Kafka & Wittgenstein Interview with Straw-Man Me Part I

SCHUMANAs many of you know because I have told you, my first book, the academic monograph Kafka and Wittgenstein: The Case for an Analytic Modernism, came out yesterday. (Because everyone knows a Sunday pub date equals lots of sales. A-duh.) I am proud to say that it is currently the #1 bestseller in books about Kafka and Wittgenstein that were released yesterday. QUITE A FEAT, if I do say so myself. I expect it to remain at the top of this list (of one) for the rest of its print run (of slightly more than one, but not much).

Aaaaanyway, this week, along with my joke contest, I am going to run a promotional interview I did with a straw-man version of myself, and before I get started I do have to say that I lobbed myself some serious softballs, and am not impressed. This interview may or may not run all week, depending on whether or not I stay on track with my other book deadline, which looms very large.

Q: What the fuck is ‘analytic modernism’? That sounds made up. Also, why should I care about it? 

A: I’m so glad you asked, and in such a nice way, straw-man me. I define “analytic modernism” a bunch of different ways in the book, most of which use big-ass words that are no longer a part of my everyday vocab, so feel free to defer to the much smarter version of myself that wrote this book in 2012, but basically, it’s this: At the same time that Kafka (and Rilke, and Kraus, and Hofmannsthal, and Musil, and Stefan Zweig, and Georg Trakl, and people we now associate with “Austrian Modernism”) wrote, there was a huge revolution brewing in philosophy, of which Ludwig Wittgenstein was a key part (some would say the most important part, but others would not). This revolution was called “the New Logic” (Aristotelian logic being an “old logic”), and basically it was the precursor to what is now taught around the world as first-order logic, which is a key component to what people outside philosophy departments call “analytic philosophy,” and philosophers call “philosophy.”

Q: Wait, are you saying that Heidegger is NOT the number-one figure studied by philosophers worldwide, like I was led to believe in all of my literature seminars?

A: That is indeed what I am saying, straw-man me. In the vast majority of English-language philosophy departments in the world, Wittgenstein, not Heidegger, is considered the most important philosopher of the first half of the 20th Century. Fun fact: When I shared this in my book, my editor Nathan put in a marginal note that was like, “Are you sure you want to say that Wittgenstein is THE most important philosopher of the first half of the 20th Century? Wouldn’t most people say that was Heidegger?” And I was like, “Wow, Nathan, you sound JUST LIKE STRAW-MAN ME, are you two friends?” and he was like, “What?” and I was like, “Never mind, but no, actually, only literary theorists believe that; I’m stickin’ to my guns in the motherfucking book.” Then I deleted the word “motherfucking,” because Nathan doesn’t need to deal with that.

Q: Tell me more about how The New Logic fits in with Kafka. Kafka strikes me as highly illogical. Given that, you know, most of the shit he writes about makes no sense.

A: I am SO glad you mentioned this, straw-man me. So, logic. You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means. Or at any rate, I think you are using the word in a kind of casual, quasi-Aristotelian sense. The best way to explain this would actually be to introduce one of my chapters, which also appeared in an earlier form as this article in the German Quarterly. (DON’T WORRY, almost all of the book is NEW MATERIAL.) In the chapter about Der Prozess (The Trial), I concentrate on one particular structure in formal logic: the contradiction.

You know Josef K., right? How he can’t be guilty of anything specific, because he’s never charged? But he also can’t be NOT guilty, because he’s never charged so he can’t exonerate himself? Pretty fucked up, no? It’s ALSO what we call a logical contradiction. Josef K. is not guilty AND not-not guilty. ~G & ~~G, if you want to use the most jacked version of formal logic I can quickly crap out on a keyboard.

Anyway, the Prozess chapter explores what Wittgenstein had to say about logical contradiction in the Tractatus (HINT: IT’S INTERESTING), including the super-fascinating rule of “false elimination” or ex falso quodlibet, which relates back to Der Prozess in a wonderful way.

Once we see how well Josef K.’s lack of charge fits with the form of the logical contradiction, a dozen other logical contradictions in the novel appear, culminating with the Priest telling Josef K.: “Misunderstanding something and correctly understanding that same thing are not mutually exclusive.” That should apply to this chapter recap, too!!! Booya.

Q: Whu?

A: All’s I’m saying is: If you’re a fan of Der Prozess, or Der Proceß, however the fuck you want to spell it, but you’ve never been 100% convinced by the bajillion other readings of Josef K.’s “guilt” (or non-guilt), most of which are political, then give my reading a try! You might like it!

Q: I doubt it. Not enough Heidegger.

A: Suit yourself then.

11 thoughts on “Kafka & Wittgenstein Interview with Straw-Man Me Part I

  1. Oh dear. I risk being a dick, but it is amusing to come across someone interested in both Kafka and Wittgenstein. Personally I have never really tried to bring them into relation with each other, but I certainly agree with you that Wittgenstein is by far the greatest philosopher of the twentieth century. As for Kafka, you might be interested in http://www.amazon.com/dp/B014PHZT8Q. On the other hand, you may not!


  2. So, I’ve been reading your blog for a while now. No longer am I pursuing an advanced ADVANCED degree in Germanistik (I was in Wash U’s PhD program, but after reading your blog and others out there, I dropped it like a hot potato — despite it being near, dear, and a passion for me). I “bailed” with my MA, but thinking about Wittgenstein and Kafka, I’m really curious about your treatment of the Vienna Circle (Carnap, Neurath, u.s.w.) if you gave them consideration. Wittgenstein is clearly a cool dude, but where do you stand on American philosophy — Sellars, Quine, and all those cats. Analytic epistemology as applied to literature is FUCKING AWESOME, but it seems like a minority opinion :/….. But damn, I’m going to buy your book when I get back to the States, because you have a helluva lot to say. All the best for you and your family.


  3. Ich habe nach “I got my PhD today” gegooglet, weil ich heute meine Promotionsurkunde bekommen habe (in Informatik), und bin auf Deinen Artikel auf Slate gestoßen, in dem Du rätst, nicht zu promovieren. Und dann sah ich auf Deinem Blog, dass Du gerade ein Buch über Kafka and Wittgenstein veröffentlicht hast, was mich an mein Philosophiestudium erinnert hat (keine Promotion, obwohl ich es 2 Jahre probiert habe ;-). Auf einen Impuls hin habe ich es bestellt und bin nun auf meine Weihnachtslektüre gespannt.


  4. Hello….I am very excited to look at your book….long-time Kafka fan…not so much a philosopher though…very much a Carl Jung reader. I stumbled across your book on a google news search for kafka and read your article about Strangers with Candy..something else I want to check out…and saw that you had written this book….I am excited to learn about Wittgenstein from your book as I was unfamiliar with him…..I’d like you to tell me about your beetle somtime….:)


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