AL103 Jewish Tradition & Modernity in Franz Kafka and Bruno Schulz

In this two-part course we introduce the legacies of two Jewish witnesses to the modern condition and their reflections on the tensions between traditional religion in central and eastern Europe and modern culture: Kafka, the "hunger artist" from Prague, who wrote in German, and Schulz, the myth-maker of Drohobych, who wrote in Polish. (Part I: Kafka and His Jewish Contexts.) We'll begin by looking closely at Kafka’s unfinished novel, The Trial (and the midrashic parable it contains, "Before the Law"), with an eye to the historical and biographical circumstances surrounding its creation (including Kafka's "Letter to His Father"). In an effort to forge new ways of addressing the challenges posed by Kafka's work, we'll place Kafka's reflections on law—divine and human both—within debates about Jewish languages and identity (with particular reference to Kafka's study of Hebrew and Yiddish), and within the recent politically charged trial culminating in Israel's Supreme Court. (Part II: Schultz and His Jewish Contexts.) second half of the course will track the impact of Polish-Jewish writer Bruno Schulz (also the first translator of Kafka's The Trial into Polish). First, we'll read his two slim collections of fiction (1934 and 1937), with an eye toward exploring his responses to modernity and fascism. Second, we'll attend to the fate of Schulz's work—the story of its appropriation by a group of contemporary Jewish novelists: Cynthia Ozick, Nicole Krauss, Philip Roth, and David Grossman. We'll look at how these American and Israeli writers have appropriated the fiction of Bruno Schulz to diverse cultural ends. Finally, in addition to attentively reading Schulz's work and the literary homages it inspired, we'll examine adaptations of Schulz’s work into other media, for example: the documentary film "Finding Pictures" and Schulz's "The Street of Crocodiles" as reimagined by stop-motion animators the Brothers Quay.

  • Course Specifications
  • Type: Elective
  • Lesson type: Lecture
  • Hours: 28 (5 credits)
  • Category: LITERATURE
  • Requirement: 1 quiz and 1 essay
  • Instructor: BENJAMIN BALINT MA
  • Course Readings 4
  • Franz Kafka, The Trial (Schocken)
  • Benjamin Balint, Kafka's Last Trial (Norton)
  • Bruno Schulz, Collected Stories (Northwestern University Press, 2018)
  • handouts, to be announced (Ashkenazium, 2021)