Death and Memory in Kafka’s METAMORPHOSIS

metamorphosisThere are two kinds of death. One is when the body becomes inert and cold all of a sudden and you feel, somehow, this is death for sure. The other kind is when a person vanishes completely, out of memory, out of thought, and out of presence. Both are not always simultaneous; one precedes the other. What then, does it mean, to die? What does death do to the memory of the past? Are they like ripples on water, disturbances on the surface , submerged just as easily as they appear?

In Kafka’s novella, Metamorphosis, the transformation of Gregor Samsa into a life-size dung beetle, is perhaps, a metaphor for a nightmarish situation where memories come to life. Presence embodied. The monstrous insect is a parasitic, ugly being, with appetites and obstinacies, the seamy side of Memory, feeding on the emotional and nostalgic residue that Samsa’s self-effacing life and ‘death’ warrants from the people around him. The nagging presence of Memory is a suffocating, incriminating tyranny whose only cure is Time, with which Gregor’s sister finally confronts the monstrosity of the Presence and locks away the insect in its room. The memory becomes so persistently redundant, what remains is merely the forgetting.

The intrusion of the dead upon the living becomes a real, catastrophic menace that the lives of the rest of the characters have to be moulded accordingly. Initially, the characters give ample space for the insect, they leave Gregor’s room untouched, ‘unblemished’, so as to let his memory “creep” along the walls unrestricted. As time passes, the insect becomes just one of the memories which accumulate in the room. The “memory stuff” gradually overflow and suffocate Gregor’s space. Craving for the  attention due to him, he forgets his own debased state (that of death) as the remembrance of his erstwhile beneficial physical ‘presence’ forces him to venture out of his own room.  The recasting of roles and lives sever the bonds of nostalgia and the final breach is the act of locking him up to die among the junk of overcrowded memories.

The story is about the transformation of human presence into a parasitical, ever-demanding memory whose presence is all the more threatening because it has to be denied by the very people who mourn for it. Metamorphosis is death giving way to life, to “new dreams and good intentions”, to the bliss of amnesia.

CLOWNIN’ Rating: 4/5

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