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Kafka's Oath of Service: "Der Bau" and the Dialectic of Bureaucratic Mind

Richard Heinemann
PMLA
Vol. 111, No. 2 (Mar., 1996), pp. 256-270
DOI: 10.2307/463105
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/463105
Page Count: 15
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Kafka's Oath of Service: "Der Bau" and the Dialectic of Bureaucratic Mind
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Abstract

Kafka's letters and notebooks reveal a surprising link between his Schriftstellersein 'literary being' and what he regarded as his fundamentally bureaucratic nature. Kafka used the term Beamtengeist 'bureaucratic mind' to refer both to a mode of critical consciousness driven by a neurotic obsession with order and security and to a longing for social solidarity based on duty. His understanding of Beamtengeist can be placed in a historical context of social-scientific concern regarding the effects of increasing bureaucratization. The dialectical ambivalence inherent in the concept is apparent throughout Kafka's work but is most clearly represented in "Der Bau," a story often read as a meditation on his self-conception as a writer. "Der Bau" traces the demise of a molelike creature whose Berechnungskunst 'art of calculation' condemns him to unbearable isolation. This reading suggests a need to reexamine the proverbial separation of art and life as it has been applied to this quintessentially modernist writer.

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