Franz Kafka’s most popular yarn begins thus.
One morning, when Gregor Samsa woke from troubled dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a horrible vermin. He lay on his armour-like back, and if he lifted his head a little he could see his brown belly, slightly domed and divided by arches into stiff sections. The bedding was hardly able to cover it and seemed ready to slide off any moment. His many legs, pitifully thin compared with the size of the rest of him, waved about helplessly as he looked.
And so we witness this disturbing absurdist nightmare detailing Gregor’s assumption of vermin-acious reality and bodily-psychic transformation to the anti-human. Imagine if you will a story that ensues from this preposterous opening: the predictable repulsion and isolation one experiences upon transforming into such a vile creature and the test of familial love and acceptance at no longer sharing a common human biology with those who were once your family. I won’t say how the story ends and if you’ve never read Metamorphosis, embark upon the task as a lit major would. Suspend disbelief for the sake of allegorical design. All objects in the story represent facets of life and existence not readily comprehensible without some immersion in interpretation and much rumination. In other words, despite being a “good read,” the story is not to be taken at face value. Metamorphosis is his most well-known which is not saying a lot for an obscure literary figure from Eastern Europe, but in academic circles, Kafka is familiar. Metamorphosis has even made minimal inroads in pop culture and though I enjoyed the story, my favorite Kafka work is A Hunger Artist, about a performance artist whose art is starving himself for the public.
I last read Metamorphosis about 30 years ago in a literature class and the other day I thought why not revisit it? Maturity allows newfound appreciation and the era of Trump is disintegrating, the new Identitatrian movement has extinguished boldness and originality from today’s dialogue; why not go back a century and read up on my favorite tormented author?
I haven’t venture far into the story during my 2021 re-read, but I was struck by a passage. Interesting and curious what the new perspective that three decades affords your interpretation of the same piece of literature.
Gregor, in his new form, experiences hunger and is elated to find something has been slipped into his room.
By the door there was a dish filled with sweetened milk with little pieces of white bread floating in it. He was so pleased he almost laughed, as he was even hungrier than he had been that morning, and immediately dipped his head into the milk, nearly covering his eyes with it. But he soon drew his head back again in disappointment; not only did the pain in his tender left side make it difficult to eat the food—he was only able to eat if his whole body worked together as a snuffling whole—but the milk did not taste at all nice. Milk like this was normally his favourite drink, and his sister had certainly left it there for him because of that, but heturned, almost against his own will, away from the dish and crawled back into the centre of the room.
Kafka spins us a bodily transformation that is accompanied by a transformation of that psychic form which is the defining demarcation of humanhood and self; a deeper metamorphosis of his essential thoughts and perceptions which is the most intrusive transformation of all. There are vast interpretation of this story having to do with…
- Father Complex
- Destruction of the Self by Society
- Feminist presence and transformation of Gregor’s sister
- Sublimation of humanity to the “working” life of wage slavery
- A metaphor for leprosy
- A manifestation of self-denial/inability to find common pleasures in life
In my college incarnation, I was content to limit my conjecture to this rehashed kit of college interpretations, content in my infantile knowledge of human behavior and degradation. That was a long time ago. I’m grown-up now and I’ve learned too much to simply accept the chorus’ echo.
Now I would add another interpretation.
Perhaps Franz Kafka was using his authorial power to enliven a private fetish. Draped in dark symbolism and obvious connotation, he was actually proclaiming his secret desire to transform into an animal. Apparently, as I learned a few years ago while doing background research for a short story I was writing, this is a fetish that is surprisingly “common” and intersects with the “furries” and their peculiar fandom.
Online tomes are written (buried) in the cyberworld about people transforming into all manner of non-human beings and they are laced with a sexual vibe which lends them a most bizarre, twisted nature.
Kafka’s description of Gregor’s transformation into non-human abomination and resultant submission of mind and consciousness to that of said abomination makes me wonder where Kafka might fit in today’s post-internet whacko environment.
Kafka would not be a normie.