"Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis becomes Google doodle"
Anniversary of author's birth honoured with image from classic short story
July 3rd, 2013
Did you feel OK when you woke up this morning? Spare a thought for Gregor Samsa, that most unlucky of literary heroes. "When Gregor Samsa woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, he found himself changed … "
Thus Franz Kafka opens one of the most resonant stories of 20th-century literature, about an ordinary man who wakes up one morning to find himself transformed into an bug of indeterminate kind – an insect, a beetle, a cockroach – the original German "ungeheueren Ungeziefer" leaves his exact species ambiguous. (There has been much debate about this point over the years).
This nightmarish image of the human-insect lodged in our imaginations is now a Google doodle marking the 130th anniversary of Kafka's birth on July 3 1883 - but so far, in a machination worthy of the master himself, in almost all of the world except for the UK.
Why should this be? Is it that the powers-that-be at the global search engine don't feel he has universal appeal, or that he's too weird and European for British readers? That conclusion would seem odd, as Kafka was a master at finding universal metaphors that have grown ever more powerful with time.
And why, anyway, has Google chosen Metamorphosis rather than The Castle or The Trial to represent the master? John Banville would probably have opted for the "great and terrible novel of guilt, judgment and retribution", The Trial, while Guardian blogger William Burrows is not the only reader to believe that The Castle is Kafka at his most beautiful and most emotional. "The Trial and Metamorphosis are full of their own depth, and their own complicated sadness, but they don't strike the heart with the same poignancy as Kafka's final, unfathomable novel," he wrote.
Perhaps it's the beauty of beetles that was the draw, or maybe it's because the transformation of poor Gregor Samsa illustrates more clearly than any other of Kafka's images John Banville's view that "Kafka's work is a perfect illustration of Freud's conception of the uncanny as the familiar re-presented to us in unfamiliar guise".
Either way, Google's nod to the great Czech mythmaker seems appropriate in the creepy-crawly world of modern surveillance, where whistle-blowers Edward Snowden and Julian Assange are trapped in a no-way-out nightmare reminiscent of The Trial.
And what would Kafka, the great miserabilist, have made of his sudden elevation? Judging by one diary entry for 1910, not much. "Today," he wrote, "I do not even dare to reproach myself. Shouted into this empty day, it would have a disgusting echo."
Metamorphosis [audio presentation]...
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