A Hunger Artist

by Franz Kafka

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Kafka’s stories have been compared to his contemporary, the painter Edvard Munch (pronounced Moonk). Find a book of prints of Munch’s paintings and discuss the ways in which they portray a ‘‘Kafka-esque’’ mood. In what ways do they seem to depict a nightmarish world, similar to that in ‘‘A Hunger Artist,’’ in which similar feelings of alienation, entrapment, oppression, self-hatred, and angst are expressed? In what ways is the effect of the visual medium of painting used by Munch different from the effect of the written word used by Kafka’s in his stories?

Kafka and his writing have been strongly associated with the city of Prague. But since Kafka’s birth in 1883, Prague has gone through many political, economic, and cultural changes. The national identity of the city has gone from being a part of the Kingdom of Bohemia to the Republic of Czechoslovakia, to occupation by Russia to the Czech Republic. Write a research paper on the history of Prague in the twentieth century. What is Prague like today, in terms of political, cultural and economic conditions? What would it be like to visit Prague as a tourist?

Kafka’s painful relationship with his father has been widely discussed and analyzed. Write a psychological profile of Kafka, based on research into his biography and his published letters. Read his prose piece, ‘‘A Letter to His Father,’’ and his story, ‘‘The Judgement,’’ both of which are based on his relationship with his father. How has Kafka’s family experience influenced his psychology and his writing?

Kafka’s ‘‘A Hunger Artist’’ describes a man who fasts for long periods of time, while on public display, as a form of mass entertainment. But over the centuries, human beings have fasted for a variety of reasons, from religious and political protest to health to eating disorders. Research and discuss the various practices of fasting humans have undertaken, why they have done so, and what effect they have had on the person fasting and those around her or him.

Think of a particular artist or artistic style in any area of popular American culture today which seems to express ‘‘Kafka-esque’’ sensibilities. This could be a particular musician or musical style, a particular film or filmmaker, a particular television show, a comic book character, or visual artist (such as painter or sculptor). Discuss the ways in which this example from popular American culture refers to contemporary issues and concerns while expressing ‘‘Kafka-esque’’ sensibilities and themes, such as alienation, entrapment, oppression, self-hatred, and angst.

Write an original short story of your own in a ‘‘Kafka-esque’’ style. You do not need to write about similar topics or story lines. Rather, try to write a contemporary story based on your own ideas, but which captures a similar mood of anxiety, oppression, angst, darkness, entrapment and alienation. This could be a Kafka-esque parable, in which the main character is an animal with a human psychology, but which is ultimately a commentary on society or humanity. Or it could capture a sense of the absurd which Kafka often portrays, containing elements of both cynicism and humor.

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