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IlanaSimons
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The Metamorphosis: Question 2: What Lens Do You Use?

[ Edited ]
Question 2: What Lens Do You Use?

Some people have said that a great work of literature is one that’s pliable to many interpretations. The Metamorphosis is definitely that sort of text, one that yields new meanings depending on what elements you emphasize.

You can give this text a biblical reading—saying that there’s a martyr here, Gregor, who dies unnoticed after reaching a new understanding of human suffering. In this light, Kafka is making a comment on our fallen state.

You can also stress the Marxist viewpoint in the text—saying the story comments on the way a daily job dehumanizes us, making us feel alienated, immobile, and voiceless.

You can also focus on this text as a feminist text: It’s the women, after all, who slow down the demands of everyday efficiency to try to understand another person’s struggle here. What allows women to take that role in this book?

Pick any “lens” for reading this story, and tell us your viewpoint.

Message Edited by IlanaSimons on 12-26-200612:27 PM




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Re: The Metamorphosis: Question 2: What Lens Do You Use?

I would be interested in studying Kafka's literature from the viewpoint of how the world of Gregor Samsa is constructed from the internal language of his mental universe. Sort of like how Wittgenstein mentioned that language limits the definition of how we can perceive things, perhaps Samsa's limitation by language is reflected in his transformation to a bug with "lesser" faculties than an average human being.

Perhaps a Foucault-based study would be awesome too. The archeology of discipline and punish type of approach can be looked at to see how the insect is a Jewish version of the ultimate punishment from God, that man has become debased by his inability to deal with realities of his situation.
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Re: The Metamorphosis: Question 2: What Lens Do You Use?



prince_alfie wrote:
I would be interested in studying Kafka's literature from the viewpoint of how the world of Gregor Samsa is constructed from the internal language of his mental universe. Sort of like how Wittgenstein mentioned that language limits the definition of how we can perceive things, perhaps Samsa's limitation by language is reflected in his transformation to a bug with "lesser" faculties than an average human being.

Perhaps a Foucault-based study would be awesome too. The archeology of discipline and punish type of approach can be looked at to see how the insect is a Jewish version of the ultimate punishment from God, that man has become debased by his inability to deal with realities of his situation.




Hi Prince Alfie,
I'm really interested in your first comment: How language structures someone's world.
The comment really applies to Kafka's own world, too, which I think comes especially clear in his parables and aphorisms. There, in Wittgenstein-style, Kafka distills life into nearly mathematical formulas. He pushes complexity into a stark black and white from which there's no escape.

I.e. while in real life, things might not present impossibility, language can push two ideas to polar opposites, building a seeming dead end.
In a letter to his friend Max Brod, Kafka wrote he had three problems as a Jewish writer struggling to feel at home in the German language: “the impossibility of not writing, the impossibility of writing in German, the impossibility of writing differently.”
I think he creates a cage for himself with the word "impossibility." He gives a picture of polar opposites with no exit.


(some good quotes here:
http://www.kafka.org/index.php?arc_quotes)

I like this Kafka line: "A cage went in search of a bird."
It makes me think: Language has the chance to entrap.

A (depressed) writer can vault his depression through turning words to their extremes.



Ilana
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Re: The Metamorphosis: Question 2: What Lens Do You Use?



IlanaSimons wrote:
Question 2: What Lens Do You Use?

Some people have said that a great work of literature is one that’s pliable to many interpretations. The Metamorphosis is definitely that sort of text, one that yields new meanings depending on what elements you emphasize.

...You can also stress the Marxist viewpoint in the text—saying the story comments on the way a daily job dehumanizes us, making us feel alienated, immobile, and voiceless.

Pick any “lens” for reading this story, and tell us your viewpoint.

Message Edited by IlanaSimons on 12-26-200612:27 PM







To summarise a Marxist point of view: Metamorphosis can be seen as an analogy of the experiences a worker is likely to have in the fight for a fair life. The process described symbolises the class struggle of the proletariat to break out from a life of exploitation. Gregor and his family are proletarians, whereas his boss is a typical bourgeois. He is forced to lead a life he does not desire and his ceaseless travelling tortures him both physically and psychologically. However, although his metamorphosis brings him freedom, it does not harm his bosses at all, although it does affect his family and his relations with them. His helplesness and alienation indicate that, like vermin, Gregor has no control over his life or the conditions in which he lives, whether he is employed or unemployed. Once his salary as financial head of the household ceases, his family, like the bourgoisie, also begin to treat him like vermin by not feeding him and not cleaning his room. Unless, to paraphrase a Marxist phrase 'the vermin of the world unite' to take over the 'means of production, distribution and exchange'(Marx's Critique of Political Economy), things will continue as they are and workers will continue to be trampled underfoot (die). As someone influenced by the country where Marx was born (Germany) and where these ideas were first propounded, it is not surprising that Kafka was influenced by them and incorporated the ideas into his work.
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Re: The Metamorphosis: Question 2: What Lens Do You Use?



Choisya wrote:


IlanaSimons wrote:
Question 2: What Lens Do You Use?

Some people have said that a great work of literature is one that’s pliable to many interpretations. The Metamorphosis is definitely that sort of text, one that yields new meanings depending on what elements you emphasize.

...You can also stress the Marxist viewpoint in the text—saying the story comments on the way a daily job dehumanizes us, making us feel alienated, immobile, and voiceless.

Pick any “lens” for reading this story, and tell us your viewpoint.

Message Edited by IlanaSimons on 12-26-200612:27 PM







To summarise a Marxist point of view: Metamorphosis can be seen as an analogy of the experiences a worker is likely to have in the fight for a fair life. The process described symbolises the class struggle of the proletariat to break out from a life of exploitation. Gregor and his family are proletarians, whereas his boss is a typical bourgeois. He is forced to lead a life he does not desire and his ceaseless travelling tortures him both physically and psychologically. However, although his metamorphosis brings him freedom, it does not harm his bosses at all, although it does affect his family and his relations with them. His helplesness and alienation indicate that, like vermin, Gregor has no control over his life or the conditions in which he lives, whether he is employed or unemployed. Once his salary as financial head of the household ceases, his family, like the bourgoisie, also begin to treat him like vermin by not feeding him and not cleaning his room. Unless, to paraphrase a Marxist phrase 'the vermin of the world unite' to take over the 'means of production, distribution and exchange'(Marx's Critique of Political Economy), things will continue as they are and workers will continue to be trampled underfoot (die). As someone influenced by the country where Marx was born (Germany) and where these ideas were first propounded, it is not surprising that Kafka was influenced by them and incorporated the ideas into his work.




Great post. Gregor enacts a form of proletariat revolt (however unintentional), but the revolt doesn't work. The wheels of production don't stop; Gregor simply dies unheard. At the end of the story, his sister rises from the ashes, stretches her lovely young body, and goes right back into the bourgeois machine—perpetuating the institutions of work and marriage. Is Kafka saying the capitalist machine is too strong for one person to have a voice within in? Or is he writing this account of one failed attempt in order to inspire some more effective action outside of books?



Ilana
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Re: The Metamorphosis: Question 2: What Lens Do You Use?

Spoiler warning!!

I believe that Gregor is dehumanized by his job, and then further by the lack of patience and understanding from his family. His family at first is alarmed, and then start to view Gregor as a burden, when he had been the bread winner before. They are very self absorbed. Grete, at first, tries to understand and help Gregor, but even she, eventually gives up on him. They don't even seem to grieve when he has died!
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Re: The Metamorphosis: Question 2: What Lens Do You Use?



howietam wrote:
Spoiler warning!!

I believe that Gregor is dehumanized by his job, and then further by the lack of patience and understanding from his family. His family at first is alarmed, and then start to view Gregor as a burden, when he had been the bread winner before. They are very self absorbed. Grete, at first, tries to understand and help Gregor, but even she, eventually gives up on him. They don't even seem to grieve when he has died!




right on: no one feels what Gregor feels.
In the Marxist reading, they'd say that a life of professionalized efficiency has made people forgetful of what's actually basic about humanity: emotion, a need for empathy, a need for relaxation, etc..
So then the "bug" motif is ironic: Gregor gains insight into to the utterly _human_ world; it’s everyone around him who’s actually lost touch with the human body/mind/heart.



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Re: The Metamorphosis: Question 2: What Lens Do You Use?

When reduced down to it's most basic level what's this story about? Powerlessness. Specifically Gregor wakes to a world where regardless of his choices, regardless of his desires, regardless of his actions he incapable of instituting any changes to what his life has suddenly become. Not only is he powerless but so are all the members of his family, trapped by thier society, thier family, and thier personalities. As are all of us; we are, simply, what we are. The point Kafka makes so well is that suffering doesn't engender nobility(in Gregor's family or in himself), it simply engenders suffering.
To be trapped in a world where nothing we do matters, where we are incapable of making a difference for ourselves or our families is a terrifying thought. These universal fears have the ability to touch us all regardless of the societal or allegorical lens through which we view this story; it holds true for every interpretation.
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Re: The Metamorphosis: Question 2: What Lens Do You Use?

I have found 2 points to be especially interesting in this discussion, points I had not really considered before:

1) That Gregor's family as trapped in their situations, as well, and..
2) That as a bug Gregor, perhaps, gets more insight into human nature.

I'm learning so much already!
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Re: The Metamorphosis: Question 2: What Lens Do You Use?



esthermann wrote:
When reduced down to it's most basic level what's this story about? Powerlessness. Specifically Gregor wakes to a world where regardless of his choices, regardless of his desires, regardless of his actions he incapable of instituting any changes to what his life has suddenly become. Not only is he powerless but so are all the members of his family, trapped by thier society, thier family, and thier personalities. As are all of us; we are, simply, what we are. The point Kafka makes so well is that suffering doesn't engender nobility(in Gregor's family or in himself), it simply engenders suffering.
To be trapped in a world where nothing we do matters, where we are incapable of making a difference for ourselves or our families is a terrifying thought. These universal fears have the ability to touch us all regardless of the societal or allegorical lens through which we view this story; it holds true for every interpretation.





Estermann,
Really well said...
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Re: The Metamorphosis: Question 2: What Lens Do You Use?

neat post. I just refered to this post in the "Before the Law" discussion, if you want to take a look.
Ilana



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Re: The Metamorphosis: Question 2: What Lens Do You Use?

Also, Samsa's situation has political ramifications. One can see this type of situation in present-day documentaries such as Michael Winterbottom's the Road to Gitmo [sic] and even a regular film like M. Haneke's The Piano Teacher.

The absurdity of being in a confined space can be deliberate. In fact, the use of being isolated and caged is a political tool used for oppression. One can note this even in a political thriller such as Hoeg's Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow where the heroine is fearful of being locked up by the authorities (apparently the guys know about her love for open spaces as a childhood trait) within a confined space.

Samsa's situation is rather ubitiquous but the fact that one can see human rights abuses in the present-day world is consistent with a deliberately imposed Kafkaesque situation.
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Re: The Metamorphosis: Question 2: What Lens Do You Use?



prince_alfie wrote:
Also, Samsa's situation has political ramifications. One can see this type of situation in present-day documentaries such as Michael Winterbottom's the Road to Gitmo [sic] and even a regular film like M. Haneke's The Piano Teacher.

The absurdity of being in a confined space can be deliberate. In fact, the use of being isolated and caged is a political tool used for oppression. One can note this even in a political thriller such as Hoeg's Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow where the heroine is fearful of being locked up by the authorities (apparently the guys know about her love for open spaces as a childhood trait) within a confined space.

Samsa's situation is rather ubitiquous but the fact that one can see human rights abuses in the present-day world is consistent with a deliberately imposed Kafkaesque situation.




Yes: And Kafka devotes a lot of description to the walls, the doorways, and tables here. He concentrates one the feeling of claustrophobia.
I'd be interested in hearing how you think Kafka deals with claustrophobia--similarly or differently--in "The Hunger Artist." There, it's so clearly self-imposed, and it can be seen as political protest.
I'll be posting questions for that story in about 2 weeks.



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Re: The Metamorphosis: Question 2: What Lens Do You Use?

I had never thought of Kafka's work as being claustrophobic Ilana but that explains why it has had such an effect on me. I suffer from mild claustrophobia and, for instance, find it frightening to travel in cars but am OK on the back of a motorbike!




IlanaSimons wrote:


prince_alfie wrote:
Also, Samsa's situation has political ramifications. One can see this type of situation in present-day documentaries such as Michael Winterbottom's the Road to Gitmo [sic] and even a regular film like M. Haneke's The Piano Teacher.

The absurdity of being in a confined space can be deliberate. In fact, the use of being isolated and caged is a political tool used for oppression. One can note this even in a political thriller such as Hoeg's Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow where the heroine is fearful of being locked up by the authorities (apparently the guys know about her love for open spaces as a childhood trait) within a confined space.

Samsa's situation is rather ubitiquous but the fact that one can see human rights abuses in the present-day world is consistent with a deliberately imposed Kafkaesque situation.




Yes: And Kafka devotes a lot of description to the walls, the doorways, and tables here. He concentrates one the feeling of claustrophobia.
I'd be interested in hearing how you think Kafka deals with claustrophobia--similarly or differently--in "The Hunger Artist." There, it's so clearly self-imposed, and it can be seen as political protest.
I'll be posting questions for that story in about 2 weeks.


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Re: The Metamorphosis: Question 2: What Lens Do You Use?

[ Edited ]

Choisya wrote:
I had never thought of Kafka's work as being claustrophobic Ilana but that explains why it has had such an effect on me. I suffer from mild claustrophobia and, for instance, find it frightening to travel in cars but am OK on the back of a motorbike!





Choisya,

I know what you mean about Kafka's work being claustrophobic. It has that same effect on me. I like it, but it's a world I couldn't live in. I like studying it with a group better than alone for that reason. Everybody's insightful and cheerful banter keeps it from being depressive. I am really enjoying it in this context.

Given the events in Germany and the world that shortly followed the creation of his stories, I don't think he was being morose however. The stories' dark side might be attributable in part to his personality, but they also seem to express an uncanny insight into the surrounding political situation as well having a more enduring alegorical relevance to the general human condition.

Claustrophobia, cages, & confinement are interesting themes to look at in relation to his work. I liked Ilana's earlier quote about "a cage in search of a bird".

Kate

Message Edited by Katelyn on 01-02-200711:04 PM

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Re: The Metamorphosis: Question 2: What Lens Do You Use?

Good points. Even his own family, dehumanizes him, especially his sister to whom he felt the closest. His father throws apples at him - hissing at him & forces him back. When Grete has had enough - she calls him an "it." She says, "We have to try to get rid of it." Even when the father replies to her, calling Gregor "him," she continues on "It has to go." They didn't even realize that he was starving to death.

Also the end, when Grete jumps off the bus & stretches...it's as if Gregor had to sacrifice everything - he had to give up the life he wanted to work & provide money for his family and then ultimately his life itself had to be give up - in order for his sister to blossom. As if he were the caterpillar yet she were the butterfly.

You also get a sense of the isolation that Gregor suffered even before his transformation. The only one who looked for him was his employer - his whole life was given over to working & paying off his father's debt. It's never clear why his father didn't go to work the last 5 years himself to help pay off this debt. Gregor seems to have been used by his family until his own existence, his own sense of self, disappeared.



howietam wrote:
Spoiler warning!!

I believe that Gregor is dehumanized by his job, and then further by the lack of patience and understanding from his family. His family at first is alarmed, and then start to view Gregor as a burden, when he had been the bread winner before. They are very self absorbed. Grete, at first, tries to understand and help Gregor, but even she, eventually gives up on him. They don't even seem to grieve when he has died!


Liz ♥ ♥


Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested. ~ Francis Bacon
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Re: Kafka's last love

[ Edited ]
I came across this interesting review of a book about Kafka's last lover, Dora Diamant, who claimed to have had his baby, although some writers claim that he died chaste and that his later obsession with suicide (by hanging) was because he saw it as a 'brutal form of self-consummation'(Nicholas Murray):-

http://books.guardian.co.uk/reviews/biography/0,6121,1015453,00.html

Message Edited by Choisya on 01-05-200712:49 PM

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Re: The Metamorphosis: Question 2: What Lens Do You Use?



IlanaSimons wrote:
Question 2: What Lens Do You Use?

Some people have said that a great work of literature is one that’s pliable to many interpretations. The Metamorphosis is definitely that sort of text, one that yields new meanings depending on what elements you emphasize....
You can also focus on this text as a feminist text: It’s the women, after all, who slow down the demands of everyday efficiency to try to understand another person’s struggle here. What allows women to take that role in this book?

Pick any “lens” for reading this story, and tell us your viewpoint.

Message Edited by IlanaSimons on 12-26-200612:27 PM







I am struggling to find a feminist text here Ilana and would welcome some further prompts. I see the mother and sister as non-working women and unable to understand Gregor's struggles and the working charlady as being more sympathetic. Beyond that my mind isn't carrying me:smileyhappy:
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Re: The Metamorphosis: Question 2: What Lens Do You Use?



Choisya wrote:


IlanaSimons wrote:
Question 2: What Lens Do You Use?

Some people have said that a great work of literature is one that’s pliable to many interpretations. The Metamorphosis is definitely that sort of text, one that yields new meanings depending on what elements you emphasize....
You can also focus on this text as a feminist text: It’s the women, after all, who slow down the demands of everyday efficiency to try to understand another person’s struggle here. What allows women to take that role in this book?

Pick any “lens” for reading this story, and tell us your viewpoint.

Message Edited by IlanaSimons on 12-26-200612:27 PM







I am struggling to find a feminist text here Ilana and would welcome some further prompts. I see the mother and sister as non-working women and unable to understand Gregor's struggles and the working charlady as being more sympathetic. Beyond that my mind isn't carrying me:smileyhappy:




oh funny eek. I just replied to this in another section of this club. I'll cut and paste that post here. I'd love anyone's further input.


Right!...Kafka certainly isn't a traditional feminist. He ran away from women in life, too. But the division he draws between the genders in The Metamorphosis does seem meaningful.
In that story, the men are so caught up with efficiency--with catching the train, getting to work, earning good salaries--that (even unwillingly) they perpetuate an unfeeling society. (The boss and the father are prototypically male: yelling at Gregor to WORK!) It's perhaps simply because they're considered less useful in the world that the women have more access to empathy, what Kafka lovingly stages as an inefficient passion. In his story, the sister and mother are the people who at least try to help and understand Gregor. If you allow for Kafka's divide (efficient vs. useless, or masculine vs feminine), and for his critique of that divide, he becomes something like a spokesman for the traditionally feminine.

Gregor is no longer a "man" (he's vermin) when he can't work. But the women feel strong empathy for his position. He ironically becomes more human when he becomes a bug, because he finally gets in touch with the central elements of being human: loneliness, a fear of ineffciency, the battle to recharge the ego, to communicate.

It’s the story's tragedy that the sister becomes “useful” in the end—-rushing off to marry, to merely make money with a family.



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Re: The Metamorphosis: Question 2: What Lens Do You Use?

Thanks Ziki but is becoming a spokeman for the 'traditionally feminine' a feminist approach? He seems to reinforce traditional stereotypes.




IlanaSimons wrote:


Choisya wrote:


IlanaSimons wrote:
Question 2: What Lens Do You Use?

Some people have said that a great work of literature is one that’s pliable to many interpretations. The Metamorphosis is definitely that sort of text, one that yields new meanings depending on what elements you emphasize....
You can also focus on this text as a feminist text: It’s the women, after all, who slow down the demands of everyday efficiency to try to understand another person’s struggle here. What allows women to take that role in this book?

Pick any “lens” for reading this story, and tell us your viewpoint.

Message Edited by IlanaSimons on 12-26-200612:27 PM







I am struggling to find a feminist text here Ilana and would welcome some further prompts. I see the mother and sister as non-working women and unable to understand Gregor's struggles and the working charlady as being more sympathetic. Beyond that my mind isn't carrying me:smileyhappy:




oh funny eek. I just replied to this in another section of this club. I'll cut and paste that post here. I'd love anyone's further input.


Right!...Kafka certainly isn't a traditional feminist. He ran away from women in life, too. But the division he draws between the genders in The Metamorphosis does seem meaningful.
In that story, the men are so caught up with efficiency--with catching the train, getting to work, earning good salaries--that (even unwillingly) they perpetuate an unfeeling society. (The boss and the father are prototypically male: yelling at Gregor to WORK!) It's perhaps simply because they're considered less useful in the world that the women have more access to empathy, what Kafka lovingly stages as an inefficient passion. In his story, the sister and mother are the people who at least try to help and understand Gregor. If you allow for Kafka's divide (efficient vs. useless, or masculine vs feminine), and for his critique of that divide, he becomes something like a spokesman for the traditionally feminine.

Gregor is no longer a "man" (he's vermin) when he can't work. But the women feel strong empathy for his position. He ironically becomes more human when he becomes a bug, because he finally gets in touch with the central elements of being human: loneliness, a fear of ineffciency, the battle to recharge the ego, to communicate.

It’s the story's tragedy that the sister becomes “useful” in the end—-rushing off to marry, to merely make money with a family.


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