Thursday, March 26, 2009

Franz Kafka - Existentialism

I have been busy out of my mind with work lately. It’s the end of the term, which always leaves me feeling overwhelmed and tired. So, I have had no time blog. However, I thought I would do a quickie on one of my favorite authors… Franz Kafka.

Why Kafka? Well, he has been on my mind a lot lately since I recommended him to a student for the final paper in my World Authors class. I love, love, love all that is existential, especially when it is offbeat and a little dark. I once argued with another teacher that Hamlet is existential… yes I know that Shakespeare had no idea what existentialism is because Sartre wasn’t even born yet. However, Hamlet is existential. To be, or not to be... existential! Have you ever watched the movie Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead? Existential! If you haven’t seen it, you must.

*Ponders why all of her conversations move to Shakespeare*

He’s the man… what can I say?

Erm, yes, we were talking about Kafka. I suggested that my student read The Metamorphosis. Who doesn’t love a story about a man that turns into something akin to a cockroach? It’s great stuff! When I taught this story (novella) to my highschool students, I let them draw pictures of Gregor Samsa, the bug, crawling around his living quarters. They were stoked! Not quite the visual anyone wants, but it’s a fantastic story. Of course the bug is merely Kafka’s idea of symbolism, thank God. If you haven’t read The Metamorphosis, you must! You simply must! Some of Kafka’s other stories include In the Penal Colony, The Hunger Artist, The Judgement, A Country Doctor, etc. Terrific stuff!

The most important reason that I am bringing up Kafka is that he had no confidence in his own writing. In fact, he wanted his manuscripts to be destroyed upon his death (he died from tuberculosis). Luckily, his friend didn’t listen, and he published them anyway. One of those manuscripts was Kafka’s magnum opus, The Trial.

Well, fellow writers… what can we learn from this? Not to give up? Not to trust our manuscripts to friends with intent to publish our work when we croak? Not to argue with Litgirl about Hamlet?


Tara Maya said...

The Trial is my favorite Kafka I think.

scott g.f. bailey said...

What I find interesting about Hamlet (and what a lot of people have found interesting for centuries) is that Hamlet, the character, is dealing with the existential questions of Sartre while trapped inside a play bounded by distinctly non-existential philosophies. And Shakespeare, at least on the surface, accepted the current philosophical explanations of life, and in fact speaks in support of them. Though I've always found it telling that the first words of the play are "Who's there?"

Gregor Samsa is one of my favorite protagonists. The Penal Colony is just plain creepy. I like his more absurdist stuff like The Hunger Artist or The Trial or The Castle. I'm going to read Amerika this summer, if I get through my stack of other books in time.

T. Anne said...

Aw yes, the man/bug of Kafka. Whenever I feel my stories border reality my mind quickly reverts to thoughts of Kafka.;)

Litgirl01 said...


Good observation on Hamlet! I couldn't put that into words in my current state of "fogginess" for lack of better terms, but you are exactly right. I also see Shakespeare as prophetic and sort of wise beyond his time, perhaps without realizing it.

Then again Nietzsche was a forerunner in existentialism ("God is dead") before Sartre, Derrida (deconstruction...ugh!), and Foucault ever dreamt it.

Where did all the great philosophers go? *sigh*

Litgirl01 said...

T. Anne...that rocks!! I'll give that a try! ;-) Reality is boring! LOL

Lady Glamis said...

Okay, I officially love you now. I don't know many people who love Kafka. My friend hates him. He is always her prime example of why she hates "classical" literature after 1900.

I think the man's a genius, and I always enjoy a good dose of existentialism. :)

Litgirl01 said...

Love ya back glam! Kafka rocks...I love him. He really makes you think. So glad that his manuscripts survived his low self-confidence! :-)

Maybe I'll talk about Postcolonial Lit next! ;-)

Damyanti said...

I read The Trial, and the Castle as a teen, and Metamorphosis as a college goer.

The first two depressed me at the time--as in I went into clinical depression, probably was not quite ready for them at fourteen.

But Metamorphosis stunned me with its power, and I have been a Kafka fan since.

Another writer you might like to try out is Jean Paul Sartre.

Litgirl01 said...

I have been wanting to read Sartre's letters to Simone De Beauvoir (Quiet Moments in a War) for ages and I haven't had the chance. :-) I think I am going to order it.