Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Reading Period 14: December 15 - January 11: Romania / Hungary / Austria

Class meeting: January 11
Due date: January 10, 7pm

Long Read: Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka, Part 1

Short Read: "A Hunger Artist" by Franz Kafka. As you read this translation, it will make more sense if you know that the hunger artist's "impresario" is sort of like his handler or owner. The master of ceremonies of his show.

Poem: "I Love My Life's Dark Hours" by Rainer Maria Rilke


I love my life's dark hours
In which my senses quicken and grow deep,
While, as from faint incense of faded flowers
Or letters old, I magically steep
Myself in days gone by: again I give
Myself unto the past:—again I live.

Out of my dark hours wisdom dawns apace,
Infinite Life unrolls its boundless space ...

Then I am shaken as a sweeping storm
Shakes a ripe tree that grows above a grave
'Round whose cold clay the roots twine fast and warm—
And Youth's fair visions that glowed bright and brave,
Dreams that were closely cherished and for long,
Are lost once more in sadness and in song.

Creative Assignment:

If Gregor Samsa had only been able to communicate with his family, how different his story would have been! If you're like me, then as you were reading, you were pleading with Gregor just to nod his head, or spell out his name in bread crusts, or something! Just by eliminating this one form of connection, Kafka dooms his character completely. Rewrite the first section of Metamorphosis (at least 300 words) as you imagine it would be if Gregor could communicate with his sister. What conversation might they have? How might they manage to talk back and forth, given that Gregor can't form human words? How might the story go differently and how might the family approach the problem with this change in the way his "metamorphosis" functions?


Listen here, you young poet you. 
Read at least one of these "Letters to a Young Poet," written by Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke to a 19-year-old German boy about to go into the military. He questioned Rilke over whether his poems were any good and if he should keep writing. Especially the first letter has some very good advice about the writing life. For this assignment, write a poem in which you take into consideration some aspect of Rilke's direction to this young man. If you can do it, quietly, thoughtfully, I encourage you to "go into yourself and see how deep the place is from which your life flows." Then write about something that you "see and feel and love and lose." When you post your poem, let us know what advice you are responding to, or what advice you are reacting against. For example, Rilke cautions young writers not to write love poetry, but then wrote this:


When my soul touches yours a great chord sings!
How shall I tune it then to other things?
O! That some spot in darkness could be found
That does not vibrate whene'er your depths sound.
But everything that touches you and me
Welds us as played strings sound one melody.
Where is the instrument whence the sounds flow?
And whose the master-hand that holds the bow?
O! Sweet song—

Writing Assignment:

Alienation means feeling like you don't belong, either to society or even to yourself. Alienation is a major theme of both Metamorphosis and "The Hunger Artist." In a 300 word essay, tell how Gregor Samsa and the hunger artist are both alienated from society. Think about their differences in circumstances and their similarities. Don't just say "Samsa is alienated because he's been turned into a bug." That's obvious, but doesn't really tell what the alienation means. Explain the things he can't do now, the rituals and social structures he can't participate in, the connections that are severed because of his situation. Then talk about the hunger artist and how he's isolated, unable to engage with society. By whose choice is each man alienated? Could either man willingly end his alienation? What do you think Kafka is trying to tell us about alienation in a post-industrial world?


Rilke and Kafka both lived in Prague in the late 19th century, when Prague was the capital of Bohemia and part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Kingdom of Bohemia no longer exists, nor does the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Have you ever even heard of these places? What happened to them? Do some research and write a 300 word essay on the history of the last 150(ish) years of Prague. Make sure you document (just link to) the sources you used to write your essay. Illustrate it with a photo of any building in Prague that's relevant to Rilke or Kafka, if you can find one. This link may help.


1. What is Gregor Samsa's job?
2. What does that job require him to do on a usual day?
3. Who lives in the apartment (or flat) with Gregor?
4. Who comes to visit on the morning of his transformation, and why?
5. How do we know that Gregor's words are not understood by the people outside the door?
6. What does the Chief Clerk say the boss thinks about Gregor?
7. How does Gregor manage to get the door unlocked and open?
8. According to Gregor, what is hard about being a traveling salesman? List at least two things.
9. What is the Chief Clerk's reaction to Gregor's appeal to him?
10. What was Gregor's father's solution to the problem created by Gregor's presence?

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