The Prague Circle
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A group of mostly Jewish German-speaking writers, the Prague Circle included some of the most significant figures in modern Western literature. Its core members, Franz Kafka, Max Brod, Franz Werfel, Paul Kornfeld, and Egon Erwin Kisch, are renowned for their seminal dramas, lyric poetry, novels, short stories, and essays on aesthetics. The writers of the Prague Circle were bound together not by a common perspective or a particular ideology, but by shared experiences and interests. From their vantage point in the Bohemian capital during the early decades of the twentieth century, they witnessed first-hand the collapse of the familiar and predictable, if not entirely comfortable, monarchical old order and the ascent of an anxious and uncertain modern era that led inexorably to fascism, militarization, and war. In order to deal with their new challenges, they considered strategies as diverse and oppositional as the members of the Prague Circle themselves. Their responses were shaped to various degrees by Catholicism, Zionism, expressionism, activism, anti-activism, international solidarity with the working class, and transcendence. Stephen Shearier explores how these authors aligned themselves on the spectrum of the Activism Debate, which preceded the much studied Expressionist Debate by a generation. This study examines the critical reception of these influential literary figures to determine how their legacies have been shaped.



Publié par
Date de parution 01 février 2022
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9781680537772
Langue English
Poids de l'ouvrage 2 Mo

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The Prague Circle
Franz Kafka, Egon Erwin Kisch, Max Brod, Franz Werfel, Paul Kornfeld, and Their Legacies
Stephen James Shearier
Academica Press
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Names: Shearier, Stephen James. (author)
Title: The prague circle : franz kafka, egon erwin kisch, max brod, franz werfel, paul kornfeld, and their legacies | Stephen James Shearier
Description: Washington : Academica Press, 2022. | Includes references.
Identifiers: LCCN 2022933507 | ISBN 9781680537765 (hardcover) | 9781680537772 (e-book)
Copyright 2022 Stephen James Shearier
To the memory of my nuturers Donald and Marie Shearier, my teachers Prof. Roy Swanson, Prof. Melvin Friedman, Prof. Hans Mayer, Prof. Jost Hermand, Prof. David Bathrick, Prof. Karl Ruhrberg, Prof. Reinhard Paul Becker, Prof. Volkmar Sander, Prof. Margret Herzfeld-Sander, Prof. Doris Starr Guilloton and Heiner Müller, to Prof. Andreas Huyssen, Prof. Jack Zipes, to my champions and inspiration Elfriede Ruhrberg, Sakina Demirovic, Dr. Andreas Bittner and Dr. Dagmar Bittner, to the playwright and poet Denis Regan, to the independent German scholar James Basil Fassold, whose careful scrutiny and native brilliance made this manuscript inestimably better and last but not least to my fiercest critic and staunchest loyalist, my loving muse and enduringly amusing love Maggie.
Contents I Introduction Prague: “The Magic City” in Transition Prague: An Historical Background to the Prague Circle Jewish Prague Prague German Literature Prague: Cultural Juncture and “City of Many Falsehoods” The Prague Circle Activism versus Anti-activism Notes II Franz Kafka (1883-1924): Flucht in die Literatur? Notes III Egon Erwin Kisch (1885-1948): Aktivist als Litterateur Notes IV Max Brod (1884-1968): Der Bleibende Notes V Franz Werfel (1890-1945): Flucht in den Christentum? Notes VI Paul Kornfeld (1889-1942): Flucht zum Jenseits? Notes VII Conclusion Notes Works Cited Index
I Introduction
While the works of Franz Kafka and Franz Werfel have for generations been literary treasures for audiences throughout the world, these writers have been considered by most readers as having stood outside and independent of their time. Traditionally they have been treated by literary critics sui generis, that is, as autonomous, i.e. isolated from any context. It has not been taken into account, for example, that Kafka and Werfel along with their fellow Prague writers Egon Erwin Kisch, Paul Kornfeld, and Max Brod were for a number of years in close personal and professional contact with one another, that their cross- germinating works were a collective response to a specific historically- determined, troubled milieu and that they were members of a large seminal group of writers known as the Prague Circle.
While for decades works by members of the Prague Circle have enjoyed wide success, their popularity has been by no means constant. Paul Kornfeld, for example, was acclaimed by his contemporary critics and general audiences alike as the best dramatist of his generation, only subsequently to fall into nearly total obscurity. In the 1940s and 1950s Franz Werfel achieved extraordinary success in the U.S. but is virtually forgotten today both here and in German-speaking countries. While for nearly a century Kafka has been recognized in the West for his subtle and genial exposure of the ubiquitous oppressive social apparatus, he was considered anathema in the East.
Is this phenomenon of waxing and waning popularity simply the result of mutable literary tastes or does it perhaps have something to do with the serendipitous circumstances of professional and popular reception? The argument posited here is that artistic value is by no means intrinsic but rather the cumulative time-dependent result of unpredictable forces. Grounded on the premises that 1) the writers of the Prague Circle were indelibly influenced by the particular set of sociological, political and cultural conditions extant in the milieu located chronologically and aesthetically between Impressionism and Expressionism and that 2) the “meaning” of art is created in large part through its reception, which in turn is the product of particular historical contexts and the concomitant matrices of their respective variables, this examination attempts to demonstrate how our understanding of the works by the Prague Circle has been mediated by their historical reception.
Since it is assumed along with Deleuze and Guattari that the relationship between a work and its interpretation is not necessarily informed by the relationship between signifier and signified, but is rather an infinite series of ruptures, of “deterritorializations,” 1 the objective of this investigation is to determine the ways in which changing perspectives in the reception of the Prague Circle over time and across national boundaries reflect the relativity of literary aesthetic value judgments. It is not my desire to weigh in on the debate around aesthetic merit, i.e. as to whether said merit is intrinsic or determined by variables such as market value, or specific time and place, etc. It will become obvious, however, that the reception of works by the writers of the Prague Circle over the course of the last 100 years has had a substantial, undeniable influence on the viability of these writers for both scholarly and lay audiences in the 21 st century.
While the intention of this study is to be demonstrative, illustrative, the attempt has been made to ascertain the sociological and political effects on the critical and popular reception of the works by the Prague Circle in German- and English-speaking countries from the time of their publication through the first decades of the 21 th century. To be clear: due to the inexorably growing and ever-changing academic landscape, this study could never aspire to be comprehensive and exhaustive.
Opposed to psychological interpretations dominant in Germany and France, 2 and to the ‘text immanent’ approach employed by the New Critics prevalent in the U.S. since the 1950s, 3 this study is conceived as a reading of readings. Based on Jauss’ notion of ‘Rezeptionsästhetik,’ 4 it proceeds to establish a ‘history of reception.’ Structurally it is designed to determine the various ways in which the members of the Prague Circle responded to extant conditions during the production of their works and to evaluate the extent to which our understanding of these works has been mediated by their reception over time.
In order to demonstrate how meaning is not merely a function of a literary work’s representation of the “real world” in a literary work, but is created moreover by readers (general audience and professional critics alike) in their respective historical and cultural contexts, reception will be traced through various epochs in both the German-speaking world and in the USA. The production of meaning will be considered furthermore in the context of what I refer to as the Activism Debate. 5
While observing similarities as well as differences with respect, e.g., to their epistemological method, their ontology, 6 their teleology/ theology, 7 and their positions regarding the polemics of activism, 8 this study concludes that the writers of the Prague Circle, who were zealously engaged in both the theoretical treatment and practice of perception, were strongly influenced by the then-current philosophical method of phenomenology, cultivated in particular at the Charles University in Prague.
Quintessentially Expressionist, that is, characteristic of the artistic movement engendered by phenomenology, many of the works created by the Prague Circle were deliberately opened to infinite possibilities for interpretation. As such they require ever contemporary, that is, constantly updated interpretation as well as the utmost rigor in historical exegesis for their valorization.
It will be shown that through the multiplicity of possible meanings they have offered in their works the writers of the Prague Circle not only present an iconoclastic alternative to hegemonic methods of interpretation, but in their act of aesthetic liberation offer an irrefutable gesture of generosity.
The collective efforts by the Prague Circle manifest a distinctive tension brought on by the decline of Impressionism and the rise of Expressionism. The coincidence of the moribund Habsburg Empire and Berlin’s emerging vitality was reflected by sometimes stark contradictions within the work of the Prague Circle, which on the one hand attempts desperately to salvage the old regime and on the other hand pushes ineluctably towards aesthetic pluralism and modernity. This modernist aspect of the Prague Circle (and the polyvalence of meaning it presents) lends itself readily to the dynamic made possible by reception theory.
Prague: “The Magic City” in Transition
Prague has long been considered one of the loveliest cities in the world. From any perspective, whether in the heart of the Old City, along Wenceslas Square, or atop the prospect near the Hradschin Castle, Prague offers uniquely stunning spectacles ranging from the Tyn Church, whose magnificant spires strain proudly towards the heavens, to the humbled, narrow ways through the Old Jewish Cemetery, where myriad headstones lean at oblique angles suggesting expressionist architectonics. Its innumerable art nouveau structures resplendently punctuate a fairytale ambiance remarkable for its conspicuous absence of plastic, neon and International Style architecture. Unlike most major European urban centers “the Golden City” survived World War II virtually unscathed and serves as an index of the physical beauty that has elsewhere been lost forever to the madness of war.
Since 1989 the pre-modernist “City of 100 Spires” has been undergoing changes, the likes of which it has never known. The once soporific metropolis of quiet mysteries and magic-land architecture has been forced abruptly

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