Why I might give “The Metamorphosis” another try

A year ago I listened to the audio book recording of The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka. It was read by Benedict Cumberbatch, and as noted in my review that was the best part about the audio book. Kafka got a single star. Now, I am here to make some amends.

When I went through the novel for the first time I had no understanding of the concept of literary theory. I knew something like that existed somewhere, but further than that my mind could not conceive what it was or how it related to anything I’ve read.

Presently, the future-me is laughing at the young and naive past-me. Well, more like cackling.

I am just beginning to delve into the universe of literary theories, and the first one I happened to learn is — drum roll, please — existentialism. Big words, we like them here. And of course, I still do not comprehend what existentialism is in all of its entirety, but I have a much better understanding of how to approach novels, like Metamorphosis, from an existentialist perspective. Which just might be the reason why I am willing to give the novel another try and read the words through a huge lens with a large ‘E’ engraved on its side. (Since then, I have collected two more — ‘M’  and ‘F’ — on Marxism and feminism sometime later.)

Past-me listened to the book and thought: “Wow, boring. German dude transforms into an insect, family hates it and cannot cope. Kafka wasted paragraphs telling us how poor Gregor cannot flip from his back onto his stomach. Bleh.” That is a pretty accurate account of my initial opinion, with some exaggeration sprinkled on top.

Present-me thinks back on the book and ponders: “Hmm, perhaps through Gregor’s transformation Kafka was trying to make his readers aware of some glitch in the human condition. Is our frame just a shell, or does it define who we are? Post-metamorphosis Gregor’s mind and conscience remained relatively the same for a while (if I remember correctly), yet his family treated him with fear and disgust. Why is that? Through the transformation Gregor was able to gain free will and take on a different perspective on his life. His mundane job was no longer the epicenter of his existence, he had a choice. Through a battle with himself  Gregor able to arrive at the meaning of life…” Ok, that last one might be a stretch.

The point is: this novel is an educational milestone for me. And while I do not want this post to turn into a brag, I am a little proud of the fact that Metamorphosis is getting a second chance. Although, to add some fuel to the fire, my original one star review wasn’t challenged at all, and so I’m assuming Kafka is not a favourite around here…


6 responses to “Why I might give “The Metamorphosis” another try

  1. I had no idea the audiobook was read by Cumberbatch. Can’t resist- this book is firmly on my to-re-read list now!

    One really interesting point your post kinda raises is whether we need to know lit theory to “get” certain types of books. Should books be accessible, and what does it mean for a book to be for a specific (academic?) audience? Of course, all books will be context-specific. We can read Shakespeare or Pushkin or Freud, but we won’t be getting the same thing out from the authors as their contemporaries – or what people in 200 years will get from those works, if they’re still around. Some “universal” messages might stick around but a lit is context specific.

    But this really makes me wonder about the issue of audience. In poetry and art, there is definitely a tendency to create for other poets or artists who will have the same points of reference – who will “get” the abstract dot-on-white painting or the odd, scattered poem.

    • Wow, thanks for the extensive comment! 😀

      Your question is absolutely valid. I do agree that all books are context-specific in terms of the time they were written in, as well as the time they are being read in. Although each time we read a book we personalize its message, sometimes it does good to look at the history, theory, et cetera to get the broader scope of things.

      In my example, although I could “get” this book without the backing of lit theory the first time I read it — I didn’t. And in this case I needed that little push (and fancy label) of theoretic exposure to spark my interest again.

      As for your final point, I think in creation there is always a “target audience” even if it isn’t specifically outlined. But then again, even if some us do “get” Malevich — it doesn’t mean we like him.

      Thanks for your insight! 🙂

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