Foster argues that Theodor W. Adorno's interpretation of Franz Kafka makes possible an understanding of literature's critical role in society while avoiding the twin pitfalls of reducing the literary work's significance to an echo of contemporary social and political ideas and prejudices and of misreading the autonomy of literature as an end in itself. Foster establishes this position by looking at Stanley Corngold's essay “Adorno's ‘Notes on Kafka,’” particularly Adorno's account of Kafka's “gnosticism.” Foster then draws on Adorno's recently published lectures on aesthetics (1958–59) to explain the gnostic self-dissolution that is crucial to Adorno's view of aesthetic experience. In the final section Foster shows how this interpretive scheme makes possible a reading of the importance of literary autonomy in Kafka and the need to open up a space of reflection on the disfigurement of social relations in late capitalist society.

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