The Literary Gewissensbiss
This chapter provides an overview of the book’s entire section on Kafka (chapters 1-4), in which it is shown that Kafka’s work follows a discernible trajectory from third person narratives governed by dramatic judgment scenes toward stories structured more my ruminating first person voices contending with indefinite anxiety. The arc of this trajectory is one in which the residual sublimity embodied again and again by the judges in Kafka’s judgment narratives is emptied and “destituted.” Beginning with readings of the early letters to Oskar Pollak, and moving on to detailed analyses of the early Diary entries that preceded the composition of “The Judgment,” this chapter shows how the scenario of judgment before a powerful sublime instance is established as the schema of Kafka’s literary striving, which leads directly to the figural and thematic shape of Kafka’s first mature fiction. The image of “two milk teeth” contained in a locked box, mentioned in a letter to Pollak, provides a guiding motif in an analysis that links judgment to the Gewissensbiss or “bite of conscience” in Kafka’s early literary scenographies. A conscience bitten and wounded by projected judgments is shown to be a fundamental configuration of Kafka’s writing during this period.
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