Creators and Creatures: Visualizing Franz Kafka

Date

2023-09-06

Authors

Pereira, Carolina Vik

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Abstract

Kafka’s profound fascination with visual arts is evident through his extensive collection of drawings and the visual, evocative nature of his writings. Instead of considering Kafka as merely an author who occasionally dabbled in drawing, this perspective posits him as a Zeichner who also happens to write. This argument proposes that the unique visual characteristics present in Kafka’s text can be traced back to his active involvement in the visual realm, an aspect that has often been overlooked in previous scholarly discussions. To bridge this gap, the present study aims to explore the dynamic relationship between Kafka’s animal figures and the visual arts to demonstrate that Kafka’s literature has not only captivated readers but has also served as a profound source of inspiration for artists, who strive to capture Kafka’s visualizations beyond the confines of the written word. However, the act of creation for Kafka was a deeply wounding experience. In his diaries and stories, Kafka expressed his struggle with the creative process, depicting writing as an act of inscribing pain, violence and/or torture upon oneself, most famously in “In der Strafkolonie” (“In the Penal Colony,” 1919). This notion is reflected in the etymology of the Greek word “graphein,” which encompasses the ideas of writing, drawing, and inscribing, highlighting the inherent violence and intensity involved in the act of creation and the intertwinement of the written word and the drawn image. Particularly, this study examines the short stories “Der Geier” (“The Vulture,” 1920), and “Der Bau” (“The Burrow,” 1931), whose protagonists narrate their bodily suffering (pecking, piercing, scratching and digging). By analyzing these stories with and sometimes against their visual interpretations of contemporary artists, such as Yosl Bergner, Peter Kuper, and Robert Crumb, this thesis illustrates the connection between writing, suffering and animality. Kafka deploys these creature-themed narratives to explore the relationship between writing and suffering. Ultimately, the findings of this research offer a reading of Kafka’s literature as a literature of wounds. It is a body of work that emerges from the realm of pain and suffering, which spills over the text and leaves a mark on those who engage with it.

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Keywords

Franz Kafka, Visual Arts, Literature, Comics

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