Electronic Theses and Dissertations for Graduate School
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KAFKA GOES TO NEW YORK: READING KAFKA IN SEINFELD'S AMERICA
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Brooks, Lauren Joi
Doctor of Philosophy
Date of Defense:
April 16, 2018
Thomas Oliver Beebee, Dissertation Advisor
Claire Mary Colebrook, Committee Chair
Sabine Doran, Committee Member
Samuel Mark Frederick, Committee Member
Matthew Paul Mcallister, Outside Member
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.
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