Theses Doctoral

Practice and Form in Rilke, Kafka, and Walser

Hoffman, Christopher Thomas

This dissertation asks how literature relates to practices of self-formation. In search of a way to describe this relation with greater concreteness, it examines how specific literary genres mediate formative practices and how literary texts appropriate those genres. Three case studies focus on works written by canonical German-language authors in the years after 1900, when the established relations between literature and practice were breaking down.

Rilke's Stunden-Buch revives the devotional prayer book; Kafka's Betrachtung looks back to literary contemplation and meditation; and Walser's “Der Spaziergang” draws on the tradition of literary walking journals. Close readings show how these texts transform the practices regulated by their source genres when those genres began to lose the self-evidence they once enjoyed.

The study seeks to strengthen our critical vocabulary for describing literature’s claim on everyday life by demonstrating how practices of self-formation manifest at the textual level. The texts studied can no longer reproduce their source genres’ unambiguous relation to practices (respectively, devotion, reflection, and walking). However, they incite new forms of aesthetic activity to overcome endemic problems with modern social life.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Germanic Languages
Thesis Advisors
Simons, Oliver
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
June 26, 2024