This dissertation studies the presence and importance of Franz Kafka’s writing in French letters of the twentieth century. Though born in Prague and a speaker of German, Kafka’s work has been instrumental to many French thinkers, and I study three in particular: Marthe Robert, Maurice Blanchot, and Alain Robbe-Grillet. I analyze the critical writings of Robert and Blanchot, as they are two of the most comprehensive and prolific writer’s on Kafka. Their theoretical writings will in turn be used to read and reevaluate the novels Dans le labyrinthe by Robbe-Grillet and Aminadab by Blanchot.
This project may be divided into three parts. The first part consists of two chapters and relies on the critical work of Marthe Robert. In her career, she wrote three books devoted entirely to Kafka, and a cycle of four books which reference his writing with great frequency. In her criticism, several themes reappear that treat genre, the conventions of the novel, and the dualities that writers face between living their life, and crafting their art. In the light of her critical oeuvre, the second chapter uses Robert’s insights to read two novels that belong to a Kafkaesque tradition. In Dans le labyrinthe and Aminadab, I examine genre, rhetoric, and the problematic nature of interpretation.
The second part consists of two chapters that rely on the critical work of Maurice Blanchot. Though he never wrote an entire book-length study devoted to Kafka’s text, Blanchot has written many articles that are dependent on Kafka. He studies the language of literature, the problems of commentary and interpretation, and the unique positioning of the author, who, alienated from him or herself, experiences a movement from je to il. The survey of Blanchot’s critical work is used to reexamine Dans le labyrinthe and Aminadab, and to use the novels as illustrations for some of Blanchot’s abstract ideas.
The third part of this dissertation treats questions of selfhood and subjectivity. Writers who have discussed Kafka also exhibit a common interest in questions of subjectivity. This thematic, which is present in the entire project, is discussed at length in the fifth chapter, with the aid of Claude Morali’s Qui est moi aujourd’hui? This chapter analyzes how the discourse of subjectivity is related to childhood, a theme common to Kafka and the three French writers whom I have chosen. I conclude by questioning whether childhood may be used as a metaphor to help frame the questions I have studied regarding reading, writing, and the interpretation of literature.