Summer 2020 - HUM 309 D200

Literatures and the Arts Across Cultures (4)

Class Number: 5565

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Mo, We 1:30 PM – 5:20 PM

  • Prerequisites:

    45 units.



An interdisciplinary study of literary texts in translation and/or art forms across cultures and periods. Students with credit for HUM 381 or 382 under this topic may not take this course for further credit. Breadth-Humanities.


Kafka, Prague and Contemporary Chinese Writers

“How is it possible that in Prague, Kafka's novels merge with real life, while in Paris, the same novels are read as the hermetic expression of an author's entirely subjective world?” (Milan Kundera)

Writing in German-speaking and Jewish Prague and the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the early twentieth century, Franz Kafka is a “giant modernist” whose works unsettled the conventions of both writing and reading literature in the following decades. He has challenged writers from different cultures and periods to reflect on the representation of human experience, especially their own Kafkaesque situations.

This course has two interrelated goals: (1) to interpret Kafka and his selected short stories within the specific cultural and historical context of a “Prague experience”, through the critical reading presented by contemporary Czech writers such as Milan Kundera and Ivan Klima; and (2) to understand Kafka’s literary legacy through its influence on Chinese modernist writers, utilizing a comparative world literature framework.

After providing some context of Kafka’s writing and different approaches to Kafka, we will closely interpret two stories by Kafka, “Judgement” and “The Metamorphosis,” focusing especially on the theme of family authority and power. While his works are closely related to his personal (family) experiences, Kafka is often read as a prophet who presents a broad and bleak social vision of a faceless bureaucratic system and totalitarian state, especially by those writing in Prague. The links that Kafka drew between family and social/political totalitarianism ensure that the Kafkaesque is still highly relevant to our contemporary experiences. In the last part, we will place Kundera’s conception of the “Kafkan” (Kafkaesque) in a comparative context through reading short stories by Yu Hua and Can Xue, two avant garde Chinese writers. Both depict traumatized experiences in the aftermath of the Cultural Revolution in the form of individual nightmares, family cruelty and everyday absurdity. Their writing reminds us that “a creator who knows how to reflect his most personal experiences deeply and truthfully also touches the supra personal or social spheres”(Ivan Klima), and the universal.


  • Attendance and Participation 20%%
  • Canvas/In-class Discussion (for reading) 20%%
  • Presentation 20%%
  • Critical Analysis Essays (2x1500 words) 40%%



Following texts can be purcahsed at the SFU Bookstore:
The Complete Stories by Franz Kafka ISBN-10: 0805210555
ISBN-13: 978-0805210552
The Spirit of Prague (Ivan Klima) ISBN-10: 0964561123
ISBN-13: 978-0964561120

Other readings:

Franz Kafka: “Judgment”, “The Metamorphosis” in The Complete Stories

-----, Letter to his Father

Orson Welles’s film The Trial (1962)

Milan Kundera, “Kafka’s World”, The Wilson Quarterly (1976-), Vol. 12, No. 5 (Winter, 1988)

Ivan Klima, The Spirit of Prague

Yu Hua, “On the Road at Eighteen” in The Past and the Punishments University of Hawaii Press,

Yu Hua, “One Kind of Reality”

Can Xue, “The Hut on the Mountain”, In Jing Wang (ed.) China’s Avant-Garde Fiction: An Anthology, Duke University Press, 1998

Registrar Notes:


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Please note that all teaching at SFU in summer term 2020 will be conducted through remote methods. Enrollment in this course acknowledges that remote study may entail different modes of learning, interaction with your instructor, and ways of getting feedback on your work than may be the case for in-person classes.

Students with hidden or visible disabilities who believe they may need class or exam accommodations, including in the current context of remote learning, are encouraged to register with the SFU Centre for Accessible Learning ( or 778-782-3112) as soon as possible to ensure that they are eligible and that approved accommodations and services are implemented in a timely fashion.