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Sebald virtually identified with Kafka. He published two substantial essays on The Castle, inspired by Walter Benjamin. Foregrounding the theme of death, he draws on Freud’s ambivalent concept of the death-drive, and associates Kafka also with Schubert’s Winterreise. Drawing implicitly on Canetti’s Crowds and Power, he interprets the protagonist of The Castle as a messianic figure seeking to confront the Castle’s power. Another essay uses Kafka’s ‘Report to an Academy’, with its Darwinian implications, as pretext for a meditation on cultural and evolutionary decline. In Sebald’s fictional works, Kafka is present throughout much of Vertigo, which in part follows Kafka’s own journey through Northern Italy from Venice to Lake Garda and alludes to Kafka’s ‘The Huntsman Gracchus’, set in the lakeside town of Riva. Sebald explores Kafka’s state of mind, as attested in letters and diaries, returning to the theme of death and also hinting at Kafka’s possible homosexuality. In Austerlitz, a significant quotation from The Trial is worked into the text. Altogether, much of Sebald’s work represents a homage to Kafka.
"Compositions of the Crowds of Modernism" gives a preliminary assessment of modernist crowds’ of-what and with-what, that is, the experimental taxonomies and relations of collective life as composed in fiction by writers such as Conrad, Woolf, and H.G. Wells. The chapter describes some of the terrains and territories of modern crowds, including the structures and political ecologies within which mass societies were forming and to which modernist literatures respond. It enlists concepts such as equal relations, virtuality, and crowd symbols to understand the twentieth century’s disruptive struggles over inherited and established identities such as nation, gender, class, or race.
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