Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

"The Metamorphosis" by Franz Kafka and "Lectures on Literature-The Metamorphosis" by Vladimir Nabokov

"The Metamorphosis" by Franz Kafka (1915, 45 pages, read on not given)

"Franz Kafka's -The Metamorphosis"-lecture by Vladimir Nabokov-in his Lectures on Literature (published 1980 but from lectures written around 1953, 32 pages)

As I was finishing up "The Metamorphosis" by Franz Kafka (1883 to 1924-Prague) I found to my great surprise both volumes of Lectures on Literature by Vladimir Nabokov (1899 to 1978-St Petersburg, Russia)  on sale in a mall near me.   These volumes are based on lectures given by Nabokov during his teaching career (1940 to 1958) at various American universities.   Volume one covers works by Dickens, Joyce, Austin, Stevenson, Proust and Franz's Kafka's "The Metamorphosis".  Volume two covers Russian Literature.   The sale of his books came to liberate him from the need to teach.   (Lolita, Pale Fire, etc).  

When I began to explore the world of the short story I began to do numerous searches on Google relating to "world's best, most famous, most important short story, etc".    On every list "The Metamorphosis" was near the top.   It well might be the most important or influential short story of the 20th century (at most I think it is second to James Joyce"s "The Dead"-I will post on that soon).       I see no need to repeat the plot.

    What I was very struck with in this story is how much it is about the entrapment of family life.    As I got into the story I began to feel more sympathy for Gregor for the dreadful life he lived than for the transformation that over took him.   I began to wonder if it was a strange wish fulfilment dream.    Maybe turning into a giant insect was preferable to him than continuing on with a meaningless life.     I also noted that somehow Gregor in his willingness to support his parasitic family had taken the meaning from their lives.    The interpretations one could put on this story are near endless.   "The Metamorphosis" is  really a holy text of modernism.

As I read Nabokov's lecture on the story I tried to imagine how terribly intimidating he must have seemed to   college students in America in the 1940s and 1950s.   (There is a really good video on YouTube of  the actor Christopher Plummer playing Nabokov lecturing in one of his classes).    I do not presume to paraphrase him-he still intimidates!  One of his central points to his students is to open yourself up to respond to the work you are reading.   To look at it with your own eyes.   He tells us do not assume what you heard about a famous work is right.   He used his extensive entomological background to proof that the common as taught in school notion that Gregor was transformed into a roach is wrong.   He even included detailed drawings to show us just what type of insect Gregor had become.    As I knew it would be, the lecture is beautifully written and totally brilliant.   He does make use of some dubious rhetorical style in his treatment of views he opposes or writers he looks down on.   He states his own view magnificently then he simply declares from Olympus that anyone who thinks other than he does is a tasteless unintelligent bore.   I laughed out loud when he said Thomas Mann was like a dwarf in comparison to Kafka without any justification at all (as I thought about it I wondered if the college students in his class had even heard of Thomas Mann).   His teaching style was evidently quite theatrical.     I think many who read his lectures (or watch  the video which I hope you will) will wish as I did that they could have had such a great  teacher so into the reading life.   I loved it in his opening lecture when he said literature is superior to all other art forms and requires more of the full human capacity to respond to than music or painting.

"The Metamorphosis" is really a "must read" literary work.     There are numerous places you can reads it for free online.   It is not hard or difficult to read.    Everyday we see reviews of writers who are described as "Kafkaesque".    The next time you read such a description stop there and read the original.   I will read two other of his short stories and post on them soon, "The Hunger Artist" and "The Penal Colony".   I hope to read Pale Fire soon.

If anyone has any suggestion as to short stories I might like please leave them in  comment.   Thanks

Mel u


Rebecca Chapman said...

Wow, great reviews, as usual. All of these works you refer to are going on my wish list right now!

BookQuoter said...

I will definitely add this to my TBR. I liked Lolita a lot. Glad to know this book is good too.

Eva said...

You know, I've never read Kafka AND I have a copy of Nabokov's Lectures lying around here somewhere. Sounds like I'll be following in your foot steps!

I read Pale Fire in high school & really enjoyed for Nabokov's stories, have you read "Natasha"? It's one of my faves of his and available online:

Suko said...

This is a great story to add to my Sundry Short Stories post--and to reread.

TheBlackSheep said...

I wonder if Nabokov's comments about not just believing what they were told about a novel extended to include what he was telling them? Especially when you consider his own opinion of himself. That's not to say that Nabokov wasn't a great teacher and a brilliant writer. I'd love to get my hands on his lectures myself. They must be terribly interesting. Still, it does pay to think for yourself. Each person gets something else out of the novel. For instance, I don't remember hearing that he was supposed to be a roach and I always thought of him as a sort of ugly beetle myself. Your review reminds me that I really need to read his works again. It's been so long since the last time that I can't quite remember the whole of the story, so thanks for the reminder!

Journey said...

I love those two Nabokov books! And each time I read them I always wish I had been able to actually experience a lecture by Nabokov, it must have been wonderful!

Mel u said...

Becky-I hope you can find time to read this work

Book Quoter-yes both of these works are great

Suko-thanks again

Blacksheep=you have hit on the paradox of anyone who tells us to thing for ourselves! If so why should we listen to the person telling us this-maybe think for yourself does not mean quite what it seems to

Journey-I hope you can find time to watch the video I linked to-youtube also has other videos of Nabokov speaking-

Eva=thanks hugely for the tip on the Nabokov story-for sure I will read and post on it and credit back to you

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

I've read The Metamorphosis and was fascinated by it. I've been wanting to read some more from Kafka for awhile.

Eva-Thanks for the link! I've been meaning to get to Pale fire too.