Brentano and Kafka

Barry Smith

From: Axiomathes, 8, 1997, 83-104.

Revised version of: “Kafka and Brentano: A Study in Descriptive Psychology”, in Barry Smith (ed.), Structure and Gestalt: Philosophy and Literature in Austria-Hungary and Her Successor States, Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 1981, 113-61.
There is a narrow thread in the vast literature on Kafka which pertains to Kafka’s knowledge of philosophy, and more precisely to Kafka’s use in his fictional writings of some of the main ideas of Franz Brentano. Kafka attended courses in philosophy at the Charles University given by Brentano’s students Anton Marty and Christian von Ehrenfels, and was for several years a member of a discussion-group organized by orthodox adherents of the Brentanian philosophy in Prague. The present essay summarizes what is known about Kafka’s relations to the Brentanist movement. It draws on Brentanian ideas on the evidence of inner perception, on oblique consciousness, on active introspection, on correct and incorrect judgment, and on consciousness as a species of inner tribunal, in order to throw light on central features of Kafka’s writings, including stylistic features. Special attention is directed towards Die Verwandlung and Der Prozess, and a reading of the latter is offered according to which the trial of Joseph K. occurs entirely within the mind of K. himself. The revisions in the 1997 version of the paper relate especially to the treatment of Kafka and Brentano in Arnold Heidsieck’s book The Intellectual Contexts of Kafka’s Fiction: Philosophy, Law, Religion, of 1994.

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