© 2018 Mouse Book Club

The Hunger Artist

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Franz Kafka

The story of The Hunger Artist begins at the end of “The Hunger Artist.” This ending contains the punchline, the climax, the epiphany. When The Hunger Artist’s secret is revealed, the story becomes a parable. It is a parable about modernity, a modernity which aims to feed us with so much that distracts us from the true life. It is a parable of human nature, through which we learn what to want by imitating others’ desires. The Hunger Artist’s decision not to imitate, not to want what others want, is to step out of the human story, to prefer death to impurity. But to live in a community is to sacrifice, in however small a way, our sense of purity, for the sake of the other, of identification. The Hunger Artist is not interested; the feast of humanity repulses him.

 

We might be remiss, however, to ascribe to The Hunger Artist the self-righteousness of our age, rooted as it necessarily is in our comfortable distance from pain. Rather, we see in him a form of humility. He does not aim, necessarily, to become a spectacle. Only the mob, ensnared in its rivalrous desires, makes him into a freak. He does not wish that his desire be imitated; he wishes only to be left alone. But what would it mean, to announce in a small voice, that this world ultimately offers no nourishment? In our world, this is a stance of privilege. Only those with the luxury of refusal would undertake to renounce the world and so scorn the very program of creation.

 

Purity is impossible, unless you want to die. Today, we want purity and comfort - an almost impossible combination. To be comfortable means to compromise with the world, to get your hands dirty. What then does it mean to live here? To drink from the common trough of humanity? To slop from the dirty manger? And then, within that feast, what after all must be renounced in the name of a common good?

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Brian Chappell, Mouse Editor

October 2017