“A Fasting-Artist” by Franz Kafka

Review Essay

When discussing Franz Kafka’s works, it is important to admit that the meaning of his short-stories and novels is often underestimated. The vast majority of Franz Kafka’s works possess a very deep meaning. In other words, Franz Kafka’s works are of particular importance in terms of meaning either implicit or manifesting itself explicitly. “A Fasting-Artist” tells a story of a man who entertains the audience by means of his unique abilities. Namely, the man in the short-story is capable of fasting/going without food for an indefinite period of time. “A Fasting-Artist” by Franz Kafka is a short-story of special magnificence in terms of the messages conveyed in it, and thus, the meaning of the work itself. But most importantly, the short-story is of immense artistic value within the framework of Modernist prose.

A premise that Franz Kafka’s “A Fasting-Artist” is of special magnificence in terms of its meaning and the messages being conveyed in it, can be justified by the following arguments. Above all else, circumstantially, in his short-story “A Fasting-Artist”, Franz Kafka is making a reference to the principle of “art for art’s sake”. “Art for art’s sake” is a slogan of the Modernist artists. The principle has represented the conception of art and artist’s mission on part of the artists themselves. In some ways, the principle had reflected the attitude towards art on part of the audience. Chronologically, Modernism encompasses the early twentieth century and, partly, the Inter-War Period. Evidently, art in that particular period was influenced by significant historical events. All in all, “A Fasting-Artist” has testified the changes that happened to public/global consciousness.

As far as the author’s message in “A Fasting-Artist” is concerned, it is important to admit the following. Franz Kafka states that: “No one who does not feel it can be made to grasp what it means” (218). Taking the history and theory of literature into account, the foregoing statement can be regarded as a reference to the issue of ambiguity and controversial qualities of Modernist art in general. In other words, circumstantially, Franz Kafka addresses the problem of comprehending Modernist art and Modernist literature, in particular. In this respect, the premise that Modernist art is difficult to comprehend is being justified. Therefore, Franz Kafka points that out and lays relatively greater emphasis on sentiment and capability of feeling, rather than reason and capability of rationalizing. In other words, Franz Kafka, as a writer and thinker, argues that comprehension/ cognition and sensual perception are inseparably connected. Based on Franz Kafka’s short-story, one can assume that thinking and feeling are intertwined and, as a whole, they contribute to fuller understanding of concepts, objects, entities, and their essence and purpose alike.

One of the lines in the short-story under consideration reads: “… no one, not even the fasting-artist himself, knew how great his achievement was, and his heart grew heavy” (Kafka 218). Taking the foregoing statement into account, one can with utter surety assume that Franz Kafka makes an important observation. The observation, in its turn, is the following; the heart of an artist above all else desires appreciation and recognition/acknowledgement. At the same time, based on the aforementioned premise, one can make a conclusion that artist’s mission, according to Kafka, consists in self-expression, demonstration of talent, and sharing a unique vision of the world with the audience. In other words, producing a work of art, according to Franz Kafka, is a challenging work mentally and, at the same time, it is the pure expression of talent.

Franz Kafka’s message implies that truthfulness and credibility are the intrinsic qualities of a man of art. Developing this statement further, the author points out that: “… it was not the fasting-artist who was cheating, he was working honestly, but the world was cheating him of his reward” (Kafka 218). The statement made by Franz Kafka in this particular case addresses the issue of genuine art and creativity, in a sense that within the statement itself the meaning and essence of art are contemplated. At the same time, the statement proves the assumption that the artists aspire to recognition.

As far as the plot of the short-story under analysis is concerned, it is important to admit the following. Evidently, there is a great deal of similarity between Franz Kafka’s “A Fasting-Artist” and “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” by Gabriel García Márquez. Franz Kafka’s short-story tells the story of a man whose art is fasting. In other words, the protagonist in Franz Kafka’s story is capable of going without food for an indefinite period of time. Apparently, the protagonist’s decision in this particular case is free: his choice to be enslaved and shown to other people is made voluntary. With regard to this, few observations should be made. The protagonist of the work of art under consideration is anonymous, thus, he is referred to as simply – “artist”. The short-story itself can be considered as a sample of third-person omniscient narration. However, neither the protagonist’s background nor any spatiotemporal markers are provided. The protagonist in the short-story by Gabriel García Márquez is anonymous. The protagonist takes the shape of an old man with the wings, which is a reference to angels. Thus, the protagonist can be considered as a supernatural being. The angel is enslaved by people. Apparently, he prefers to be free. Both, the angel and the fasting-artist are kept in cage. Based on the comparative analysis of two works, one can make the conclusions as follows. “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” by Gabriel García Márquez is allusive in a sense that it resembles “A Fasting-Artist” by Franz Kafka to a certain extent. An artist is ‘a supernatural being’ in a sense that talent, which is the peculiar feature of the latter, is an unprecedented quality. An artist is a messiah and artist’s mission is to help the rest of society evolve. But, most importantly, the function of an artist as a messiah manifests itself through catharsis – purification on the part of the rest of society. Franz Kafka’s “A Fasting-Artist” implies that mankind is no longer capable of purging, and thus, moral evolvement and progress in general.

When the art of fasting is no longer au courant, i.e. stops being popular, the artist makes an apology for being vainglorious. The moment when the artist makes his apology, the most loyal of the artist’s devotees do not understand him. The episode implies that the art of fasting was misinterpreted by the fictional model of society, represented in the short-story, pretty much as art and culture are misinterpreted in the real world. By and large, Franz Kafka argues that the issues of understanding art and the purpose of artist are in a need of reconsideration. But most importantly, circumstantially, the author makes a statement that art is meaningless without people capable of feeling and understanding it. Art and the artists in Franz Kafka’s age and later on are abundantly self-sufficient. In this respect, it should be noted that Franz Kafka’s “A Fasting-Artist” can be viewed as a premonition apprehending all the negative consequences of the “art for art’s sake” philosophy. Apart from dethroning the latter, Franz Kafka criticizes the culture of consumption and consumerist attitudes towards art.

Taking all the aforementioned facts into consideration, it is possible to make the conclusions as follows. “A Fasting-Artist”, the short-story by Franz Kafka, contains the elements representing the work’s both symbolic and practical meaning. The short-story’s meaning is symbolic in the sense that there is not a small amount of implicit meanings in it. On the other hand, the piece abounds with metaphors: its imagery is vivid, yet allegoric. The practical meaning of the short-story under analysis manifests itself through a great number of spheres of application for the principles claimed in the short-story itself. But most importantly, it is possible to assume Franz Kafka life’s work has influenced the further development of literature. In case of the short-story “A Fasting-Artist” in particular, this work may have presumably inspired “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings”, a famous short-story by Gabriel García Márquez. Finally, Franz Kafka can be considered a prophet for “A Fasting-Artist” proves that the writer had foreseen how art, aesthetics, and philosophy would be developing. The reality created by Franz Kafka in his short-story resonates with the current state of things, that is to say, the conception of the essence of art and the purpose of artist on part of the moderns. But above all else, the short-story reflected the conception of the essence of art and the purpose of artist in the author’s own age. Taking the short-story’s plot and the messages being conveyed in it into account, it is possible to assume that the piece itself can be counted among the first portents of Post-Modernism. However, “A Fasting-Artist” by Franz Kafka is the pure expression of Modernist worldview.

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