Franz Kafka

Franz Kafka, my brother

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The Metamorphosis [1]  of Frank Kafka starts with an overwhelming “When G. woke up from a restless dream he saw himself turned into a monstrous insect”.

We are not used to people speaking so directly to us; bring to the foreground our animalism, not the one we have been manufactured with, but the one build up over the years and, in this terrible awakening, sense an irremediable fatality that has already become visible.

 We could ask ourselves how a normal boy, a fabric traveling salesman, whose aspirations are those of the common man, has reached this point. All the literature of the XX century, was abandoned almost forever- though the marvellous Tolkien Saga makes the exception- heroes, knights, bourgeois and marquises, shifting its centre of interest to everyday’s man. That´s hardly surprising: in the century of democracy- a man, a vote; later, a woman, a vote- the hero walks through streets and squares, pilots airplanes or wooden boats, but his heart is ordinary, limited, subjected to the contingencies of life and whose program is marked by materialism: even his longing for the stars takes shape as a space journey aboard a spaceship full of buttons.

Gregor works because he has to pay back a family debt, some karma stuck to his skin that inhumanly submits him to a company that now threatens to punish him for not showing up at work, for the first time in five years, at five o’clock in the morning.

Gregor can’t make it there because a giant beetle has taken shape in him and such a big insect can hardly get out of bed and only with great pain, he is just able to open his room’s door with its jaw. As all this takes place, the whole family: father, mother and sister plus the person in charge of the company can directly look at the freak, the monstrosity this shy youth has turned into. In his room, hanging up the wall, there is just a photo of an insinuating woman cut out from a magazine. Everyone, without noticing it, has looked at him and sensed the incarnated subconscious, the golem we have ourselves created.  This horrifies them since they don’t understand it.  The two levels of reality are incompatible.

The company’s manager dashes downstairs as if his life depended on it. Pandora’s Box, the subconscious, has been opened, and he runs for safety, while the family prepares itself to assimilate such a doom.

Needless to say that the reader is pushed, him too, to participate in that hallucinating drift the story submerges him into, just from its beginning.

Deep in his heart, Gregor thinks the prospect of losing his job is not all that bad and he tries his best to manage his transformation into an insect, adapting to it: he even allows himself an occasional laugh facing the new situation. Nonetheless, he feels guilty because his family which so far depended on his salary will have from then on to make it by themselves. Thus, he has received as an inheritance a debt and now feels guilty for unconsciously escaping from it.

His conversion into an insect when waking-up, brings us echoes of the primordial fall, the fall into the body of our material existence. His Karma, the family’s debt is there to remind him of his enslavement and on the other hand, the guilt to enter the Labyrinth, not as a Minotaur, but as a beetle.

Unlike more fortunate heroes, Gregor doesn’t possess any supernatural power to assist him; he just has a keen awareness of his transformation that he lives with a certain detachment, from a family that has exploited him for years, and from life in general.

He gradually says farewell to the world, each day more an animal and less a man.

He dies and is thrown into the garbage bin, just as waste, while his family, after the ordeal, commences a new life.

“That wasn’t Gregor anymore, says his sister, and we had to get rid of him”.

The deep symbolism of this work narrated in less than a hundred pages, is anything but easy to grasp considering that in each of his works, Kafka depicts reality not as we perceive it but in its naked truth, the skeleton of truth.

That’s the fate that awaits the alienated man of the XX century and subsequent centuries: the beating and the guilt. He could be saved by rebellion, the longing for liberty, but the spider-web is so thick that he lets himself die like a defeated hero.

Nevertheless, that defeat, his acceptance of becoming an inconsistent being in the midst of the racket, caused by a humanity avid for money, is instead a spiritual victory, limitless and overflowing and furthermore: it holds an implicit truth.

Gregor has lived with dignity the life he had to, but one good day, unable to hide any longer his more profound truth, he demonstrates his dark side and turns into a freak that has no place among humanity that rejects and ignores him.

Kafka has understood all human states: the fall, the horror of this alienated existence, the ignorance of human beings, and consequently, the absolute lack of love.

He has even renounced a married life, incompatible with his work as a writer which demands all of his energy and a purifying solitude where to forge his existential vision which is nothing else than model making and show them to us to mock our cruelty and indifference.

He didn’t have a long life, tuberculosis put an end to it at the age of 34. In any case, he wouldn’t have survived much longer as a Jew in Prague, back in those terrible years. His sisters ended up in a Nazi extermination camp.

The radiography of totalitarianism, the ego in its most extreme expression and its consequent pursuit of destruction, had already been exposed by him in full detail. A short time later, he died free, as a just person, without fuss, just like birds pass away under a heat stroke.

 


[1] Frank Kafka, Die Verwandlung [Metamorphosis], Kurt Wolf Verlag, Leipzig 1915

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