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Reading Kafka's Mind: Categories, Schemas, Metaphors


This study employs cognitive theory to explain the Kafkaesque. In close readings of four works by Franz Kafka based on cognitive linguistic analysis, I show that Kafka consistently profiles generic or schematic conceptual structure over more specific, detailed concepts. By evoking strikingly unconventional and incomplete conceptual structures, he exploits the deepest aspects of everyday human cognition in ways that were literarily unprecedented and that remain unusual. I argue that this demonstrable characteristic accounts for the eerie, uncomfortable, or frustrating experience of reading Kafka that many readers report. Based on analyses of Kafka criticism, I argue further that this characteristic can also help account for the diverse range of readings Kafka's works have invited over the decades, as it prompts readers to fill in the schematic and incomplete conceptual structure that Kafka provides with more specific details according to their own cognitive preferences and proclivities. This, in turn, can also help explain Kafka's astounding and enduring international success. In conclusion, I argue that Kafka's experience of learning several languages--an underappreciated fact of his biography--may have fostered his cognitive preference for the schematic over the specific.

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