Reconstruction 10.2 (2010)

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Re-imagining Kafka, Paul DeNicola's Literature as Pure Mediality: Kafka and the Scene of Writing / Lori Martindale

Atropos Press, 2009. 144 pp. US$ 29.95 (softcover, list).

<1> Paul DeNicola's book Literature as Pure Mediality: Kafka and the Scene of Writing delves into a departure of univocal thinking, one of "Pure Mediality" -- a deconstruction of the teleological paradigm, which beckons the work of current continental philosophers. DeNicola, a Professor of Media Philosophy at the European Graduate School in Switzerland, explores the movement of "radical suspension" in Franz Kafka's work. The author DeNicola argues Kafka's short stories such as "The Judgment," passages from the Diaries, the novella The Metamorphosis, and novel The Trial are "radically immanent" while recognizing "an a-teleological, non-instrumental view of language and media", a "Pure Mediality" (11). DeNicola observes how Kafka moves beyond the metaphysical structure; consequently, he considers Kafka's literary language a winding in the space of multiplicity, an "a-metaphysical" paradigm. DeNicola claims Kafka's art is "an art of alterity" which reveals an opening of a suspension of definition in response to a refrain from judgment. Therefore, in Kafka's literary, poetic prose, the immutable system collapses into a borderless language of deferral.

<2> DeNicola clearly explains "Pure Mediality," while deconstructing the teleological perspective with philosophers Friedrich Nietzsche, Walter Benjamin, Wolfgang Schirmacher, Jacques Derrida, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. The author guides the reader, with concise descriptions, examples, and accounts of "Pure Mediality" in the aforementioned continental philosophy, in order to perceive Kafka through this light. His main thesis reads as follows: "My reading will present Kafka's writing as radically immanent - whose truth is not some transcendental referent, but an aspect of the immanence that constitutes Kafka's writing -- that is, the infinite interconnectedness of the world, a text that has "no outside" (Limited Inc. 17) as Derrida puts it" -- a "Pure Mediality where there is no either-or, but only a (chiasmic) and" (20-21). DeNicola illustrates how a "Pure Mediality" is revealed in Kafka's "art of alterity," as an "embrace of the excluded middle, recognizing that oppositional thinking has limits that must be overcome to express the human condition as encompassing flux, indeterminacy, incessant motion, and change" (41). DeNicola shows how Kafka's writing "allows for a sense of alterity and infinite relationality" through "Pure Mediality" (44).

<3> The first two chapters of the book focus on an oeuvre of "Pure Mediality," with illustrations on how various philosophers engage in a deconstructive, a-teleological approach, and how Kafka's work illuminates the medial space. The subsequent chapters focus on literary works by Kafka, as examples of "infinite suspension" and "radical possibility." Many readers of Kafka will be deeply engaged with DeNicola's detailed reading of "The Judgment" as "narrative rupture," with discussions of philosophers such as Roland Barthes, Avital Ronell, and Friedrich Ulfers. In addition, DeNicola's approach to Kafka's The Trial is "to determine how the texts deconstruction of their [the depiction of the court and legal process] traditional roles points to the breakdown of a teleological paradigm" (60).

<4> Derrida's essay "Before the Law" is an influential text in the discussion of Joseph K. in The Trial. DeNicola's detailed discussion of the "deferment of judgment" and the paradox of those who come "before the law" in search of absolute determination, while "it is the role of the court to indict, convict and judge absolutely" illustrates how the stability of being is constantly disrupted (67). It is here, from the first page of The Trial, when Joseph K. finds himself arrested for what he does not know, while trapped in a Kafkaesque universe, his sentence deferred, in search of the absolute sentence of innocence (DeNicola 67). While Joseph K. has expectations from the court for a final verdict, DeNicola shows how K. cannot seem to find it, which demonstrates Kafka's re-imagining of epistemology of the fixed system toward a perspective of "Pure Mediality" as indeterminate.

<5> An explanatory chapter is dedicated to Deleuze and Guattari's concept of the rhizome, in which to view an a-centered discussion of Kafka's novella The Metamorphosis. DeNicola, with references to Deleuze and Guattari's Toward a Minor Literature, as well as Julia Kristeva's Powers of Horror, carefully analyzes "the departure from arbolic [hierarchical] thinking"; on "becoming animal'; Kafka's food and decay; and "the violence of demonstrative language," which delves into Kafka's disruption of a classical teleological system. A remarkable chapter is devoted to the role of music in Kafka's The Metamorphosis, where DeNicola "contend[s] that he [Kafka] is grappling here again with a communicative theory of Pure Mediality, using the text to offer alternative models for aesthetics, language, and communication. Music thus proves to be an aesthetic medium for this dis-appropriation" (105). DeNicola contends how, in this way, Kafka's short story "Josephine the Singer:" shows how multiple chords are "suspended," whereby the hierarchy of metaphysics decenters. Josephine's singing transcends and resists an illusory, univocal system through multifarious suspended chords, plural tones, and elusive immeasurable piping's (110).

<6> Readers of Kafka will be intrigued with DeNicola's approach to Kafka's short story "A Country Doctor" and his expressions of Kafka's embrace of the active deconstruction of a two-fold paradigm. DeNicola carefully constructs architectures of radical possibilities, with authors Derrida and Barthes, which open with one unfolding a-centered universe after another.

<7> DeNicola's book is highly recommended. Literature as Pure Mediality: Kafka and the Scene of Writing is intriguing, persuasive, and offers an explanatory synthesis of key philosophical ideas from many important thinkers since Nietzsche. Both readers of Kafka and philosophy will be engaged with this page turning book on one of the most influential and important authors of the modern era. The author offers the reader a revolutionary perspective on Kafka's work as an alternate, open communicative approach. Kafka shows the reader how "A real book must be the axe for the frozen sea in us" (Diaries 279). Kafka dedicated his own existence to writing, and the axe for the frozen sea is an aperture of a language unrestricted by impositions of fixed limitation (20). Paul DeNicola's text explores the wounding from the axe, an opening, or aesthetic encounter of "Pure Mediality," a space which has the power to engage the reader in deep contemplation about the indeterminate multiplicity of language in Kafka's work.

Works Cited

DeNicola, Paul. Literature as Pure Mediality: Kafka and the Scene of Writing. Ed. Wolfgang Schirmacher. NY: Atropos Press, 2009.

Derrida,Jacques. Limited Inc. Evanstown: Northwestern University Press, 1988.

Kafka, Franz. Diaries 1920-1923. New York: Schocken Books, 1976.

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