An Assignment for Professor Muenzer's undergrad class
University of Pittsburgh, German Department, Spring 1996

Typically, the historical range and diversity of Kafka-criticism expresses itself in undergraduate courses as an index of the readerly qualities of some paradigmatic Kafka-text. The evidence of competing interpretations, such thinking goes, reflects the construction of a reader on the margins of narration who serves to disrupt, disperse, and finally replace the authorial voice. To paraphrase Roland Barthes, Kafka dies as an author, enabling a Kafka-reader to survive within a polyphonic voice that can be heard in the cacophony of the critical-family K.

I devised the following exercise for my students to help them experience (on their own bodies) this transformation of writerly desire into the pleasure of reading. My hope was to free them from the straight-jacket of morbid seriousness that rigorous contextual readings often produce by having them try-on various ideological costumes. By pretending to be figures or masks, they would begin appreciating where allegory in Kafka begins and where it must end.

Write an obituary for the travelling salesman Gregor Samsa. In
standpoint of those meanings that you can reconstruct from the
data of his life. Please remember that your particular reconstruction
will be determined by the often inarticulate anxieties, hopes, and
beliefs that you presumably share with your readership. Please also
reflect upon the public voice that you have chosen to embody. Are
you writing your commemoration of Gregor for a literary
quarterly, a union newspaper, an insurance company newsletter, a
Jewish journal, a family digest etc.?

Results

Jason Yackee's Obituary

Frank Humes' Obituary

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