The Rear-View Mirror: Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis (1912)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect… ‘What has happened to me?” he thought. It was not a dream.”

When I read Kafka’s classic novella The Metamorphosis (written in 1912, first published in 1915) as a teenager, that first, audacious sentence grabbed me – but it’s the one that comes a little later that punched me in the gut. Kafka’s story about a man who finds himself turned into a beetle should be dreamlike, but the telling is deadpan, if at times a little droll, and it never once allows the reader to go for that easiest of interpretations: it’s a dream, it’s all metaphors, it’s one big symbol. Certainly there is symbolism there, but as we’re reading Kafka’s story, he doesn’t grant us that facile emergency exit of consigning it all to the realm of unreality. Kafka’s prose makes it seem, and feel, all too real.

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The Rear-View Mirror: Benny Hill (1924)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

1924 was a good year in culture. James Baldwin was born, author of the novel Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953), the collection of essays Notes of a Native Son and If Beale Street Could Talk, which Barry Jenkins adapted into a beautiful movie in 2018, and much, much more. So was Marcello Mastroianni, the archetype of the disaffected Italian playboy, and Hollywood icon Lauren Bacall. The composer Gabriel Fauré died (you’ve certainly heard the sublime “In Paradisum” from his Requiem), as did Franz Kafka – and indeed Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, better known as Lenin. Thomas Mann’s novel Der Zauberberg (The Magic Mountain) was published, as well as E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India.

In other words, there would be a lot to write about with respect to 1924, so honestly, there is little excuse for… this.

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