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An Inhumanly Wise Shame

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In Kafka's work, Benjamin detects a gesture of shame, which he characterizes as historico-philosophic (geschichtsphilosophisch). He considers Kafka's gesture of shame to be philosophic in its opposition to myth, which is closure concerning history. In its elaboration of Kafka's gesture, moreover, Benjamin's analysis itself becomes a gesture of shame and thus somehow “literary.” This does not detract from the notion that the gesture—in Kafka's work and in Benjamin's criticism—remains philosophic. Kafka's literary work is philosophic in shaming mythic interpretations of it; Benjamin's philosophic criticism continues this gesture by advancing shame about mythic tendencies either in the work or in its reception. Without pathos, Kafka presents astonished shame at mythic human order and is attentive to exceptions to, deviations from, such order. Benjamin's criticism continues the latter attentiveness, but the attentiveness, the philosophic element in Kafka's literature, is also betrayed by Benjamin in some respects.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Faculty of Humanities, University of Calgary, Calgary AB, Canada T2N 1N4

Publication date: 2009-08-01

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