Suffering in Regards to Success

Suffering is a human condition that cannot be ignored. Franz Kafka’s “The Hunger Artist” is about a man who starves himself for the entertainment of others and makes money for it. Borges’ “The Circular Ruins” is about a man who endures many days of only sleep to create his masterpiece: the perfect man. Susan Sontag’s On Photography is about photographers who put themselves in harm’s way to take the perfect photograph. In examining these three works, it becomes clear that Kafka, Borges and Sontag all illustrate the idea that there needs to be suffering in order to create the ideal of success for each character.
The characters in each of these pieces go through some sort of suffering: the hunger artist starves himself, the man in Borges’ story sleeps all the time to painstakingly create his son and the photographer puts himself or herself into dangerous situations. The core of success for the hunger artist is his fasting. He is suffering to gain that which he desires, which is admiration. The hunger artist sees his fasting as a measure of his own worth leading him to say every time, “[w]hy stop fasting at this particular moment, after forty days of it? … [W]hy stop not when he [is] in his best fasting form”(Kafka)? This story is slightly different from the other stories because the fasting is what gives the fasting artist the feeling of success but also at the same time he is suffering because of the fasting. The two are very closely intertwined in his mind. Like the hunger artist in Kafka’s story, the dreamer in Borges’s story “Under the pretext of pedagogical necessity, he drew out the hours of sleep more everyday.”(Borges); so he lost the wakeful hours that he could be doing other things with his life. He suffers through the painstaking hours of sleep spent creating his son, organ by organ and constantly trying to perfect it . He also suffers by losing the time that he spent creating his son. That sacrifice of time and effort can never be returned. The photographers also suffers in their own way because they cannot intervene with the natural order of things. “While real people are out there killing themselves or other real people, the photographer stays behind his or her camera”(Sontag). They have no recourse to help the people that are being photographed. Despite the fact that they can help the person in the photograph, it is a distinct choice between helping the person in the photograph and ruining the picture that they wanted to create in the first place; they are torn by that decision constantly.
As a result of the characters’ suffering, they create their own definition of success: the hunger artist is admired, the dreamer creates the perfect man, and the photographer is lauded for his efforts. The hunger artist wants to be admired so when he fasts “[t]he excitement mount[s]; everybody wanted to see him at least once a day; there were people who bought season tickets for the last few days”(Kafka). He created his own definition of success by gaining the admiration and fame that he wanted. The fasting that he suffered brought the admiration, but he was still not satisfied with his fasting and wanted to continue to fast despite clear evidence that it would not continue to bring him admiration. Similarly, the dreamer wants to create the perfect man in his head so that the god can bring him to life and when that was completed; “[h]is life’s goal had been accomplished; the man lived on now in a sort of ecstasy”(Borges). He created the thing that was most important to him, his son, and that was enough success for the dreamer. The son was created detail by detail then sent out into the world. This creates both a sense of success and a feeling of loss for the man who dreamed up his son because he succeeded in creating his son. Yet, at the same time,  the son had to be sent out to another temple., which gave him a sense of loss.. The photographer created his or her sense of success through “[p]utting [himself or herself] into a certain relation to the world that feels like knowledge — and, therefore, like power”(Sontag). Power is something that we as humans inherently crave so placing oneself in a position of power can be seen as success. In our society right now to have power is to be successful, and to be rich is to be successful. In the case of the photographer, knowledge is power so they have the knowledge of the photograph and the subject so they have power within the photograph and how it portrays the subject. Each character has a different definition of success for themselves. This  is true of all people.
The characters in the writing each gain something from their period of suffering, the hunger artist gains fame, the dreamer gains a perfect son and the photographer gains power. Every success story also has a story of suffering to begin the story of success.

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