Flaubert and Kafka

Studies in Psychopoetic Structure

Charles Bernheimer

View Inside Price: $47.00

September 10, 1982
264 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
ISBN: 9780300026337

Although their styles appear remarkably different, Flaubert and Kafka share a common identification with the writing process itself. “I am a human pen,” wrote Flaubert; “I am nothing but literature,” declared Kafka. This stimulating book is the first to explore the link between these writers.
Introducing his conception of psychopoetics, Charles Bernheimer brings new clarity to many controversial issues in psychoanalysis, rhetoric, and critical theory. In chapters on Flaubert and Kafka he probes the desires and fears motivating each writer’s search for a fully satisfying literary style. His interpretation of the strategies the authors adopt to harness the negativity of writing reveals the creative function of such psychological phenomena as narcissism, fetishism, and sadomasochism. The major works, Bernheimer argues, dramatize the conflict between the structures of Eros and Thanatos, metonymy and metaphor, through which they are constituted. From this illuminating perspective he traces the genesis of each writer’s mature style, analyzes two early works, La Tentation de saint Antoine and “The Judgment,” and examines two late masterpieces, Bouvard et Pécuchet and The Castle, applying to the latter Walter Benjamin’s description of the allegorical mode.
This highly original work of theoretical criticism will interest not only readers of Flaubert and Kafka but all students of literary theory and the creative process.

"Here is a volume of which every page bristles with assumptions and conclusions that one might want to disagree with, a book that takes a lot of risks and goes out on many limbs. It is also, I think, one of the most interesting books I have read in its field. . . . I felt that I had a better grasp of Flaubert's entire literary project and of how that project realized itself in individual phases and sentences after reading this book. . . . I will read Flaubert and Kafka again, and I think I will learn more from it, even from those passages I disagree with. That is the mark of a good book."—Clayton Koelb, Modern Fiction Studies

"An original and exciting book that challenges contemporary rhetorical analysis. Examining the function of writing for Flaubert and Kafka, he discovers an exemplary involvement between literary texts and the 'texts' of psychoanalytical experience. Textual structure becomes a dramatic struggle between deconstructive and erotic interpretive strategies."—Stanley Corngold

"Distinguished both by its theoretical sophistication and its marvelously subtle and original readings of Flaubert and Kafka."—Leo Bersani

"A complex and subtle book. . . . Bernheimer;s analysis of the works of Flaubert and Kafka is informative, and his psychoanalytic interpretations are generally plausible and stimulating. . . . Overall Bernheimer adds a new perspective to literary criticism from a psychoanalytic viewpoint. There is much of value in this book." —Erik Kulick, M.D., Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic

"Charles Bernheimer's study of Flaubert and Kafka makes a monumental contribution to literary scholarship. No brief review can expect to convey fully the exceptionally wide range of the author's psychopoetic study of the writing of the two novelists in question. Flaubert and Kafka: Studies in Psychopoetic Structure is a pioneering work that will leave its mark on literary criticism for many years to come. . . . The breadth of knowledge and insight that the author brings is always complex, dense, and brilliant in evidence on every page. Bernheimer succeeds amazingly well in enriching our critical appreciation of Flaubert and Kafka."—Robert T. Denommé, French Review

"Bernheimer's command of contemporary literary and psychoanalytical theory is equal to his mastery of the more specialized corpus of Flaubert and Kafka scholarship, and for the sheer breadth of its implications, his study deserves to rank with such works as Edward Said's Beginnings, Leo Bersani's Baudelaire and Freud, and Tony Tanner's Adultery and the Novel. . . . Bernheimer's Flaubert and Kafka, his first book, marks him as a comparatist from whom we will certainly be hearing more in the future."—Richard Sieburth, Comparative Literature