Blood relatives. Intertextuality of Tragic in Kleist and Kafka

  • Mauro Nervi


In a very famous letter to Felice, Kafka includes Kleist (with Dostoevskij, Flaubert and Grillparzer) in a group of «blood relative» writers; however, in the case of Kleist, Kafka’s interest was almost exclusively focused on the prose tale Michael Kohlhaas. I argue that the main intertextual connetion between Kafka and Kleist rests upon their common idea of the tragic (defined accordingly to Szondi’s Essay on the Tragic). For both, the tragic core consists in a lack of awareness, leading the main character to the final catastrophe. Both for Kleist and for Kafka, register and context are lowered if compared to classical tragedy: in Kohlhaas the main character is a merchant, in The Trial or The Metamorphosis a middle-class employee. However, in Kleist for the first time we have an authentically tragic element in the previously rather untragic prose tale, an element which will undergo huge developments in the following narrative until Dostoevskij. The general lack of awareness of the main character and the lowering of tragical context (which is reduced to everyday bourgeois routine) are also present in Kafka’s novels, which are surprising similar to Kleist’s tales from a textual, thematic and stylistic point of view. The Kleistian obsession for justice – often pointed out as a striking similarity with Kafka – turns out to be only a particular case of the general need to put the world in order, to bring back the world to a state of equilibrium, still untouched by the tragic event.


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How to Cite
Nervi, M. (2017). Blood relatives. Intertextuality of Tragic in Kleist and Kafka. Between, 7(14).
At the Origins of Modernity