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Kafka, discovered in the 1920s by the Expressionists, damned by the Nazis in the 1930s and by the Marxists at more or less the same time, was reinvented after World War II by the French Existentialists. They saw in him the father of Angst and the Angst for the father: an Albert Camus before his time.

Can you tell me what the purpose of using the indefinite article before the proper name is in the sentence above. What it be a mistake to write just "Albert Camus" without the article?

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Yes, it would be a mistake to write just "Alber Camus". By using the indefinite article before a proper name, we turn that proper name into a "type of person", like a biological species, say, or like a profession.

Beethoven was a Jimi Hendrix before his time. (OKAY)
Beethoven was Jimi Hendrix before his time. (WRONG)

Without the indefinite article, "Jimi Hendrix" describes a unique person. With the article, it describes a kind of person. We've said that Beethoven was just like Jimi Hendrix, only born a couple of centuries before.

Gerard Manley Hopkins was a Dylan Thomas before his time.
Ada Lovelace was a Donald Knuth before his time.
Konstantin Tsiolkovsky was a Sergei Korolev before his time.

Tsiolkovsky could have built space rockets, just like Korolev did, but Tsiolkovsky was born too early.

Kafka could have enjoyed a lot of existentialist followers during his lifetime, but he was born too early.

  • I agree with CowperKettle. Albert Camus was not used for his personal name more like because he is renowned for his works. His name probably conjures up many things, like movements , than an ordinary name so the writer of the article uses his name to make it easy understand for readers who does not know Kafka or his works – Mrt Apr 20 '16 at 13:31
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    Nitpick: it's Jimi Hendrix. – stangdon Apr 20 '16 at 14:56
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    Yes... It's done with other proper nouns, too.... "It's the Uber of ___". entrepreneur.com/article/236456 – Catija Apr 20 '16 at 15:24
  • Beethoven was Jimi Hendrix before his time is grammatical. It just means something else. Such as Beethoven was the phenomenon of Jimi Hendrix before the time of the actual Jimi Hendrix. Whether the phenomenon includes the man Jimi Hendrix himself might depend on – Alan Carmack Apr 20 '16 at 17:09
  • the context and how the speaker actually puts that sentence to use. – Alan Carmack Apr 20 '16 at 17:16

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