The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
It is the event of “tragedy” entwined within modernity that results in a literary event which is the Metamorphosis. Modernity endows man with new vocations which begin by gathering “clear and distinct” knowledge that aligns with the metaphysical demands of the mind and creates an “abundance” that somehow shifts the balance of power between what man thinks he can control and his new creation. Man is no longer the agriculturalist who ploughs the land with the toil and sweat of his brow but a salesman like Gregor. It is through the “act of selling” that goods/commodities realize their sovereignty over man. The salesman is merely the path through which commodities attain their telos through consumption which necessaries endless production. This man, Gregor, wakes up one day and finds himself truly alive, albeit as a gigantic bug.
The exclusion and the alienation of the dysfunctional creature results in a tremendous backlash first from his firm and next his family. It was Gregor’s “sacrifice” that enabled his family to live human lives but the relentless assault on him by the structures around led to this “transformation”. The transformation was merely physical but his psyche seems to be intact and this is the genius of Kafka. Most individuals who face life in modern societies “lose their minds” but Gregor only lost his external form. This reversal is the real tragedy because his “spirit is willing” to participate in the system but his biology is in full rebellion. Modernity’s contradictions according to Kafka is a rebellion against the very principles of biology.
This bold move against the biological conditions of life can be traced to Descartes’s Philosophy that treats human beings as “thinking things” first before they experience their bodies. Gregor is a “thinking thing” but his metamorphosis is a “return” of the body in modernity in the guise of a monstrous excess that can only be met by repression.
With the “disease” safely contained, the rest of Gregor’s family struggle to maintain their status in society. This shows that the power of the ideology of class is greater than blood in modernity. In the Indian society, caste played this role of being “thicker than blood” which ultimately results in honor killings. The nexus between “traditional” forms of domination and the class system would only mean a new hybrid of ideologies that will soon plague the globalized world. Kafka captures the dynamics of class and its effect on the repression of the monstrous dimension of the body. It is the body that is linked to the matrix of what Agamben refers to as “bare life” outside that of the Polis. This life is what ultimately binds man to other creatures which reveals our connection to bugs and other insects in a way that resists all forms of bio-politics.
This metamorphosis was truly a great transformation because it transformed social relationships or as the literary event indicates that hierarchical social relationships transform biology. This results in an emotion of pure “disgust” and a longing for a perverse form of redemption. Gregor is no longer a son or a brother but an “unnecessary” entity that must soon pass. The family looks to his death as a form of “transformation” in their social relationships because his physical metamorphosis enabled them to impress the world with their labor and thereby gain a new-form of subjectivity independent from Gregor. This makes us wonder, who the real parasite is in this narrative…