The Piecemeal Coherence of Kafka’s Alchimistengasse Notebooks

Ross Shields


This article investigates the problematic coherence of Franz Kafka’s Alchimistengasse notebooks, focusing on the fragment in which that coherence is both thematized and performed: “At the Building of the Great Wall of China.” By distinguishing the “system of piecemeal construction” used in the building of Kafka’s wall from the Kantian architectonics through which the wall has been interpreted by most critics, the author uncovers a concept of piecemeal coherence that is irreducible to the binary oppositions of traditional aesthetic theory: allegory or symbol, fragment or unity, aggregate or system. By then reflecting the method of Kafka’s wall onto the text in which that method is described, the author develops an aspect of Kafka’s modernism that distinguishes it from the aesthetic programs of both early romanticism and the historical avant-garde. (RS)

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