Franz Kafka's « the Metamorphosis » : A Case Study

By Silhol, Robert | PSYART, January 1, 2008 | Go to article overview

Franz Kafka's « the Metamorphosis » : A Case Study


Silhol, Robert, PSYART


After reviewing the central strategies of psychoanalytic literary criticism, this paper engages in a detailed textual analysis of the German language of Kafka's "Metamorphosis," showing how the language of the story reveals unconscious fantasies about the body and about family relationships based on identifications. The true depth of Kafka's vision emerges from the analysis.

keywords: Kafka, psychoanalysis, "Metamorphosis," literary criticism, Freud, identification

url: http://www.clas.ufl.edu/ipsa/journal/2008_silhol01.shtml

One cannot say, at least at first, why one does what one does, but it seems to me that what attracted me at the beginning in Kafka's story « The Metamorphosis » was its title, the idea of a transformation. Originally, then, my intention was to show how the structure of the metaphor which, as we know, is the structure of discourse, also corresponded to what happens when we imagine a story, exactly, by the way, as when we dream. Such was one aspect of my « response » and it is not at all impossible that what I called my original intention to deal with structure was only an excuse, a defence, in front of this tale of horror, something like a screen which would provide me with a reason to remain at a safe distance from what I was reading.

That there were other, more secret, reasons for my choice is possible, but this can only come to light as I proceed with my analysis-pun intended-of Kafka's tale of imagination. This is how psychoanalytical research into discourse always proceeds : from the desire of the analyst to a possible corroboration of his or her insights. Hypothesis and verification in fact, and this story of the transformation of a man into an insect (1) turned out to be so rich in symbolism-and even in what we can call « elementary symbolism » -that hypotheses were not too difficult to make. Thus did I feel I must delay my demonstration about structure and concentrate on contents instead. That this may have been a second line of defence is possible-the « clinical » study of signs being another way of detaching oneself from the original impression the text had had on me when first read-but it also constituted the necessary condition of a psychoanalytical study of the story.

At this point, clearly, a debate on what differentiates analysis from reading is in order. One of the tasks of the analyst-who knows, naturally, that reading, his first encounter with the text, precedes analysis-is to insist on this distinction, and this quite simply because the very function of discourse is to make us forget its hallucinatory nature. It follows that it cannot be said that the analytic enterprise is oblivious of the literary dimension of Kafka's writing precisely because reading and analysis do not have the same object ; whereas literature cannot « function » without a « suspension of disbelief,» the aim of psychoanalysis is to look into, or even beyond, the hallucinatory nature of discourse. The enterprise may seem to disregard the literary dimension of Kakfa's writing and appear to amount to a reduction of its status to that of a clinical case but, again, psychoanalytic criticism does not deprive the reader of the emotions that go with reading and in no way ignores the emotional potential of the text (which by the way depends on the reader's ability to be moved), because an emotion can only take place if, as a reader, I remain unaware of what precisely constitutes it. Whatever the complexity of the object considered and my involvement in it, I should be careful to distinguish, at least theoretically, what happens when I read, or dream, and what takes place, afterwards, when I analyse my response or my dream. Only at the price of such a distinction shall Freud's teachings make sense at all. The « objectivity » of psychoanalytic discourse is never more than relative, we know this, but it does nevertheless represent a progress in knowledge if always asymptotic.

Keeping in mind Freud's initial invention of the concept of « unconscious, » therefore, his discovery of the simple Cs/Ucs structure (which leads to the structure of the metaphor), I shall however begin by looking at the symbolical dimension-dimensions-of Kafka's tale. …

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