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Spaces for Happiness in the Twentieth-Century German Novel

Mann, Kafka, Hesse, Jünger


Alan Corkhill

This book offers an in-depth study of the rich tapestry of happiness discourses in well-known philosophical novels by Thomas Mann, Franz Kafka, Hermann Hesse and Ernst Jünger, published between 1922 and 1949. The study is prompted, in part, by an awareness that despite the interdisciplinarity of happiness research, Western literary scholarship has paid scant attention to fictionalized constructs of happiness. Each of the four chapters uses extended textual analysis to explore the sites in which happiness ( Glück) and serenity ( Heiterkeit) are sought, experienced, narrated, reflected upon and enacted. The author theorizes, with particular reference to Bachelard and Foucault, the interfaces between interior and exterior spaces and states of well-being. In addition to providing new interpretive perspectives on the canonical novels themselves, the book makes a significant contribution to a broader history of the idea of happiness through the appraisal of key intellectual cross-currents and traditions, both Western and Eastern, underpinning the novelists’ varied and nuanced conceptualizations and aesthetic representations of happiness.


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CHAPTER TWO - Franz Kafka: Sites of Happiness and Unhappiness 41


Chapter Two Franz Kafka: Sites of Happiness and Unhappiness Happiness is above all things the calm, glad certainty of innocence — Henrik Ibsen, 1828–1906 Der Proceß (1925): Existential Unhappiness The Jewish Czech author Franz Kafka is regarded by the literary world as one of the unhappiest writers of the twentieth century. Even a cursory glance at his diaries (1910–1923) reveals a depressant beset by deteriorating physical health, conf licts of identity and belonging, plagued by self-doubt, feelings of inadequacy and a deep sense of inexplicable guilt, miserably inse- cure in his relationships with women, at loggerheads with his authoritarian father,1 unfulfilled as a legal of ficer for the Workmen’s Accident Insurance Institution in Prague between 1908 and 1922,2 consumed by self-reproach at his inability to complete literary projects; and many more things besides. Without a resilient sense of humour as a compensatory counterweight, he might well have faced the abyss. Kafka certainly went further than to accept uncritically the proverbial adage that happiness and unhappiness are essentially two sides of the same coin. Indeed he attempted to rationalize his unhappy condition in the belief that it must serve some higher purpose, albeit not a theodistic one. In a diary entry dated 13 March 1915 he notes in this regard: “Manchmal das Gefühl fast zerreißenden Unglücklichseins und gleichzeitig die Überzeugung der Notwendigkeit dessen und eines durch jedes Anzeichen des Unglücks 42 Chapter Two erarbeiteten Zieles” (TB 29);3 “Occasionally I feel an unhappiness which...

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