Home: Escape: A weekend for Kafka: Feel like a bug

A weekend for Kafka: Feel like a bug

The Metamorphosis by Franz KafkaI’m in a Kafkaesque mood, thinking of transformations, the helplessness of watching such change through a unique and uninterpretable perception. Perhaps this is because I’m turning 30 this week, and I haven’t quite come to terms with that fact. (It was bothering me a year ago, when I wrote A Hint of Rosemary… that story is all about aging.) If a birthday with a “0” on the end isn’t enough to trigger an existentialist mood, a series of coincidences with a Kafka theme is.

It started last night. I ran across this delightful and bizarre painting in Carel P. Brest van Kempen’s gallery, in which a metamorphosis is striking city dwellers: Metamorphosis: Periodical Cicadas. I’ve always admired the detail of his wildlife art, so to see it combined with such a surreal image impressed me. I enjoyed the use of a familiar insect, especially one that swarms on a predictable basis. (Like relatives on birthdays?)

When I went over to Carel’s blog, I saw the theme continue. Yesterday, he blogged about the Mormon Cricket and other locust-like insects. He even described a species of swarming grasshoppers, now extinct, that used to live here in Colorado:

 Until the latter part of the 19th century, the Rocky Mountain Grasshopper (Melanoplus spretus) formed huge migratory swarms billions strong to the east of the Continental Divide. One 1875 aggregation is considered by many to be the most massive insect swarm on record. Eighteen hundred miles long by two hundred miles wide, it blocked the sunlight over most of Colorado and Wyoming. Surprisingly enough, within thirty years the insect was extinct. Today the species only persists in the form of the several centuries old masses frozen into “Grasshopper Glacier,” near Cooke, Montana. The precise mechanics of this extinction are unclear; surely the huge ecological changes of that age, when Midwestern prairie metamorphosed into the American grain belt, were involved.

 This brings a new image to “wings over the Rockies“ if you ask me. 

Naked LunchSo, by now, I have bugs on the brain. I’m probably not as bad off as the character Bill Lee in the movie Naked Lunch. (The bookby William S. Burroughs, which I’ve read, is rather different.) In the film, he comes home to discover that his wife is using his bug extermination powder to get a fix. When he asks, she calls the feeling a “literary high.”

Joan, Bill Lee's wife, explains the sensationBill: What do you mean it’s a literary high?

Joan: It’s a Kafka high. It makes you feel like a bug.

If you’d like to get in the Kafka spirit without ingesting poison, I’d recommend trying the free online adventure game, Kafkamesto:
1922. Somewhere in Prague. Mid-winter.Kafkamesto

You awaken from an uneasy dream. You are in a small, bare apartment. You are alone. You have no idea how you got there. You don’t even know who you are. You exist in a perplexing and enigmatic environment – welcome to the town of Kafkamêsto. Here you can lose yourself for a day…

Or a lifetime…

Cool, eh? I played this game through a few times (there are multiple endings) when Jay reviewed it last fall. Despite the self-criticisms that the authors post to the site, I think they captured the Kafka essence quite well. It’s fun to play, although a bit difficult. There are some hints on Jay’s site; if they don’t help, I might at least have a map lying around here somewhere.

Finally, if you don’t have several volumes of Kafka already lurking in the dark corners of your library, you can get a new one here: The Metamorphosis

PS: If anyone is interested, I have a short paper answering the question “What is Existentialism?” …I was fascinated by the idea for many years, without actually understanding what existentialism meant. A little study and writing the paper helped clear up a number of issues for me, so if anyone would like me to post it, let me know.