Franz Kafka Background, style, and The Metamorphosis
Biography ü Born July 3, 1883 in Prague, Austria-Hungary (now the Czech Republic). ü Was the eldest of six children born to a middle-class family in Bohemia. ü The children, including Franz, were primarily raised by governesses, as both parents worked late hours.
Biography ü Was educated at the German Charles-Ferdinand University in Prague. ü Initially studied chemistry, but switched to law two weeks later. ü The switch pleased Kafka, because it allowed him a wider breadth of studies. ü Graduated with a Doctor of Law degree.
Biography ü After university, Kafka worked a series of jobs, including a year of unpaid legal work, at an Italian insurance company, and as a governmental worker in the Worker’s Accident Insurance Institute for the Kingdom of Bohemia. ü Despite Kafka’s indifference to his jobs, he was promoted several times.
Biography ü Suffered from a number of ailments during the course of his life, including tuberculosis, clinical depression, social anxiety disorder, migraines, insomnia, and other stressrelated disorders. ü His tuberculosis worsened, requiring his committal to a sanitorium in Vienna.
Biography ü At the sanitorium, his tuberculosis worsened to the point where he could not eat due to the pain. ü He is believed to have died of starvation on June 3, 1924. ü His fate, ironically, mirrors that of Gregor in The Metamorphosis and his protagonist in The Hunger Artist.
Style ü Translations of Kafka’s work can be difficult due to an syntactical idiosyncrasy of the German language; the sentences will often span paragraphs, even pages, delivering the impact at the end of the sentence. ü The first sentence of The Metamorphosis is an example of this difficulty. ü In addition, he frequently uses diction that, in the original German, has multiple meanings, allowing for the layering of meaning within a sentence. These layers can be lost in English.
Style ü Stylistically, Kafka’s work shows the influence of a number of schools of philosophical thought, primarily existentialism. Kafka’s work is also considered modernist, absurdist, and a precursor for the style “magical realism. ” ü His influences include Soren Kierkegaard, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Charles Dickens, and Friedrich Nietzsche. ü Has influenced many notable authors and artists, including Vladimir Nabokov, Gabriel Marquez, Jorge Borges, Haruki Murakami, Jhonen Vasquez, and David Lynch.
Existentialism ü Existentialism is a philosophy. Its adherents believe that individuals create the meaning in their lives. ü Existentialism is generally atheistic, believing that the individual is entirely free from any external forces (ie: gods, deities), making him or her responsible for the events of his or her life. ü It is only through this selfdetermination that we can rise above the absurd conditions of humanity, such as suffering and death. ü Existentialists believe that the “meaning” humans seek in life is ultimately unknowable.
Existentialism ü Existentialism is therefore opposed to philosophies such as rationalism and empiricism, which attempt to discover an order in the structure of the universe. ü It reverses theistic viewpoint that essence precedes existence; our existence precedes our essence, and we decide our own reality ü Popular existential topics include “dread”, “boredom”, “alienation”, “the absurd”, “freedom”, “commitment”, and “nothingness”. ü The absurd, in particular, is important to surrealism. The universe, to existentialists, is indifferent, objective, and ambiguous; there is no order save what we peceive and interpret.
Existentialism ü Albert Camus, a famous French existentialist, penned an essay, “The Myth of Sisyphus”, to suggest existentialist thought. ü Sisyphus is a character in Greek mythology. Sisyphus was cursed to roll a huge boulder up a hill. Whenever he completed his task, it would roll down again; he repeated this task for eternity. ü Another important tenet of existentialism is Nietzsche’s proclamation that “God is dead. ” In existentialist thought, since humanity is responsible for its destiny and dissociated from outside forces, there is no need for God; He is obsolete.
Surrealism ü Surrealism develops parallel to Kafka’s writing. ü Kafka’s writing shows evidence of many concepts and stylistic elements important to surrealism. ü Surrealism is an art of surprise, unexpected juxtapositions, and non sequiturs, encompassing sub -cultural expressions such as Dada.
Surrealism ü The surrealists defined their movement in their manifesto: “Psychic automatism in its pure state, by which one proposes to express -- verbally, by means of the written word, or in any other manner -- the actual functioning of thought. Dictated by the thought, in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern. ”
Dada ü Surrealism was heavily influenced by Dada, a postwar movement positing that bourgeois, middle-class values (including art) were responsible for the war. ü Dada “art” would be better described as “anti-art”, evidencing the non-linear, haphazard sensibility that would define surrealism.
Modernism ü Modernism was a movement that opposed traditional views of art. ü Modernist artists hoped to discover and surmount that which was “holding back” artistic expression. ü Like surrealism and Dada, it was a reaction against the wars in Europe which ravaged the continent.
Modernism ü The ideas of Darwin and Marx are two examples of disruptive modernist thought that would permeate the literature and art of the movement. ü The Eiffel Tower was modernist architecture, breaking the traditional views of height and style.
Modernism ü Modernist authors include Joseph Conrad, T. S. Eliot, William Faulkner, James Joyce, Kafka, Ezra Pound, Marcel Proust, Gertrude Stein, William Carlos Williams, Virginia Woolf, and William Butler Yeats. ü Modernist literature breaks norms, often integrating psychological themes. ü Other important figures in modernism include Albert Einstein (The Theory of Relativity), Carl Jung (the collective unconscious), Sigmund Freud (psychoanalysis) and Bertolt Brecht (epic theater). ü Modernism explodes during and after the World Wars.
The Metamorphosis ü The ambiguity of Kafka’s prose has led to innumerable interpretations of the novella. Freudians, Symbolists, Marxists, Absurdists, Surrealists; for ever “-ist” and “-ian”, there is an interpretation. ü The structure of the story is straightforward; it begins with the climax, and, in many senses, consists entirely of denoument and resolution. ü There are heavy autobiographical elements contained within the novella. For example, Kafka’s relationship with his father is evident in Gregor’s; Gregor’s hideous transformation represents Kafka’s insecurity with his appearance; the menial existence of a traveling salesman his father lived; the absurdity of existence evident in Kafka’s existentialist views.