Kafka and Modernity: A Chinese Intellectual Approach

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In Franz Kafka’s Beim Bau des Chinesischen Mauer, there is a silence and juxtaposition between the official justification of the building of the Great Wall and the hidden knowledge of the Chinese. The lack of opposing rationales or reflection on opposition makes it impossible for the subjects of China to gain freedom. The narrator, on the other hand, does not look to the Emperor and his classical teachings, but looks to the characteristics of the world around him – the people, the construction of the wall – to investigate the situation. This type of rationale is akin to modernism, a subject prominent in Chinese intellectual thought of Lu Xun, Kang Youwei and Liang Shuming. These thinkers, as well as Walter Benjamin, give us insight to the expression of modernism in terms of worldliness. The ultimate goal of this study is to provide a case for the worldliness presented in Mauer by highlighting themes of Chinese modern thought.

The Case of China and Kafka

It wasn’t only Kafka who likened himself, im Grunde, to the Chinese[1]. For Kafka’s tenth Todestag memorial, Walter Benjamin contextualized Kafka’s mythic spirit in Chinese genealogy, “Unter den Ahnen, die Kafka in der Antike hat, den jüdischen und den chinesischen, auf die wir noch stoßen werden, ist dieser griechische nicht zu vergessen.” (Benjamin, 5) At once Benjamin invokes Kafka’s worldliness, grounding him in the primordial cornerstones of the early modern world. What makes Kafka particularly Chinese is essentially what makes him non-European: “Die natürliche Auslegung ist der eine, die übernatürliche ist der andere; am Wesentlichen gehen beide – die psychoanalytische wie die theologische – in gleicher Weise vorbei.” (ibid., 16) Unanswering to the investigations of European modernity, Benjamin uses the Zeitgeist to organize Kafka under the utter difference ascribed to the Chinese:

“»Ihm gilt grade die Fülle der Welt als das allein Wirkliche. Aller Geist muß dinglich, besondert sein, um hier Platz und Daseinsrecht zu bekommen« Das Geistige, insofern es noch eine Rolle spielt, wird zu Geistern. Die Geister werden zu ganz individuellen Individuen, selber benannt und dem Namen des Verehrers aufs besonderste verbunden.« […] Es ist nun freilich nicht Kafka, von dem hier die Rede ist – es ist China.” (ibid., 20)


What is most important about Benjamin referencing China is not what he suggests about Kafka’s work in its “inexhaustible intermediate world”[2], rather that Kafka’s Chinabild is canonized alongside him, confirming a cross-cultural process of modernity. Though Benjamin quotes Franz Rosenzweig’s Stern der Erlösung, a piece in which China is placed opposite the West, he is not polemicizing Kafka nor China, but emphasizing the unorthodoxy of Kafka’s contribution “um die Frage der Organisation des Lebens und der Arbeit in der menschlichen Gemeinschaft.” (ibid., 11)

In binding the Chinabild with Kafka’s fictional oeuvre, Benjamin posits that Western culture is “haunted by its own structural obverse”[3]. That is, the West is comprised of systems of binaries: the subjective vs. the collective, and the material vs. the spiritual. “In seiner Tiefe berührt Kafka den Grund, den weder das »mythische Ahnungswissen« noch die »existenzielle Theologie« ihm gibt.” (ibid., 22) Kafka doesn’t ground himself in mythical divination or existential theologies that his Western upbringing supplied him with, but adds to the constitution of the West by exemplifying a critical antithesis. Benjamin positioned “Beim Bau des Chinesischen Mauer” in its profound contrariety to Western dualities, “eine Erfahrung, die tiefer geht als die des Durchschnittsbürgers, trifft auf sie auf,” (ibid., 19) and through this, brought forth the worldliness of his work. In this essay, I will respond to Benjamin’s assertion of Kafka’s worldliness in Mauer, looking not to Western dualities from which it differs, but to conception of worldliness that offers a framework for how we might understand Kafka. By analysing Kafka’s canonical European literature through the works of Kang Youwei, Liang Schuming and Lu Xun, his worldliness becomes an alternative dialectic of modernity.

 Fragmentation in Beim Bau des Chinesischen Mauer

Kafka’s testament to the Great Wall of China is not a parable of reason or of God, but as the title infers, a parable beim Bau. Alluding to the Great Wall’s fragmented and episodic construction, Kafka’s title also requires his reader to consider its emblematic status in the development of China. Built across 6,259 kilometres of China’s northern border, the disjointed assembly of the Great Wall submits to its representation of cultural, geographic and historical continuity. Kafka’s German title already suggests an architectural and epochal fragmentation of the wall, while it’s English title, “The Great Wall of China”, misses this allusion.

Paradoxically, Kafka’s fragmentation became a prominent example for the construction of Europe’s “dominant literary tradition”[4]. Advancing Benjamin’s conviction that Kafka cannot be “oedipalized by a mother narrative”[5], that is, categorized in European terms, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari allow Kafka a canonical exegesis as a “minor literature” in which “there is insurmountable discontinuity… in his mode of expression through fragments” (Deleuze, 72). Deleuze and Guattari distinguish three categories of “minor literature”, which have influenced my coming reflection on Kafka’s fragmentation: collectivity, politics as “neither imaginary or symbolic” (ibid., 7), and deterritorialization. They address Beim Bau der chinesischen Mauer specifically: “the fragments refer so much to the imperial transcendence and a hidden unity that certain persons will feel that the discontinuous wall will find its only finality in a tower.” (ibid., 72) By this they mean that the signification of a unified China relies on the gaps in the Great Wall’s construction, which still represent a border to the north. These gaps concurrently enfeeble and uphold the unity of China.

The idea of “minor literature” is precisely that discontinuities are the basis for an understanding of any literary Zeitgeist. The categorization of “major literature” necessitates the opposition of “minor literature” to reify its existence. Carlos Rojas situates “minor literature” in a socio-cultural context as “the extent to which even a putatively unitary sociocultural space or tradition may contain radically incommensurate languages or semiotic systems” (Rojas, 78). Creating a category for Kafka’s early modernity literature as inherently non-European emboldens the understanding of modernity by challenging the laurels of a northern hemisphere development narrative. As Benjamin insisted, depicting Kafka’s Mauer as a fragmentation requires an analysis outside of historiographical time, outside the Western prescriptions of modernity, but nonetheless with an eye to intermediary of societal development:

Das Vergessene – mit dieser Erkenntnis stehen wir vor einer weiteren Schwelle von Kafkas Werk – ist niemals ein nur individuelles. Jedes Vergessene mischt sich mit dem Vergessenen der Vorwelt, geht mit ihm zahllose, ungewisse, wechselnde Verbindungen zu immer wieder neuen Ausgeburten ein. Vergessenheit ist das Behältnis, aus dem die unerschöpfliche Zwischenwelt in Kafkas Geschichten ans Licht drängt.” (Benjamin, 20)


In this essay, I propose that we cannot address Kafka’s “ungewisse” in terms of Benjamin’s, Deleuze’s or Guattari’s European dualities, rather, we must look to authorship that upholds Kafka’s “ancient genealogy”; Chinese author Lu Xun’s history asserts an understanding of Kafka’s narrator in relationship to the state, Liang Shuming prioritizes ‘unscientific’ development as a basis for modernity, and Kang Youwei’s ‘One World’ philosophy emphasizes Kafka’s state critique as non-utopian. These three themes, the individual, science and the idyll, fill the ‘gaps’ of major literature in the time of European modernity.

Historiography as Worldliness in Beim Bau des Chinesischen Mauer

Benjamin formulated the most engaging analysis of Kafka’s work in relation to the fragmentary evolution of the state: “Er hat nur in dem Spiegel, den die Vorwelt ihm in Gestalt der Schuld entgegenhielt, die Zukunft in Gestalt des Gerichtes erscheinen sehen.” (63) This guilt assigned to Kafka could be interpreted as the weight of modern structures of judgement, which forces man to look within himself and acknowledge his ancestral development. There is no “answer” to be drawn from this reflection, but rather a concession to the various historical stratum that project into reality. Mauer has two examples of this problematized history: first, the Tower of Babel and the Great Wall, and second, the emperor and the directorate I mean that the Tower of Babel and the Emperor represent a divine shadow implicit to the modern rulers – the Great Wall and Kafka’s directorate. Considering the historiographic contest these dualities provide to the “master narrative” of development, author Sebastian Veg highlights that Kafka’s Mauer delimits the concept of time in history:

“On a reflexive level, this sets aside from the linear conception of time often criticized as the implicit subtext of modernity: on the contrary, they underline that democratization is bound up with an “open” view of history that allows the readers to forge their own understanding and define their place in it.” (Veg)


Ritchie Robertson recognized this particular privileging of bygone modes of bureaucracy as well. He postures Kafka in relation to Eastern European Jewry, wherein the “nostalgia for the belief in the sacred nature of political organization, are seen as obstacles to the full empowerment or liberation of the individual.” (Veg) Of course, both Veg and Robertson are drawing from the entirety of Kafka’s canon, and yet this historiographic problematic also rings true in Mauer and with the views of Chinese literary intellectual, Lu Xun.

Already alluding to his worldliness by contemplating the Nietzschean understanding of history, that is, that world literatures should be brought forward to promote societal evolution, Lu suggests that the “savage forces of history are irrefutable,” (Lu, 98) and suggests that civilization buds from the “flower of savagery” (ibid.). Though speaking of Mara poetry, Lu’s intention to reflect on the “savage” in order to find “Nature” resonates as the Dionysian dithyramb Nietzsche borrowed from the Greeks in The Birth of Tragedy.  Promoting the “incomparably wise and mighty ancestors” (ibid.) of past civilizations, Lu encourages the nation to remain faithful to its “illustrious past”: “As a nation grows, concern for the past has merit that lies in clarity […] So I say that taking a nation’s spirit forward depends on how much one knows of the world.” (ibid. 98-99) Suddenly we must recall the situation of Kafka’s narrator: a young man, who knows details only about the directorate to build the wall, but has passed only the lowest exams in school. He is feeling lucky to be enlisted among “die arbeitenden Massen” to work on a project that holds meaning in its antiquated spirit as the new Tower of Babel, and in its practical contribution “zum Schützen gegen die Nordvölker gedacht,”. Kafka expresses a natural unity of the workers (their blood) with China at the site of the Great Wall:

“Jeder Landmann war ein Bruder, für den man eine Schutzmauer baute, und der mit allem, was er hatte und war, sein Leben lang dafür dankte. Einheit! Einheit! Brust an Brust, ein Reigen des Volkes, Blut, nicht mehr eingesperrt im kärglichen Kreislauf des Körpers, sondern süß rollend und doch wiederkehrend durch das unendliche China.”


Though entirely “das System des Teilbaues”, a paradox in itself which will be covered in the next section, the workers feel unified. Here we see that modernity, as represented by the Great Wall, does not gain legitimacy through its non-linear trajectory, but rather through the funnelling of energy toward a singular task, rooted in the ideological program of the Babelian fairytale. This fragmented project of the Great Wall echoes Lu’s citation of Carlyle:

“The Czar of great Russia, with soldiers, bayonets, and cannon, does a great feat in ruling a great tract of land… When soldiers, bayonets and cannon are corroded, Dante’s voice will be as before. With Dante, united, but the voiceless Russian remains mere fragments” (Lu, 4)
By using only the semblance of the Tower of Babel, the workers and work of the Great Wall are voiceless. Referencing Kafka’s story “The Tower of Babel”, Veg considers that the building of the Great Wall is “essentially a pretext” (53) to convey the manipulation of nation’s subject. What he means here is exactly the voicelessness expressed by Lu Xun; when the individual lacks attuned historical knowledge, he is unable to free his voice from the “subtext of modernity”, that is, the national imagination.

For Lu Xun, a Chinese literary renaissance is required to emancipate the voices under the shadow of a national imagination. His strategy commits to worldliness when he says, “fortune lies in being Western Europe’s antithesis,” (107). Reflecting on the “desolate” and “stagnant” history of China, Lu sees progress through influence from the outside. Mauer is of the same mind; as Veg contends, the construction of the Great Wall is positioned as an oppressive institutionalization of subjects, who “hatten alles Vertrauen zu sich, zum Bau, zur Welt verloren,” (X), whose faith in the world had been lost due to the project of closing themselves off to it: “Durch das Fenster aber fiel der Abglanz der göttlichen Welten auf die Pläne zeichnenden Hände der Führerschaft.” (X) Kafka argues for worldliness in his argument against the oppression incurred by borders.

Veg considers about this oppressive silence of the leadership as a “blurred border between the legitimate and the illegitimate” (Veg, 65) which calls to mind Mauer’s scene in the directorate (Führerschaft) and Lu Xun’s ideal of Chinese polity: “Don’t disturb” (Lu, 101). When inside the polity, there is still an “Abglanz der göttlichen Welten”, that is, the polity takes a cosmopolitan stance by considering itself divine, and inside it there’s still a semblance of the mythical, which has human voices trapped inside: “in dieser Stube kreisten wohl alle menschlichen Gedanken und Wünsche und in Gegenkreisen alle menschlichen Ziele und Erfüllungen.” (X) One might recall here the River Styx, where the soul revolves in an infinity of wishes with constant disappointment[8], which you cannot cross without an emblem of the gods. Wearing an emblem also is Kafka’s messenger of the Emperor, who is unable to pass through the bureaucracy of the empire while trying to deliver a message to the people.[9] At this point, Kafka begins to delimit the understanding of the people to simply “dunst und nebel” (X), and his narrator sets himself a mission of tracking down how the wall is “von diesen Fragen wesentlich betroffen.” He discovers that his singular curiosity about the Emperor is answered only by obscured meanings from different portions of the huge country: “So groß ist unser Land, kein Märchen reicht an seine Größe” The country itself cannot educate the people, so they understand the Emperor merely as the empire itself, as a fairytale: “Das Kaisertum ist unsterblich, aber der einzelne Kaiser fällt und stürzt ab,” Lu agrees that communication between the polity and the public must remain open, or “new voices cannot be raised in China” (Lu, 108) and things will not progress “since the old taint is deep” (ibid.). Lu and Kafka recognize that the worldliness of understanding as communication beyond the bureaucratic borders, allowing the population new information beyond mere reflections of the past. Kafka juxtaposes fragments associated with various times, suggesting that linear, contemporary history is not understandable except in its “autoreferentiality”[10], its ability to obscure meaning; the farcical unity of humanity with “den Geist der Zeit”.

Non-Utopianism in Beim Bau des Chinesischen Mauer

Though Mauer’s narrator states that the present conditions are not acceptable, “So bereit ist man bei uns, die Gegenwart auszulöschen,” and the government is to blame, “zwar ist sie in der Hauptsache von der Regierung verschuldet,” Kafka’s text cannot be understood as the European idea of a “dystopia” because not everything is unpleasant or bad, and his consideration of a better world- one with freer communication and less imaginative oppression- is inherently not “utopian” because he doesn’t discuss any type of pre-determined idyll. The civil society parable is a condition for reflection, not for prescription. The narrator does, though, consider the cultivation of knowledge being insufficient and the borders totalitarian. He describes that the borders create a weakness in people’s imaginative power and faith: “eine Schwäche der Vorstellungs- oder Glaubenskraft beim Volke”.

Understanding worldliness through the abolition of borders is a fairly easy task, but the process by which this is conceived is not so clear. Rojas contemplates that Kafka’s narrator’s destructive and creative considerations as a dialectic of inclusion and exclusion, “upon which modern culture is conceived” (Rojas, 80). Likening Kafka’s discussion on the Tower of Babel’s “weak foundation” to the gaps in the Great Wall so far, Rojas suggests that it is exactly the Great Wall’s construction of an artificial unity that “offers a structural foundation for the inverse project,” (79). He argues that without the project of the Great Wall, the narrator would not understand the “weak foundation” of the empire’s people. In this sense, the opportunity to create worldliness lies in the civilization’s lack thereof.

Kafka’s recognition of imperialism by way of the northern, walled border calls to mind Chinese intellectual Kang Youwei’s “One World” philosophy. In his magnum opus, The Grand Commonality, Kang observes worldly suffering, not unlike Kafka’s narrator in Mauer. Neither Commonality nor Mauer observes teleological doctrine as a source for information, rather, they both highlight a reform for the betterment of human nature. To the extent of Kang’s vision on language does Kafka’s narrator agree. Depicting a scene of near violence due to linguistic differences of a dialect from the neighbouring province, Mauer problematizes antiquated language. It is in this passage that the villagers would wish to obliterate the present, making room for new dialogue in advanced and intelligent tongues.  Kang approaches the site of language in Part II of The Grand Commonality, suggesting that an entirely new language should form with a Peking dialect. They both appropriate Peking as the imagined empire, but why? And, does Kafka’s narrator also wish to create an entirely new language for all subjects of neighbouring villages?

According to Ban Wang, Kang Youwei’s aspiration toward worldliness “has to work through a specific culture in order to access a common ground,” (Wang) which explains the appropriation of Peking. Wang continues to suggest that the path to worldliness is attained from “engaging one’s native culture reflectively and creatively.”[11] I added emphasis to the “and” in order to highlight the virtue of new language expressed by Kafka’s narrator. Though Mauer asks for an evolution in language, it also envisions a dream world in the heavenly clouds of Peking. Wang cites Kang’s reinvention of a “language of Heaven” as “endowing humanity with universal reason”, much like Kafka’s narrator aspires for reason and understanding beyond simply sitting at the window, dreaming.

In opposition to Kang, Kafka’s intention is not aimed at the destruction of the old language, but rather the aspiration of an understanding beyond the realm of dreams. Attaching “dreams” to the “imagination” of Peking, the subjects of China in Mauer envision the state as a heaven, through which they could achieve a great understanding. Mauer’s worldliness would compose once the retrospective, traditional knowledges are transcended by the knowledge they desire, from Peking. In building the wall, there is a transcendence of scientific knowledge and a re-development of the educational system, but it is the ‘gap’ of knowledge about the empire (and the Emperor, and Peking) that is a unifying force, “gerade diese Schwäche eines der wichtigsten Einigungsmittel unseres Volkes zu sein scheint.” Kafka’s narrator stops at that point, leaving the reader to wonder: What can a unity of those dispossessed of rational knowledge accomplish? Kang Youwei and Lu Xun both suggest that the way towards worldliness is through the borderless expansion of knowledge – but how does a unified people achieve this?

We must remind ourselves that the civil society depicted in Mauer is a parable for reflection; the narrator has devoted himself to the histories of different people, “fast ausschließlich mit vergleichender Völkergeschichte beschäftigt”, much like Kang and Lu Xun devoted themselves to the understanding and critical assessment of other nations. Kang says, “It is as if we were all parts of an electrical force, which interconnects all things, or partook of the pure essence that encompasses all things.” (Kang, 3-4) Wang ascribes this passage as taking “a vignette of long-distance learning and interaction by way of far-reaching sense and sensibility” (Wang, 7) and, in the style of Kant, Wang applies this to the “international arena composed of mutually opposed, self-serving states” (ibid.) He sees that in order to maintain interstate relations, the “parochial agendas” of each state must be antagonized; education must evolve beyond simply traditional matters, “by rising over and above the interests of self-preservation and pressure of survival” (ibid.).

In this same way, Mauer’s narrator’s intention is to bring about a worldly understanding of the situation in China as the only path to understanding the Empire, the holders of the divine, outside their superficial education: “Halbbildung wogt bergehoch um wenige seit Jahrhunderten eingerammte Lehrsätze, die zwar nichts an ewiger Wahrheit verloren haben,” Kafka’s narrator emphasizes a brilliant paradox that, although education exists, and it supplies the population with eternal truths, it is still “Halbbildung”. By unpacking what the other half of this education could be, we can understand the worldliness that Beim Bau des Chinesischen Mauer aspires towards.

Unscientific Development in Beim Bau des Chinesischen Mauer

            Worldliness is, for Kafka, a process towards the understanding of needs, which for Lu Xun and Kang Youwei becomes the overcoming of an oppressive institution through knowledge that expands beyond it[12]. Kafka sets the condition for discussing worldliness by problematizing the borders between the nation and the people, the people and knowledge, and, in this section I will show his link between knowledge and the fulfilment of a worldly humanity. Worldliness as humanity, gained through knowledge, can be traced back as far as Plato: His consideration about poetic art as essentially imitative in the Republic, when Plato suggests that, “all imitative poetry would seem to maim the reasoning of those hearers who do not possess an antidote in the knowledge of its real nature,” (Aesthetics, 24). This projection of reasoning is banished by the divinity of beauty in Plato’s Symposium: “Beauty, however, is in harmony with the divine.” (Aesthetics, 37d) Two distinct elements from Mauer are depicted: reasoning and knowledge of the Empire’s real nature, and the aspiration for understanding of the divine Peking. The “eternal truths” in Mauer are those imitations, the retrospective that maims the full education. Kafka’s narrator imagines Peking as representative of the “divine”, which the leadership holds apart from the subjects, and suggests that the subject’s education has been deprived from understanding it. The eternal half of the education is superficial, it is the retrospective, while the missing half of the Halbbildung is the divine.

Wang suggests that Kang Youwei’s “One World” philosophy echoes the ethical aesthetic consummated by Kant, especially by virtue of the attention to education: A narrative of human progress is posited: cross-cultural learning is an educational as well as maturing project, a process akin to the program of rationally and aesthetically inspired Bildung in German Modernism.” (Wang, 8) Likewise, I have argued that Mauer’s depiction of modernity is essentially worldly, and will use its theme of education to emphasize this further.

Looking to Chinese intellectual Liang Shuming will assist in beginning a conversation about the education in Mauer, because his philosophy emphasizes the “spirit” and “distinctive characteristics” of a culture as necessary for the reform of education (Shuming, 109). For Schuming, cultural identification and the “perennial problem of the meaning of human existence” was necessary to participate in a global pattern of modernity[13]. He, like Kafka’s narrator, did not necessarily reinforce the Western hegemony of an idyll education[14], but both placed the “arcane” institutions of China in dialogue with the scientific notions of the West[15]. The piecemeal construction of the Great Wall as an effort to protect the Chinese subjects from “die ungläublichen Völker…. Unter ihnen… Dämonen” of the north calls into question the logic of the Chinese authorities, and the knowledge of the people of the outside world[16]. Do they really believe the people there to be demons?

The naivety of the Chinese subjects to both historical knowledge and scientific knowledge is moreover exposed by the appropriation of the Tower of Babel. Author Robert Lemon provides an explanation of this theme as a “Biblical exegesis” wherein the fall of the Tower of Babel requires the building of a new one, rather than the challenging of God’s (the Empire’s) supremacy. Schuming would consider the appropriation of the Tower of Babel and the fragmentation of the Great Wall as essentially Chinese: “To completely ignore objective standards and regulations, and focusing on revering the gifted- this is the spirit of [of China]” he continues, “one needs to examine in them the earliest and see in them China’s tendency to “return to the past” […] For as long as a person has read the Four Books and the Five Classics, he or she will be able to take care of everything.” (Shuming, 111-112) Through Lemon and Shuming, it becomes again clear that the Chinese Führerschaft in Mauer passes only unscientific education to their subjects, and demands from them trust in the institution.

Kafka’s narrator says: “Damals war es geheimer Grundsatz Vieler, und sogar der Besten: Suche mit allen deinen Kräften die Anordnungen der Führerschaft zu verstehen, aber nur bis zu einer bestimmten Grenze, dann höre mit dem Nachdenken auf.” Here he is reverberating the issue that knowledge and truth lies within the government itself. Liang agrees: “In China, governing depends on respect for a singular ruler […] What kind of habit is it to confirm what has not been examined? An unscientific habit.” (113-116) He problematizes the role of Chinese people as scienceless subjects, “If their own ideas are not their own, how can there be any freedom to speak of?” (121)

Emphasizing freedom as a matter of education outside of the Empire’s traditional style, Liang and Kafka’s narrator also constitute the issue of freedom. Kafka’s narrator is in fact trying to understand the science of the Great Wall’s fragmentation, in order to bring the people closer to the Emperor- closer to freedom through the divine. The narrator stumbles upon a problem, though, that the fragmentation of the Great Wall must always be referred back to the Empire, constituting the “autoreferentiality” observed by Veg. According to Shuming, China cannot accomplish its worldliness if the subjects are not free to think for themselves, which aligns with the dilemma of Kafka’s narrator. Though the narrator uses worldliness as a method, that is, gaining insight from all the Chinese subjects rather than simply the Emperor, worldliness cannot be achieved because of the Empire’s totality.

Genau so, so hoffnungslos und hoffnungsvoll, sieht unser Volk den Kaiser.” This duality considers the struggle of the people to both rely on the Empire for knowledge, but receive nothing in return. Beim Bau der chinesischen Mauer, the people are only further inaugurating the acceptance of sciencelessness by bordering themselves from the outside. This inverse of this is worldliness, in which each subject can think beyond the borders of the Empire.

The Importance of Worldliness

In this introduction to the worldliness conferred by Franz Kafka in Beim Bau des Chinesischen Mauer, the topics of historiography, non-utopianism and sciencelessness have allowed us to access the concept of knowledge as an institutional development and freedom as a divine concept. Author Walter Benjamin offered us insight to the worldliness of Kafka himself, while Gilles Delueze and Félix Gattauri expanded upon the significance of “minor literature” to the overall concept of modernity. Through these ideas, the significance of fragmentation as elemental to a whole concept became evident. Lu Xun provided an expansion of the idea of fragmentation in Kafka, showing us that overlapped histories cannot be treated as myths, as they were in Mauer, if we want to attain knowledge. Moreover, Kang Youwei emphasized the condition for knowledge as the breaking of boundaries, particularly the wall, allowing access to a divine knowledge. Liang Shuming took us one step further and emphasized freedom of thought as impossible in the Chinese Empire, allowing us to dissect Kafka’s heavy paradox of sciencelessness. This analysis of Kafka’s Mauer aims to emphasize the “minor literature” claim that European modernism is in fact built upon differences within the canon. Much like the fragments of the Great Wall are still a part of its massive length, so are the narratives of literary and intellectual development substantiated by their differences.





















Works Cited

Alitto, Guy. The Last Confucian: Liang Shu-ming and the Chinese Dilemma of Modernity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979).

Benjamin, Walter. “Zur Zehnten Wiederkehr Seines Todestages.” Gesammelte Schriften. Suhrkamp Verlag Frankfurt am Main. 1977.

Bensmaïa, Raya. Deleuze. Gattauri. “Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature”, “Foreword”. Theory and History of Literature, Volume 30. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis. 1986.

Davies, Gloria. “High Culture Fever: Politics, Aesthetics, and Ideology in Deng’s China . Jing Wang.” The China Journal 41 (1999): 209-11. Web.

Engel, Manfred, and Dieter Lamping. Franz Kafka Und Die Weltliteratur. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2006. Print.

Kafka, Franz. “Projekt Gutenberg-DE.” Beim Bau Des Chinesischen Mauer.

Kang, Youwei. “Sources of Chinese Tradition | Books | Columbia University

Press.” Columbia University Press. Web. Oct. 2016.

Keller, Karin. Gesellschaft in Mythischem Bann: Studien Zum Roman “Das Schloss” Und Anderen Werken Franz Kafkas. Wiesbaden: Akad. Verl.-Ges. Athenaion, 1977. Print.

Lemon, Robert. “The Contingent Continent: Kafka’s China.” Imperial Messages: Orientalism as Self-critique in the Habsburg Fin De Siecle. Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2011. Print.

Lu, Xun. “On the Power of Mara Poetry.” Modern Chinese Literary Thought: Writings on

Literature, 1893-1945. By Kirk A. Denton. Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 1996. 97-109.

Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm. The Birth of Tragedy, Ecce Homo, The Case of Wagner and Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Trans. Walter Kaufmann. New York: Vintage, 1967. Print.

Rojas, Carlos. “Writing on the Wall.” Journal of Literary Theory and Comparative Literature. 17 Feb. 2015. Web.

Shuming, Liang. “The Cultures of East and West and Their Philosophies.” Tao: A Journal of

Comparative Philosophy. Web. Oct. 2016.

Veg, Sebastian. “Democratic Modernism: Rethinking the politics of early 20th-Century Fiction in China and Europe”. Boundary 2; Volume 38, Issue 3. (2011) Web.

Wang, Ban. “Aesthetic Humanity and the Great World Community: Kant and Kang Youwei.” State of the Discipline Report. Web.





[1] In a 1916 postcard to Felicia Bauer, his ewige Verlobte, Kafka wrote “im Grunde bin ich ja Chinese”. Meng. Kafka und China. 30.

[2] Rojas, Carlos. “Writing on the Wall: Kafka, Bourges and the Chinese Imaginary.” 425F 1.13 (2015): 71-81. Duke University, 2015. Web.

[3] Ibid. 74.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Bensmaïa, Raya. “Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature”, “Foreword”. Theory and History of Literature, Volume 30. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis. 1986. ix.

[6] Veg, Sebastian. “Democratic Modernism: Rethinking the politics of early 20th-Century Fiction in China and Europe”. Boundary 2; Volume 38, Issue 3. (2011) Web.

[7] Veg, Sebastian. “Democratic Modernism: Rethinking the politics of early 20th-Century Fiction in China and Europe”. Boundary 2; Volume 38, Issue 3. (2011) 56.

[8] Here I’m referencing Lord Byron’s “Don Juan” (1819), in which he laments that his thoughts are both free and restricted by the “liberal age” and references the god Apollo as the keeper of the instruments that would allow him access to his free thoughts in the River Styx.

[9] Veg, Sebastian. “Democratic Modernism: Rethinking the politics of early 20th-Century Fiction in China and Europe”. Boundary 2; Volume 38, Issue 3. (2011) 52.

[10] Ibid. X

[11] Wang, Ban. “Aesthetic Humanity and the Great World Community: Kant and Kang Youwei” Web, no pages.

[12] It is worth recalling the earlier discussion of histories “overlapping” towards the knowledge about our place in time.

[13] Guy Alitto, The Last Confucian: Liang Shu-ming and the Chinese Dilemma of Modernity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979).

[14] As Edward Said’s notion of “Orientalism” would suggest.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Lemon, Robert. Imperial Messages. “The Contingent Continent: Kafka’s China” (2011) 125.



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