Friday, June 09, 2006

Hungry for a Kafka Story?

Kafka's stories can be said to deal with the absurd, meaning the sense that human existence is crazy, doesn't make sense, maddens, baffles, is a cosmic joke played on the humans . . . you get the idea. Maybe you sense this from reading "A Hunger Artist."

Even beyond symbol and allegory, I am very willing to consider Kafka's story literally: yes, we really could have a person who fasts professionally in a cage. The fact that a person would want to do such a thing is, well, absurd. Take it from there . . . Maybe the hunger artist represents the fact that people do weird things, not as departures from an otherwise normal life, but as a normal life itself--in other words, a normality of abnormality. There is a small Kafka story that I really like that goes right along with "A Hunger Artist," as well as "Metamorphosis" (a Kafka story you may already be familiar with about a man who turns into a giant bug):

The Watchman
by Franz Kafka
I ran past the first watchman. Then I was horrified, ran back and said to the watchman: "I ran through here while you were looking the other way." The watchman gazed ahead of him and said nothing. "I suppose I really oughtn't to have done it," I said. The watchman still said nothing. "Does your silence indicate permission to pass?". . .

I think one thing that this tiny story has in common with "A Hunger Artist" is that the protagonist (main character) is bound to something by an unhealthy internal control/drive; it is an obedience or discipline out of something other than happy desire or love--which leads to frustration, misery, and an unreal sense of being; to the absurd.

But is this real life? Do people in real life do things they don't want to do as a way of life? Do people engage in unhealthy, dismal practices even when no one seems to be compelling them to do so? Do people have an unhealthy respect for authority sometimes? Do people internalize external controls so that they allow themselves to be dictated to even in the absence of the dictator?

To the degree that people do, "A Hunger Artist," to me, at least, is a very realistic story.


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