About the Project

Since his untimely death, Franz Kafka (1883-1924) has become a global phenomenon. Over the past century, every generation has discovered ‘its’ Kafka. Across seismic shifts his texts have spoken to readers from all walks of life, as reflected during the Covid pandemic, when memes about Gregor Samsa trapped in his bedroom went viral. Both Kafka and his protagonists are often cast as isolated entities existentially disconnected from their surroundings. The AHRC-funded Project Kafka’s Transformative Communities challenges this image by foregrounding a central but neglected aspect of his work: community. Community is a constant thread in Kafka’s writings, from his earliest texts to his last story and artistic testament, ‘Josefine, the Singer or The Mouse-People’, whose artist-protagonist is defined by her (often strained) relationship with the collective. Our project uses Kafka’s engagement with community as the springboard for a distinctive engagement with his texts, contexts and legacy. 

Our project is structured around three themes. First, the Community theme (led by PI Carolin Duttlinger) explores how Kafka’s literary depiction of groups and collectives is shaped by, and in turn responds to, the central role of community in his immediate Jewish and wider Austro-Hungarian context. Widening the project’s spatial and temporal focus, the second theme, Worldliness (led by Co-I Barry Murnane), focusses on Kafka’s role as a world author, looking at his reception in different times and places, while relating this status back to his own writings – his engagement with the power dynamics of a globalising world, in an age of colonialism, war and empire. Third, the Transformation theme (led by Co-Is Katrin Kohl and Lucia Ruprecht) assesses Kafka’s posthumous legacy in different art forms and media and their respective audiences. Our project does not treat such creative responses as an afterthought but as forms of investigation and interpretation in their own right. 

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Page from Kafka’s diary with drawings of people’s heads and an acrobat.

(c) Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, 2009 - MS Kafka 1, fol. 4r.