Anda di halaman 1dari 13

Philip Roths Fiction about Czechs and Kafka*

Christopher E. Koy

1 Introduction
Philip Roth (1933- ) is one of the best-known American novelists, short story writers and essayists alive today. Winner of the most prestigious American literary prizes for works written from the late 1950s to the present day, Philip Roth, who turns 70 in 2003, continues to do the amazing: write best-sellers that are critically acclaimed. This article deals with Roths works of fiction and non fiction concerning Czechoslovakia, the Jews and the Holocaust, and most particularly, his fantastic short work about his literary father figure from Prague, Franz Kafka.

2 Roth and Czechoslovakia

Philip Roth (1933- ) has had a rather close literary relationship with Czechs and Czech writers of the twentieth century. Unlike most other contemporary American writers, he especially integrated the so-called East Bloc countries into the plots of his novels. It is important, however, to note that not only Czechoslovakia is depicted in Roths works. The Great American Novel (1973), for example, describes a Jewish-American spy who spent many years in the Soviet Union but who later returns to Wisconsin. In the novel My Life as a Man (1974) an author named Agniashvily from what is now the Republic of Georgia writes Ribald Classics in Georgian for Playboy Magazine and takes part in a creative writing class taught by Philip Roth. In a more recent novel, Sabbaths Theater (1995), Croatia is the center of attention, most likely owing to the earliest post-cold war foreign policy debate raging in the United States at the time. (Particularly delicate was the uncertainty revolving around the role the United States government should play in Bosnia-Herzegovina where ethnic cleansing had occurred.) On the whole, however, it is the Czechoslovak society that has captured Philip Roths imagination more than any other outside of the United States. The novella The Prague Orgy (1985), for example, the so-called Epilogue to Roths famous Zuckerman Trilogy, candidly confronts the cultural and artistic situation in the Czechoslovak Socialist Republics normalizace period of communism under the Husk regime. In The Prague Orgy Roth links the sense of alienation expressed in Kafkas fiction with life under communism in 1976. In this novella, a Czech novelist named Zdenk Sisovsk lives in exile with his actress-lover in the New World. In New York Sisovsk visits a Philip Roth-like character named Nathan Zuckerman. Zdenk Sisovsk appears to be Roths mix of the genuine dissidents Zdenk Urbnek and Josef kvoreck with Ivan Klma (I include Klma here because Sisovsk is half-Jewish, half-Czech, and like Klma is a child Holocaust survivor). In the novella, Sisovsk describes the cultural critics in the Husk government: A satirical smile is harder for them than outright ideological
*A different version of this paper was originally delivered in German on April 6, 2002, at a conference in Markersbach, Germany, under the title Philip Roth ber K: Eine Fantasie ber Kafkas Flucht aus NSDeutschland, and has been modified to underscore the Czech theme in Roths fiction.


fanaticism. I laughed [] I published one harmless little satire in Prague in 1967. The Russians came to visit in 1968 and I have not published anything since. There is nothing more to say. [15, p. 425]. Yet Roth does have more to say. His characters compare the negative reception and controversy surrounding his 1969 novel Portnoys Complaint with the outlawing of Sisovsks publications in the SSR (which have been encouragingly received in the United States). This is all connected to the misunderstood fiction of Franz Kafka: When I studied Kafka, the fate of his books in the hands of the Kafkologists seemed to me to be more grotesque than the fate of Josef K. I feel this is true also with you. [15, p. 424]. A former theater director turned janitor during normalizace later in the novella repeats a similar sentiment when talking about the Czechoslovak secret police: The police are like literary critics of what little they see, they get most wrong anyway [15, p. 460]. In Roths story of Czechoslovakia during normalizace, no brave dissidents are depicted. Sisovsk says, You choose resignation because you realize that there is nothing to be done. There is no resistance against the Russification of my countryEight years have passed. Only writers and intellectuals continue to be persecuted, only writing and thinking are suppressed; everybody else is content (15, p. 426). Zuckerman makes an agreement to see Sisovsks wife on his visit to Prague and retrieve the manuscripts of Sisovsks deceased father, a Yiddish short story writer who left all his fiction unpublished. Zuckerman agrees so that the stories may find the light of day through U.S. publishing houses. Zuckermans stay in Prague in 1976 (coinciding with Roths last visit permitted by the Husk regime) includes a visit with some of the intellectuals who no longer get published. A poet works at the railroad (and later is sent to an insane asylum where he happily finds more time to write poetry), a woman intellectual works as a clerk selling dresses and a theater director serves the Czech culture as a museum janitor. Eventually, Zuckerman projects the Czech intellectual experience onto his own American scene William Styron washes glasses in a bar at Penn Station, Susan Sontag slaves away at a bakery on Broadway, Gore Vidal delivers salami sandwiches in Queens and Zuckerman is occupied sweeping floors (15, p. 457). In the novella Zuckerman attempts to do the work that Roth succeeded in doing getting Czech writers known and published in the West when they are banned from publishing in communist Czechoslovakia. Philip Roth worked as General Editor on the literary series published by Penguin Books named Writers from the Other Europe. Roth paved the way for the English translation and publication (by major American publishing houses) of such authors as Ji Weil, Ludvk Vaculk, Pavel Kohout, Ivan Klma, and Milan Kundera. In his numerous essays such as Milan Kundera, Edward, and God and Ji Weil, Two Stories about Nazis and Jews in the American Poetry Review in the 1970s, Roth made the American reading public aware of these and other contemporary Czech authors. Roth was a kind of Max Brod to more than a few banned Czech writers. In the novella, Zuckerman meets up with Sisovsks estranged wife but he is aware that he is being carefully followed by government informers. In Prague Zuckerman meets the memorable character Olga Sisovsk, a writer who seeks relief from her husbands abandonment (as well as the governments totalitarianism) through sexual promescuity. Eventually, the Roth-like Zuckerman is expelled from the country under the


guise of being a Zionist agent, and the Yiddish language manuscript is stripped from his belongings in a search. Zuckerman concludes that, where the literary culture is held hostage, the art of narration flourishes by mouth. In Prague, stories arent simply stories; its what they have instead of life [15, p. 459]. The absurdity of real change, of a future without totalitarianism is also conveyed by Roths Czech characters nearing the conclusion: You must finish the cigar, Zuckerman. When freedom returns to Czechoslovakia, you will be made an honorary citizen for finishing that cigar. They will put a plaque outside this hotel about Zuckerman and his cigar (15, p. 455). Czech women appear similar in many ways to Olga in the 1990 novel by Roth entitled Deception which is situated in London in the late 1980s. The narrator is a novelist named Philip who has not visited Prague in years. Dialogue carries this plot more extensively than in any other Roth novel, constituting more than 95 percent of the work. The first Czech woman speaks English with incorrect grammar corresponding to the familiar Czech interference in English grammar usage: incorrect use of articles, tenses, irregular verbs, run-on sentences with no conjunctions and agreement problems flourish. In spite of years living in the U.S., the first Czech woman in Deception has much stronger problems with English than the novelist Olga Sisovsk in The Prague Orgy, who had never been to the US or UK. In Deception the first Czech woman, who left her home country after the August, 1968 Soviet invasion, describes to Philip her sex-filled but loveless life as a jet-setting prostitute. She experiences a fast life in New York City for some years at parties among millionaires from Belgium and the Arab Middle East as well as United Nation officials. Her entertaining world eventually results in a two month commitment in a mental hospital and a marriage to a rich Arab whose political activities are coordinated by communists who use both to beat the Jews [13, p. 35]. This nameless Czech woman meets with Philip to gain his assistance in writing a book about prostitution. The second Czech woman appearing later in Deception, a university educated translator and librarian, refused when asked to work for the Czechoslovak Secret Service. She gets married to a poorly educated Englishman, leaves him to eventually fall in love with a married family man, and in short lives in England miserably. In the 1970s as a 21year-old girl she had met Philip when he visited Prague. Then an estranged Czech couple, Ivan and Olina, who knew Philip in New York, have their disastrous marital history told to Philip from Ivans perspective. Olina leaves Ivan for a black man, but Ivan accuses Philip of having slept with his wife in the past. Philip then reveals in a later dialogue his interest in Czechs: Displaced persons have things to tell you. Sometimes you can even lend a hand [13, p. 140]. Philip describes his last visit to Czechoslovakia, particularly his experience of harassment from the Czech police in Prague who tried to detain him for questioning. He refused to cooperate and escaped them by public transportation. This novels other intriguing issues of marriage, lovers, the themes of Jews and the British, and finally the Philip within the novel and the Philip writing the novel, make this great book fascinating for reasons beyond the scope of this paper, but Deception is also an important work dealing with Czechoslovakia and its history of oppression during the period of normalizace, particularly of the unhappy fate of Czech women who emigrated. Although The Prague Orgy was first published in 1985, it uses material from notebooks the author kept while visiting the Czech metropolis. In Roths earlier novel


entitled The Professor of Desire (1977), the plot of which takes place in the same year, David Kepesh teaches a literature seminar on Kafka at a university in New York. Kepesh goes to Prague to, among other things, prepare a semi-autobiographical lecture he plans to give in the course entitled Desire 341, a comparative literature seminar he is to conduct in the fall. He roams the streets of Prague, visits Kafkas grave, and even has a dream of encountering an old woman who claims to be Kafkas Whore. In an earlier course, Kepesh assigns his students to write an answer to Kafkas famous Letter to His Father. Roth indicated in an interview that he himself had done this very assignment, but the course of his writing changed from paternal oppression to critique of the Jewish mother, resulting in his fted 1969 novel, Portnoys Complaint! Similar to what Roth did every spring from 1971 to 1976, Professor Kepesh visits Prague and makes his pilgrimage to Kafkas grave in the Jewish cemetery. In a literature conference in Bruges, Kepesh reads a paper on Kafkas The Hunger Artist in which a Czech academic named ika asks him, And you, what draws you so to Kafka? (16, p. 178), a question that resounds throughout the novel. ika, an academic who lost his job at Charles University, accompanies and guides Kepesh on his walk through the Old Town. ika insists that only Kafka provides an understanding of life in Czechoslovakia under normalizace. Generally, less political and more psychological aspects of the Kepesh visit to Prague dominate The Professor of Desire in comparison to Zuckermans visit in The Prague Orgy.

3 The Holocaust in Roths Fiction

The Holocaust, as it was experienced by the Kafka sisters and others, is a theme for Roth as well. The Prague Orgy includes a successful Czech actress, a genuine artist, who left her boring communist-decorated artist-husband (who has all the old mothers crying when he sings Moravian folk songs [15, p. 428]) for a Jewish man. This man was named Pavel Polak (the same surname that Kafkas lover Milena Jesensks husband had), and provides Roths fiction with communist-era Czech-Jewish marriage of controversy to compare with the more famous Kafka relationship in literary history. After complaints sent by the public that she is the Jews whore, the communist Vice-Minister of Culture interrogates the actress, Tell me why did you play the role of the Jewess Anne Frank on the stage when you were only nineteen years old? why did you want to continue playing this Jewess on the stage for two years, if you werent, at the least, a Zionist sympathizer even then? [15, p. 429-30]. Since the Holocaust was in part a political or historical justification for the foundation of the State of Israel, most artistic presentations representing the Jewish victims of fascism were frowned upon by the anti-Zionist socialist regimes. The Diary of Anne Frank as an artistic and cultural expression of the Holocaust received particularly strong attention in an earlier novel by Philip Roth. The Ghost Writer (1979) in many ways is a precursor to Roths short story masterpiece on Franz Kafka and offers a Rothian meditation about the ultimate meaning of the Holocaust for American Jews. The Ghost Writer concerns the public figure Anne Frank and is in all probability Philip Roths most distinguished novel of the 1970s. In the far-fetched story line, Anne Frank is alive and living incognito in the United States because her fame as the embodiment of the many Jewish martyrs of the Nazi genocide would be lost if the true situation were known. The hero in the novel,


Nathan Zuckerman, the same young writer resembling Philip Roth who appeared in previous works, has fallen in love with her (her name was changed to Amy Bellette after the war). She had earlier intentionally burned her arm with an iron on the camp identification number that had been branded on her in Auschwitz (the real Anne Frank arrived there, according to documents, on September 6, 1944, but was transferred to the Bergen-Belsen camp in October and died there in early March, 1945 [4, pp. 253-254]). In the novel, Amy Bellette burned herself, thereby covering this Nazi inmate identification mark in order to bring to an end the infuriatingly constant questions about her concentration camp experiences. The Ghost Writer, which Roth dedicated to Milan Kundera, has in its plot the pervasive influence and controversy of The Diary of Anne Frank. The drama is based on this book. The complexity of the American historical reception of the Anne Frank public figure is rather confusing and complex, and since it serves as a background for Philip Roths critique expressed in The Ghost Writer, the reception and criticism of both the book and the stage adaptation will be covered here. In the 1950s right-wing revisionists in the United States claimed that all of the elements of the drama were invented, rather than really written by Anne Frank. These revisionists claim that the Diarys true author is Annes father Otto. The reactionary accusation that Anne Frank did not really write The Diary of Anne Frank (the drama, not the actual diary) is accurate, of course. The dramatization of The Diary was written by the team of Frances Goodman and Albert Hackett [6] and this stage adaptation, while based on the book The Diary of Anne Frank, includes changes to make Anne Frank appear less Jewish and more universal, in order to assure a non-Jewish audience and greater commercial success [5, p. 348]. The drama and the diary have the same title, resulting in additional confusion when court cases were filed in the 1950s. The litigation concerned whose stage adaptation should be awarded honorariums; this added further fuel to the anti-Semitic revisionists fire about authorship. For Roth, another off-putting aspect of the dramatized version of The Diary of Anne Frank was the dead victim (thoroughly unrealistically) speaking to us today, yet only through a dramatized version of edited excerpts from the real diary manuscript. Bruno Bettelheim, a survivor of Dachau and Buchenwald, complained that the Goodman/Hackett dramatization of The Diary of Anne Frank denies the reality of the Holocaust. Near the end of the drama, in a disembodied voice, Anne Frank speaks the words, In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart. Then the stage adaptation concludes with the line: If all men are good there was never an Auschwitz, [2, p. 249] which Bettelheim argued is implausible. This improbable sentiment is supposedly from a girl who had been starved to death, had watched her sister meet the same fate before she did, knew that her mother had been murdered, and had watched untold thousands of adults and children actually being killed. The statement is not justified by anything Anne actually told her diary. Bettelheim reflects on why the living witnesses, such as Marga Minco, whose Bitter Herbs (1960) is every bit as touching [2, p. 250], are not rewarded with greater attention. The reason, as Roths Amy Bellette points out in The Ghost Writer, is that Marga Minco, like Bruno Bettelheim himself, has survived, and survivors stories are not as compelling as the stories of the dead victims.


Sander Gilman writes about Roths literary maneuver concerning this enormously controversial background of doubt with respect to the authenticity of the Diary: It is the drama based on The Diary that defines Anne Frank. It is the image of the speaking, living witness, the dead come to life, the dead never having died, that provides the emotional clue to the inner life of the American Jew [5, p. 356]. Roth indicates through his characters, including Amy Bellette, how cheap and sentimental this dramatization of The Diary was. However, it played a significant role in the works commercial and popular success in the U.S. Gilman adds, In the United States the Holocaust, through its commercialization in works such as the dramatization of The Diary of Anna Frank, has provided all Jews with a homogenous history [] it is the drama that provides the clue to the middle classs expropriation of fears that are not their own [5, p. 357]. Using the title of his novel The Ghost Writer, Roth plays with the anti-Semitic revisionists notion that The Diary of Anne Frank was not written by Anne Frank herself but by an anonymous writer. As Gilman points out, Roths real intention in the plot is to provide Roth with the context in which he defines the Jew as writer [5, p. 356] as opposed to the cheap, commercialized dramatist. Anne Franks character in the novel was strongly influenced by the similarity between a photo of Anne taken as a nine year old girl and Roths future wife, the Britishborn Claire Bloom, who was born one year apart from Anne Frank. Bloom describes in Leaving a Dolls House (1996) that Roth kept a black and white photograph of her as a small child in England next to Anne Franks portrait on the table as he wrote The Ghost Writer. In many places in the novel, Claire Blooms conversation and behavior are projected into the novels Anne Frank character, Anne Bellette [3, pp.168-169].

4 The Kafkaesque in Roths The Breast

In clear reference to Kafkas Die Verwandlung (in English translation, The Metamorphosis), Philip Roth wrote the novel The Breast (1972). Instead of a traveling salesman named Gregor Samsa turning into a giant cockroach, Roths fantastic story revolves around a 38-year-old Jewish associate professor of comparative literature (and hero of The Professor of Desire), David Alan Kepesh, who teaches at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, who metamorphosizes into a huge, 155-pound (80 kilo) female breast. This startling change in form still enables Kepesh to speak and hear, but he is blind. Metamorphosis and The Breast have in common narrators describing the shock, the sensations, and the acute fears of friends, acquaintances as well of colleagues from work discovering their startling change of form. The experience of waking up to the discovery in a New York hospital is quite upsetting to the scholar who screams, My face? Where is my face! Where are my arms! My legs! Where is my mouth! What happened to me! [12, p. 15] A common fear among the narrators of both works of fiction is the threat to the daily domestic tranquility they are comfortably accustomed to (in Roths novella Kepesh is estranged from his wife and has a lover, again named Claire). In Roths work the erotic sensitivities of the hero (as a breast) during the medical treatment receives central, comic attention. According to Earl J. Richards, who taught comparative literature at the same university as the fictional Kepesh in The Breast, the man Kepesh is based on is the Polish-born Shakespeare scholar Jan Kott [10, p.1].


Kott was Jewish scholar of comparative literature who emigrated from Poland at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. Additionally, Kott appears remarkably similar to the David Alan Kepesh character described in a more recent novel by Roth, The Dying Animal (2001). Although the plots of both The Breast and Metamorphosis are absurd in their own ways, both carry messages and speak to us. In Kafkas Metamorphosis, the intensity of the perception of the changes Samsa undergoes appears repulsive and disgusting, and at the same time fascinating and serious to most readers (although quite comic to others). In contrast, The Breast offers an immediate sense of the comic, a mix of Yiddish humor with a feeling that a spoof of Sigmund Freud or psychoanalysis is behind the whole scheme. Roths story affects the reader immediately as awkward and unbelievable. (I understand believable in the Coleridgian sense of a suspension of disbelief.) In Kafkas story we accompany the narrator like an insider, but with Roths story, other characters playing significant roles, such as the professionals offering help to Kepesh, dilute the effect of his plight. Instead of the famous psychoanalyst from Portnoys Complaint, Dr. Spielvogel, the man on duty is Dr. Klinger. With Roth, the reader gets a good laugh, but that is not all. Roths novella points toward complexities of sexuality both before and after the metamorphosis into a breast, an emphasis common in literary works nowadays. With Kafka, the metamorphosis of Gregor Samsa into a cockroach has already taken place at the start of the story, perhaps indicating what we are, or what perhaps Kafka felt himself to be. David Alan Kepesh, on the other hand, has become what every man ostensibly wants to have near himself, a comic Jewish wish fulfillment of a sort to be seen in Woody Allen films. Both authors express a comic sense of the inner life of their particular time and culture. In The Breast Kepesh expresses it in the following manner: Really, it is the silliness, the triviality, the meaninglessness of experience that one misses most in a state like this [12, p. 23]. Roth plays with a Kafka motif (and yet remains vintage Roth) when Kepesh tells Dr. Klinger that turning into a breast was his way of becoming Kafka. Did fiction do this to me?it might be my way of being a Kafka [] I had to live the thing [] I had the artistic longing without the necessary detachment. I love the extreme in literature, idolized those who made it, was frustrated by its imagery and power and suggestiveness [] so I took the leap [] Beyond sublimation. I made the word flesh. I have out-Kafkaed Kafka [12, pp. 72-73]. A fantasy of ambitious fiction writers is to be worthy of the literary achievement of their masters, which in Roths case is Franz Kafka. Like Roth, Kepesh is a great admirer of Kafka, and his great fantasy, as he interprets it, is only fulfilled through his own Kafkaesque metamorphosis.

5 Franz Kafka in New Jersey

Undoubtedly Roth identified himself with Franz Kafka to a certain extent. Remarkably, both had fathers named Herman and had less than ideal relationships with their fathers. At 40 years of age, Roth looked at a photograph of 40-year-old Kafka when he wrote his short story, Looking at Kafka (1972). Some people who have interviewed Roth noted the same photograph of 40-year-old Kafka hanging both at his New York City apartment and his Connecticut home [11, p. 131].


In the same year that The Breast was published, Roth was a visiting professor at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. That same year he published a lesserknown short story about Kafka entitled, I Always Wanted You to Admire My Fasting; or Looking at Kafka (1972). Roth begins his short story with an extended quote from Ein Hungerknstler (1924) or Hunger Artist in English one of the series of four stories Kafka consented to publish the year of his death. The citation below starts off Roths Kafka short story. I always wanted you to admire my fasting, said the hunger artist. We do admire it, said the overseer, affably. But you shouldnt admire it, said the hunger artist. Well then we dont admire it, said the overseer, but why shouldnt we admire it? Because I have to fast, I cant help it, said the hunger artist. What a fellow you are, said the overseer, and why cant you help it? Because, said the hunger artist, lifting his head a little and speaking, with his lips pursed, as if for a kiss, right into the overseers ear, so that no syllable might be lost, because I couldnt find the food I liked. If I had found it, believe me, I should have made no fuss and stuffed myself like you or anyone else. These were his last words, but in his dimming eyes remained the firm though no longer proud persuasion that he was still continuing to fast [8, pp. 199-200]. In Philip Roths story, the lack of food of the hunger artist is connected to the photographic appearance of Franz Kafka in 1924 when the story was first published, and also the year of Kafkas death. His face is sharp and skeletal, ears shaped and angled on his head like angel wings; an intense, creatively gaze of startled composure enormous fears, enormous control; a black towel of Levantine hair pulled close around the skull the only sensuous feature; there is a familiar Jewish flare in the bridge of the nose, the nose itself is long and weighted slightly at the tip the nose of half the Jewish boys who were my friends in high school. Skulls chiseled like this one were shoveled by the thousands from the ovens. Had he lived, his would have been among them, along with the skulls of his three younger sisters. Of course it is no more horrifying to think of Franz Kafka in Auschwitz than to think of anyone in Auschwitz to paraphrase Tolstoy, it is just horrifying in its own way. But he dies too soon for the holocaust [14, pp. 246-247]. Roth points to twenty years in the future when he reflects on the appearance of the hunger artist and views the starved look of the Kafka face in the 1924 photograph, and connects them to the holocaust photographs and documentary films he saw as a child in the mid-1940s. The similarities of both the Jewish characteristics, the skeletal starved appearance as well as the intensity of time, place and the fate of Kafkas own family members leads Philip Roth to a fantasy: the overcoming of the Holocaust and the death of Kafka. Even better, the greatest fantasy a literary admirer can have: Roth brings Kafka to New Jersey to his own school, even to his own home. As always with Philip Roth, this short story, I Always Wanted You to Admire My Fasting; or Looking at Kafka does not provide the view through rose-tinted glasses of Jewish life in America. The characters are not superior types, but rather the vulgar, standard American boys of Jewish ancestry who in 1942 show greater interest in playing baseball than allowing Dr. Franz Kafka to teach them the Hebrew language at the synagogue. Nine-year-old Philip Roth is another fictional character in the story. His New Jersey schoolmates and companions Schlossman and Ratner, as well as Roth,


together make up the worst troublemakers in school, relentlessly harassing all their teachers. In comes the new immigrant from Eastern European named Dr. Kafka, who is quickly nicknamed Dr. Kishka, Yiddish for intestine. His sour breath, spiced with intestinal juices by five in the afternoon, makes the Yiddish word for insides particularly telling, I think [14, p. 255]. Little Philip Roth imitates the gestures and strange European mannerisms of the foreigner: his curious exactness, his professorial ways, his strong German accent, his constant coughing, and his gloom. The jokes told about Dr. Franz Kishka are so telling and hilarious that little Ratner wets his pants. [14, p. 256] Regret and sympathy overcome young Philip Roth as he hears media reports of the mistreatment of Jews in Europe. Out of compassion for the poverty of the war refugee, Philip Roth invites Kafka to dinner with his family so that he can escape his isolation and confinement in the neglected part of town where he resides in a studio apartment. My guilt awakens redemptive fantasies of heroism. I have them often about the Jews of Europe. I must save him. If not me, who? [14, p. 256]. When Kafka arrives for dinner, Roths father tries to match Kafka up with his sister-in-law, Rhoda, who has started to give up on the idea of finding a husband. My aunt Rhoda is forty years old it is not exactly a shipment of brand-new goods that he is trying to move [] she lives with my grandmother and tends her and her potted plants in the apartment house at the corner of our street. For nearly two decades now my father has been introducing my mothers forty-year-old baby sister to the Jewish bachelors and widowers of New Jersey [14, p. 257]. At dinner Roths father attempts to convince Kafka, what it means to a man to have two fine boys and a wonderful wife! Can Dr. Kafka imagine what thats like? The thrill? The satisfaction? The pride? [14, p. 258] These are certainly characteristics one usually does not associate with Franz Kafka. From young Philip Roths nine-year-old perspective, Aunt Rhoda does not appear to be a Kafka type: she spends hours in the bathroom every day applying powders and sweeping her stiffish hair up into a dramatic pile on her head. Little Philips brother told him that she pads her bustline, yet, she is, in my fathers words, still afraid of the facts of life [14, p. 257]. In spite of all that, Dr. Kafka later calls and invites Aunt Rhoda to see a movie. Roth has Kafka discover in Aunt Rhoda, just as he did in his last year of life, a certain untapped talent for drama and theatrical performance. Kafka encourages Rhoda to perform in an Anton Chekhov play, The Three Sisters. Eventually, Kafka writes letters announcing the break up of the relationship, devastating Rhoda. Roths older brother surmises the cause of the break-up, and whispers it into little Philips ear: sex-problems. In the end, Roth cannot allow Kafka to succeed even in his fantasy: Kafka remains isolated and fully alienated from the American society. Eleven years later, as Roth attends university in 1951, he receives the obituary in the Jewish-News: Dr. Franz Kafka, a Hebrew teacher at the Talmud Torah of the Schley Street Synagogue from 1939 to 1948, died on June 3 in the Deborah Tuberculosis Sanitorium in Browns Mills, New Jersey. Dr. Kafka had been a patient there since 1950. He was 70 years old. Dr. Kafka was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia, and was a refugee from the Nazis. He leaves no survivors [14, p. 265].


Worse still, in Roths story, Kafka leaves behind no Diary, no America or The Castle novels. Everything from and about Franz Kafka soon disappears and he becomes anonymous, not the Franz Kafka. Roths short story ends thus: No, it simply is not in the cards for Kafka ever to become the Kafka why, that would be stranger even than a man turning into an insect. No one would believe it, Kafka least of all [14, p. 266]. Kafka in some ways appears to have been better off dying in 1924. Certainly it was preferable to the fate of his sisters in a Nazi concentration camp or and this may be understood as an underlying message in Roths short story as a poor refugee without hope in America (a similar motif is found in numerous stories by Bernard Malamud and Isaac Bashevis Singer). From Roths meditation on Kafka while looking at his photograph, Roth is no doubt reminded, as both Malamud and Singer were, of his memories as a boy of the thousands of refugees from war-torn Europe who arrived in America in the 1930s and 1940s.

6 Conclusion
Kafkas life and his fiction are mixed together in Roths novels and short stories, almost as if life and fiction were one and the same. Roths fiction reminds us of Kafkas use of autobiographical elements in The Castle, Metamorphosis, and The Hunger Artist as well as the Letters to Milena. One critic, Geoffrey Green, relates Roths fiction to Kafkas biography in specific areas only: What emerges from this treatment is Roths enduring emphasis on Kafka as a father, a lover, and a Jew. Only in this way could Kafka be made to assume his place in Roths intellectual fantasy as Roths legitimate Jewish precursor and father [7, p. 44]. It is worth mentioning that Franz Kafka had a cousin, also named Franz Kafka, who came to America and settled in New York in 1906 [9]. It may have been this relative with his same name which inspired Kafkas America novel, although Roth appears not to have been aware of Kafkas cousins emigration to the United States which became known after he published I Always Wanted You to Admire My Fasting; or Looking at Kafka. Both Kafka and Philip Roth had fathers named Herman, and both fathers were businessmen with rather lofty ambitions for their sons. Ultimately, however, Roths and Kafkas times and lives find very few similarities. Yet in his fiction (or perhaps it could be described as metafiction), Roth managed in I Always Wanted You to Admire My Fasting; or Looking at Kafka to reflect Kafkas Jewish joke, or his Yiddish joke, or something which philosophers might call his ontological joke: Kafkas hunger artist will not eat because if he had found some food he liked, he would have eaten it. That becomes the definition of the hunger artist, and it constitutes his essence, that is, disagreeable food is all he can find and predicates his essence as a hunger artist, much like existence possessing the characteristic of perfection predicates Gods existence with Anselm. Roth follows up on Kafkas joke (and it is likely the reason Roth cites this passage by Kafka) with the same kind of ontological Yiddish joke on Kafkas existence: Kafka cannot win, because Kafkas existence is predicated on failure, losing out in life, perhaps even humiliation, and appears almost eschatological. In fact, Roth uses Kafkas life as an extreme example of our common failure, in common and ultimate end. Yet he transmits that message in the form of the Yiddish joke. (Of course, one might consider the alleged analogue Kafka is


supposed to have thought of when he created his hunger artist, namely the greatest hunger artist who ever lived: Jesus of Nazareth.) Both Kafka and Roth follow what Saul Bellow describes as a trait common to all writers with the Jewish cultural tradition: In the stories of the Jewish tradition, the world, and even the universe, have a human meaning. Indeed, the Jewish imagination has sometimes been found guilty of overhumanizing everything, of making too much of a case for us, for mankind [In Jewish stories] laughter and trembling are so curiously intermingled that it is not easy to determine the relations of the two. At times the laughter seems to restore the equilibrium of sanity; at times the figures of the storyappear to invite or encourage trembling with the secret aim of overcoming it by means of laughter [1, p. 11]. The literary historian Kenneth Wishnia points out that early Yiddish language satirists at the start of the twentieth century in the U.S. used comedy to teach the immigrant population and to guide them in their dealings with the complex problems of their newly adopted society [17, pp. 55-56]. Wishnia points to the conflicting double identity of these writers of being both Jews and Americans. This Yiddish heritage continues in Roths works, even though it comes without the Yiddish language. Kafka may appear to some to belong to a different tradition. The laughter Bellow describes above does not come so easy to some readers when reading Kafka, but Roth, occasionally at an almost slapstick level, almost never fails to entertain in this way, while at the same time, like Kafka, offering an acute critique of the human condition. It is certainly for that reason that the Czech literary and scholarly community recognized Philip Roth and his contribution to the understanding of Franz Kafkas world-wide influence and significance when Roth received the first international literary Franz Kafka Prize on October 26, 2001, in the Old Town Hall in Prague.

[1] Bellow, S.: The Jewish Tradition. In Introduction to Jewish American Stories, edited by Howe, I, New York, Mentor, 1974, pp. 1- 17. [2] Bettelheim, B.: The Ignored Lesson of Anne Frank in Surviving and Other Essays. New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1979. [3] Bloom, C.: Leaving a Dolls House. A Memoir. Boston, Little, Brown, 1996. [4] Frank, A.: The Diary of Anne Frank. New York, Pocket Books, 1953, reprinted 1994. [5] Gilman, S. L.: Jewish Self-Hatred. Baltimore, Johns Hopkins UP, 1986. [6] Goodrich, F. and A. Hackett, The Diary of Anne Frank (the stage adaptation). New York, Random House, 1956. [7] Green, G.: Metamorphizing Kafka: The Example of Philip Roth. In: The Dove and the Mole. Kafkas Journey into Darkness and Creativity. Edited by R. Gottesman und M. Lazar. Malibu, Undena, 1987. [8] Kafka, F.:: Ein Hungerknstler. In: Kafka, F.: Erzhlungen. Frankfurt, Fischer, 1994. [9] Northey, A.D.: Kafkas American Connection. In: Journal of Modern Literature VI, 3 (September 1977)

[10] Richards, E. J., Letter to the author, Wuppertal, Germany, dated April 15, 2002. [11] Rodgers, Jr., B.F.: Philip Roth. Boston, Twaynes United States Authors Series, 1978. [12] Roth, P.: The Breast. New York, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1972. [13] Roth, P.: Deception. New York, Simon & Schuster, 1991. [14] Roth, P.: I Always Wanted You to Admire My Fasting; or Looking at Kafka. In: The Schocken Book of Contemporary Jewish Fiction. Edited by Solotaroff, T. und Rapoport, N. New York, Schocken, 1992. [15] Roth, P.: The Prague Orgy. In: Zuckerman Bound, a Trilogy and Epilogue. New York, Fawcett Crest, 1985. [16] Roth, P.: Professor of Desire. New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1977. [17] Wishnia, K.: At Home in Exile: The Living Paradoxes of Moyshe Nadirs Early 20th Century American Yiddish Satire (Discussion and Translation), MELUS 25:1 (Spring 2000).

Philip Roth (1933 ) is one of the most important living American writers who has a special literary connection to Czechs. He supported the English translation and publication of banned novels by Kundera, Klima, Weil among others. Roth employed the theme Czechoslovakia during the Husak regime in three major work, The Prague Orgy (1985), The Professor of Desire (1977), and Deception (1990). In The Prague Orgy and The Professor of Desire the absurdity of the artists life in the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic is represented as a realization of the Kafkaesque view of life expressed in his works of fiction. Expanding the Holocaust theme conveyed in The Ghost Writer (1979), Roth further reflects both the Holocaust and Kafkas life experience with his own fantasy in the short story, I Always Wanted You to Admire My Fasting, or Looking at Kafka (1972). In the short story Kafka survives his illness and escapes Nazi persecution through emigration to the United States. He settles down in New Jersey and in the 1940s becomes 9-year-old Philip Roths Hebrew language teacher. The ultimate meaning of Kafka and Czechs in Philip Roths fiction provides an interesting perspective of Czech history.

Resum v etin:
Philip Roth (1933 ) je dnes jednm z nejvznamnjch ijcch americkch spisovatel. Jeho literrn vztah k echm zdaleka nen zanedbateln. V dob studen vlky byl horlivm tenem dl eskch spisovatel, podporovatelem jejich anglickch peklad a poslze i jejich citlivm komenttorem. Zaslouil se kupkladu o vydn romn Milana Kundery, Jiho Weila, Ivana Klmy aj. Sm jako autor se obrac k tematice ivota v eskoslovensku v obdob huskovsk normalizace v novele The Prague Orgy, kde popisuje absurditu ivota umlc ijcch v tehdej SSR. V romnu The Professor of Desire se pak tuto absurditu sna zobrazit na pozad dl Franze Kafky.


Tematika holocaustu nachz sv vyjden krom romnu The Ghost Writer tak v povdce o samotnm Kafkovi s nzvem I Always Wanted You to Admire My Fasting, or Looking at Kafka. Podobn jako v romnu Amerika se zde autor pokou vyrovnat s jeho ivotem a dlem prostednictvm fikce, podle n se Kafkovi poda emigrovat do Ameriky do New Jersey, kde se prask rodk dokonce stv uitelem hebrejtiny devtiletho Philipa. Rothovo zpracovn tto tematiky nm umouje poznat, jakm zpsobem chpe esk djiny a literaturu znm americk spisovatel idovskho pvodu.

Key Words:
Philip Roth, Czechoslovakia in American literature, Czech-American literary relations, Jewish humor, Franz Kafka, the Holocaust, Anne Frank

Christopher E. Koy ( )

Published in: Proceedings 2002 University of West Bohemia. (6:2002) Vydavatelstv ZU Plze: 179-191. ISBN: 80-7082-949-4.