Intersecting narratives: The quest for identity in a post-traditional world and the prophetic message of Franz Kafka

Matthew T Powell, Marquette University


In the post-Enlightenment, post-Romantic, post-modern world the quest for identity has become a central concern. The "modern" self has increasingly come to be defined in terms of subjectivity, relativity, and otherness, rather than in terms of community, tradition, and religion. The narratives, ideologies, and social structures that have for so long defined us and enabled us to maintain the illusion of a cohesive authentic self have been challenged by contemporary critics who have proclaimed these constructs illusory, or at best problematic. The result is the rather frightening possibility that we have built traditions, cultures, and selves out of materials that lack substance. In this post-traditional world, we are faced with the possibility that we have been defining ourselves in terms of what we are not, rather than in terms of what we are. The self in the post-traditional world is historically conditioned, linguistically constructed, fragmented, and fragile. And if this view of identity is accurate, then we must learn to contend with the disquieting realization that otherness is not essentially "other," but is instead fundamental to our very definition of self. Into this world was born Franz Kafka, a man who found himself not only removed to the margins of the society he was born into, but also displaced from the tradition he should have inherited. As an assimilated Jew living in fin-de-siècle Prague, Kafka found himself doubly-"othered." Not only was he relegated to the margins of Western society because of his Jewishness, but he was also relegated to the margins of his own culture by a father who denied him his birthright as a Jew. It was a world defined by alienation, isolation, and emptiness that compelled Kafka to spend his life searching for an identity that had been denied him. It is this quest for identity, to be something more than "other," which has increasingly come to define the human condition in a post-traditional world. In this world where uniformity and stability have given way to plurality and ambiguity the individual has been challenged to claim an identity from the perspective of the other--the perspective of Kafka.

Recommended Citation

Powell, Matthew T, "Intersecting narratives: The quest for identity in a post-traditional world and the prophetic message of Franz Kafka" (2007). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI3298502.