Here are some excerpts from the first readers’ reports for Kafka and Wittgenstein.
Sometimes people ask me why I even wanted to be a scholar in the first place, given how much happier I seem now. I hope the following examples provide a little bit of an answer.
From Report #1 (a shorter report of about 530 words; enthusiastically recommends for publication, gives some interesting suggestions about fleshing out definitions of modernism; wants me to get rid of the truth-tables–*SOB*! NEVAHR! OK, maybe):
Let me begin by stressing that this study of Kafka and Wittgenstein absolutely SHOULD be published. Of course, the topic is obviously important and of broad interest; but also, the thoroughness with which the author structures the relationship – introducing Wittgenstein’s key categories and then relating them to Kafka’s masterpieces through detailed analysis – is of core significance for Kafka studies.
The importance of this book will be huge for Kafka studies, and will bring Wittgenstein into the center of this critical world. I hope my mini-suggestions are helpful. I cannot recommend this scholarly enterprise highly enough! And, as virtually all academic libraries maintain sections on Kafka-studies, the book wins in every way.
From Report #2, a 3000-word masterpiece that is many times better-written than the manuscript it reviews (I have added boldface for emphasis in places):
Kafka and Wittgenstein offers a highly original, rigorous, and fascinating reading of six important works by Kafka through the lens of Wittgenstein’s philosophy of language. It provides clear and detailed explanations of key concepts in Wittgenstein’s early and late philosophy of language and demonstrates how these concepts can be used to dissolve the apparent paradoxes in Kafka’s works (and, in one instance at least, how a work by Kafka illustrates and elaborates more fully a concept introduced by Wittgenstein). I find it particularly refreshing and insightful that Schuman offers up her project as an effort to rethink less what Kafka’s stories and novels mean – given that so many readers have concluded, rightly and inevitably, that they defy fixed meaning, and given Kafka’s own play with “dead ends” of signification – than how they work on a linguistic and narrative level.
The analysis in Kafka and Wittgenstein:
(1) is historically sound (the introduction situates Kafka and Wittgenstein in the tradition of modernist Viennese language skepticism);
(2) is theoretically sophisticated (one could not ask for a clearer and more subtle explication of Wittgenstein’s arguments about language);
(3) demonstrates mastery of a truly vast body of criticism (Schuman does a fantastic job choosing interlocutors, and her examples really span a century of active Kafka research; my only possible worry is that it is maybe somewhat English/American centered? I personally am not bothered by this bias, but the book might receive more legitimation in the European academic book market if she cited more German sources);
(4) remains close and attentive to Kafka’s text, thereby steering clear of unhelpful generalizations, without being myopic or dreary (rather than try to interpret one story or novel exhaustively, a worthy aim but not Schuman’s, and one that, if pursued, would make the manuscript swell to 1000 pages, Schuman is able to make significant contributions to our understanding of Kafka by focusing on specific textual moments and problems that are in fact central and representative of broader phenomena).
Finally, on the level of style, organization, language, formatting, and general presentation, this manuscript is nearly flawless. There is not a single unclear or vague sentence in the whole work. This degree of directness and clarity (not to mention the complete absence of jargon and obfuscating stylistic tics), especially considering the sophistication and complexity of the ideas being presented, is a welcome addition to literary criticism. I found only a few typos and a couple of awkward formulations. The manuscript is truly exemplary in this regard.
Given the quality of this manuscript, the rigor of the argumentation, the lucidity of the writing, and the interdisciplinary approach, I think the book would be of interest to a wide range of scholars. First of all, it is a significant contribution to Kafka criticsm, itself a sizeable field, with considerable audiences in North America, Europe, and Israel. Given the broader argument about modernism, the book should also appeal to many scholars of literary modernism, which, when one considers the rather large field of English and American modernism, comparative European modernism, and the newer burgeoning field of global modernism, includes many people. Finally, the book should appeal to students of Wittgenstein, who, if I understand, is one of the few philosophers who remains actively attended to by both the analytic and continental traditions in philosophy. Given that Schuman’s study is a successful attempt to bridge these traditions/methodologies, it will be appealing, useful, and enlightening to philosophers in both camps.
It will come as no surprise at this late point in my evaluation that I strongly and enthusiastically recommend this book for publication […]. In addition to the many valuable insights that I have enumerated above, this manuscript is a model of academic rigor and lucidity. I hope that Schuman is successful in ushering in the study of “analytic modernism” as she aspires to do – there are surely other philosophers and literary authors who could be paired in fruitful and fascinating ways, according to her model – and I have every reason to believe that her groundbreaking study has the potential to accomplish this. But even if we leave this aside, her book is a scholarly model in another sense: it is a forceful and convincing demonstration that complex and subtle ideas do not require complicated and opaque writing, and that truly thoughtful and insightful literary analysis is best communicated through clear and direct prose—punctuated, as Schuman’s MS is, by moments of playfulness and humor!