Paul North - a once-in-a-generation reinterpretation of the oeuvre of Franz Kafka. At the same time, it is a powerful new entry in the debates about the supposed secularity of the modern age

the yield paul north

Paul North, The Yield: Kafka's Atheological Reformation, Stanford University Press, 2015.

The Yield is a once-in-a-generation reinterpretation of the oeuvre of Franz Kafka. At the same time, it is a powerful new entry in the debates about the supposed secularity of the modern age. Kafka is one of the most admired writers of the last century, but this book presents us with a Kafka few will recognize. It does so through a fine-grained analysis of the three hundred "thoughts" the writer penned near the end of World War I, when he had just been diagnosed with tuberculosis.
Since they were discovered after Kafka's death, the meaning of the so-called "Zürau aphorisms" has been open to debate. Paul North's elucidation of what amounts to Kafka's only theoretical work shows them to contain solutions to problems Europe has faced throughout modernity. Kafka offers responses to phenomena of violence, discrimination, political repression, misunderstanding, ethnic hatred, fantasies of technological progress, and the subjugation of the worker, among other problems. Reflecting on secular modernity and the theological ideas that continue to determine it, he critiques the ideas of sin, suffering, the messiah, paradise, truth, the power of art, good will, and knowledge. Kafka's controversial alternative to the bad state of affairs in his day? Rather than fight it, give in. Developing some of Kafka's arguments, The Yield describes the ways that Kafka envisions we can be good by "yielding" to our situation instead of striving for something better.

"Paul North's very rich meditation on Kafka's "atheological" thought is epoch-making, a fully satisfying rebuttal of the vulgar claim that "we" do not understand Kafka. With an extraordinary lightness of touch, made possible by a wealth of philosophical and literary erudition, North takes us far more deeply into the heart of Kafka's thought than any scholar before him. He demonstrates that Kafka overturns every supposition on which traditional theologies have been built—a demolition that implicates the leading concepts of secular modernity, founded as they are on (the original confusions of!) theology. This book is a marvel of originality, the product of a gaia scienza of thought, as pleasurable to read as it is rewarding to understand."—Stanley Corngold

"This is an excellent book and a true gem. It has accomplished what no Kafka critic has ever managed to do completely: to provide a clear, intelligent, and systematic account of the convoluted, contradictory, and counter-intuitive fragments written by Kafka during his Zürau retreat."—Jean-Michel Rabaté

Cover of The Problem of Distraction by Paul North

Paul North, The Problem of Distraction, Stanford University Press, 2012.

We live in an age of distraction. Contemporary analyses of culture, politics, techno-science, and psychology insist on this. They often suggest remedies for it, or ways to capitalize on it. Yet they almost never investigate the meaning and history of distraction itself. This book corrects this lack of attention. It inquires into the effects of distraction, defined not as the opposite of attention, but as truly discontinuous intellect. Human being has to be reconceived, according to this argument, not as quintessentially thought-bearing, but as subject to repeated, causeless blackouts of mind.
The Problem of Distraction presents the first genealogy of the concept from Aristotle to the largely forgotten, early twentieth-century efforts by Kafka, Heidegger, and Benjamin to revolutionize the humanities by means of distraction. Further, the book makes the case that our present troubles cannot be solved by recovering or enhancing attention. Not-always-thinking beings are beset by radical breaks in their experience, but in this way they are also receptive to what has not and cannot yet be called experience.

"With his thorough treatment of various concepts of distraction through the centuries, North contributes to the understanding of the complex nature of human thoughtValuable for scholars of literature and philosophy."—R. C. Conard

"This thoughtful, original, and timely study asks not only what distraction is, but also what would be involved in theorizing the interpretive framework through which an interrogation of distraction would first became thinkable. It will be significant to scholars in German Studies and European Critical Thought, as well as to those interested in the conditions and possibilities of repressed, abjected modes of thought more generally."—Gerhard Richter

"North situates distraction as a fundamental question whose long history of being ignored is witness to the challenge it posed in a century, the twentieth, when distraction itself became more than a fact of experience: it became a fact of existence. This superb analysis of distraction and our lack of attention to it breaks significant new ground in our critical history."—David Ferris


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