Metamorphosis and other.., p.22
Metamorphosis and Other Stories, p.22Franz Kafka
But what a triumph it was then, for him and myself alike, when one evening, before a large gathering of spectators – perhaps there was a party or fête, there was a gramophone playing, an officer was strolling about among the crew – when that evening, briefly unsupervised, I reached for a bottle of rum that had been carelessly left in front of my cage, and then, under the growing attention of the company, drew the cork in the approved fashion, set it to my lips, and, without hesitating, without making a face, like a studied drinker, with round bulging eyes and bobbing Adam’s apple, really and truly emptied it; threw away the bottle not in despair but as a consummate master; forgot to rub my belly; but instead, because I couldn’t help it, because I felt compelled to, because my senses were befuddled, called out the word, ‘Hallo!’, broke out in human speech, with that cry leapt into the community of humans, and felt their echoing response: ‘Listen, he’s speaking!’, as something in the nature of a kiss pressed against my whole sweat-dripping body.
I say again: I had no desire to imitate humans; I imitated them because I was looking for a way out of my predicament, and for no other reason. Nor was much achieved even by that small triumph. My voice gave up on me immediately; it only came back months later; my aversion to the rum bottle was if anything stronger than it had been. But my course was set now, once and for all.
When I was delivered to my first trainer in Hamburg, I was quick to realize that there were two possibilities open to me: zoo or variety theatre. I didn’t hesitate. I told myself: do everything in your power to get into the variety theatre; that’s your way out; the zoo is nothing but a different barred cage; if you land up in there, you’re doomed.
And so, gentlemen, I learned. Oh, if you have to learn, you learn; if you’re desperate for a way out, you learn; you learn pitilessly. You stand over yourself with a whip in your hand; if there’s the least resistance, you lash yourself. The ape left me in leaps and bounds, so much so that my first teacher went almost ape himself, and was forced to give up my tuition, and had to be taken to an institution. I am happy to say he emerged from it again after a while, apparently none the worse.
But I got through numbers of teachers, often indeed several at once. When I had become a little more certain of my gifts, and the public began to take note of my progress, when the future glittered ahead of me, then I engaged my own teachers, had them sit in a suite of five connecting rooms, and learned from them all simultaneously, by running ceaselessly from room to room.
The progress I made! The way the beams of knowledge penetrated my awakening brain from all sides! I can’t deny I was delighted by it. But at the same time I would insist: I never overrated it, not then and much less today. By an exertion without parallel in the history of the world, I have reached the level of cultivation of the average European. In and of itself that might not mean anything, but it does mean something, because it got me out of my cage, and gave me this particular way out, this human way out. There is a wonderful German idiom: to light out; and that’s what I’ve done, I’ve lit out. I had no other way open to me, always assuming that I wasn’t going to choose freedom.
When I look back over my progress and the goals attained thus far, I am moved neither to lament, nor to complacency. With my hands in my trouser pockets, a bottle of wine on the table. I half sit, half lie in my rocking-chair, and gaze out of the window. If a visitor calls, I receive him politely. My manager is sitting in the anteroom; if I ring, he comes and listens to what I have to say. In the evenings, I generally have shows, and I celebrate triumphs that probably cannot be trumped. When I come home late at night, after banquets, from learned societies, from cosy get-togethers, I have a little semi-trained lady chimp waiting for me, and I let her show me a good time, ape-fashion. By day, I have no desire to see her; she has the perplexity of the trained wild animal in her eye; I alone recognize that, and it is unbearable to me.
All in all, I have achieved what I wanted to achieve. You can’t say it wasn’t worth the effort. Besides, I seek no man’s approval, all I want is to spread understanding, all I do is report back, and what I’ve done this evening, my learned friends and academicians, has been simply to report.
A Hunger-Artist: Four Stories
A trapeze artist – this art, practised high up in the lofty domes of the great variety theatres, is known to be one of the most difficult to which humans may aspire – had, first out of the striving for perfection, later out of a habit that had in time become tyrannical, so arranged his life that for the whole period of each engagement, he remained on the trapeze day and night. Such very modest requirements as he had were catered for by a relief system of attendants who were posted below, and hauled everything needful up and down in specially made containers. This mode of life created no particular difficulty for the world about him; at most, it was a minor irritant that during the remainder of each evening’s programme, as was impossible to conceal, he remained where he was, and that, even though he usually took care to keep still, the occasional glance from a spectator would find its way up to him. But the management forgave him that, because he was an extraordinary and irreplaceable artist. And of course it was appreciated that he did not live like this out of whimsy, and that it was really the only way he had of keeping in constant practice, and maintaining his art at its peak.
But it was healthy up there as well, and when in the summer months the side windows around the dome were all thrown open, and the sunshine and the fresh air made their presence powerfully felt in the dimness of the vault, it could be positively idyllic. Admittedly, his human contacts were rather reduced, only from time to time a fellow acrobat would climb up the rope ladder to him, and then the two of them would sit together on the trapeze, lean against the ropes on either side and chat; or sometimes builders had some work to do on the roof, and exchanged some banter with him through an open window; or a member of the fire department, inspecting the emergency lighting in the upper circle, would call out something respectful but not readily audible. Other than that there was silence about him; only from time to time some stage hand who might have wandered into the empty theatre of an afternoon, would look up thoughtfully into the almost impenetrable heights, where the trapeze artist, who couldn’t have known there was anyone watching, would either be resting or rehearsing.
So the trapeze artist might have been able to live quite happily, were it not for the inevitable travelling from place to place, which was irksome to him in the extreme. Of course his manager saw to it that the trapeze artist’s sufferings were kept to a minimum: journeys within towns were effected in racing cars that were driven over the empty roads at top speeds, either at night or in the very early hours, but it was still all too slow for the trapeze artist’s liking; in the case of rail travel, an entire train compartment was reserved, where the trapeze artist in a faintly undignified but still just about acceptable stand-in for his customary environment, would spend the entire journey hanging in the luggage net; in the next town on their schedule, the trapeze was ready and in place long before the arrival of the trapeze artist, and all the doors on the way to the auditorium were thrown open, al the corridors kept clear – but it remained the case that the best moments in his manager’s life were those in which the trapeze artist was finally able to set his foot on the rope ladder and, at long last and in a trice, was hanging up on his trapeze once more.
Now, however many journeys the manager had successfully absolved, each further journey was difficult because, apart from anything else, they were clearly bad for the nerves of the trapeze artist.
And so there they were travelling together again, the trapeze artist hanging in the luggage net dreaming, his manager leaning back in the window seat opposite, reading a book, when the trapeze artist softly addressed him. The manager was straightaway at his service. The trapeze artist said, biting his lips, that for his act, instead of one as hitherto, he now wanted two trapezes for his performance, two trapezes facing each other. The manager agreed to this ri
A Little Woman
She is a little woman; of slight build, and moreover tightly laced; I always see her wearing the same dress, which is of a yellow-grey colour, somehow suggestive of wood, and ornamented with toggles or button-like decorations in the same tone; she is invariably bare-headed, her straight dull-blonde hair worn loose but not untidy. In spite of her lacing, she is very mobile, but she exaggerates her mobility, she likes to put her hands on her hips and suddenly swivel her upper body to one side. My sense of her hand can only be expressed by saying that I have yet to see a hand whose individual fingers are as sharply detached one from another as hers are; and yet, it doesn’t exhibit any anatomical singularities, it’s a perfectly normal hand.
This little woman is very dissatisfied with me, she is always finding things to criticize in me, I am forever being unfair to her, I annoy her it seems with every breath and step; if one could divide life into minute constituent particles, and judge each individual particle separately, I am sure each little particle of my life would contain some irritant for her. I have often wondered why it is I so irritate her; perhaps everything about me violates her sense of beauty, her sense of justice, her habits, her traditions, her hopes — there are such mutually antagonistic natures, but why does she suffer so much from the fact? It isn’t as though there is any relationship between us that compels her to suffer over me. She would only have to decide to view me as a complete stranger, which is what I am, and which I wouldn’t seek to oppose, but which determination of hers I would rather welcome; she would only have to decide to forget all about my existence, which I have never foisted or sought to foist on her — and all suffering would be at an end. (Here, I leave myself out of account, and the fact that her behaviour is obviously also embarrassing to me; I leave it out of account because I am perfectly aware that my embarrassment is as nothing to her suffering.) At the same time it is perfectly clear to me that hers is not a lover’s suffering; she is really not desirous of improving me, not least as none of what she objects to in me is such as to prevent my getting on in life. But then my getting on doesn’t interest her either, the only thing that interests her is her personal mission, which is to avenge the torment I put her through, and to impede the torment that threatens to become hers in future. I once tried to draw her attention to the way this continuing irritation might best be stopped, but that plunged her into such turmoil that I shall not repeat the attempt.
There is also, if you like, a certain responsibility on me, because, however strange the woman may be to me, and however much the only thing linking us is the irritation I cause her, or rather the irritation she allows me to cause her, it still should not be a matter of indifference to me to have her so visibly suffering from her irritation. From time to time, and rather more of late, I get to hear of her pallor of a morning, how she is short of sleep, tortured by headaches, and almost unable to work; her family is worried about her, they try to find an explanation for her condition, but without having come up with anything so far. I alone know it, it is her old and her ever new irritation with me. Now, of course nothing obliges me to share the worries of her family; she is strong and tough; whoever has such a capacity for irritation is probably also able to get over the results of such irritation; I even have the suspicion that — at least in part — she only pretends to suffer, in order to turn the world’s suspicion upon me. She is too proud to say openly how I torment her with my being; to appeal to others on my account would strike her as demeaning to herself; it is only out of repugnance, a violent and inexhaustible repugnance, that she occupies herself with me; to discuss this unclean thing in front of another human being would be to violate her sense of shame. But it’s also too much for her to keep silent about this thing that puts her under incessant pressure. And so, with her feminine guile, she seeks to find a middle way; she intends by silence, using only the visible manifestations of a secret grief, to bring the matter before the court of public opinion. Perhaps it is even her hope that, once the full gaze of public opinion has been levelled at me, a general public irritation with me may set in, and its great and powerful resources will judge me far more speedily and authoritatively and conclusively than her relatively feeble private irritation is capable of doing; but then she will withdraw, take a deep breath, and turn her back on me. Well, should such indeed be her hope, I fear she will be disappointed. Public opinion will not do her work for her; public opinion will never muster such implacable objections to me, even if it were to hold me under its strongest magnifying glass. I am not such a useless individual as she seems to think; I don’t want to sing my own praises, least of all in this regard; however, even if I might not catch the eye for my exceptional usefulness, then at least I may be sure of not doing so for the opposite reason; that I do only in her eyes, with their almost pure white gleam, but she will never be able to persuade anyone else of it. So, can I afford to set my mind utterly at rest? No, it seems not; because if it were to become known that I make her quite literally ill with my behaviour — and a few busybodies, the most assiduous gossips, are already close to seeing it in those terms, or at least indicate to me that they can see it so — and then if the world were to come along and ask me why I torture the poor little woman with my persistence, and whether I intend to drive her into the grave, and when will I at last have the sense and the common human decency to stop — if the world were to ask me that, I should have a hard time answering. Am I to admit that I am not terribly convinced by these symptoms of hers, and shall I thereby create the disagreeable impression that, to rid myself of guilt, I am happy to accuse others, and so crassly at that? Would I be capable of saying openly that, even if I believed hers was a genuine condition, I didn’t have the least sympathy for her, as the woman is nothing to me, and the relationship between us is created by her, and only exists on her side? I don’t want to say no one would believe me; perhaps people would neither believe nor disbelieve me; we wouldn’t even reach the point where that became an issue; they would merely register the response I had given on a matter concerning a sick, weak woman, and that would do me no favours at all. With this reply, and any other I might give, I will be crossed by the inability of the world to suppress all suspicion of a love relations
The sole option I have left, really, is to change myself in time, before the world gets involved, not to the extent of removing the irritation of the little woman, which is inconceivable, but at least to soften it a little. And I have indeed asked myself on frequent occasions whether my current condition is so pleasing to me that I did not want to change it, and if it might not be possible to undertake certain adjustments, even if I didn’t do it out of conviction that they were necessary, but purely to calm the little woman. And I have made honest endeavours to change, not without effort and care, I enjoyed it, it even amused me; individual changes came about, were visible some way off, I didn’t have to draw the woman’s attention to them, she notices all such things before I do, she registers even my intentions; but I had no success. How could I have had? Her displeasure with me is, as I clearly see, essential; nothing can remove it, not even the removal of myself; her rage, say, on hearing of my suicide would be unbridled. Now I cannot imagine that she, sharp-witted woman as she is, would take a different view from mine — both of the futility of her efforts and of the lack of malice in me, my inability, with the best will in the world, to come up to her requirements. She will certainly understand as much, but as a fighting nature she forgets it in the heat of battle, while my own unhappy manner which is not of my choosing — because that is the way I am — consists of my wanting to whisper a discreet warning in the ear of someone who is beside themselves with fury. Of course we will never be able to understand one another. Time and again I will walk out of my house into a fresh dawn, only to see a face made miserable by me, the lips set into a scowling pout, the scrutinizing regard, knowing the outcome of the scrutiny before it is completed, brushing me (however fleeting, missing nothing), the bitter smile etching itself into the girlish cheek, the plaintive look to the skies, the settling of the hands on the hips to steady herself, and then the pallor and the tremble of indignation.
Metamorphosis and Other Stories by Franz Kafka / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes