John Hamilton’s “France/Kafka: An Author in Theory”

While his memory languished under Nazi censorship, Franz Kafka covertly circulated through occupied France and soon emerged as a cultural icon, read by the most influential intellectuals of the time as a prophet of the rampant bureaucracy, totalitarian oppression, and absurdity that branded the twentieth century. In tracing the history of Kafka’s reception in postwar France, Literature on Trial explores how the work of a German-Jewish writer from Prague became a modern classic capable of addressing universal themes of the human condition.
John T. Hamilton considers how Kafka’s unique literary corpus came to stimulate reflection in diverse movements, critical approaches, and philosophical schools, from surrealism and existentialism through psychoanalysis, phenomenology, and structuralism to Marxism, deconstruction, and feminism. The story of Kafka’s afterlife in Paris thus furnishes a key chapter in the unfolding of French theory, which continues to guide how we read literature and understand its relationship to the world.