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Kafka, critical theory, dialectical theology: Adorno's case against Hans-Joachim Schoeps

By Margarete Kohlenbach


Theodor Adorno derived from his reading of Kafka some of the central assumptions that inform the critical theory of the Frankfurt School. He opposed theological Kafka interpretations in general, and in particular rejected Hans-Joachim Schoeps's reading of Kafka in the context of Karl Barth's dialectical theology. Adorno and Schoeps thus came to exemplify the dichotomy with which we still characterise the early reception of Kafka's work as either secular (sociological or political) or theological and religious. The disintegration of religion as a comprehensive social system in twentieth-century Germany means that writers can agree with traditional theology and religion in some regards while opposing them in others. This article argues that any unqualified adoption of the dichotomy between the secular and the religious is detrimental to our understanding of both Kafka's work and its early reception. First, the article outlines some of the major discrepancies in Kafka's heterogeneous engagements with religion. Second, it places Adorno's rejection of Schoeps's interpretation in the political context of National Socialism and the Holocaust. Finally, it compares Adorno's notion of 'inverse theology' with Schoeps's inversion of salvation history. Throughout, the article aims to ascertain the differences as well as the underlying commonalities between Adorno's and Schoeps's Kafka reception

Publisher: Blackwell Publishing
Year: 2010
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