A Hunger Artist

by Franz Kafka

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Hunger Artist
This story is told primarily from the perspective of the main character, known only as a ‘‘hunger artist,’’ a world-famous performer, the ‘‘record hunger artist of all time.’’ He travels the world, ‘‘performing’’ his fasts publicly, as a form of mass entertainment. Although the best of the best, the hunger artist continues to be unsatisfied with his performances. Even at the height of his career, he feels that his ‘‘work’’ is never adequately appreciated by his audience, who fail to recognize his true potential. Furthermore, he feels thwarted in his efforts to break his own records, by both the attention span of the public and by the promotional strategies of his impresario (manager). His personal frustrations with his audience and his own ‘‘work’’ are expressive of those felt by many types of artists, who often see their audiences as unable to appreciate their true talent. As the hunger artist ages, his ‘‘art’’ goes out of vogue, and he is relegated to an insignificant space in a circus, where he is eventually forgotten by the circus managers and virtually ignored by the crowds, who are more interested in seeing the ‘‘menagerie.’’

The hunger artist’s ‘‘impresario’’ is his manager and publicity agent (much as popular musicians today have managers who book their performances and oversee their public image). The impresario, ‘‘his partner in an unparalleled career,’’ is clearly a shrewd and invaluable promoter of his work, as well as a buffer between the artist and his audience. Unlike the artist, the impresario’s motivation is to develop the artist’s career by creating a public image designed to please the crowds. The impresario limits the artist’s fasting performances to a maximum of forty days, because he knows that the crowds lose interest after this point. Although the artist’s career success is dependent upon the impresario, he is continually frustrated by these limitations, which he sees as a violation of the purity of his art. When it becomes clear that there is no longer a public demand for the art of fasting, the impresario and the hunger artist go their separate ways.

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