“A Hunger Artist” by Franz Kafka

“A Hunger Artist” was originally published into the magazine Die Neue Rundschau in 1922 and was bound into the 1924 collection Ein Hungerkünstler (as in the story’s original German name) shortly after the author’s death.  The title of the story refers to a person who starves himself in a cage for the amusement of crowds, how his popularity mysteriously drops, and how no one really cared for his act in the first place.

This was my first Kafka and I now love the man.  I don’t like to use that word much but it is now exceedingly appropriate.  I wish I could just give him a hug and tell him about the grace of God.

His story was terrifically sad, darkly humorous, and profoundly interesting.  This hunger artist keeps himself in a cage and the crowds are astounded but only on a surface level.  It’s been calculated in his trade that fasts should never exceed 40 days because public interest drops off sharply after that point.  This man would like to move beyond the 40 days, and certainly could, but is limited by this invisible/highly real/economic/sociological brick wall.

I am not a literary critic even though I sometimes like to sit like one.  I’ll raise one finger in a Billy Graham way and proclaim something like, “This story mightily stirred me and it’s all about cherry turnovers!”  However I shouldn’t.  When it is, it is.  And it is!  Or is it?

In the case of “A Hunger Artist” I have to just lay back and ask,  “What really went on?” This hunger artist is longing to find success in his life’s purpose and never finds it.  He is absolutely without joy and the crowds shape his life into a thing of horror.

I don’t want to make this (or any Martian Sunrise review) about one thing, but I will say that when I hear the voices of men there is always the sinking suspicion that God is speaking through them and they are horribly unaware.  You’ll see this of Caiaphas  most notably in John 11:45-52

45  Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, 46 but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47 So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. 48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” 49 But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. 50 Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” 51 He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, 52 and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. 53 So from that day on they made plans to put him to death.

And so this man that is far from God is readily used by Him.  It is, in fact, better that Jesus die instead of the whole of the people.  And Caiaphas did not say this of his own accord but spoke through the mysterious working of prophecy.

Do not take me to say that because one writes a book (or much less speaks) that God is prophesying through him.  But don’t let me go so far as to say that God does not use each and every one of that man’s words for His plan of glory.  Kafka is severely beaten by the Fall as every person is before coming to Jesus.  This is your Lamentations and Hosea.  This is your Isaiah 47:11.  If I can read fiction (which I already like to do), to Him be the glory.  Of course there are healthy guidelines to that principle, but to God and God alone be the glory.

Yes I would like to put it into the Martian Sunrise Canon.  That makes two entries.

If you would like to read “A Hunger Artist” like I did, you can find it in The Story and Its Writer.  And if you dig, you may even be able to legally find a free English version.

And by the way, happy 50th post to all you wonderful friends.

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2 Responses to ““A Hunger Artist” by Franz Kafka”

  1. A rare reader who loves Kafka on first sampling, Alex. This blog is growing ever-more cultured by the post.

    And happy 50th! To 50 more!

    • I really did like it a lot. And since I want it to soak in, I’ll have to come back to this story (and his other works) at a later date. For now, variety and new writers are key.

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