Lu Xun and Franz Kafka by dffhrtcv3


									Lu Xun and Franz Kafka

Struggles Beneath the Weight of the
         Past and Authority
In spite of their differences, Kafka and Lu Xun share a
common concern on what they saw as the oppressive
nature of the past and the authority drawn from it.
 Lu Xun or Lu Hsün
• He originally studied to be a doctor, Lu Hsün
  became associated with the nascent Chinese
  literary movement in 1918.
• Lu tells of seeing a slide of a Chinese prisoner
  about to be decapitated as a Russian spy.
   – What shocked the young medical student was the
     apathetic crowd of Chinese onlookers, gathered
     around to watch the execution. At that moment he
     decided that it was their dulled spirits rather than
     their bodies that were in need of healing.
• Lu Xun's works exerted a very substantial
  influence after the May Fourth Movement to
  such a point that he was lionized by the
  Communist regime after 1949.
• Mao Zedong himself was a lifelong admirer
  of Lu Xun's works.
Though highly sympathetic of the Chinese Communist
movement, Lu Xun himself never joined the Chinese
Communist Party despite being a staunch socialist as he
professed in his works.
Of course that did not stop the Chinese Communist
government from using his reputation.

His wish to discard the past worked perfectly with the
idea of the people’s revolution.
           “Diary of a Madman”
• Modeled after Nikolay Gogol's tale of the
  same title, the story is a condemnation of
  traditional Confucian culture which the madman
  narrator sees as a “man-eating” society.
• Friends within the newly formed Chinese literary
  movement in 1918 urged him to publish the
  short story “A Madman's Diary.”
• It was the first Western-style story written wholly in
  Chinese, it was a tour de force that attracted
  immediate attention and helped gain acceptance for
  the short-story form as an effective literary vehicle.
• “Madman” opens with; a preface in mannered
  classical Chinese, giving an account of the
  discovery of the diary.
• Such ironic use of classical Chinese to suggest
  a falsely polite world of social appearances
  was quite common in traditional Chinese
  fiction; but its presence usually suggested the
  alternative possibility of immediate, direct, and
  genuine language, a language of the heart set
  against a language of society (Norton 1919).
• Although utterly mad, the writer’s claims when
  looked at in a metaphoric manner in face make snese.
• As the diary progresses, it becomes increasingly clear
  that the diarist, who sees himself as the potential
  victim, is no less the, mirror of the society he
  describes, assimilating everyone around him into his
  own fixed view of the world. The reading of ancient
  texts to discover evidence of cannibalism is a parody
  of traditional Confucian scholarship, the distorting
  discovery of "secret meanings" that only serve to
  confirm beliefs already held.
• His is a world entirely closed in on itself, one that
  survives by feeding on itself and its young--a voracity
  that gives Lu his famous last line, "Save the children“
  (Norton 1919).
           Upstairs in a Wineshop
• Your Norton text says that “In contrast to the
  tormented, diarist of Diary of a Madman, the
  characters in Upstairs in a Wineshop have
  already been eaten and fully digested.”
• Thus he is already caught in the meaningless
  pressures of a life controlled by family and
  cultural traditions.
• “Upstairs” is a bleak tale of deaths and wasted
  lives. The narrator's friend, after grand hopes in
  his youth finds himself back in his hometown,
  going through the hollow motions of filial
• Caring for the family graves was an act that
  had great resonance in Confucian family ritual.
• To put to rest the worries of his mother, who has heard that the
  nearby riverbank is encroaching on the grave site, the friend
  has come to rebury his younger brother, whom he barely
• On digging up the grave, he finds that there is nothing left of
  his brother's body.
• Nevertheless, having bought' a new coffin, he puts some dirt
  from the old grave in it, reburying it beside his father in a
  different graveyard arid enclosing it in. bricks for a better seal;
  As the friend says, ""At least I've done enough to pull the
  Wool over Mother's eyes and set her mind at rest."
• Even when the past has lost all meaning, leaving neither
  physical remains nor memory, the narrator's friend still finds
  himself trapped by its forms, which he carries out
  scrupulously, moving a grave site to protect a body that no
  longer exists.
              • Kafka was born into cultural
                alienation: Jewish (though not truly
Franz Kafka     part of the Jewish community) in
                Catholic Bohemia, son: of a
                German-speaking' shopkeeper
                when German was the language of
                the imposed Austro-Hungarian
                government, and drawn to
                literature when his father—a
                domineering, self-made man—
                pushed him toward success in-
              • His father, Hermann Kafka (1852–
                1931), was described as a "huge,
                selfish, overbearing businessman"
                and by Kafka himself as "a true
                Kafka in strength, health, appetite,
                loudness of voice, eloquence, self-
                satisfaction, worldly dominance,
                endurance, presence of mind, [and]
                knowledge of human nature.“
• Apparently he resented his father's overbearing nature
  and feeling deprived of maternal love, he nonetheless
  lived with his parents for most of his life
• In spite of this sense of alienation Kafka was in many
  ways historically a very positive figure.
• He impressed others with his boyish, neat, and
  austere good looks, a quiet and cool demeanor,
  obvious intelligence and dry sense of humor.
• Furthermore while most American students find
  especially The Metamorphosis grim reading, Kafka
  and his friends thought that portions of The
  Metamorphosis were hysterically funny.
• After a vigorous education Kafka took a degree in
  law to. qualify himself for a position in a large
  accident-insurance corporation, where he worked
  until illness forced his retirement in 1922.
               Kafka’s Inner life
• Although he took his writing very seriously, it was
  achieved while also maintaining this other respected
• Despite the indubitable fact that Franz Kafka became
  a respected senior executive handling claims,
  litigations, public relations, and his institute's annual
  reports and was one of the few top German
  executives retained when Czechoslovakia came into
  existence in 1918, his image in the modern
  imagination is derived from the portraits of inner
  languish given in his fiction, diaries, and letters.
• This "Kafka" is a tormented and sensitive soul,
  guiltily resentful of his job in a giant bureaucracy,
  unable to free himself from his family or to cope with
  the demands of love, physically feeble, and constantly
  beset by feelings of inferiority and doom in an
  existence whose laws he can never quite understand..
• The Law that governs our existence is all-powerful but
  irrational; at least it is not to be understood: by its human
  suppliants, a lesson that Kafka could have derived equally well
  from his readings in, the Danish philosopher Søren
  Kierkegaard, in Friedrich Nietzsche, or in the Jewish Talmud.
• The predicament of Franz Kafka's writing is, for many, the
  predicament of modern civilization.• As noted earlier he is like Lu
                                              Xun in that he resents the
                                              institutional systems which
                                              make claims upon the
                                           • However, identifying that
                                              system as bureaucracy, family,
                                              religion, language, or the
                                              invisible network of social
                                              habit is less important than
                                              recognizing the protagonists'
                                              bewilderment at being placed
                                              in impossible situations.
                Kafka’s “Heros”
 • Nowhere is the anxiety
   and alienation of
   twentieth-century society
   more visible than in his
   stories of individuals
   struggling to prevail
   against a vast,
   meaningless, and
   apparently hostile system.

• Kafka's heroes are driven to find answers in an
unresponsive world, and they are required to act according
to incomprehensible rules administered by an inaccessible
• Thus it is small wonder that they fluctuate between
  fear, hope, anger, resignation, and despair. Kafka's
  fictional world has long fascinated contemporary
  writers, who find in it an extraordinary blend of
  prosaic realism and nightmarish, infinitely
  interpretable symbolism.
• Whether evoking the multilayered bureaucracy of the
  modern state, the sense of guilt felt by those facing
  the accusations of authority, or the vulnerability of
  characters who cannot make themselves understood,
• Kafka's descriptions are believable because of their
  scrupulous attention to detail: the flea on a fur collar,
  the dust under an unmade bed, the creases and
  yellowing of an old newspaper, or the helplessness of
  a beetle turned upside down.
• The sheer ordinariness of these details
  grounds the entire narrative, giving the
  reader a continuing expectation of reality
  even when events escape all logic and the
  situation is at its most hallucinatory.
• This paradoxical combination has
  appealed to a range of contemporary
  writers—-each quite different from the
  other—who have read and absorbed
  Kafka's lesson: Samuel Beckett, Harold
  Pinter; Alain Robbe-Grillet* Gabriel
  Garcia Marquez. (Norton 1996-1998)
             The Metamorphosis
• The story of a traveling salesman,
  Gregor Samsa, waking to find himself
  transformed into a "monstrous vermin.“
• Scholars have noted the similarity in
  structure of Samsa’s name to Kafka’s
  (especially note the placement or the “a”
• Also while it is common for us to think
  of Gregor as being a cockroach, Kafka
  seems to have purposely made that a
  vague point—he is an “unclean thing”
  an unclean animal (or any entity)
  unsuitable for sacrifice. Ungeziefer also
  denotes a sense of separation between
  him and his environment: he is unclean
  and therefore he shall be excluded.
• As some commentators have noted, The
  Metamorphosis begins with what should be its
  climax. The protagonist's great transformation, often
  the pivotal moment in a work of fiction, gets plopped
  unceremoniously on our lap in the story's first
• No buildup, no tension, just boom: Gregor Samsa is
  now a bug, and we must all deal with the
  consequences of this fact. The remainder of the story
  marks his ineluctable drift into oblivion, with very
  few surprises along the way.
• But no other surprises are necessary. That first
  simple, declarative sentence and the clear prose that
  follows it have unleashed a truly staggering torrent of
• Metamorphosis has been interpreted in many ways.
  Certainly with the way that Herr and Frau Samsa first
  use Gregor and then make plans to use his sister
  Greta tie in to Lu Xun's works of the other generation
  “eating their young.” There is also a strong
  connection to how a family deals with the long illness
  of a family member including resentment and release
  when the “loved one finally dies.”
• As noted in Sparknotes “The interpretations seem
  endless, and endlessly possible (if variously
  plausible). The psychoanalysts, the Marxists, the
  Symbolists, the New Critics, the biographers--all
  have thrown their well-worn hats into the ring. The
  ability of the story to support so many divergent
  formulations of its "meaning" is clearly one of The
  Metamorphosis's most salient features.”
              This is Funny?
• As noted earlier “When Kafka read the story to
  his circle of companions in Prague, they laughed
  out loud--as did he.”
• Certainly part of the effect of Gregor's
  transformation is that we are for a moment
  blinded to the absurdities of the other
  characters, such as his manager turning up to
  get him out of bed because he is late. And there
  is Gergor’s own attempts to continue life as
  usual almost trying to ignore the complete
  change in his condition.
• As noted on Sparknotes “This is certainly a stark
  brand of comedy, but laughter has long been a
  way of coping with life's absurd afflictions. ”

To top