The Way of Oblivion: Heraclitus and Kafka

Dissertation, Harvard University (1994)
Abstract
This study compares Heraclitus and Franz Kafka on the basis of paradoxes that they raise about philosophical method. I argue that both writers use rhetorically similar paradoxes to express problems of human oblivion. On the broadest level, I find that the Heraclitean paradox of method has played a noteworthy role in Western philosophical literature from ancient times to the present. ;In the first chapter of my study, I establish that the metaphor of the "way" is used by Greeks such as Homer and Hesiod to describe method in terms of memory and oblivion. Then I argue that Heraclitus, using this metaphor in a contradictory manner, formulates a paradox of method. Heraclitus emphasizes oblivion when he describes method as a "way" that is both straight and crooked or upward and downward. ;Chapters on Plato's Republic and Martin Heidegger's Being and Time investigate the development of this Heraclitean paradox into an important account of method. Plato's upward path toward truth is consistently and paradoxically accompanied by a downward inclination toward oblivion and ignorance. Heidegger, attributing crucial insights to Heraclitus, describes how humans are caught in a downward movement of forgetfulness which is concurrently a trend of upward disclosure. ;A chapter on Maurice Blanchot, who compares Heraclitus and Kafka's treatment of oblivion, serves as a transition to three chapters on Kafka. After examining how Kafka uses the metaphor of the way to express a paradoxical view of transcendence, I focus on "The Judgment," showing that this major story depicts a struggle between memory and oblivion in Heraclitean terms. To give a primary example, the strange concurrence of ways up and down at the story's end brings Heraclitus's paradox to bear on afterlife; while Kafka's protagonist falls toward oblivion, a simultaneous rise of traffic signifies transcendence. I conclude that Kafka's account of the way beyond mortal existence renews Heraclitus's emphasis on oblivion as a paradoxical component of the human search for truth
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