KAFKA GOES TO NEW YORK: READING KAFKA IN SEINFELD'S AMERICA

Restricted (Penn State Only)
Author:
Brooks, Lauren Joi
Graduate Program:
German
Degree:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Dissertation
Date of Defense:
April 16, 2018
Committee Members:
  • Thomas Oliver Beebee, Dissertation Advisor
  • Claire Mary Colebrook, Committee Chair
  • Sabine Doran, Committee Member
  • Samuel Mark Frederick, Committee Member
  • Matthew Paul Mcallister, Outside Member
Keywords:
  • Kafka
  • Seinfeld
  • YiddishTheater JewishHumor
Abstract:
My dissertation is about authority, respect, and their absurd and meaningless nature as demonstrated through Kafka’s works and the U.S. situation comedy, Seinfeld. Both draw on traditions of Yiddish theater and Jewish humor. Central to this tradition is the undermining of authority through humor. This deflation of authority through a mode of humor that works with the absence of meaning then yields the related interpretive question of who has the authority when it comes to the reading of a work? My central claim will be that Kafka’s works demand (and refuse) interpretation. The same might be said – despite obvious differences – of Seinfeld, where characters are constantly seeking social recognition or stability, only to be absurdly undermined. Episodes of Seinfeld demonstrate similarities with Kafka’s humor in that both represent an unfulfilled promise, that is to say a deferral of the inevitable. I question the canonical respectful interpretation of Kafka, arguing for a more playful and open interpretability. Laughing at Kafka is – to draw from Seinfeld – like making out during Schindler’s List. This is at the heart of Jewish humor in that there is no proper response to Kafka’s work. Laughter is the recognition of the absurdity of authority.