Other Selves and the Human World in J.M. Coetzee’s Life and Times of Michael K (1983) and Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis (1915)
In an interview with David Attwell, Coetzee says that the problem of the relations of a writer to his society can be translated into the following question: “What is left of Franz Kafka after the alienation of Joseph K has been explained in terms of Kafka’s marginality? What is left of Michael K after he has been explained in terms of my marginality?” (1992: 199). The question concerns the essential experience which defines the position of the author within his own world and which he attempts to communicate by transferring it onto his character.
The condition of exile or alienation, living on the margins of one’s community, whether through choice or exclusion, as well as a split between the body and mind, accentuated by the two writers through persistent use of animal imagery, are inherent in our existence for both Coetzee and Kafka, despite all the differences in their respective readings of the human condition.
When considering Coetzee’s protagonists, Kafka’s The Trial, The Burrow and The Hunger Artist immediately come to mind as the most apparent intertexts, yet there are other less obvious examples of intertextual echoes and motifs which reveal contingently arranged meeting points and cross references.1 One such example is a paradoxical similarity between Gregor Samsa and Michael K, which goes beyond a superficial correspondence. Putting aside their enigmatic quasi-ontological status, each is a dispossessed and alienated figure struggling to survive in a hostile environment and living under perpetual threat; what is...
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