In his life and writing, Kafka (1883–1924) struggled against patriarchy and anarchy. Yet, as critic Walter Benjamin once remarked, Kafka “took all conceivable precautions against the interpretation of his writings.” Löwy is circumspect and cautious in leading the reader through Kafka’s biography and opus, linking father-son antagonism and heterodox Jewish thought and anarchic protest against modernity to offer new insights. Löwy starts by analyzing Kafka's early anti-authoritarianism and in chapter 2 scours work that illustrates patriarchal autocracy (The Sons, Letter to My Father, The Trial, Metamorphosis, and Amerika). Löwy devotes the remaining chapters to The Trial, with its uncomplaining hero caught in a bureaucratic, nefarious machine; whether Kafka was religious or secular (Löwy concludes he was in no–man’s–land); The Castle and its bureaucratic despotism and voluntary servitude; the modern state as hierarchical, impersonal, and alienating; and the “Kafkaesque,” which in more than 100 languages signals inhumanity and absurdity and means the irredeemable contamination of bureaucracy. Hedges's translation from the original French (published in 2004) is excellent, and the endnotes (which serve as bibliography) are thorough.
--L. J. Rippley, St. Olaf College
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