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This article is taken from PN Review 266, Volume 48 Number 6, July - August 2022.

Kafka and the Body David Herman
Franz Kafka: The Drawings, edited by Andreas Kilcher (Yale University Press) £40.00 HB

‘His writing is more physical, more bodily and quivering than that of any other writer,’ Gabriel Josipovici wrote of Kafka in The Mirror of Criticism (1983). It’s not just that Kafka writes so powerfully about bodies. It’s the extraordinary range of things that happen to bodies in Kafka’s writing. The traditional boundaries between humans and animals or between objects and people collapse. Impulsive or convulsive bodies are always threatening to break out of control in a world of order, control and repression. Above all, bodies are subjected to extraordinary violence from Metamorphosis to In the Penal Colony.

The publication of a new book, Franz Kafka: The Drawings, raises a number of important questions, but perhaps the most interesting concerns the relationship between the way Kafka wrote about suffering bodies and how he drew them.

Until recently only a few of Kafka’s drawings were widely known, primarily as illustrations on the covers of paperback editions of works published since the 1950s. Then in 2019 hundreds of drawings by Kafka (1883–1924), which had for years been locked away, became available following an extraordinary ten-year-long trial in Jerusalem which entrusted Kafka’s papers that were previously in private hands to the National Library of Israel (see Benjamin Balint’s fascinating book, Kafka’s Last Trial, 2018).

Franz Kafka: The Drawings is the first book to publish all of Franz Kafka’s available drawings, almost 250, including the newly discovered sketches. ‘[T]his collection of ...

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