Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Saturday, March 3, 2012

In The Penal Colony by Franz Kafka -eNotated by Jens Kruse

The eNotated In The Penal Colony by Franz Kafka, 1914 with an introduction and eNotes by Jens Kruse, 2011

A Great Example of How to Do
Value Added Classic E-Books

In The Penal Colony by Franz Kafka (1883 to 1924, Prague) is a short novella (some would see it as a long short story) set on an unnamed penal colony of a European nation.  A man identified only as "The Traveler" is there to witness an execution done with a very unusual machine.  (I have posted previously on Kafka's "The Metamorphosis" and there is some background information on him in that post).   

As a general rule I do not advise buying e-books of literature that are in the public domain.   Very rarely or really close to never does one get any added value in such e-books.   I am very happy to say that a eNotated Classics has found a way to really add to our experience and understanding.   I will talk a bit about why I like the additional value added features that come with the book then I will just make a few remarks about the work itself so readers of my blog can see if the work might interest them.   Kafka as a writer stands near the very top of the canon.

There is an excellent non-academic introduction by Professor Jen Kruse.   By "nonacademic" I do not mean "Kafka for Dummies".   What I mean is that it is not devoted to refuting the views of other professors but rather is a serious attempt to advance our understanding of Kafka's importance and of the story in particular.   Kruse provides an interesting account of the love life of Kafka and suggests how this might have influenced his work.    He explains why the work of Kafka is so central to the modern novel.   There are also some interesting photographs and the cover art is perfect.

Recently I purchased the first book in the just published Annotated Parade's End by Ford Madox Ford with notes and introduction by the great Ford scholar Max Saunders.   The notes are in fact spot on brilliant and so helpful.   There is one big problem with the book.  The notes are all in footnotes and the print is at most this big, maybe smaller, in the notes.   To me this makes the work almost worthless.  I understand if they made the notes a readable size the book would be much more expensive but as far as I can see the publisher has turned what should have been a true treasure of a book for lovers of  Parade's End such as I into something I am sorry I bought.   

In The eNotated In The Penal Colony  whenever there is a note in the work it is not in tiny print in a foot note, you simply click on the text which is colored red to let you know there is a note and it takes you there and another click takes you back.

This edition would be perfect for class room instructions.   Every paragraph is assigned a number which I can also see as very helpful for making references to E books as page numbers are less relevant for Kindle books.

As I was reading In The Penal Colony I could not help but think of the 1973 movie Papillon set on the infamous French penal colony, Devil's Island starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman.   

As you might guess, the story is many layered and open ended in its meaning.  (If you want just an account of the plot, check here.)    It is open to political, religious and philosophical readings.   There is a very interesting  machine at the heart of the story.   It kills condemned prisoners over a twelve hour period by inscribing their crime with tiny needles on their body.   The method of execution is exceedingly painful and has been a big source of controversy among those in charge of the colony.   

One think Kruse said in his very well done notes startled me with his brilliance and obvious truth while providing me with a "how did I miss that moment" when he said that in a way the story is about how what we read inscribes itself on our bodies and our lives.   

Here is the official biography of Professor Kruse

Jens Kruse, born in Hamburg, Germany, was educated there and in the United States where he received his Ph.D. degree in Comparative Literature from the University of California in Los Angeles in 1982.

Mr. Kruse joined Wellesley College faculty in 1983. He teaches both German language and literature at all levels of the curriculum and has repeatedly been Chair of the German Department and served as Associate Dean of the College from 1992 until 1999. He is the author of books on Goethe and Kafka and articles on these authors and related topics.
He is working on further eNotated editions of works by Kafka and Goethe, such as The Trial and The Sorrows of Young Werther.

On the web page of eNotated Classics there is a very good explanation of how the edition works and looks.   

I am glad to be able to endorse The eNotated In The Penal Colony by Franz Kafka, 1914 with an introduction and eNotes by Jens Kruse, as for sure worth buying for anyone who wants to get a good understanding of the work.   I think it would be a great instructional vehicle for high school and college students.   

Mel u


@parridhlantern said...

This really appeals, one of the reasons I like my kindle is the dictionaries & the chance of notetaking etc, so the idea of having some great classics with annotation sounds fantastic. As to the quote, doesn't the very act of living visibly inscribe itself on our bodies/faces etc.
Thanks for alerting us to what looks like a great idea, definitely will investigate further.

Seth said...

Old Castle: Kafka Recomposed