Kafka’s Blues

Paper Text – $34.95

ISBN 978-0-8101-3285-6

E-book – $34.95

ISBN 978-0-8101-3287-0

Cloth Text – $99.95

ISBN 978-0-8101-3286-3
Publication Date
June 2016
Page Count
184 pages
Trim Size
6 x 9

Kafka’s Blues

Figurations of Racial Blackness in the Construction of an Aesthetic
Mark Christian Thompson

Kafka's Blues proves the startling thesis that many of Kafka's major works engage in a coherent, sustained meditation on racial transformation from white European into what Kafka refers to as the "Negro" (a term he used in English). Indeed, this book demonstrates that cultural assimilation and bodily transformation in Kafka's work are impossible without passage through a state of being "Negro." Kafka represents this passage in various ways—from reflections on New World slavery and black music to evolutionary theory, biblical allusion, and aesthetic primitivism—each grounded in a concept of writing that is linked to the perceived congenital musicality of the "Negro," and which is bound to his wider conception of aesthetic production. Mark Christian Thompson offers new close readings of canonical texts and undervalued letters and diary entries set in the context of the afterlife of New World slavery and in Czech and German popular culture.
About the Author

MARK CHRISTIAN THOMPSON is an associate professor of English at Johns Hopkins University.

"In Kafka’s Blues, Mark Christian Thompson goes where no other Kafka critic has ventured before, except for some timid attempts, namely on the terrain of race, as he brilliantly deconstructs the Jewish author. In doing so he virtually creates a new genre in critique of early twentieth-century European writers." —Monatshefte

"Mark Christian Thompson’s Kafka’s Blues, which offers a thought-provoking mediation on race and the animal, is ground-breaking in its attempt to read Franz Kafka’s work through the lens of African American studies . . . Thompson reminds us of the importance of revisiting the canon through an intersectional lens, particularly so when the human, the animal, and the racialized subject are ranked on an evolutionary scale of Being." —Edge Effects

"To my knowledge, Thompson is the first scholar to propose a sustained interpretation of Kafka's most important stories through the prism of African American studies; indeed, 'racial blackness in Kafka is deeply buried,' in more than one sense." —German Studies Review

“Thompson gracefully blends Kafka’s biography, narrative analysis, secondary criticism, and historical research to demonstrate how an aesthetic of blackness informed and shaped Kafka’s fiction. He performs careful, contextual readings of several of Kafka’s most influential and renowned narratives, offering novel interpretations of how they relate to the question of racial identity. This is a fascinating and compelling book.” —Robert T. Tally Jr., author of Poe and the Subversion of American Literature: Satire, Fantasy, Critique

“The central topic presented here—the aesthetics of blackness in Kafka’s oeuvre—is highly original, and one that very few Kafka scholars have ever considered before. It is fascinating to see how Kafka was obsessed by blackness, and how integral it was to his thinking. With this book, Thompson reconstructs a narrative logic that has largely remained unexplored, and in doing so, establishes himself as a major Kafka scholar.”—Carl Niekerk, author of Reading Mahler: German Culture and Jewish Identity in Fin-de-Siècle Vienna