- New introductions commissioned from todays top writers and scholars
- Biographies of the authors
- Chronologies of contemporary historical, biographical, and cultural events
- Footnotes and endnotes
- Selective discussions of imitations, parodies, poems, books, plays, paintings, operas, statuary, and films inspired by the work
- Comments by other famous authors
- Study questions to challenge the readers viewpoints and expectations
- Bibliographies for further reading
- Indices & Glossaries, when appropriate
All editions are beautifully designed and are printed to superior specifications; some include illustrations of historical interest. Barnes & Noble Classics pulls together a constellation of influencesbiographical, historical, and literaryto enrich each readers understanding of these enduring works.
Virtually unknown during his lifetime, Franz Kafka is now one of the world’s most widely read and discussed authors. His nightmarish novels and short stories have come to symbolize modern man’s anxiety and alienation in a bizarre, hostile, and dehumanized world. This vision is most fully realized in Kafka’s masterpiece, “The Metamorphosis,” a story that is both harrowing and amusing, and a landmark of modern literature.
Bringing together some of Kafka’s finest work, this collection demonstrates the richness and variety of the author’s artistry. “The Judgment,” which Kafka considered to be his decisive breakthrough, and “The Stoker,” which became the first chapter of his novel Amerika, are here included. These two, along with “The Metamorphosis,” form a suite of stories Kafka referred to as “The Sons,” and they collectively present a devastating portrait of the modern family.
Also included are “In the Penal Colony,” a story of a torture machine and its operators and victims, and “A Hunger Artist,” about the absurdity of an artist trying to communicate with a misunderstanding public. Kafka’s lucid, succinct writing chronicles the labyrinthine complexities, the futility-laden horror, and the stifling oppressiveness that permeate his vision of modern life.
Jason Baker is a writer of short stories living in Brooklyn, New York.
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About the Author
Date of Birth:July 3, 1883
Date of Death:June 3, 1924
Place of Birth:Prague, Austria-Hungary
Place of Death:Vienna, Austria
Education:German elementary and secondary schools. Graduated from German Charles-Ferdinand University of Prague.
Read an Excerpt
From Jason Bakers Introduction to The Metamorphosis and Other Stories
Franz Kafkas fiction doesnt make sense. Kafka was no doubt aware of the resulting awkwardness, and perhaps he hoped to hide from future readers when he asked his confidant Max Brod to destroy all his unpublished manuscripts upon his death. Kafkas writing is on the one hand specific and realistic, and on the other incomprehensible. His literary puzzles resemble the unreal landscapes and structures of M. C. Eschers drawings and lithographs. Actually, Eschers imagery offers a useful way to visualize Kafkas literature. As if leading the reader up and down endless staircases of logic, Kafka focuses on multiple dualities at once, all of which crisscross in three dimensions. Rather than a linear argument, Kafka writes a spiral one, which often makes readers dizzy, if not seasick. Interestingly, metamorphosis was one of Eschers favorite subjects, and three of his most famous woodcuts share this title with Kafkas novella. Metamorphosis, Anthony Thorlby argues, is the theme implicit in all Kafkas prose ("Kafkas Narrative: A Matter of Form"; see "For Further Reading"). Kafkas content is somehow incongruous with his form, and as a result, the language must either undergo a metamorphosis itself to accommodate his pen, or perish-and sometimes it does both. At its best, Kafkas prose is re-formed into a new mode of signification; at its worst, his words are deformed, depleted, meaningless. In striving to fit his impossible situations into the feeble vehicle of language, Kafka knowingly embarks on a failed enterprise. He attempts to express the inexpressible.
The Metamorphosis of his writing, Kafkas real accomplishment, takes readers to a place at once familiar and unfamiliar. Intrigued by this immediacy, critics have celebrated Kafka for his "universality." This flattery overreaches perhaps, but the term "universal" was not picked by accident. Kafkas fiction examines a universe largely unexplored in the literature preceding him, one full of implications that venture into the remote regions of human psychology. Its a universe with different rules than those governing our reality. And theres no map.
But Kafkas universe nonetheless resonates deeply with who we are and who weve become. Early readers who hailed Kafkas universality had never seen their lives in books, and they had only dimly recognized the "Kafkaesque" as an unnamed thing. Kafka was among the first to describe bourgeois labor and its degrading impact on the soul. In his fable "Poseidon," Kafka even portrays the god of the sea as consumed with tedious, never-ending paperwork. Kafka brings to mind a vocabulary of images-an endless trail of meaningless forms to be filled out, a death apparatus to rival Poes pendulum, a man wearing a bowler hat, a gigantic insect. Thanks to interpretations like Orson Welless film version of The Trial, Kafkas universe has expanded to include rows of office desks, oppressive light, and snapping typewriters. Kafka understood the trajectory of bureaucracy, and his literature predicts the nightmarish corporate world we live in today.
Kafkas fiction, though concrete in its particulars, suggests an array of interpretive possibilities. "The Metamorphosis" alone has inspired Catholics to argue a case of transubstantiation, Freudians to extrapolate Gregors castration by his father, and Marxists to infer the alienation of man in modern society. Kafkas descriptions vacillate between realism and allegory-a narrative style best described as parabolic. But unlike a traditional parable with an easy moral, Kafkas parables resist successful comprehension.
This volume has as its parentheses Kafkas two best-known parables, "A Message from the Emperor" and "Before the Law." They both illustrate Kafkas near-nauseating ability to describe infinite regress. "A Message from the Emperor" checks any firm interpretation with its simple but devastating phrase "or so they say" in the opening line, which calls into question the tales validity, as if the account is rumored. Additionally, the "you," the second person, has dreamed the whole thing up. This second piece of information not only contradicts the first, it turns the parable on its head-why would someone, especially "you," which seems to refer to the reader, dream up something so unnecessarily complicated, especially when it concerns something as momentous as an emperors message? This "you" can stand for Kafka himself-a writer who saw an infinite corkscrew of obstacles spiraling before him, and yet felt compelled to record his own deliberate steps. "Before the Law" also features an Inferno-like layering and again pits an unsophisticated character against an implacable system, unknowable in its complexity. Though the man from the country never recognizes it, his defeat by the Law, capital L, is a foregone conclusion. The Laws only purpose is to shut out the man and, in so doing, to destroy him.
Kafkas parables are epitomes of his larger works ("Before the Law," though published first on its own, is actually part of The Trial). Their shortness only concentrates the readers perplexity. Robert Wenniger claims that Kafkas father engendered in Kafka a disparity between language and meaning. In fact, silence was Kafkas typical response to his father. By writing incomprehensible texts, Wenniger argues, Kafka assumes the role of the father, an authorial position over the reader (Wenniger, "Sounding Out the Silence of Gregor Samsa: Kafkas Rhetoric of Dyscommunication"). This leaves the reader confused and vainly searching for meaning. Of course, Kafka shares this privilege with many of the worlds great writers, whose work is often a challenge to interpret. In "On Parables" Kafka writes, "Parables really set out to say merely that the incomprehensible is incomprehensible, and we know that already" (The Complete Stories, 1971, p. 457).
In Kafkas formulation, the parable is used by the sage to gesture toward something larger than, or invisible to, himself. The need to make this gesture is innate. But the parable dissolves the moment we understand it; the gesture would not be beyond language if it could be defined. We lose in parable the moment we pin things down to an accessible meaning. Realizing it is impossible to discuss or interpret Kafka without losing in parable is the first and perhaps only step we can take.
Kafkas parables not only fall apart once we interpret them, they are impossible to put into practice. If anything, his parables guarantee the failure not only of his characters, but of readers wishing to abstract any lessons applicable to their own lives. Failure, it seems, is Kafkas true subject. To get at this conundrum, we must explore discretely the dichotomies Kafka himself conflates-dreams versus reality, idleness versus work, vermin versus human, child versus adult. For Kafka, each of these antagonistic pairs represents an authorial relationship. It is possible to lump the lowly-dreams, idleness, vermin, child-on one side, and the authority figures-reality, work, human, adult-on the other. But ultimately this equation is too simple, for Kafka himself fails to pick a side. He calls both sides into question and finds them equally detestable. Unbraiding Kafkas authorial relationships is the only way to find out why.
Dreams-and, perhaps more importantly, nightmares-held a singular influence over Kafka and his writing. Kafkas nightmares are so natural, so convincing, that they creep into the readers mind almost subliminally. He metamorphoses reality into a new, insidiously darker one, often within a single sentence. In "The Judgment," Georgs father throws at him an old, unfamiliar newspaper, an actual object that evidences a deception, staggering in its elaborateness-Georgs father has been feigning his infirmity, only pretending to read his newspapers, for years! In "The Metamorphosis," Kafka speeds time ticklessly: "It was half past six and the hands were steadily advancing, actually past the half hour and already closer to three quarters past." Later, the head clerk arrives at the Samsa flat to investigate Gregors tardiness, at the moment of his tardiness. Even if Gregors absence from work was judged grave enough to send the head clerk himself, the event remains absurd. Somehow, the head clerk would have had to foresee Gregors lateness and taken an early train to show up at the flat just minutes after Gregor should have been at his office desk.
In "A Country Doctor," the sudden, ominous appearance of the groom is punctuated by his mysterious knowledge of the maids name and his tacit intent to ravish her. Following this, the doctor is whisked away in his newly harnessed trap, as if beyond his control, completely unable to assist his maid, who locks herself in the house: "I hear my front door splinter and burst as the groom attacks it, and then my eyes and ears are swamped with a blinding rush of the senses. But even this lasts only a moment, for, as if my patients courtyard opens just outside my gate, I am already there." The ten-mile distance between the doctors village and his patients house, the reality that precipitated the need for strong horses in the first place, evaporates.
Nightmare-turned-reality is the power of "The Metamorphosis." Gregor Samsa is a different animal, a unique figure even among canonical supernatural tales. Without the permanence of Gregors monstrous form, we would be left with something like the absurd comedy of Gogols "The Nose," in which Kovalyovs nose leaves his face to prance about the town disguised as a state councillor but in the end returns to its proper place unchanged. Without Gregors inimitable subjectivity, we would be left essentially with the horror of Oscar Wildes The Picture of Dorian Gray, in which the painting of Dorian becomes monstrous while Dorian himself remains ageless, until the fey moment when the two destroy each other, leaving only a moral behind.
Instead, we arrive at a story that cannot claim the supernatural as one of its elements. The mystery of "The Metamorphosis" emerges in one of the most famous, and most variously translated, lines in Western literature-its first: "As Gregor Samsa awoke from unsettling dreams one morning, he found himself transformed in his bed into a monstrous vermin." This is marvelously funny. Instead of waking up from a nightmare, Gregor wakes up into one. Reality, the only balm for bad dreams, is significantly less reassuring when you wake up hideously disfigured. But in Kafkas fiction, the rational and the irrational intertwine menacingly. Often these irrational elements spring from the minds of his characters and manifest themselves physically. Ideas are metamorphosed into reality, with little effort on the characters parts. Here Gregors idea, originating in his "unsettling dreams," has followed him into the real world. The echo and confirmation of this reality comes in the second paragraph: "It was no dream." Unlike Lewis Carrolls Alice, who, after transforming several times, wakes up, Gregors most bizarre adventure is real, and has only just begun.