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Between Quran and Kafka: West-Eastern Affinities



Between Quran and Kafka: West-Eastern Affinities

Navid Kermani

ISBN: 978-1-509-50033-8 October 2016 Polity 300 Pages

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What connects Shiite passion plays with Brecht’s drama? Which of Goethe’s poems were inspired by the Quran? How can Ibn Arabi’s theology of sighs explain the plays of Heinrich von Kleist? And why did the Persian author Sadeq Hedayat identify with the Prague Jew Franz Kafka?

‘One who knows himself and others will here too understand: Orient and Occident are no longer separable’: in this new book, the critically acclaimed author and scholar Navid Kermani takes Goethe at his word. He reads the Quran as a poetic text, opens Eastern literature to Western readers, unveils the mystical dimension in the works of Goethe and Kleist, and deciphers the political implications of theatre, from Shakespeare to Lessing to Brecht. Drawing striking comparisons between diverse literary traditions and cultures, Kermani argues for a literary cosmopolitanism that is opposed to all those who would play religions and cultures against one another, isolating them from one another by force. Between Quran and Kafka concludes with Kermani’s speech on receiving Germany’s highest literary prize, an impassioned plea for greater fraternity in the face of the tyranny and terrorism of Islamic State.

Kermani’s personal assimilation of the classics gives his work that topical urgency that distinguishes universal literature when it speaks to our most intimate feelings. For, of course, love too lies ‘between Quran and Kafka’.

  • A Personal Note
  • 1. Don’t Follow the Poets!
  • The Quran and Poetry
  • 2. Revolt against God
  • Attar and Suffering
  • 3. World without God
  • Shakespeare and Man
  • 4. Heroic Weakness
  • Lessing and Terror
  • 5. God Breathing
  • Goethe and Religion
  • 6. Filth of My Soul
  • Kleist and Love
  • 7. The Truth of Theatre
  • The Shiite Passion Play and Alienation
  • 8. Liberate Bayreuth!
  • Wagner and Empathy
  • 9. Swimming in the Afternoon
  • Kafka and Germany
  • 10. The Purpose of Literature
  • Hedayat and Kafka
  • 11. For Europe
  • Zweig and the Borders
  • 12. In Defence of the Glass Bead Game
  • Hesse and Decadence
  • 13. The Violence of Compassion
  • Arendt and Revolution
  • 14. Tilting at Windmills
  • Mosebach and the Novel
  • 15. One God, One Wife, One Cheese
  • Golshiri and Friendship
  • 16. Chant the Quran Singingly
  • Neuwirth and Literalist Orthodoxy
  • Appendix
  • On the 65th Anniversary of the Promulgation of the German Constitution
  • Speech to the Bundestag, Berlin, May 23, 2014
  • On Receiving the Peace Prize of the German Publishers’ Association
  • Speech in St Paul’s Church, Frankfurt am Main, October 18, 2015
  • About the Text
  • Index

"This engaging collection of essays by Kermani… examines topics ranging from 10th-century poetic convention to modern-day extremist attacks in an expertly crafted critique of the East-West paradigm that often dominates contemporary discussions of immigration, globalism, and the preservation of ethnic and national identities… [It] will be a worthwhile read for anyone who is interested in better understanding the intellectual ties that bridge a social and cultural division that is popularly conceived as being thousands of years wide."
Publisher's Weekly

"The moral power behind Kermani’s extraordinary achievements is scarcely paralleled among all the great figures of German literature."
Süddeutsche Zeitung

"Through his work Kermani shows us the challenges facing the critical mind today and what it can achieve."
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

"As one of its best-known intellectuals, Kermani represents the new Germany."
Der Spiegel

"Kermani is living proof that, even in the generation after Walser and Habermas, the intellectual has not become obsolete as a public figure. He also attests to the source of this vitality, which comes both from education and from an active participation in the world that he observes."
Die Zeit

"In the end, Kermani’s exquisite book is marked by a refusal of the fundamentalist’s temptation to let Islam’s dogma eclipse its aesthetic permeability, and a refusal to let taut entanglements slacken into cultural amnesia. Taken together, these essays give texture to the tapestry of affinities that weaves together the two poles of his heritage — and, perhaps, of ours."
LA Review of Books