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Figurations of Racial Blackness in the Construction of an Aesthetic
Kafka's Blues proves the startling thesis that many of Kafka's major works engage in a coherent, sustained meditation on racial transformation from white European into what Kafka refers to as the "Negro" (a term he used in English). Indeed, this book demonstrates that cultural assimilation and bodily transformation in Kafka's work are impossible without passage through a state of being "Negro." Kafka represents this passage in various ways—from reflections on New World slavery and black music to evolutionary theory, biblical allusion, and aesthetic primitivism—each grounded in a concept of writing that is linked to the perceived congenital musicality of the "Negro," and which is bound to his wider conception of aesthetic production. Mark Christian Thompson offers new close readings of canonical texts and undervalued letters and diary entries set in the context of the afterlife of New World slavery and in Czech and German popular culture.
“Thompson gracefully blends Kafka’s biography, narrative analysis, secondary criticism, and historical research to demonstrate how an aesthetic of blackness informed and shaped Kafka’s fiction. He performs careful, contextual readings of several of Kafka’s most influential and renowned narratives, offering novel interpretations of how they relate to the question of racial identity. This is a fascinating and compelling book.”—Robert T. Tally Jr., author of Poe and the Subversion of American Literature: Satire, Fantasy, Critique
“The central topic presented here—the aesthetics of blackness in Kafka’s oeuvre—is highly original, and one that very few Kafka scholars have ever considered before. It is fascinating to see how Kafka was obsessed by blackness, and how integral it was to his thinking. With this book, Thompson reconstructs a narrative logic that has largely remained unexplored, and in doing so, establishes himself as a major Kafka scholar.”—Carl Niekerk, author of Reading Mahler: German Culture and Jewish Identity in Fin-de-Siècle Vienna