The Nature theater of Oklahama in Der Verschollene is one of Kafka’s most enigmatic inventions, widely known through Walter Benjamin’s and Giorgio Agamben’s reading of it as a theater of gestures. This article explores the intertextual archive of Kafka’s novel, bringing into play an entry hitherto overlooked: the nature theater movement in the early twentieth century, promoted by the conservative Heimatkunstbewegung. Discussing the historical nature theater, on the one hand, and Benjamin’s and Agamben’s theater of gestures, on the other, the article examines the conceptions of life that come into play in the novel (life as career, life as theater, life as gesture) and considers the fate of the protagonist in this light. Seeing the question of inclusion/exclusion as key to Kafka’s novel, the article argues that it exposes the thin line between utopia and dystopia and allows us to reflect on the dangers as well as the possibilities of modernity.

You do not currently have access to this content.