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K. Hardcover – January 18, 2005


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (January 18, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400041899
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400041893
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1.2 x 7.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,043,059 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Calasso's study is a milestone not just in the ever burgeoning literature about Kafka, but in literature itself. This remarkably elegant essay gains its intellectual authority from Calasso's tone: he's amazingly well read, without being a factotum of any particular discipline. Elias Canetti remarked that Kafka was, as a writer "so utterly himself" that the critic "must, even at the risk of seeming slavish, adhere as closely as possible to his [Kafka's] own statements." Calasso follows this advice. Among the insights into The Castle that make the first four chapters a must for interested readers of that work is the way in which Calasso sees K. as a continuation of Josef K, the hero of Kafka's earlier The Trial. "The Castle," Calasso claims, "is Josef K's bardo" ("the intermediate state" in the Tibetan Book of the Dead). Calasso is so intimate with the texts, including the diaries, short stories and The Trial, that his voice sometimes emerges uncannily from the texts themselves, as though he were one of those mysterious exegetes that Kafka loved to put in his stories. Particularly astute is Calasso's observation that the image of the assimilated Jew runs through the novels like a great latent anxiety dream, leading outward, to Kafka's prophetic sense of the insecurity of the Jews in Central Europe, and inward, to the household of Kafka's father. Kafka has had marvelous interpreters in the past, including Walter Benjamin, Canetti and Maurice Blanchot. Without exaggeration, Calasso (Literature and the Gods) belongs in this elevated company. (Jan.)
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From The New Yorker

Kafka's fiancée once wrote to him that she had taken his handwriting to a graphologist, who detected "artistic interests." Kafka wrote back, disdainfully, "I don't have literary interests. I'm made of literature, I'm nothing else and can be nothing else." For such a writer, the erudite Italian novelist and publisher Calasso is the ideal critic. Under his patient gaze, the inner connections of Kafka's writing emerge; for instance, he sees the mysterious world of "The Castle," encountered by the land surveyor, K., as a sort of limbo into which Josef K., from Kafka's earlier novel "The Trial," has fallen. An elegant writer, Calasso is particularly attuned to the strong erotic undercurrents in Kafka's writing and is suitably wary of finding any overarching philosophy.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker

Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By B. R. Kraus on April 27, 2006
Format: Paperback
Calasso understands that "Kafka was a verist," or, as another translator might have put it: "Kafka was a realist." Always remaining repectfully close to the Kafka's text, Calasso finds its meaning not by abstracting, generalizing or inferring, but by reading closely the turns of phrase overlooked on first reading, repeated phrases, points made only once in all his works, and phrases crossed out in manuscript drafts. At this depth, it's plain that Kafka understood what's essential about the modern world, and that his cruel and phantasmagorical universe was simply this one. Calasso tells us nothing: he shows us what is already there and that is this: what Myth was to ancient times, Kafka is to our own.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Antoine Boisvert on February 13, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Sometimes when faced with a difficult work of literature, it takes the right work of criticism to bring an appreciation of it to birth. Calasso provides that, or seeks to, in his work on Kafka's novels, whose fundamental plotlessness and lack of resolution can make one throw them across the room. I had always liked Kafka's short works, but thrown up my hands at the Castle, and never even attempted The Trial. Calasso is bringing me around.
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17 of 30 people found the following review helpful By John L Murphy TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 21, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I gave this a try, but you'd be much better off with the original Kafka texts, which you have to be lovingly and/or obsessingly intimate with before tackling this commentary. Calasso also plays off his previous book on India's mythology, "Ka" (get it in the titular progression?), and lacking familiarity with this when I started "K.", it further alienated me from C's ruminations. Now, alienation is natural for any reader of Kafka as a response and raison d'etre for being attracted to Kafka, but Calasso tries, probably too faithfully, to replicate the Prague artist's own rhythms on the page. My inescapable distancing of reading an Italian writer translated into English writing about texts in German probably does not help.

The result is a rather tedious, if faithfully stylized, elaboration of the simple insight that "The Castle" and "The Trial" show Kafka's longing for and repulsion from being accepted by and belonging to the System. This would have made a fine essay, but stretched out for hundreds of pages, however attractively bound and presented, makes for repetitive and ultimately ponderous reflections that do more to show how Calasso becomes a disciple imitating his Master than one able to translate the message into a form demanding if not more than as much attention as the original chapter and verse from Kafka himself.

It will, however, send you back to the original texts with a renewed appreciation of their substance and relevance. For this, Calasso is not to be dismissed. Yet the product here reminds me of an impersonator of a famous singer who puts out his or her own records. It's like buying an "original soundtrack" to "Beatlemania" while passing over the Beatles albums themselves.
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More About the Author

Geoffrey Brock is an American poet and translator. His first book of poems, "Weighing Light," received the New Criterion Poetry Prize and appeared in 2005. His poems have appeared in many anthologies, including "Best American Poetry 2007," "Pushcart Prize XXXIV," and "The Swallow Anthology of New American Poetry." His awards include a Wallace Stegner Fellowship from Stanford University, a poetry fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a Cullman Center Fellowship from the New York Public Library.

Brock is also a leading translator of Italian poetry and prose, having brought into English major works by Cesare Pavese, Umberto Eco, Roberto Calasso, and others. His translation of Pavese's poetry, "Disaffections," received the PEN Center USA Translation Award and the MLA's Lois Roth Award, and his translation of Eco's most recent novel, "The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana," received the American Translators Association Lewis Galantiere Award. Johnathan Lethem, writing in the New York Times, called Brock's translation of "K.," Calasso's book about Kafka, "superb," and Tim Parks, writing in the New York Review of Books, called his new version of "Pinocchio," Carlo Collodi's classic Tuscan tale, "excellent."

Brock teaches in the MFA Program in Creative Writing and Translation at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, where he lives with his wife, the novelist Padma Viswanathan, and their two children. His website is www.geoffreybrock.com.

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