The Hunger Artist by Franz Kafka

When a friend lent me Kafka’s Collected Works some time ago I flipped through the pages like an acrobat. I read some stories, re-read a book, went back to the stories, read some excerpts… until I came to The Hunger Artist. When I started reading my whole body became rigid, I became immobilised and sat reading spellbound. After I had read the last sentence I knew I had to close the book since I was sure I wouldn’t come across anything as beautiful as that. Yet when this particular friend asked me what I liked so much about it I found it hard to give her a clear and definite answer. But just recently I took my Googling skills to practise, re-read it and glanced over some criticism and analyses of it and came to a startling conclusion. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it sooner but the hunger artist is obviously full of self-hatred due to the feeling of inadequacy, he’s alienated and dissatisfied with his life. And to a certain extent I can fully empathise with him, I even recognise myself. I’m not being overly emotional but simply overtly honest. I doubt that I’m one of the few who can recognise themselves in this starving artist. Don’t we all have a slight feeling of ‘never belonging’? Aren’t we all eternally alone?

My favourite quote is close to the end. It’s this that broke my heart and made me close the book:

“Because I have to fast, I can’t help it,” said the hunger artist. “What a fellow you are,” said the overseer, “and why can’t you help it?” “Because,” said the hunger artist, lifting his head a little and speaking, with his lips pursed, as if for a kiss, right into the overseer’s ear, so that no syllable might be lost, “because I couldn’t find the food I liked. If I had found it, believe me, I should have made no fuss and stuffed myself like you or anyone else.”

Just like the hunger artist I don’t want to certain aspects of my personality, I don’t like that I have the feeling to ostracise myself in every single thing. So discovering the hunger artist is vaguely like me is quite disconcerting. It’s funny how your (literary) preferences show who you are.

The feeling of recognisable fundamental solitude and the splendid structure and carefully chosen language makes this one of the best stories out there. Emotional affinity set aside even. It’s a short read, let me link to it again!