Skip to main content

A Book Club Divided: How Funny Is Franz Kafka?

Yesterday evening my book club discussed Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis, in which a man wakes up one morning and finds he has turned into some kind of vermin. Opinions on the 50 page story were sharply divided. My Austrian friend and I talked about how we cracked up reading; our American friends shared their feelings of depression and disgust.

Is it a coincidence that the difference in perception runs along lines of nationality or is it cultural? Put differently: do you have to be Austrian/Central European to feel comfortable with Kafka's humor?

Comments

Reese said…
Hi Christina,

Interesting question, and something I was thinking about recently.

I made the same observation with my own fictional work after being read by American and UK readers. I found the general American reader takes a literal approach to each story, but the general UK reader takes a skeptical approach. Since I tend to write satires and farces, I found a more understanding and appreciative audience in the UK, where I now submit all of my work.

Thanks,

Mark
Thanks, Mark.

I think you are right on with the American reader's literal approach. Kafka's humor is not in your face, but more between the lines. In Metamorphosis we are expected to look beyond the facade of the apparently well functioning family, to see it as a farce.

Where can we read your fiction?
debi said…
Ok, here's a comment from an American voice (though I do think maybe I'm not the norm).

I read the first paragraph of "Metamorphosis" sitting in the car on a road trip from Dallas to Austin. I got the giggles picturing bed-quilt ready to slide off and legs flailing about. A fun read with undercurrents of the transformation of a lazy, feel-sorry-for-themselves family, dependent on their do-good son to actually being able to care for themselves at the cost of the son's life. But all told with the aura of the absurd.

My boyfriend asked what I was giggling at. When I told him, he said when he had read it, it had a repugnant aura to him. My son's girlfriend agreed. They both looked at me like I might have loosened a screw somewhere.

Oh well, I've never been told that I was normal. I actually like most crawly bugs especially beetles. Dung-beetles of the rolling persuasion are fun to watch. Years ago when my kids were little, we would play with the fun critters, watching them push their wares.

debi
Reese said…
Hi Christina,

I submit my stories to ShortbreadStories.com located in Dundee, Scotland. It's a fun site, since they produce the best short stories into audio format, so you can download them to your iPod.

I'm happy you brought up an important piece like "Metamorphosis". Unfortunately, the novella and short story form seem to be disappearing (outside of writing classes and groups). It's becoming a world of tweets...

Mark
Lorraine Seal said…
Hi Christina,

I agree there's a cultural difference in one's appreciate of humour and sensibilities. Obviously I don't get the subtleties of Austrian humour because I don't speak enough German. But I do see the differences between the American and Irish perception of humour.

Lorraine
Debi,
Whether you are the norm or not - I am glad you had fun reading Kafka. (Writing this makes me wonder: can there be a norm in a country of 310 million?)

Mark,
I love short stories. Alice Munro's books got me addicted to the form. Andre Dubus and Kazuo Ishiguro are two other favorites of mine. I took a peek at shortbread.com but haven't taken the time to create a login yet. Thanks for sharing the page.

Lorraine,
Humor is always the last thing I get when I learn a foreign language. It took me two years to learn Czech to the point where I was comfortable communicating but even then I felt that lightyears separated me from understanding the humorous. I would love to hear more about the differences between the Irish and the American humor.

Popular posts from this blog

Back to Basics: Dry Summers, Figs, and a Chunk of Cheese

What do we know about simplicity? Figs from our tree. Figs. The taste of summer, the taste of home; my immigrant home. Our backyard tree is heavy with fruit. In the mornings I go out to pick what is ripe; figs for breakfast, a treat straight from the tree; flesh and seeds, refreshing and sweet, grainy resistance and softness at the same time. Figs, the color of their skin, purple with blotches of green or white stripes where they have cracked. The reds and browns inside bring up memories: a summer spent in Normandy, France, with my parents, my brother, and my maternal grandmother. Life was about food in its basic, original form, about mussels and figs and cheese; it was about the ocean and its tides, gigantic but predictable, and about history. We visited Bayeux to see  the tapestry which tells the story of William the Conqueror and the Battle of Hastings;  we spent a day or a half at  Arromanches,  saw a documentary on D-Day and the landing of the allied forces on the b

Another Word for Fast Food? Trzesniewski (Pile On 1)

The other day I passed by a new Subway sandwich place which had opened a few blocks from our house. As I was reflecting its green and yellow sign images of foot long chunks of white bread came to mind, mayo smeared on one half, mustard on the other; ham, provolone, pickles, jalapenos, onions, peppers, olives, tomatoes in between and a bag of chips for sides... People in America like to pile on. I also thought of my favorite fast food place in Vienna, which goes by the unspeakable name of Trzesniewski. The original Trzesniewski opened in the first district more than one hundred years ago. Its oldest location is tucked into a narrow street off of Graben. Other outlets are scattered around town. Trzesniewski sells open face sandwiches, slivers of rye bread (white or wheat? no, you do not get to choose!), topped with spreads made from either egg or tomatoes or cucumber, pickle, salmon, herring...  The more elaborate creations come with two or three spreads, applied next to each other

Ban on Plastic Bags Bugs L.A. County

Paper or plastic? Bag from South Africa. My friend recently came back from a trip to South Africa and brought me a reusable grocery bag. It is from Woolworths, one of the largest retail chains in South Africa; it is made by a community project and serves as a symbol of the company's commitment to sustainability and social development. I will think of this whenever I use my new bag. Thank you, dear friend! The Woolworths bag is not my first reusable bag. I carry two baggies which fold up into packs smaller than a deck of cards in my purse and a bunch of bigger ones in the trunk of my car. To me this feels like an easy way of making a difference environmentally. Others seem to have a harder time. When the county of Los Angeles recently introduced a ban on plastic bags for its unincorporated areas the new ordinance was met with resistance. Shops bemoan that paper is more expensive than plastic. They charge customers ten cents for every paper bag. Shoppers complain about the t