Re: [kafka-list] A Hunger Artist
- Here is a brief summation of one interpretation I ran across.
It is not my words, but an edit that I put together to throw a little light
on the subject.
"The Hunger Artist" has been interpreted by some as a parable of the
author's spiritual quest as well as of his realtionship with the insenstive
world around him; his main theme being: alienation.
He suffers in his cage, the symbol of his lack of freedom, but he prefers to
starve for the eventual attainment of spiritual freedom rather than accept
any of the pseudo-salvations of the realm of the "butchers"- or the world
around him. (It is interesting to note that Kafka was a life-long
vegetarian, the very opposite of a butcher.) He pits two equally justified
forces against each other: the yearning for spiritual nourishment of the
hunger artist against the elemental affirmation of life by the many. One
force pushing in the direction of spiritualization and beyond; the other one
pulling back toward the animalistic sphere.
In his diary, Kafka referred to these opposing forces as "the assualt from
above" and the one "from below". He explained his desire to escape from the
world in terms of "the assualt from above". All of Kafka's stories are
permeated and deal with this opposition. The hero's loathing for regular
food and his desire to fast to unprecedented perfection are the workings of
this force and pull him from earthly life. The wild animals' and the
panther's taking his place represent life-affirming forces. The audience
moves between the two opposing forces but it doesn't have the capability of
either the hunger artist or the panther. Their fate is mere passivity.
The sum total of truth (his art) and life are the same at all times, but one
goes on at the expense of the other. By living, man gets in his own way as
regards the fulfillment of his art, his search for truth. It is true that
NOT eating eventually takes the hunger artist's physical life, but from the
debris of this life there flows a new, spiritualized life unknown to others.
If the artist wants to find his truth, he must destroy himself. Suffering is
the only possible way for man to redeem his true self (sounds like
Dostovesky!). It is both the perogative and curse of the hunger artist (and
Kafka, vis a vis his writing) that he is driven to follow this path to its
** How about "A Country Doctor" (but only after this discussion has taken
it's full course).
----- Original Message -----
From: "James Hanley" <JPHanley2001@...>
Sent: Tuesday, April 01, 2003 10:38 PM
Subject: [kafka-list] A Hunger Artist
> Hey Laura, and anyone else out in Kafkaland!
> I read the piece, and thought about it. I decided I would also take an
interpretation of it upon first reading, and run with it. I like the
religious implications, Laura, but I took another approach. How is this:
> The hunger artist is someone we all know. He is the one in the friendship
that must ALWAYS be the victim. There is never going to be a day when the
hunger artist is truly happy. He will never find the food that he likes.
(I see the other friends who allow a hunger artist to continue on this path,
as the onlookers who will watch and fuel his need to be more of a victim.)
The forty days, while a very relevant religious term, could also apply to
the breaking point in the friendship when one person must confront the
hunger artist (which I think is a fitting name for those who choose to make
victimization their art form) and let him or her know that the jig is up.
> Just another interpretation. It helped me mainly because I'm so terrifyed
of being that person who is always needing to be the weaker friend who needs
consolation. I dunno. Just a thought.
> As a little response to your interpreatation Laura, I would like to say
that one of my favorite readings in the Catholic liturgy is the one on Ash
Wednesday. It discusses how we Catholics must not fast visibly. We must
not be overt with our religious practices, because they are only important
to US. I think this is a very relevant idea with the hunger artist since he
is not doing it for himself. He is the phaisee who paints his face white
while fasting...almost literally. I enjoy that interpretation, and look
forward to re-reading it with that in mind.
> PS I have the title of that other short piece. It is actually part of his
VERY short works. Shouldn't take too long to look at. Passers-by. In
fact, I'm just going to include it here and anyone who wants to can look it
> When you go walking by night up a street and a man, visible a long way
off - for the street mounts uphill and there is a full moon - comes running
toward you, well, you don't catch hold of him, not even if he is a feeble
and ragged creature, not even if someone chases yelling at his heels, but
you let him run on.
> For it is night, and you can't help it if the street goes uphill before
you in the moonlight, and besides, these two have maybe started that chase
to amuse themselves, or perhaps they are both chasing a third, perhaps the
first is an innocent man and the second wants to murder him and you would
become an accessory, perhaps they don't know anything about eachother and
are merely running home to bed, perhaps they are night birds, perhaps the
first man is armed.
> And anyhow, haven't you the right to be tired, haven't you been drinking
a lot of wine? You're thankful that the second man is now long out of
> Translated by Willa and Edwin Muir
> There ya go. If anyone wants to talk about it, it is by far my favorite
Kafka, and I'd love to hear someone else's opinion.
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> Yahoo! Tax Center - File online, calculators, forms, and more
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- wow, i really like the fact that people are using this list for what
it was intended ...finally. anyway, here's a few more thoguhts to
add to the pile:
i have always tended to shy away from leaning religious symbolism in
kafka's work, especially christian-centric symbolism, because i
believe that kafka was jewish. for this fact, i really don't know if
kafka would have even had any idea what lent was. i know teh number
forty appears elsewhere in religious texts, and for that reason he
may have come across in it that context, but i really don't know.
i'm not trying to prove religious-related theories wrong, but iw
anted to point out that i don't think kafak was christian.
however, one thing someone mentioned (and i apologize for not being
able to directly quote and identify the person, but the email program
i use is a pain in the butt) reminded me of a connection between
kafka and religion. someone was talking about their favorite lentian
reading, that of not visibly fasting. i think that is an interesting
application to the hunger artist, but can even more readily b applied
to kafka's story "conversation with the supplicant." if you've never
read that, check it out, and you might be surprised at how kafka
pretty much exactly spells out that that reading talks about.
but now, onto "the hunger artist" itself. since i steer clear of
religious references, i have always viewed the story as more of a
commentary on society. with the artist himself in a cage, that has
always meant to me that he is isolating himself from society. the
reason for this is that he cannot stand society, and he alikewise
cannot find anything "nourishing" there for him. of course i don't
mean food literally, but more of a so-called nourishment for his
spirit, or soul, if you like. perhaps even his intellect. society
(perhaps in kafka's day, but very definitly in present-day america
[in my opinion, anyway]), is fileld with people with short attention
spans, who really don't care one bit about truth, authenticity or
integrity, but simply flow from one fad to the next glitzy hot topic
as easiyl as flipping channel on a television. actually, i think
integrity is th exact word i'm looking for. in the story, the hunger
artist epitomizes integrity - doing one thing as well a possible; and
to the artist, that one thing (fasting) is indeed well worth doing.
it is, in his mind, a noble pursuit, his "art," and meant (to me) to
represent all forms or purity.
since society, however, has no capacity for this integrity - either
to endevour to acheive it themselves, or to treat the occurance of it
as anything more than a passing novelty - the hunger artist knows he
and his interest - as well very possible the platonic form
of "Integrity" itself - are destined to shrivel up and die, while the
society around him simpley vascilates between whatever the
latest "next big things" are.
perhaps this is where donald rumsfeld dug up the latest catch-
phrase "shock and awe." people today, and the audience in the sotry,
seem to like to be dazzled an amazed, and this is also they are able
to respond to. the really sad part is that i think this, like so
many thing, is a devestating downard spiral that keeps growing on
itself. because, the "next big thing" has to be bigger than the
thing before it to grab up the attention of the mindless society,
which necessarily means that the following big thing must be even
bigger, etc., and on and on until we are so blinded and in such a
state of "shock and awe" that we are totally unable to think about or
focus on the actual details of what we are looking at.
instead of thinking about what it would take to fast, and if it is
possible, the people in the story just automatically assume it can't
be done by the artist (because, i suspect, they know that they
themselves are not capable of it), as so immediately doubt it. in
this way, they are trying to bring him down to their level. even by
offering him food, they are offering their acceptance to the artist.
they are saying "we will accept you into our soceity, just come out
of your cage, be one of us, be like us; put aside your lofty ideals
that the rest of us cannot acheive. instead, be like us and stop
point out all these things that make us uncomfortable."
uncomfortable because of their guilt it arises in people, for not
being willing to put for the effort to acheive something so
worthwhile, for ti si far easier to just sit back and watch the
flickering images and bright pretty colors we are shown. the hunger
artist, though, beign a true artist, is unabel to compromise himself
and his art, and instead of acquiesing to the demands of society to
dumb himself down to their level, chose to suffer with his dying art
and fade away with it.
so, that was much longer than i had hoped. i am sorry about that.
smaller posts are so much easier to read and digest, but, i guess,
once i get going on my ranting diatribes, i forget to rein myself
in. but anyway, that's what i think - do with it what you will.
and by the way, i'm not trying to make any kind of political
statement, either. i'm just using conveinient contemporary examples
to illustrate my point. i hope everyone is well, and keep the
discussion going. take care.
ps- in regards for the next story, i would vote against "a country
doctor." no matter how many times i read it, i still cannot figure
out to any degree what the heck he's talking about. also, i don't
think i've met anyone who claims to, either, and many people fidn
that to be his most indechipherable story. so, i would like to talk
about that one, but i think we need to work up to it, with maybe some
easier stories first. i like the "passers-by" that someone posted -
maybe we could look at that one next. but yes, i agree - one at a
time for now.
- Hey Gang I'm back!!
For some reason my AOL address got blocked so I couldn't respond to anyone.
It was killing me. Anywho, I like that interpretation of the friend in the
relationship that seems so needy, but doesn't that then say that if we ignore
our friend the friendship between us will die. and that we have to be
diligent to keep our friends in our lives and show them that we care?
And, I love the passage about not showing outward signs of fasting. I'm
Catholic and I completley forgot about it (of course, I missed church on Ash
Wednesday too much stuff to do and I couldn't fit it all in) But that means
that the Hunger Artist is really going against God's wishes because he is a
walking sign for fasting. Plus, he is making money off of something religious
and private, something that is just supposed to be between a person and God.
So, that would mean that he goes against the normal teachings of the church
until the end when he is not noticed but of course, at the end he still isn't
happy. Perhaps he was just looking for someone to believe in him and couldn't
find that from a God that didn't answer him back.
As for the other story, I will read it think about it and get back to you.
That can be our next story to discuss. How bout we make it official and say
everyone be ready by Monday? Since it is so short, that should be enough
time. And think of something else to read while your at it, we could use some
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- Hey, I like the idea of their fate being passivity. It is the same for both
of them. The Hunger Artist seems quite un noticed by the world and the
panther is a star attraction and yet they both recieve the same fate. Only
people see them differently. The Artist is viewed as being almost not a human
because he does none of the things that a human normally does and yet we see
the panther as what we expect a panther to be because that is all we have
ever seen a panther as, a creature in a cage. Maybe Kafka is saying that
neither the artist nor the panther are fulfilling their true nature and the
cage of society perhaps keeps all our fates in passivity.
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Don't worry about the rambling, that is what we are here for! And about the
religious thing. You're right, Kafka was Jewish. However, a lot of Jewish
people are aware of Christian beliefs and practices just as a lot of
Christians are aware of Jewish beliefs and practices. And, maybe Kafka had no
clue about the Christian take on his story but the fact that we can see it in
his story makes it relevant to us and thereby brings Kafka's story into the
About the idea that Kafka would see the hunger artist shying away from
society to practice his art. I can see that because I believe that oftentimes
artist must take a step back from the world they live in day to day and see
it differently than most people would. And, I like the idea of the artist
having integrity, to stick by what he believes in. I think that he is the
last of a dying breed and has decided to go down with the ship as it were.
Which like you said, shows integrity. However, going down with the ship sort
of shows us that he really doesn't see the world for what it is, he has a
narrow view of what he can do and that is it. It would be like someone never
wanting to move on in life. Yes, he gets better in his own little world but
most artists try to do different things or they go through stages, while the
artist just sticks to one thing, yes that shows integrity but in a way
doesn't it also show stagnation?
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