Professor of English, Emeritus
5286 Mayflower Hill Waterville, Maine 04901-8853
Ph.D. Comparative Literature, U.C. Berkeley
David Suchoff’s Kafka’s Jewish Languages stands in an illustrious tradition of scholarly works that have sought to specify the Jewish dimension of Kafka’s writing. It represents a significant contribution not only in this regard, but also as a model of criticism that meaningfully argues for the diversity of origins and interpretive multiplicity in a major literary author. Suchoff’s point is not simply that figures such as the Law or the Father are ambiguous and multivalent (though he would surely agree they are), but to specify the multiple strands of Jewish influence that inform these and many other elements of Kafka’s writings. He does this with an extraordinary degree of subtlety, detail, and learning.
The book’s brief introduction lays out some of the Yiddish and Hebrew influences in Kafka’s life and presents his argument about the hidden openness of tradition in broad terms. The first chapter, which reads like the book’s actual introduction, proceeds to present the argument and stakes of the book in greater detail. Suchoff begins with a history of post-containment Kafka criticism, by which he means the return of national, ethnic, and religious questions to a critical tradition that had suppressed such concerns in the service of Kafka’s inclusion in a high modernist canon. The turning point is Deleuze and Guattari’s Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature, though Walter Benjamin’s 1934 essay “Franz Kafka: On the Tenth Anniversary of His Death” is also credited with providing an initial and very early perspective on a transnational and Jewish Kafka. It should be noted that Suchoff does not pronounce judgment on Deleuze and Guattari’s book, though he does quote some critical voices (Walter Sokel, Stanley Corngold). His main concern, after all, is to emphasize the role of this work in ushering in a trend in Kafka criticism to which his own study belongs.
He is author of Critical Theory and the Novel: Mass Society and Cultural Criticism in Dickens, Melville and Kafka (University of Wisconsin Press, 1994), editor, with Mary Rhiel, of The Seductions of Biography (Routledge, 1995), and has published on theory, as well as American, British, Israeli, and Yiddish literature.
He is a translator of and author of the Introductions to Alain Finkielkraut’s The Imaginary Jew (1994) and The Wisdom of Love (1995); his translation of and Introduction, with Willi Goetschel, to Hermann Levin Goldschmidt’s The Legacy of German Jewry was published by the Fordham University Press in 2007. His book Kafka’s Jewish Languages: The Hidden Openness of Tradition appeared with the University of Pennsylvania Press in 2012. He is now at work on a book on The Trilogy of Samuel Beckett: Molloy, Malone Dies, and The Unnamable; the first chapter recently appeared as “The Hidden Rabe: Kafka’s Openings in Beckett’s Cage,” The Germanic Review 90: 2015.
On July 14 2019, David Suchoff appeared on the Dublin, Ireland Radio program “Franz Kafka: A Life,” with Prof. Stanley Corngold, Princeton University, Dr Carolin Duttlinger, Co Director of the Oxford Franz Kafka Research Centre, and Benjamin Balint, author of Kafka’s Last Trial, fellow at the Jerusalem’s Van Leer Centre. Podcast link: Dublin Radio Podcast: Talking History
On May 12, 2017, David Suchoff gave the talk “Beckett’s Linguistic Turn: The Digestion of German Philology,” at “Displaced Philologies: Translations of the Other and the German Tradition,” 10th Annual German Studies Symposium, Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto
On May 12, 2015, David Suchoff gave the talk, Dissonant Lineages: Beckett, Blanchot, Kafka, Rozenzweig at Dissonance and Dissidence: Counterpoints in Aesthetics and Politics, Department of Philosophy, University of Toronto, Canada.
On Feb. 15, 2015, David Suchoff delivered the Second Annual Maximillian Aue Memorial Lecture at Emory University, entitled The Hidden Rabe: Kafka’s Openings and Beckett’s Cage.
On Dec. 13, 2012, David Suchoff gave a keynote lecture on Kafka entitled “Irreducible Pluralities” at the International Conference on “Kafka and the Paradox of the Universal” at the University of Antwerp, Belgium, Dec. 12-14 2012.
Review of David Suchoff, Kafka’s Jewish Languages from MLN:Modern Language Notes
Suchoff, David. Kafka’s Jewish languages: The Hidden Openness of Tradition. Pennsylvania, 2012. 266p index afp; ISBN 9780812243710, $65.00.