Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Nazi Doctors and Time's Arrow

I found an essay exploring in detail the connections between Time's Arrow and Robert Lifkin's book Nazi Doctors on JStor. The essay, written by Greg Harris, appeared in an academic journal, Studies in the Novel, in 1999. If you are interested, it makes useful reading.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Kafka interpretation exercise

I've been asked to provide the prompts for the "expert" panel discussions we had the other day. Here they are.

An imaginary panel of experts debate the meaning of Gregor’s transformation:

Expert #1:      Gregor is angry, frustrated, bitter, helpless, trapped in his family’s downwardly degenerating dependence on his bread-winning capacity. Unconsciously he seeks to escape the unreasonable burdens placed upon him, although he can never allow this desire to reach his consciousness. The psychic symbolism is clear—his transformation from human to insect is the physical manifestation of a repressed psychological desire, a form of unconscious wish-fulfillment.

Expert #2:      No, you pseudo-intellectual, pretentious, Freudian wannabe, as usual you miss the point entirely. Gregor has been an insect in human form for years. Don’t you see the disgusting groveling, the overwhelming feelings of worthlessness, the cringing, abject, vermin-like posture he has adopted toward both father and employer, the two most potent authority figures in his life? His body is merely catching up to the true state of his identity.

Expert #3:      Alas, my sad, misguided friends, I’m afraid you fail to grasp the heart and soul of the matter (and not for the first time I might add). By repeatedly emphasizing the difference between the way Gregor thinks and feels—his internal, human existence—and the way others see him, Kafka forces us to feel what it is to be completely alienated by external circumstances from one’s essential humanity. In this way he not only comments on the fundamental dehumanization of all of twentieth-century existence, he foreshadows the terrors of such historical developments as the Holocaust, the World Wars, and the genocides that have plagued the world for the last century.

Expert #4:      Losers! You just can’t get the picture, can you? The guy’s family hates him, despite all he’s done for them, and they project their image of Gregor so strongly onto him that after a while he has no choice but to fulfill their expectations of him. It’s not that complicated a story, but you guys just can’t get that, can you? It’s the lack of love, understanding, and acceptance that turns him into a big bug.