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Kafka and Existentialism You should be taking notes…

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1 Kafka and Existentialism You should be taking notes…

2 Biography Franz Kafka – born in 1883 to a middle-class Jewish family in Prague (now the Czech Republic) Eldest of six children; witnessed the death of two younger brothers Strained relationship with parents. Father was domineering and cold. Mother was non- committal.

3 Biography Despite his strained relationship with his parents, Kafka was emotionally dependent on them all his life. Developed an inferiority complex partly due to his relationship with his father. Suffered from depression and anxiety. Struggled with feelings of isolation – was a minority (Jewish), frail and sensitive

4 Biography Studied law, became an insurance salesman in order to support his family Felt his job was meaningless, was frustrated at having to support his family Contracted tuberculosis in 1917, died in 1924 from starvation when he could no longer swallow.

5 Daddy Issues – Kafka’s Father Hermann Kafka was determined, domineering, selfish, and aggressive. Worked as a traveling salesman, but was able to rise out of this lowly position to start his own business. Like Gregor’s father, Kafka’s dad was manipulative and had violent tendencies

6 Mum’s the Word In the story, Gregor’s mother is a passive, delicate woman who faints when confronted with intense situations. Kafka’s mother was similar to this, looking at her son with sympathetic eyes, but never attempting to restrain her abusive husband

7 “Kafkaesque” The word has made its way into common usage and is now understood to mean anything having to do with alienation, absurdity, anxiety, or isolation– themes that characterize Kafka and his works.

8 Kafka and “Isms” Because Kafka’s work is so rich and ambiguous, it has been adopted by many different schools of thought: Expressionism, Existentialism, Surrealism, etc. While Kafka did not accept the label of existentialism, many scholars agree that The Metamorphosis is a seminal existential text.

9 Existentialism – Reactionary Roots Existentialism was, in part, a reaction to the more linear thinking of the Rationalists – the school of thought that dominated most of the 18 th and 19 th centuries. Many new thinkers came to see the world as, not a rational place, but an irrational, hostile place, where the greater part of one’s energy is geared for survival—physically and socially.

10 The Rise of Existentialism Existentialists began to explore the individual and his/her desire to make rational decisions despite living in an irrational world. In essence, the existentialists claimed that there was no underlying order or logic that would reveal the great truth of existence. Thus, they sought to define existence from the INSIDE out, focusing on the individual’s subjective experience.

11 What is Existentialism? Existentialism is defined by the slogan: EXISTENCE PRECEDES ESSENCE This means we have no predetermined nature or essence that controls who we are, what we do, or what we value. We are thrown into existence without a predetermined nature, and only later do we construct our essence through our actions.

12 Existence Precedes Essence

13 The Existential Condition The Existential condition is characterized by three main things: 1.) Facticity (throwness): We are not the source of our existence, but find ourselves thrown into a world we don't control and didn't choose. We find ourselves in a world that is indifferent to our concerns.

14 The Existential Condition 2.) Anxiety: We are burdened with the task of choosing our own nature and values (i.e. our essence).

15 The Existential Condition 3.) Despair: We are faced with the lack of any external source of value or meaning. We must despair of any hope of external value or meaning. These three things lead to… EXISTENTIAL ANGST

16 Free Choice Ironically, much of existential angst comes from our freedom to choose. Existentialists believe that free choice is the ultimate prize, but also the ultimate burden. Mastery and command of free will are existential ideals.

17 All is not Doom and Gloom The existential problem: How can (wo)man be happy in a world devoid of external significance and meaning? The existential solution: The loss of external value allows us to get value from within ourselves. These values are greater because they cannot be taken away by external forces.

18 All is not Doom and Gloom The existential problem: If we are free to choose our own values instead of taking them from external sources, can we do anything we want, no matter how evil or selfish? The existential solution: In order to act freely, we must not let our action be determined by any of our particular desires or interests. We must act as any free agent would act, hence we must act as we would like other people to act.

19 Existential Elements in The Metamorphosis 1.) Difficulties of Communication – a prime source of existential angst. 2.) The Irrational World – at any moment, everything could change. There are no givens or universal truths. There is no certainty.

20 Existential Elements in The Metamorphosis 3.) The Grotesque: Not necessarily physically. These are victims of social castigation; outsiders. 4.) The Look: Being conscious of being observed has a profound effect on the way we act and feel. Social judgment can play a large part in existential angst.

21 Why the Doom and Gloom Reputation? The reputation comes from a branch of existentialism called absurdism. "You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life." —Albert Camus

22 Absurdism Camus: Life is virtually meaningless, as it lacks purpose. Camus thus suggests two absurdist options: 1. live indifferently in a world in which one acknowledges this meaninglessness 2. resort to becoming a religious subscriber.

23 Absurdism Says the Absurdist: Happiness and meaning are unattainable, for happiness in many ways comes with knowing one’s purpose. The only logical option is to live indifferently.

24 Absurdism The Absurd: A senseless pursuit of meaning in a universe that lacks purpose and reason. It makes no sense to search for happiness or meaning, because this futile task hinders one’s ability to live life to its fullest.


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