Tag Archives: fiction and literature

Cultural Literacy: Franz Kafka

Last fall, while unpacking some boxes of books for my classroom library, I learned with considerable pleasure that Peter Kuper has rendered Franz Kafka’s novella The Metamorphosis as a graphic novel. Personally, I like what Mr. Kuper has done with that staple of Mad Magazine, Antonio Prohias’s Cold War allegory as comic strip, “Spy vs. Spy.” Mr. Prohias was a hard act to follow, and Mr. Kuper has done so respectably, indeed even admirably. Professionally, that the students I teach–who have neither particular nor general interest in reading for pleasure–all read The Metamorphosis amazed me. Needless to say, I recommend this book for your classroom.

To complement The Metamorphosis, should you come by a copy, here is a Cultural Literacy worksheet on Franz Kafka.

If you find typos in this document, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

Rotten Rejections: James Joyce

“As might be expected, James Joyce’s writings excited some grandiose rejections. His Dubliners was refused by twenty-two publishers and then shot down in flames by an irate citizen. As Joyce reported it, ‘When at last it was printed some very kind person bought out the entire edition and had it burnt in Dublin–a new and private auto-da-fe.’ The odyssey of his Ulysses was even more spectacular–it was rejected, in fire, by two governments. Parts of the novel were serialized in the New York Little Review in 1918–20, and after rejection by a U.S. publisher the whole book was published in France in 1922 by Sylvia Beach’s Shakespeare Press. Copies were sent to America and England. They were, reported Joyce, ‘Seized and burnt by the Custom authorities in New York and Folkestone.’ Not until 1933 was the ban on Ulysses lifted; the book was published by Random House the following year.”

Excerpted from: Bernard, Andre, and Bill Henderson, eds. Pushcart’s Complete Rotten Reviews and Rejections. Wainscott, NY: Pushcart Press, 1998.

Book of Answers: What is Bloomsday?

“What is Bloomsday? Bloomsday—the date on which James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922) is set—is June 16, 1904.”

Excerpted from: Corey, Melinda, and George Ochoa. Literature: The New York Public Library Book of Answers. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1993.

Edward Abbey

“(1927-1989) American novelist and essayist. Abbey is best known for his celebration of southwest Utah’s slickrock country. One of the more overtly political modern American nature writers, he advocated for the preservation of the wilderness and was a tireless critic of the forces which, in his view, desecrated it. In Desert Solitaire (1968), a nonfiction account of summers spent as a ranger in Arches National Monument, Abbey portrays a starkly beautiful desert landscape that is threatened by so-called “industrial tourism.” The Monkey-Wrench Gang (1975), a novel about a merry band of eco-terrorists, was taken up by the environmental group Earth First!. Novels like The Brave Cowboy (1956) and Fire on the Mountain (1962), further explore the fate of strong-willed individuals confronting the technocratic forces of industry and government.”

Excerpted from: Murphy, Bruce, ed. Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, Fourth Edition. New York: Harper Collins, 1996

The Age of Anxiety

“(1947) A long poem by W.H. Auden. It concerns men and women who meet by chance in a New York bar in wartime; all are suffering from the modern malaise and feel guilty, isolated, and rootless. In a common dream, they set out on a quest through a barren wasteland. Hope in Christianity is presented as the solution to their problems. The title has frequently been used as a name to describe the mid-20th century.”

Excerpted from: Murphy, Bruce, ed. Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, Fourth Edition. New York: Harper Collins, 1996.


“The Sumerian god of water and wisdom. Enki lived near the ancient city of Eridu in his watery palace in the Abzu—probably the Persian Gulf. This god, like his later Babylonian counterpart Ea, was principally responsible for ordering the functions of the elements that affect life on earth. Cleverest of the gods, he provided the land with sweet water, fathered Uttu, the goddess of plants, found a way to rescue Inanna from the underworld, and saved mankind from extermination in the great flood. He was not, however, infallible. While in his cups, he let the goddess slip away with his “divine decrees,” which would give supremacy to her favored city of Erech instead of to Eridu. His attempt to create man was a pathetic failure, and it was left to the goddess Nintu to mold of clay a satisfactory human being.”

Excerpted from: Murphy, Bruce, ed. Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, Fourth Edition. New York: Harper Collins, 1996.

Matsuo Basho

“Matsuo Basho (1644-1694): Japanese haiku poet. Basho is generally acknowledged as the developer and greatest master of this form. His haiku went through many phases, evolving from the pedantic verse of his early youth to his lighthearted poetry of his last years. The work of his peak period is characterized by evocations of man’s ultimate harmony with nature. A wanderer for much of his life, Basho also wrote travel sketches interspersed with haiku. Oi no kobumi (1688; tr The Records of a Travel-Worn Satchel, 1966) is famous for its opening passages, which reveal his basic beliefs, but the best work in this genre is Oku no hosomichi (1689; tr The Narrow Road to the Deep North, 1966), which, outwardly describing his journey to rural areas of northeastern Japan, inwardly traces his spiritual quest for a beauty and lyricism all but lost in urban life.”

Excerpted from: Murphy, Bruce, ed. Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, Fourth Edition. New York: Harper Collins, 1996.