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On Our Transformation into Kafkaesque Peoples

On Our Transformation into Kafkaesque Peoples

Wednesday, 28 December, 2022 - 11:45

Kafkaesque, relating to the Czech writer Franz Kafka (1883-1924), is a term that has gone beyond the scope of literature and has become prevalent in discussions of philosophy, life, our states and moods, and the reactions of the weak to the challenges they face.

The Kafkaesque world is a dark and nightmarish place where we are powerless in the face of power while the harm that the strong inflicts on the weak is incomprehensible. The victim has no control over his life. He is oppressed and has little hope of overcoming his oppression; he is scared and estranged from his surroundings. He is deeply ashamed of himself and could be the object of merciless ridicule or neglect.

There is a degree of Kafkaism in all of us: in this or that period in our lives, in a behavior we had engaged in, or in a situation we did not manage to avoid.

Those who have studied Kafka attributed his character to various reasons. They probably all, to one extent or another, played a role in molding him and defining the Kafkaesque: a bureaucratic world that does not think or care, complex processes that are impossible to comprehend, a strong sense of alienation engendered by the modern era, a struggle against un-sensible irrational authorities that could well be hopeless, and a constant battle with the absurd as we try to resolve the unresolvable, all of which added to the alienation induced by the retreat of religion in a society in which new values and ties have not yet emerged.

However, there is also his father, Hermann Kafka, a terrifying, domineering man who mistreated others and was constantly castigating his weak son in one way or another. We also have the fact that the intensity of Kafka’s sexual desire was coupled with an inability to commit to a single stable relationship with a woman. He got engaged twice and is known to have had several relationships, but none of them bore fruit. There is also the matter of his health issues. He died of tuberculosis at the age of forty-one. Finally, there is his Jewishness: as the Czechoslovakian state was taking form after the First World War, it witnessed a few pogroms, especially in Bohemia and Moravia. In the final years before his death, Kafka studied Hebrew and tolerated Zionism without himself becoming a Zionist. Commenting on a pogrom that took place in 1920, he wrote: “The other day, I heard the Jews called prasive plemeno [mangy brood]. Isn’t it natural to leave a place where one is so hated?’’.

A decade after his death, the Nazis banned his books, and a decade after that, they exterminated his entire family at Auschwitz.

What happens to Kafkaesque humans and why it happens are never understood. In ‘The Trial,’ Kafka’s most important novel, Joesph K is arrested on the morning of his thirtieth birthday. He does not know the reason for his arrest, and his captors do not tell him why he was arrested either. In his short story ‘The Metamorphosis,’ the protagonist wakes up to find that he has turned into an insect. In ‘The Judgement’ (also translated as ‘The Verdict’), another short story, an aging ill father accuses his son, Georg Bendemann, of trying to kill his father and betraying his friends, father, and the memory of his mother, and the father sentences his son to death by drowning. The “reason” is nothing more than the father becoming aware that his son had become engaged to a young lady.

However, how have modern humans reacted to these challenges and questions?

Contrition haunted Kafka, or it haunted his protagonists. They act like their existence is itself the problem and that it can only be solved through their death or oblivion. That is because the mistake is not brought about by the actions of particular authorities, a certain situation, or even the actions of the contrite themselves. It arises from their mere existence. They thus come to hate themselves to an extent that turns their death or their transformation into an insect into a likely and welcome prospect.

In ‘The Judgement,’ Georg is satisfied with making a few weak objections in response to his father’s unjust verdict that his son must drown to death, and he then complies and drowns himself in the nearest lake.

In ‘The Metamorphosis,’ Gregor Samsa, now an insect, is afraid that his father will squash him as he walks on the floor of the room. His family, who continue on with their lives, are happy to deny the fact that the insect is Gregor. They trap the insect and dump it in the bin, and they then decide they have to get rid of it. Gregor, after hearing the family’s decision, chooses to starve himself to death.

In ‘The Trial,’ Joseph K puts little effort into finding out why he was detained, as he feels guilty and deserving of punishment on the inside. His attempts at maintaining his innocence and appointing a lawyer to this end all produce nothing: mired by corruption and chaos, the long and absurd trial does not explain anything and has no meaning; it does not just cost him self-confidence but also leaves words escaping his mind and lips. In the end, two wretched employees drive him to a small quarry outside the city and kill him by stabbing him in the heart.

In ‘A Hunger Artist,’ another one of his short stories, Kafka tells the tale of a theater performer who impresses the audience with his fasting. However, when his audience abandons him and he finds himself locked in a filthy old cage, he asks for forgiveness for his past successes. That is because the reason for his success in those days, i.e., his long fasts, was not worthy of the audience’s acclaim, as he had embarked on them because there was no food he liked.

For its part, Franz Kafka’s life was itself laden with expressions of his dissatisfaction with his existence. Convinced that they did not deserve completion, he did not finish any of his literary works. Shortly before his death, he asked the writer Max Brod- an intimate life-long friend who may have been his only one- to burn his works. Fortunately for us and for world literature, however, Brod did not fulfill his friend’s dying wish.

The vast majority of the Lebanese, Syrians, Palestinians and other Arab citizens are being pushed to reach the Kafkaesque conviction that the reason for the suffering befalling them is their existence itself- an existence they should apologize for before putting an end to if possible.

This is too much. This is horrifying. This is barbarous.

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