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IAI_Admin OP t1_je4z927 wrote

It's over a century since Metamorphosis was published. Yet Kafka’s work still resonates with the realities we face today. In this entertaining talk, acclaimed actor and director Steven Berkoff draws on his years of experience with Kafka’s work to provide a unique insight into how Kafka can help us to better understand the world and our place within it. Franz Kafka’s stories do not follow the usual pattern of building up the narrative into a climax; they start with the climax. In Metamorphosis, for instance, Gregor Samsa wakes up from a night of uneasy dreams only to find that he had been transformed into a gigantic insect. This surreal scenario is likely to have been inspired by a letter Kafka had sent to his father, who was deeply disappointed by his son’s sensitive, curious and artistic nature. Kafka believed that he failed to fulfil his father’s expectations of what it means to be a man and, thus, that he appeared in his eye to be no better than an insect. Kafka did not think in a linear, realistic fashion – reality to him was merely the trivial surface of life, merely a skin. In his work, the banalities of everyday life make way for the surreal, unconscious elements of our existence worth investigating, our absurd inner lives, our dreams.


mr_ryh t1_je5p3th wrote

> This surreal scenario is likely to have been inspired by a letter Kafka had sent to his father, who was deeply disappointed by his son’s sensitive, curious and artistic nature. Kafka believed that he failed to fulfil his father’s expectations of what it means to be a man and, thus, that he appeared in his eye to be no better than an insect.

Glad to see someone mention this as the link between the story and his father is actually quite strong and appears generally underappreciated by most. For context, Kafka was heavily dependent on his father and was made painfully conscious of the fact. His father would frequently mock him as weak and sickly (Kafka ultimately dies of tuberculosis), and his father's assistance (he helped get Kafka a well-paid sinecure in the Austro-Hungarian bureaucracy which he later satirized in his work, most notably The Castle) must have been doubly humiliating. But interestingly enough this entire dynamic is reversed in The Metamorphsis -- there Gregor Samsa (nominally a parasite) is the breadwinner and his family have actually been sucking him dry. (Perhaps how Kafka felt about them emotionally?)

The first sentence of the Metamorphosis in German reads (emphasis mine):

> Als Gregor Samsa eines Morgens aus unruhigen Träumen erwachte, fand er sich in seinem Bett zu einem ungeheueren Ungeziefer verwandelt.

(Or in English, "Gregor Samsa wakes up from a night of uneasy dreams only to find that he had been transformed into a gigantic insect")

Kafka's father used "Ungeziefer" to describe "parasites"/"blood-suckers", like a bed-bug, or a flea, and NOT a beetle or just any insect in general, which is how it's often incorrectly translated. (However, see Nabokov, LECTURES ON LITERATURE, pp258-60, where he argues (using entymology) that K is a large beetle). For evidence of this, see Kafka's use of it in Briefe an Milena (which is, incidentally, the only time he uses the word in those letters): "Von dem Riva-Ungeziefer bin ich noch zerbissen...", p.68: "I'm still covered with bites from the Riva-vermin..."). Thus in Die Verwandlung (Metamorphosis), Kafka becomes an Ungeziefer literally, which is how he felt his father perceived him figuratively. In Brief an den Vater, Kafka ventriloquizes his father thusly:

> Und den Kampf des Ungeziefers, weliches nicht nur sticht, sondern gleich auch zu seiner Lebenserhaltung das Blut saugt. ...das bist Du. > > You have put it into your head to live entirely off me. I admit that we fight each other, but there are two kinds of combat. The chivalrous combat, in which independent opponents pit their strength against each other, each on his own, each losing on his own, each winning on his own. And there is the combat of vermin, which not only sting but, on top of it, suck your blood in order to sustain their own life.... and that's what you are.

--pp118-119 in The Schocken Kafka Library edition

The etymology of the word is evocative yields further insight into how Kafka may've perceived himself, or felt others perceived him (e.g. the end of the Trial):

> From early modern German ungeziffer, Ungezieffer, a variant form of Middle High German ungezibere. These pertain to Old High German zebar (“sacrificial animal”) and hence originally meant “animals unsuitable for sacrifice”, ultimately from Proto-Germanic *tībrą (“offering, sacrifice, victim”). The word is rarely attested in medieval texts due to suppression of words reminiscent of heathen practices, but must have survived in lower registers.



SpeckDackel t1_je73c9i wrote

I think the feelings of Gregor Samsa the first sentence gives you is not accurately translated in the English version. The ungeheures (uncanny/giant/unheard of) Ungeziefer (unpleasant and unwanted insects like cockroaches are Ungeziefer, insects people/society don't like) is a metaphor for how he feels/is treated by his family; not really a physical state. Based on how Samsa then treats this metamorphosis as a practical problem to overcome and live his "normal" life, I always felt like this physical state is simply a manifestation of his/Kafka's inability to follow the rules of and take part in society just by being too different. The rules of society (and his father/family) become impossible to follow, and the uncannyness of one's existence expose the uncanny rules of the middle classes Gregor Samsa desperately wants to participate in. But as the rules define the life of everyone in this world and don't allow one to be different, it destroys him in the end. Being uncanny and unwanted by society dooms the protagonist from the first moment (metaphorically he is doomed to perish by being hurt with the apple by his beloved sister in the beginning).


mr_ryh t1_je7hg18 wrote

Yes, that is a more succinct and precise rendering of what I initially tried to express in a circuitous and clumsy way. His father deemed artists (such as Kafka aspired to be) to be Ungeziefer sponging off the strong and self-reliant men of business who moreover got married and raised families - something Kafka longed to do yet felt unfit for - and Kafka certainly felt tortured by this as he couldn't help relying on his father for survival (physically and emotionally). This paradox of loving & needing someone (or some thing) who nonetheless tortures & humiliates you, or (to use another metaphor from his Notebooks) the dream-like contradiction of something being incommunicable yet demanding to be communicated, explains much of the underlying pathos (and bathos) in his work.

Thanks for the correction and the intelligent exposition.


iOpCootieShot t1_je6jipi wrote

We got it. Hes the bug.


Not_MrNice t1_je6ys6x wrote

I thought it was a sign of affection when your pops throws an apple at you.


fencerman t1_je5yrru wrote

He was also talking about the inhumane cruelty of capitalism.


xFblthpx t1_je698ev wrote

That was the primary purpose of his work. I feel like the writer of this article is mistaking surreal metaphor for some metaphysical take that actually wasn’t there.


mathswarrior t1_je7723a wrote

Can you expand on that?


DownTheWalk t1_je8eru0 wrote

There are a few of his works of fiction that come to mind. I’ll touch on just three of these with brief interpretations that, I think, will attend to his criticisms of capitalism.

“A Hunger Artist” - one’s artisanal work becomes something merely admired, but no longer valued as a capital good (in this case, allegorized by an artist whose skill is to starve themselves for intervals of time in a locked cage at a circus, eventually dying when the viewers stop caring and the supervisor no longer supports them). The hunger artist’s self-loathing and ironic sense of self-preservation through hunger (because they say that they could never find a food they liked) is funny, but might also speak to the sad reality of the determinism in system where money and capital are concentrated in the hands of owners and not the producers of the capital. Case in point, when the hunger artist finally expires, the supervisor—the owner of the circus—basically discards of his body immediately and moves on without a second thought. Very Marxist in its conception, imo. From Marx:

> In tearing away from man the object of his production, therefore, estranged labor tears from him his species-life, his real objectivity as a member of the species and transforms his advantage over animals into the disadvantage that his inorganic body, nature, is taken from him... Man’s species-being, both nature and his spiritual species-property, into a being alien to him, into a means of his individual existence. It estranges from man his own body, as well as external nature and his spiritual aspect, his human aspect.

The Metamorphosis - how do you call in sick to work when your boss shows up to your house and bangs on your bedroom door ‘cause you’re a few hours late (lol)? But seriously, the story takes the idea of surveillance of employees, family debt, and the dispassion one feels for work that feels purposeless (in this case, it’s “insurance”) and asks how this system would respond if the worker entrenched in that system somehow became inutile. Gregor Samsa is economically exploited on so many fronts. First, his employer enters his home and demands he return to work, making spurious claims that he’s defrauded the company, but then threatening him with dismissal if he doesn’t show up. Second, his family doesn’t work because Gregor makes enough money to keep them satisfied to sit around and live a very modest existence without having to strain themselves while he pays their existing debts. Third, the family, needing to make money after Gregor’s metamorphosis, rents their rooms to three boarders who flee in disgust upon finding Gregor in his insect-form. In short: Gregor’s utility begins and ends with his ability, actively or passively, to produce wealth for someone else. In the end, having lived his whole life in complete service to the financial needs of others, he dies in the misguided belief that his life will no longer hold his family back from financial uncertainty as he’s become too much of a burden.

Selection from “The Rescue Will Begin In Its Own Time” - a hilarious story about a farmer who begins by asking for help, but ends up engaging in an obtuse business agreement with a man on a highway for help in fixing problems within the farmer’s family (he’s been quarrelling with his wife and his kids are lazy). The man on the highway (the narrator) who’s being asked to help slowly begins making demands that would qualify as payment for the consultation and counselling that he’s being asked to give. At first the demands are small, but the back and forth between the two men yields greater and more elaborate, mostly unwieldy, requirements. For example, the man asks for all of the same food and drink that the farmer consumes in the day—basically suggesting he become another mouth for the family to feed. He asks for a barrel of ale a week, and a whole bunch of other random shit. Finally, the he says:

> “[It’s] not so much,” I said, “and I’ve almost got to the end. I want oil for a lamp that is to be kept burning at my side all night. I have the lamp here, just a very little one that runs on next to nothing. It’s really hardly worth mentioning, and I just mentioned it for the sake of completeness, lest there be some subsequent dispute between us; I dislike such things when it comes to being paid. At all other times I am the mildest of men, but if terms once agreed upon are violated I cut up rough, remember that. If I am not given everything I have earned, down to the last detail, I am capable of setting fire to your house while you’re asleep. But you have no need to deny what we have clearly agreed upon, and then, especially if you make me the occasional present out of affection—it doesn’t have to be worth much, just the odd little trifle—I will be loyal and hardy and very useful to you in all manner of ways. And I shall want nothing beyond what I have told you just now, except on August 24th, my name day, a little barrel of two gallons of rum.”

In the end, the farmer is so aggravated and annoyed by the ludicrous demands that he dismisses the man and says he’ll just figure it out for himself. The story ends with the man on the highway saying: “So why the long negotiations?”

The story challenges so many conceptions of negotiation and binding of contracts, especially when the goods on trade are intangible. This line of interpretation suggests that all “skills” are somewhat imprecise in their “value” for purchase. The cost isn’t tied to any immediate input costs (of material or time), only the output or result for the consumer. So the provider can be as conniving as they want in dreaming up a fee.

But the inverse reading is more interesting, imo. The man on the highway is so careful in his analysis of the challenges and pains he’ll have to take on by consulting for the farmer that his exorbitant demands represent the true cost of his craft, and represent a perfectly calculated receipt of the work he’ll have to do without forgoing his own life:

> Did he [the farmer] suppose I could fix in a couple of hours what two people had done wrong over the course of their entire lives, and did he expect me at the end of those two hours to take a sack of dried peas, kiss his hand in gratitude, bundle myself up in my rags, and carry on down the icy road?

Thus, it’s working to a fair contract. But when it’s all laid out on the table for the farmer, it’s suddenly better for him to move on down the road and fix the problem himself. An even more likely scenario is that the farmer can now “shop” for a new consultant, and while this option isn’t even hinted at in the story, it’s suggestion is at least plausible in the fact that the story places equal on the task being done by either of the two men: one can do it for his own benefit while the other can do it pay.


EthosPathosLegos t1_je6fqta wrote

The more I learn about AI the more I realize our subconscious is probably what computer scientists call "hidden layers" which are constantly evaluating sensory data for patterns with which to create our consciousness. These pattern recognition outputs get really weird (think Google's deep dream) and that's probably what we see when we inspect and study our subconscious depths.


Reelableink9 t1_je740k2 wrote

I’m not so sure, i still think the subconscious is the result of the final layer. Its most likely that we cannot interpret the hidden layers. Your subconscious is just the output the brain gives when thoughts are initiated with certain inputs, ie. you prompt your inner monologue instead of being verbal etc


Goddespeed t1_je76ri2 wrote

Hidden layers like the ones that we have in our brains?


MadBroRaven t1_je5wkz0 wrote

Nowadays you just eat a bucket of magic shrooms or LSD to achieve the same


Incelscumjar t1_je75veq wrote

Sweet Heroine mèn, withdrawal symptoms, bugs, and feeling crushed


hellena3 t1_je6fbcm wrote

Glorious gorgeous


Meotwister5 t1_je8uurp wrote

The Trial at times felt like reading Lovecraftian cosmic horror because the overwhelming presence and power of the authority bearing down on Josef K felt so faceless and so incomprehensible it might as well be some malevolent godlike entity and I wouldn't be able to tell the difference.


grateful-biped t1_je8ihdz wrote

The Castle is one of the most painful book reading experiences in the best possible way. If that makes sense. Kafka creates confusion & paranoia without any real threat or danger in the story. It’s a labyrinth of insecurity & absurdity. It makes me uncomfortable just thinking about it. It’s unlike anything before or since.


wedsonxse t1_je8cnno wrote

I love kafka, recently read "the trial" what an extreme and amazing experience


trethomgrego t1_je8lpo4 wrote

The most existentially terrifying book I’ve ever read. Logic doesn’t run the world, various regimes of corruption do. How dare you be rational in your thinking! This book haunts me to this day..


GregorSamsasCarapace t1_je9jnvv wrote

And in addition to that, every moment of every day is one more piece of evidence in a trial we are unwittingly participating in


Theblackjamesbrown t1_je6wc45 wrote

How can experiences be subconscious?


joemangle t1_je75u08 wrote

Experience always has a subconscious aspect


surfcorker t1_je7wvhw wrote

No it does not. Its like saying eating sand has elements water.


Former-Lack-7117 t1_je9ciu3 wrote

Yes, in that the sand is there to eat because elements of the water, in this case parrotfish, have created the things that make extrinsic experience possible, i.e. eating sand.

In the same way, the experiences we have are made possible by both conscious and intentional action, like the parrotfish eating coral, and by unconscious feelings, biases, wants, needs, fears, and interpretations, like the parrotfish shitting out sand and the sand washing up on shores to make beaches. When you interact with the world, it's never a straightforward, 1:1 engagement where what you see is exactly what you're getting. When you sit down and eat sand, you don't think about the fact that you're putting fish shit in your mouth until someone points it out. You can criticize the unpleasantness of the physical experience of eating sand, but, once you become more aware of the unseen processes that lead to the sand being there to eat, you can also criticize the experience from the deeper, but just as real, reality of eating fish shit.


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sidianmsjones t1_je7j9k8 wrote

Damn that video player is so broken. It stutters the whole way and then a couple minutes in paywalled me. Shame, I wanted to watch that.


SundayMorningPJs t1_je85cxa wrote

I'm not gonna lie, I read this as Kefka at first and was like ???????