A Hunger Artist

by Franz Kafka

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What do we mean by the search for perfection? How is the "search for perfection" an obstacle for Kafka's main character in the Hunger Artist?

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For Kafka's work the drive for perfection is almost a solitary one.  It seems to be a quest for an ideal that few, if any, would understand or appreciate.  The notion here is that individuals, in this case, the artist, strive to a realm which embraces the highest of caliber in the production of their art.  The hunger artist is continually driven to push himself to a limit that represents the penultimate in artistic creation.  In this setting, the search for perfection is this realm where an artist is able to seek out the highest in production of art.  It is difficult to attain, almost spiritual in its scope and nature.  This might be why Kafka's hunger artist "fasts" and does so in an almost "meditative fashion."  The artist strives for perfection in his art because of his cursed capacity to do so.  At the end, when the artist suggests that he never found a food with which to "stuff himself," the implication is that the artist's striving for perfection is a result of dissatisfaction with what is there and a continually seeking of perfectibility beyond what is present.

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The search for perfection in terms of Kafka's The Hunger Artist means the inability to accept reality for what it is. The Hunger Artist is always dissatisfied and feels misunderstood. He never feels satisfaction or joy. He has professional success, but no meaning. It's very symbolic that he gives up food to find meaning, but it is never enough. He never finds solace in his own actions. This is ultimately the "search for perfection"; nothing one does is ever enough.

Food and passion are equated in the story. Notice that the panther who has an enormous appetite which shows his joy in life and his passion, can act in accordance with nature but the artist cannot. He is stifled.

Kafka is saying the man or woman who is searching for perfection, is not really living life. It is as if they are "waiting" on the peripheral, not allowing themselves to feel acceptance and joy or passion.


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