February 28, 2017
Committee Members:
  • Daniel Purdy, Dissertation Advisor
  • Daniel L. Purdy, Committee Chair
  • Thomas Beebee, Committee Member
  • Sabine Doran, Committee Member
  • Charlotte Eubanks, Outside Member
  • Bettina Brandt, Special Member
Keywords:
  • Kafka
  • Orientalism
  • Race
  • Race Theory
  • Hegel
Abstract:
This dissertation seeks to understand how and why selected literary works of Franz Kafka come into dialogue with and even seem to rebuke theories about “Oriental” races, particularly the Chinese and Jews, from the eighteenth and more predominantly from the nineteenth century. My dissertation brings together the subfield of philosophy called “race theory” with literary representations of racial others discussed in these theories, with a particular emphasis on the Chinese and Jews. For the purposes of this dissertation, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s Vorlesungen über die Philosophie der Geschichte (Lectures on the Philosophy of History) will serve as a representative of ideas discursively circulating between philosophical, historical, philological, and biological/ physiological traditions. Hegel maintains that the Chinese and Jews lack the freedom of thought necessary to make decisions on their own and defer to figures of authority, the Emperor for the Chinese and God for the Jews. I argue that Kafka’s literary works have the versatility to expose the construction of race as a concept within race theory and by extension undermine Euro-centric assumptions made about non-European others. I defer to performance theory, in particular Brecht’s notion of Verfremdungseffekt (Alienation Effect), which he formed after watching Mei Lanfang’s performance of a Beijing Opera in Moscow, mediated through Walter Benjamin’s redemptive reading of Kafka, and through the lenses of Judith Butler’s notion of gender-performance and Tina Chen’s application of Butler and Brecht in readings of Asian-American representations in literature. In the first two chapters of this dissertation I will look at Hegel’s thoughts on the Chinese and Jews alongside Kafka’s literary works “Beim Bau der Chinesischen Mauer” (“The Great Wall of China”), “Ein altes Blatt” (“An Old Manuscript”), “Die Abweisung” (“The Refusal”), “Das Stadtwappen” (“The City Coat of Arms”), “Abraham,” and “Das Paradies” (“Paradise”). In the third chapter I will consider the role animals in Kafka’s “Schakale und Araber,” (“Jackals and Arabs”), and “Ein altes Blatt,” and “Die Verwandlung” (“The Metamorphosis”) play as both analogs to racial others and to other larger political entities. In my last chapter, I consider the role of violence and sexuality alongside the racial coding of skin color in Kafka’s “Beschreibung eines Kampfes” (“Description of a Struggle”) and “In der Strafkolonie” (“In the Penal Colony”).