French existentialism is commonly regarded as the main impetus for the universal significance that Kafka gained in postwar France. A leading critic, Marthe Robert, has contended that this entailed an outright rejection of interest in the biographical, linguistic and historical dimension of Kafka's writing in order to interpret it as a general expression of the human condition. This article will consider this claim in the light of Sartre's original conceptualization of a dialectic of the universal and the particular in the intercultural mediation of the work of art. The notion of a 'true universality' proposed by Sartre as a defence of Kafka during the 1962 Moscow Peace Conference will allow for a reassessment of Robert's criticism in a paradoxical reversal of terms: it is precisely the inevitable loss of context and the appropriation within one's own particular situation which allow the literary work to elucidate a foreign historical context and thereby gain a wider significance. Rather than a universal meaning of the work, Sartre's concept points to literature's potential to continually release specific meanings in new contexts.
Sartre, Kafka and the Universality of the Literary Work
Challenging the Absurd?
Sartre’s Article on Kafka and the Fantastic
beyond our reach’. 11 Similarly, in reference to the important French Kafka critic Marthe Robert, 12 Dorrit Cohn suggests that ‘to the Surrealists Kafka offered a model for fantastic literature, to the Existentialists a paradigm for the philosophy of