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Along with the ontological, ethical, and aesthetic issues, which Gregor Samsa’s metamorphosis into an insect raises, there is the further question – or, rather, a transformation of these issues through the question – of the status of this metamorphosis qua social critique in Kafka’s renowned novella. Is Gregor’s becoming-animal a failed revolt against the Oedipal structures of capitalism as some influential interpretations claim? Is it, perhaps, a successful revolt in so far as he sheds the programmatic effect of the logos and turns to music, as others suggest? Is it a matter of purely passive regress which succeeds, or does not succeed, in pronouncing its verdict upon the social order? Is this metamorphosis as sudden as it is instantaneous, or does it unfurl gradually? Is there a metamorphosis at all? For over a year, the Sofia Literary Theory Seminar dedicated their internal discussions to the careful reading of the novella in the light of their own methodological preoccupations. The results from this work were publicly presented (with considerable abbreviations) on October 21, 2015. Here we include the abstracts of the papers, which will appear in full in a book forthcoming in 2016.
THE “METAMORPOHSIS” OF FRANZ KAFKA: TRANSFIGURATIONS OF ESTRANGEMENT
The essay investigates the story of Franz Kafka “The Metamorphosis” as an allegory of human loneliness and alienation, and the despair of the human being facing the impossibility to be understood and to establish communication with the world. It explores the transformation of metaphorical expressions of everyday speech into fictional realities; the loss of speech of the protagonist Gregor Samsa, who has turned into an insect, as a gradually deepening process; the role of objects in the formation/destruction of human identity; and Samsa’s dual impulse to hide from the eyes of his family, and – on the other hand – to leave the room, which is the place of the metamorphosis, and be included in the family circle – an attempt, which ends in failure and voluntarily meeting death.
MODELLING, METAMORPHOSIS: KAFKA’S FORMAL INDICATIONS
Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” poses the theme of metamorphosis as a question. This paper is an attempt to read the story using its own elements as tools, as formal indications that make possible the tracing of the way the story itself builds a model of what metamorphosis is. By reading closely the first four paragraphs as a lens through which the rest of the story gets into focus, the paper argues that there is a dominant form of metamorphosis (covering the fields of economic exchange, traveling, communication) that puts an end to metamorphosis. The paradox of the story lies in the fact that the end of metamorphosis, the ceasing of all transformation, is yet another metamorphosis.
METAMORPHOSIS AND SUBTRACTION: LOGIC AND BIOGRAPHY IN THE SPECTRE OF THE HUMAN
The query whether Gregor Samsa’s becoming-animal escalates his passivity as a victim of the capitalist order, or is a form of resistance, turned into a heated ideological battleground in Eastern Europe during the Cold War era, with Kafka being perceived by the communist leaders as the direct cause of the 1968 Prague events. This text invokes this debate through the lens of Merab Mamardashvili’s concept of inverted form – Marx’s verwandelte Form – as not only irrational but also totally opaque and completely cut off from the links and processes that produce it. Notably, the word Verwandlung used in Kafka’s title appears also as the title of the second part of Marx’s Capital in order to designate neither more, nor less, the transformation of money into capital. If we read Kafka’s homonymous title through Marx’s title, the becoming-animal of Gregor may appear as the inverted form of the very mechanism which naturalizes the reproduction of capitalism per se. The present analysis tries to come up “from the back” ( in Mamardashvili’s words) of this naturalization by juxtaposing becoming-animal and becoming-machine through a parallel reading of Kafka’s novella (a man turns into an insect) and Stanislaw Lem’s novella “The Mask” (a woman turns out to be an insect-like machine). The identical result in both cases as the disappearance of the human allows the differentiation of metamorphosis qua subtraction. It thus brings to light a different logic, not the logic of exception, perhaps, but the logic of the excepted, which insists on the need to re-examine the question of the human.
NEGATIVE ANAGNORISIS: A SERIES OF NEGATIONS IN KAFKA
Kamelia Spassova, Maria Kalinova
The negative transformation of Gregor Samsa in “Metamorphosis” into a half-monster and a half-non-animal is succeeded by a process of anagnorisis, which in our own reading represents a series of negations: ungeheuer, Ungeziefer, Untier. This is the transition that we shall label negative anagnorisis and, following the model of Aristotle, we shall use it to denote a transition from knowledge to a lack of knowledge. We defined the first negation, using Freud’s theoretical framework, as negation-repetition. Its clear-cut mark is the erasure of the difference in relation to the opposite. While negating itself, it in fact repeats itself. The second mode of negation was defined through Adorno’s propositions – as negation, rupturing the repetition. The negation-repetition succeeds to materialize itself into a singular object of negation. With Adorno this type of negation will be a material rupture of the event, the moment in Kafka’s prose when the train (the object) is launched into the social. These two types of negation – negation-repetition and negation-rupture of the repetition – work out and form together a third mode of negation: negation-metamorphosis or the means by which the metamorphosis becomes a series of ruptures.
In this sense, the metamorphosis in Kafka’s story is not the initial alteration but the synchronization of the focal point and the background in the process of negative anagnorisis, viewed as rupture and gradation in the continuum of negation.
DIE UMKEHR: THE CHIASMIC TRANSFORMATIONS OF GREGOR SAMSA
In his correspondence with Gershom Scholem, Walter Benjamin claims that one of Kafka’s “messianic categories” is “die Umkehr”, “the reversal”, a term that plays a significant role in Hölderlin’s meditations on Antigone. The paper tries to map out the various reversals that take place in The Metamorphosis, pointing to their peculiar chiasmic character. After the obvious reversal that sets off the narrative of the story, Gregor subtly starts to enjoy his newfound body and engages in experimenting with its possibilities. But then at a certain point he is forced out of this trajectory of continuous non-human transformation and is set on a path of reestablishing his humanity. This double movement in Gregor’s logic of change results in a dual failure – he neither succeeds in fully inhabiting the potential of his new form, nor does he manage to fully reverse the change (even the sovereign gesture of sacrifice is denied to him). Furthermore, he is not the single focus of chiasmic transformations in the story – they spread towards the other characters, especially to his family and point to the deeper social and economic background of the various reversals in the story. The paper claims that persistence of these reversals is not really messianic, but ultimately produces a double impasse for the characters and their situation, as well as for the aesthetic categories, on which the narrative itself relies.
BEYOND THE WORK: “METAMORPHOSIS”
This text unfolds in two phases, united by the problems of reflexivity: on one hand, the relation between the experience of death and the experience of “metamorphosis”, and on the other – reflexivity as basic characteristic of Kafka’s short story “Metamorphosis”. Kafka writes, again and again formulating the question why writing, to the point where this reflexive dimension becomes the driving force of writing itself. The writer writes as if he is dead for the world, but he also writes as one inhabiting a dead world, as far as the world of the work is the world of finitude. From that point of view “metamorphosis” would be the limit of the work, in a sense also the limit of writing. Thus metamorphosis would be thought not so much as transformation and transgression, but as final (and extreme) reflexivity of the form. Therefore Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” could be read as virtuosic manifestation of the reflexive modality of narrative form. In this story time is not only a priori form of the story, but also its “matter”, its “object”. Time that thinks itself – this is the time of metamorphosis. “Metamorphosis” tests the metamorphosis of form-time of narrative in reflexive perspective, thus opening the critical space of the metaliterary operation. That is why Kafka’s story appears as the field of a clash not only of a variety of interpretations, but of a certain ideology of interpretation if not of the order of interpretation itself.