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The Imperative to WriteDestitutions of the Sublime in Kafka, Blanchot and Beckett$
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Jeff Fort

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780823254699

Published to Fordham Scholarship Online: September 2014

DOI: 10.5422/fordham/9780823254699.001.0001

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Degradation of the Sublime

Degradation of the Sublime

“A Hunger Artist”

(p.144) Chapter 4 Degradation of the Sublime
The Imperative to Write

Jeff Fort

Fordham University Press

This chapter provides a discussion of Kafka’s 1922 story “A Hunger Artist” and argues that this late story engages in a retrospective critique of the author’s previous strivings for sublimity and transcendence, as examined in earlier chapters of this book. Drawing on Kant’s analysis of the sublime in The Critique of Judgment, it is shown that the hunger artist’s own pursuit and understanding of his art is articulated in terms that resonate directly with the Kantian sublime (in particular the “mathematical sublime”), but in a mode of failure and degradation, leaving the art of hunger at risk of oblivion. Arguing that the story is structured as a joke with a punchline, the chapter makes a link between the logic of this story and the joke logic at work in Freud’s theory of the comic, specifically in the form of a “degradation of the sublime” which Freud attributes to jokes aimed at “unmasking” the pretentions of elevated personages. The hunger artist is a figure who is radically destituted and emptied, but this emptiness itself is seen as a new shape and “ground” for the imperative to write.

Keywords:   Franz Kafka, “A Hunger Artist”, Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgment, sublime, Sigmund Freud, jokes, degradation

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