MIMESIS Munich Doctoral Program for Literature and the Arts

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Sarah Stoll

Sarah Stoll, M.A.

Doctoral Student


Edmund-Rumpler-Straße 13, 80939 München

Room: B 280
Phone: +49 (0)89 2180-72142

Thesis Title

Narrowest Stages. Destroyed Presents: Franz Kafka In-Between Epic and Drama


Walter Benjamin said of Kafka’s stories that they represent a codex of gestures for which the theater is the “logical place” as it were. Nonetheless, the dissertation investigates the structure of the “stages” (Bühnen) in Kafka’s texts themselves so as also to counter the thesis that the dramatic monologues of Kafka only ever wait for their literal performative realization. The relation of the texts by Franz Kafka to the theater is not an unproblematic one. It shows itself to be the struggle between epic and drama: rather than merely “theatric,” Kafka’s narratives show themselves to be “anti-theatric” in Martin Punchner’s sense. They disrupt or destroy dialogue, present, and event – according to Peter Szondi the three basic concepts of the dramatic. They transcribe the bodies and gestures of the actors und subject them to literary and filmic techniques, hack them to pieces, zoom in on them, mount them, let them take the place of the action, and instead of releasing the fringe, the stage directions, to a translation into the theatric, they lead these back still to their text-interior itself. Their relation to the reality of the stage seems to be like that of the intermediate form investigated by Peter Szondi in his study The Fin de Siècleʼs Lyric Drama, even if they achieve this relation by epic rather than lyric means: “These poetic works [i. e. lyric dramas] already possess the reality that the performance should help to provide, namely, on the strength of their language” (Szondi 1975: 50). How exactly the particular narrative styles of Franz Kafka gesture out of the tension between epic and drama is shown in the dissertation beginning with the investigation of his dramatic writings, which are still relatively unknown in the reception literature. From here the narrative techniques, which reverse mimesis into diegesis are reconstructed. Whereas already two rather biographical studies on Kafka’s encounter with the Yiddish theater exist – namely, Evelyn Torton Beck’s Kafka and the Yiddish Theater and Guido Massino’s Kafka, Löwy und das Jiddische Theater – the present dissertation contrasts Kafka’s Jewish theater with the Yiddish theater through an analysis of its narrative forms. The focus is on an analysis of Kafka’s until now little heeded Gruft-Wächter (lit. Grave Watcher) of 1916/17, which occupies a special position in Kafka’s work as his only extended attempt at a drama. Whereas dialogue and monologue have a prominent position in Kafka’s stories and novels as well, the Gruft-Wächter is – in addition to a few other short dramatic dialogues that also show the distinguishing dramatic mark of stage directions – the only text which at first seems to fulfill the form of a dramatic score – however fragmented – meant to be performed. The dissertation shows how despite all of this the text “cuts the cord” from the theater, as it were. Since Kafka precisely avoids in his dramatic fragment “what features the literary stile of his epic works, [namely] the immediate representation of the scenic action through dramatic-theatric means” (Meinel 1995: 372), the investigation of the playlet serves as the point of departure for determining the relation between the form developed by the mini-drama and Kafka’s (anti-)theatric narratives. The tension between epic and drama becomes explicit here, though it turns up in Kafka’s narratives knotted in highly complex approaches.
The Grave Watcher, the dissertation argues, itself reflects the relation between dramatic text and performance, and thus lends itself especially well as a meta-text to an introductory investigation of this intermediary form, neither epic nor drama. From here out Kafka’s narrowest stages – inscribed pieces of paper – are considered in-between epic and drama.