Book Review: "The Metamorphosis"

When Gregor Samsa woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, he found himself changed in his bed into a monstrous vermin.

Thus begins Franz Kafka's novella, The Metamorphosis, as translated from the original German by Stanley Corngold. The rest of the story is spent describing the remainder of Gregor's short and painful existence as a giant bug (the proper translation of the German phrase, ungeheueres Ungeziefer ñ Corngold's "monstrous vermin" ñ is the subject of ongoing debate among those who have too much time on their hands) living in the tiny bedroom of his family's apartment.

I chose to read The Metamorphosis as a part of my Exploring Our Personal Library project. I can't remember when I last read it, but I had forgotten - possibly on purpose - its depressing existentialism. The story, written by Kafka in 1915, exemplifies the narratives of dreary and surreal life that marked his work to the extent that the author's very name has become an adjective: Kafkaesque.

I had also forgotten that this particular translation of the story contains extensive expositions, clarifications, debates, and illuminating material apparently designed to tell us what the author was really trying to tell us. The book is 200 pages in length; the novella itself consumes only 55 of them.

He died of tuberculosis in 1924, and most of his works were published after his death. Nevertheless, entire careers seem to have been built around the study of Kafka's relatively short bibliography, and even today literary scholars continue to debate meanings and implications. I think Kafka would be bemused and amused (if he ever was amused at anything). After all, he gave instructions to a friend to burn all of his manuscripts upon his death. (His friend justified ignoring those instructions with the rationale that Kafka had given them specifically to the one person he knew would ignore them. I sense a promising political career.)

Kafka himself was not impressed with The Metamorphosis. In his personal diary, entries from 1913 and 1914 read, respectively, I am now reading [the story] at home and find it bad. and Unreadable ending. Imperfect almost to the foundation.

Indeed, the story itself is really secondary to the author's single-minded devotion to his craft, and to the almost mystical aura that modern critics have constructed around Kafka's life and motivations.

It's depressing to think that writing greatness requires such depression. I'd much rather think that writing is fun, but I'm apparently too naive to ever become a "serious writer."

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This page contains a single entry by Eric published on December 29, 2008 6:23 PM.

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