What is the course about?
We will explore how the circumstances of Kafka’s life helped him to write his extraordinary fictions – stories which have always been felt to express modern humanity’s alienation and helplessness more memorably than most others.
Laurie Smith has taught poetry writing and literature courses at The City Lit for some years, focussing on modernism and writers’ radicalism. He researches and lectures at King’s College London, helped to found Magma poetry magazine which he sometimes edits and has recently been a Trustee of the Poetry Society.
What will we cover?
We look at Kafka's position as a minority of a minority (a German-speaking Jew in an increasingly nationalist Czech-speaking country) and his professional work with suffering (assessing insurance payments for sometimes horrific industrial accidents); also his relations with his father and several girlfriends and the fact that he was considered to be Jewish in appearance and suffered petty anti-semitism as a result. We will look at how these factors are reflected in some of his stories (especially The Metamorphosis and In the Penal Colony), some extracts of his novels and a variety of his shorter parables, axioms and extracts from his diaries.
We will build up a view of how far he thought his work was funny (he laughed a lot when reading it to people), whether he thought of zaniness as a defence, why he instructed Max Brod to destroy all his unpublished work and why his work speaks to us so powerfully today.
What will I achieve?
By the end of this course you should be able to...
• Understand how Kafka responded to the circumstances of his life by writing highly original fictions.
• Appreciate his originality.
• Enjoy reading and discussing some great stories and extracts.
What level is the course and do I need any particular skills?
You should be interested in Kafka. No other particular skills are needed.
How will I be taught, and will there be any work outside the class?
The session will be run in a seminar style with all students included in discussions led by the tutor. For maximum enjoyment of the course please read (or re-read) The Metamorphosis and In the Penal Colony beforehand.
Are there any other costs? Is there anything I need to bring?
Apart from The Metamorphosis and In the Penal Colony, photocopies of the materials will be provided.
When I've finished, what course can I do next?
Look for literature courses under History, Culture and Writing at www.citylit.ac.uk.