In her first monograph, Kafka’s Cognitive Realism (Routledge, 2014), Emily Troscianko set out to answer a brief, cogent question: “Why is Kafka so brilliant?...

In her first monograph, Kafka’s Cognitive Realism (Routledge, 2014), Emily Troscianko set out to answer a brief, cogent question: “Why is Kafka so brilliant? Why do I still want to read his work after all this time? It’s a good question. Even today, Kafka’s fiction retains a felt strangeness, the “Kafkaesque,” a quality Dr. Troscianko calls “both compelling and unsettling.” His stories have had an enduring readership, sustaining critical attention for over a century. This was what Troscianko wanted a better explanation for.

In the book, Troscianko finds that explanation from theories current in the cognitive sciences. She approaches Kafkas fiction (and what is Kafkaesque about it) as a realistic depiction of visually perceived space. In other words, for Troscianko, Kafka’s fiction works by simulating fictional places, people and phenomena as real, as happening in real visual space, according to how vision actually works. This seems, in part at least, to explain Kafka’s hold on us. And think: If the fictional realities of Kafka are lifelike in their fidelity to real lived experience, how strange when they gradually warp, and shift to become something more dreamlike, or unbelievable.

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