Like literature, art is a bastion of culture. For culture to blossom, there needs to be constant communication between the different facets of culture, a constant stream of ideas that flow between artists and writers. Kafka partakes in this communication in his short story, “A Hunger Artist.” He outlines the life and death of an artist who starves himself as performance art because he cannot find food he enjoys eating. The hunger artist, on his deathbed, realizes that his art shouldn’t be admired. By creating an artist whose art is self-expressionist and who realizes that his work shouldn’t be esteemed, Kafka expresses his belief that art should have a justification, thereby criticizing the Modernist idea of “art for art’s sake.”
Kafka crafts his story as a parable about an artist to lay the foundation for his response to the Modernist movement. The hunger artist starves himself as a form of self-expression. Because he “couldn’t find the food [he] liked,” the hunger artist instead chooses to demonstrate his dislike of food by fasting. Kafka’s portrayal of the hunger artist is very similar to the Modernist art movement occurring concomitantly. The Modernist movement believed in the saying “art for art’s sake.” Also aptly named as Aestheticism, Modernism focused on the beauty of art instead of wanting it having a deeper meaning. The artists of this time period created beautiful art without necessarily imbuing socio-political issues into their works. Kafka uses the hunger artist to represent the “art for art’s sake” movement, and the hunger artist’s final words truly reveal Kafka’s opinion of the movement.
The short story’s finale conveys Kafka’s criticism of the Modernist belief. When the hunger artist loses popularity, he joins the circus where he fades into anonymity. The staff at the circus finds his work so forgettable and pointless that the circus staff think his cage was a foolishly unused cage. In the hunger artist’s last moments, he has an exchange with the circus overseer, telling him that he shouldn’t admire the hunger artist since he fasted because he “couldn’t find the food [he] liked.” The artist indicates that his art is not worthy of public attention because it was simply done for self-expression. There were neither deeper meanings nor socio-political critiques. There were no reasons for the public to appreciate his self-expressionistic art. After the hunger artist’s death, he is quickly replaced by a panther. In the hunger artist’s last moments, Kafka comments that artists whose works are created simply for art’s sake will suffer from anonymity because their art has no meaning. There is no reason for their art to remain in the world. Instead, it wastes space just like the circus staff thought there was a foolishly unused cage.
“A Hunger Artist” is Kafka’s criticism of the belief that art should be beautiful and about self-expression. He believes that art with no meaning is a waste of space, and that it is nothing to be admired.
The example of the fireman
In Sir Ken Robinson’s Ted Talk “Bring on the Learning Revolution,” Robinson makes the point that human communities need to be diverse. Several years ago, Robinson met a fireman during his book signing, who recounted a story Robinson found striking. The fireman had wanted to be a fireman since he was young but as he grew older, adults in his life, including a particular teacher, discouraged him from the career path, believing it to be a waste of his talents. Adults believed that there are better careers, careers that achieve more or have higher incomes. However, the fireman disregarded the adults and became a fireman. Years later, he saved the life of the teacher who had told him, in front of the entire class, that his wish to become a fireman was a waste of his potential.
With this example, Robinson reinforces that human communities need to be diverse and that by encouraging children to pursue a certain field, we are harming ourselves. Not everyone has to become a doctor or lawyer. Instead, human communities need firemen, construction workers, and teachers to support themselves. By stifling a child’s dream to become a professional in a “lesser” field, we are losing diversity and losing an opportunity for greatness.
The comparison of our educational model to a fast food model
In Sir Ken Robinson’s Ted Talk “Bring on the Learning Revolution,” Robinson states that our educational model is very similar to the fast food model. Everything is processed, and there is one ultimate end goal. The goal of the fast food model is not to nourish the human body but to reach maximum profits. In the current educational model, the process of learning is standardized and the goal of education is to attend college. Just like fast food is detrimental to the body, the educational model is draining students of their passion. Robinson argues that education needs to be tailored to each student. Not everyone needs to go to college because everyone’s talent and passions are different.
The example of his wife writing a novel
In Sir Ken Robinson’s Ted Talk “Bring on the Learning Revolution,” Robinson says he believes that passion drives humans. Robinson’s wife is a writer who isolates herself in her room for hours while she writes. Robinson says she has a passion for writing, which is why she is capable of sitting for hours on end writing. In our society, he believes that passion is the motivation to achieve more. It doesn’t matter if the interest is in writing or insects or investing, passion will push a person to work harder and reach a higher level in their field.
Like most, he started as a line, but then the lines started to multiply, crossing each other in a convoluted game of cat’s cradle. He blossomed into an elaborate image of circles and triangles and lines. With a swish and click, his limbs disappeared, and he became a human. A human man holding a banana, walking in the rain.
The artist leaned back against his chair, squinting at the grey scale image. It was missing a sparkle, a shine, a touch of magic. With another click and swish, the banana turned yellow, and the artist leaned back against his chair, satisfied with his creation. Who cares if the art world would criticize the nonsensical nature of his work? Who cares if some rabid fan of his work would stalk him down and ask why the banana was yellow when everything else was grey? After all, he created art for his fulfillment.
In Wideman’s “Stories,” the author expresses the idea that reality is subjective because it has multiple layers and can be influenced by perspectives. The fact that Wideman chooses to title his story using the plural form of ‘story’ demonstrates that there could be a plurality of reasons behind how and why the man is eating a banana and walking in the rain. What the speaker sees in front of him is just the surface reality, a reality that is constructed through sight. Sound, taste, smell, and feel can all create new realities. For example, the horrible smell of the durian fruit belies its sweet taste, conveying two distinct realities or impressions. Behind the surface is a plethora of possible reasons and explanations for the man’s behavior; this might be why Wideman decides not to end his questions with question marks. By doing so, the speaker states possible facts about the man, “where did he get the banana” and “does he enjoy bananas.” The facts that the speaker states are still posed as questions, allowing a number of possibilities, answers, and realities to exist.
What the speaker chooses to believe is a side of reality, a reality that he perceives from examining the man. The facts the speaker poses are open-ended and open to many different interpretations, leaving room for many different realities. In the end, the speaker believes that “all the stories [he] could make from this man… would be sad” but with “you,” it could be otherwise. The stories or realities that the speaker sees are shaped not only by his experiences but are also influenced by the perspective of others. Wideman shows that seeing something is one reality, and that reality is not necessarily objective since it can be affected by different perceptions and experiences.
Just as I was about to deliver the fatal blow to my arch-nemesis, she tempts me with a book, a 600 page book involving Norse princesses, medieval warriors, and regular teenagers with the ability to time-travel. I scream as my lack of self-control slowly devours me. My greatest love will be my greatest weakness. My enemy has defeated me with my love for reading! How can I possibly resist leaving this world for another? As my self-control slowly erodes, my nemesis cackles and tosses the book into a pool of hot lava. I fall to my knees as my nemesis delivers my fatal blow.
Inspired by Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind.