Suggest reasons for Kafka's selection of an expert in fasting (rather than a priest or singer) as the central figure in the story.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I think that one reason why the artist in Kafka's story has to be a hunger artist is to reflect the condition of alienation that drives his art.  Unlike a priest, who recognizes that there is a transcendent force in the divine, and the singer, who can recognize that there is a transcendent force in their song talents, the hunger artist is an artist because of the alienation he experiences.  He rejects what the world presents and thus self- annihilation is his only response to it.  Consider what he says about his relationship to food:  "...because I couldn’t find the food I liked. If I had found it, believe me, I should have made no fuss and stuffed myself like you or anyone else.”  The hunger artist is driven to fast because there is nothing that satisfies him in the world.  He cannot find any transcendent reason for living.  

The hunger artist was unable to find "the food" he liked.  Whereas a priest finds "the food" they like in their reverence for the divine, a singer in their ability to sing songs, the hunger artist cannot find a transcendent reason for being in the world.  His focus on fasting is where he possesses talent.  He is easily able to self- annihilate because he finds nothing in the world that has meaning.  Kafka develops layers to this in suggesting that the hunger artist actually craves human emotion and human interest.  While a priest or a singer might also crave this, they find some other reason in the world for which to live.  They can revert to a refuge should they experience rejection from others.  The talent they possess and the love they share is almost a sanctuary from the public's rejection.  The hunger artist has no such sanctuary or refuge.  The only talent he possesses is self- destruction, something he wishes to place on a stage for others to see.  The harsh truths intrinsic to this is that he found no transcendent reason for being and the audience no longer cares for his act.  In constructing a complex tapestry about the artist's relationship to their craft and their place in the world, Kafka's choice of self- destruction in the form of fasting makes sense.

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