The OKRC’s own Carolin Duttlinger has recently published a book called Attention and Distraction in Modern German Literature, Thought, and Culture with Oxford University Press. It is a wide-ranging interdisciplinary study which explores the dynamic relation between attention and distraction from the Enlightenment to the present day. And it includes an entire chapter on Kafka:
Kafka first encountered the question of (in)attention while still at school, in psychology lessons which acquainted him with Herbart’s dynamic theory of the mind as the site of competing forces. Attention remains a besetting theme in his life and work. In his diaries and letters, Kafka bemoans his own wavering concentration, eroded by insomnia and the demands of work, family and relationships, and yet in the reports he produced for the Workers’ Accident Insurance Institute, the instability of attention is cast as a statistical constant, as the inevitable product of the modern working environment. This notion is echoed in his fiction. His protagonists are chronically distracted, and even minor instances of distraction bring about disastrous consequences. In his later texts, however, Kafka turns to the downsides of attention; texts such as ‘The Burrow’ (1923) explore the (self-)destructive nature of excessive vigilance.
An excerpt from Duttlinger’s new book can be found on our blog here.
And a wonderful review of the book, by Princeton University’s Stanley Corngold, appeared in the Times Literary Supplement: https://www.the-tls.co.uk/articles/attention-and-distraction-in-modern-german-literature-thought-and-culture-carolin-duttlinger-book-review-stanley-corngold/