Arts, Celtic Studies and Social Sciences

Stanley Corngold: Kafka and the Poetry of Risk Insurance

Between 1908 and 1922, Kafka, rose to a high-ranking position at the Accident Insurance Institute in Prague. Images from his work world penetrate his writings. An illustrated lecture will explore these images.

Kafka’s stories allude to his culture with a fullness that is astonishing when one considers their economy of form. This work of allusion, a sort of movement through the cultural vehicles or media of his time, conforms to several logics. One such logic—the logic of risk insurance--comes from Kafka’s daytime preoccupation with accident insurance. Between 1908 and 1922, Kafka, a Doctor of Laws, rose to a high-ranking position at the Workmen’s Accident Insurance Institute for the Royal Imperial Kingdom of Austria-Hungary in Prague. Though ensconced in a semi- opaque bureaucracy, Kafka struggled to enforce compulsory universal accident insurance in the areas of construction, toy and textile manufacture, farms, and automobiles. Images from his work world, such as mutilation by machine, the perils of excavating in quarries while drunk, and the disappearance of the personal accident, penetrate “In the Penal Colony,” The Trial, and “The Metamorphosis.”

An illustrated lecture will explore these images as they relate to the logic of risk insurance in Kafka’s literary practice. Stanley Corngold, a graduate of Columbia and Cornell Universities, is Professor Emeritus of German and Comparative Literature at Princeton. He has published widely on modern German writers and thinkers (e.g. Dilthey, Nietzsche, Musil, Kraus, Mann, Benjamin, Adorno, among others), but for the most part he has been translating and writing on the work of Franz Kafka. Together with Professor Benno Wagner of the University of Siegen and the eminent civil-rights lawyer Jack Greenberg of the Columbia Law School, Corngold edited, with commentary, a translation of Franz Kafka's main office writings. (In the years 1908-1922 Kafka rose to a high- ranking position at the partly government-run Workmen's Accident Insurance Institute for the Kingdom of Bohemia.) The volume, titled Franz Kafka: the Office Writings, appeared in 2008 and describes the place of these documents in the history of worker's compensation insurance as well as their importance for an understanding of Kafka's novels and stories.

On his retirement in 2009, Corngold received the Howard T. Behrman Prize for Distinguished Achievement in the Humanities at Princeton. Together with Benno Wagner, he has published Franz Kafka: The Ghosts in the Machine (2011), which again highlights Kafka's professional experience as an influential insurance lawyer.

Category: Public Lectures and Seminars: Arts Celtic Studies and Social Sciences
Time: 5pm - 7pm
Location: UCC, O'Rahilly Building, G.27
Target Audience: All welcome
Admission Price: € Free
Contact: Dr. Gert Hofmann

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