Essays and Criticism
Kafka's Life as Seen in A Hunger Artist
‘‘Kafka’s Hunger, Kafka’s Art’’
Kafka was a master of the enigmatic. In his book, Everyone’s Darling: Kafka and the Critics of His Short Fiction, Franz R. Kempf states that, ‘‘Kafka critics only agree on one thing, and that is that they are not in agreement.’’ Kempf points out that Kafka valued this resistance in his work to specific interpretations, as he ‘‘understood writing to be a consciously created ambiguity.’’ Walter Benjamin has even asserted that Kafka ‘‘took all conceivable precautions against the interpretation of his writings.’’ Even Kafka himself, Kempf explains, ‘‘found his work to be incomprehensible.’’
Yet, while Kafka’s work resists definitive interpretation, there has been no end to the critical material written about Kafka and his work. In his book Introducing Kafka, David Zane Mairowitz claims that, ‘‘no writer of our time, and probably none since Shakespeare, has been so widely overinterpreted and pigeonholed.’’ Kafka’s work, interpreted and over-interpreted by countless critics over the decades is described by Kemp as ‘‘the kaleidoscopic carnival of Kafka criticism.’’ A brief discussion of some of the possible interpretations of ‘‘A Hunger Artist’’ in light of Key themes in Kafka’s life will provide a glimpse of several of the many patterns of meaning created by this ‘‘kaleidoscope.’’
As ‘‘ambiguity’’ is...
(The entire section is 2266 words.)
Kafka's A Hunger Artist: The Ego in Isolation
Kafka’s collection of short stories which has come down to us under the heading of Ein Hungerkuenstler represents the author’s last creative production. In each of these stories the ego finds itself largely isolated; yet, there are varying degrees of relatedness by means of which the ego gauges its isolation. In ‘‘A Hunger Artist,’’ Kafka has carried this predicament to its most plausible conclusion. The aim of this paper is to explore a psyche exposed to the vicissitudes of a border-line existence. By dwelling on the potential of this unique phenomenon in terms of individuation, I will try to elucidate its concomitant triumph, and pitfalls within the wider framework of the collective setting as it affected Kafka’s personality.
The Hunger Artist’s ‘‘Liebestod’’
‘‘A Hunger Artist’’ may be divided into two parts. The first is dominated by the ‘‘contract’’ between the hero and his impresario while the second deals with the period between the dismissal of the impresario and the death of the Hunger Artist. This division is not arbitrary but closely follows the course of the particular neurosis in this story in which the pathological background remains paramount.
Students of the psyche are aware of the fact that neuroses are seldom cured in a sense that they are completely removed. What usually happens is that the neurosis is outgrown and loses some of its acute gravity, as the patient...
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A Hunger Artist
‘‘A Hunger-Artist’’ epitomizes Kafka’s theme of the corruption of interhuman relationships, as one of his critics defines it. It is one of his perfections, if not his best story, and it belongs surely with the greatest short stories of our time.
The present essay attempts to open up the cage of Kafka’s meaning in ‘‘A Hunger-Artist,’’ But first, as a starting point for our analysis, here is the story at its literal plane, a matter-of-fact account stripped of interpretation:
The story is about a once-popular spectacle staged for the entertainment of a pleasure-seeking public: the exhibition of a professional ‘‘hunger-artist’’ performing in a cage of straw his stunt of fasting. His cage’s sole decoration is a clock. His spectators see him as a trickster and common circus-freak and therefore they expect him to cheat, to break fast on the sly. But fasting is his sole reason for existing, his life purpose; not even under compulsion would he partake of food. For him, to fast is the easiest thing he can do; and so he says, but no one believes in him. Because the public distrusts him, he is guarded—usually by three butchers— and prevented from fasting beyond a forty-day period, not for humane reasons, but only because patronage stops after that time. His guards tempt him with food and sometimes mistreat him; yet they breakfast on food supplied at his expense! A great public festival celebrates his...
(The entire section is 3130 words.)