The Humanity and Absurdity of Franz Kafka: A Three-Part Course with Dr. Katerina Prusova

The Humanity and Absurdity of Franz Kafka: A Three-Part Course with Dr. Katerina Prusova


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In this three-part course, we will discuss Franz Kafka’s novels and his thinking in the context of modern antisemitism and Jewish emancipation. Kafka is presented as a freethinker and an anarchist. In the time of Vaclav Havel’s dissidence, the communist authorities saw Kafka as an enemy of the State and the boom of Kafka’s literature in the West in the 1980s was seen as an ideological weapon of Western imperialists. In the atmosphere of normalization, Havel wrote his theatre of the absurd with disturbing parallels to Kafka’s visions.

The course also follows the footsteps of Kafka and his friends in Prague cafés and on Prague boulevards. We’ll discuss Kafka’s notable companions and contemporaries such as his intimate friend Milena Jesenska, Franz Werfel, and Alma Mahler. Led by Charles University professor and expert on Prague literary circles and Jewish writers, Dr. Katerina Prusova, this interactive course presents a fresh look on Kafka, his contemporaries, as well as his non-acceptance under the communist rule.

Designed to inform curiosity as well as future travels, participants will come away with a deeper understanding of the struggle of Western European Jews in the time of the fin de siecle, of powerful visions of humanity and true freedom as well as the legacy of Kafka under communism, when Czechoslovakia was nicknamed Absurdistan.

Lecture 1: The Jews on Trial, Humanity on Trial

Kafka’s trial is often seen as disturbingly prophetic, foreseeing both the Nazi hell and the Communist paradise. In reality, Kafka reflected the antisemitic trials of his time that started in the 1840s with an outbreak of modern antisemitism. The seminar also discusses Kafka’s search for true warmhearted religiosity despite the ossified and cold Judaism of his father. The position of the Jews in Kafka’s time is explained in the light of original interpretations of his novels the Metamorphosis and The Castle.

Lecture 2: Kafka As an Anarchist: Vaclav Havel and the Absurdity of Communism

“Poets are dangerous for the state because they want to change it.“ Kafka stood out against the authoritarian position of traditional education and medicine, as well as the bureaucratic state apparatus. He was deeply disturbed by the lack of freedom, and hence the lack of redemption, in an anonymous and alienated system of control intrinsic to the modern state. This lecture discusses The Castle, In the Penal Colony, and Amerika. We will discuss Kafka’s dream of absolute freedom combined with an awareness of terrible bondage. We will explore stories of brave editors and small theatres that managed to bring Kafka into the public light under the communist rule in the 1980s, despite the authorities.

Lecture 3: Fatal Relationships: Kafka and Jesenska, Werfel and Alma Mahler

This lecture examines the relationships of two couples. Kafka’s love, a journalist and translator Milena Jesenska was murdered in the female concentration camp in Ravensbruck. Prague-born poet Franz Werfel died in 1945 in Hollywood writing scenarios for Academy Award-winning movies. His wife, Alma Mahler- Gropius was a femme fatale that dated exclusively Jewish geniuses. We will follow their travels as well as their footsteps in Prague, visiting the Grand Café Orient at the House at the Black Madonna, and discuss cubism in literature. This lecture provides a journey back to the eternal Austro-Hungarian empire just before its collapse and to wealthy Czechoslovakia on the eve of Nazism.

Katerina Prusova has been teaching on the Holocaust, Jewish history, and Jewish culture at Charles University in Prague since 2009. A Context expert since 2013, she principally leads walks on Jewish Prague and the Terezin concentration camp. She holds a PhD in art history.

How does it work?

This is a three-part series held weekly and hosted on Zoom. Please check the schedule for the specific dates and times for each lecture.

Is there a reading list in advance?

Though the course is open to participants with no background on Franz Kafka there are suggested readings for further investigation. You will receive this soon after course registration.

How long are the lectures?

Each lecture is 90 minutes long with time for Q&A.

How much is the course?

The course is $105 for three lectures.

Is a recording available?

In general, our courses are not recorded. However, if you need to miss a lecture please let us know in advance and we can arrange for a recording for that session on an individual basis.

This course is suitable for all ages

90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.

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