Comparison of Kafka's Metamorphosis and Dali's The Metamorphosis of Narcissus:: 1 Works Cited
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The painting that I chose to compare to the novel Metamorphosis, by
Franz Kafka, was painted in 1937 by Salvatore Dali. Dali is an established
Surrealist painter, who, like Kafka, explored his own psyche and dreams in
his work. Dali invented a process, called the "paranoiac critical method",
which is used in this painting, to assist his creative process. As Dali
described it, his aim in painting was "to materialize the images of
concrete irrationality with the most imperialistic fury of precision...in
order that the world of imagination and of concrete irrationality may be as
objectively evident...as that of the exterior world of phenomenal
The rich landscape, seems to be limitless in detail. Dali rendered
every detail of this landscape with precise accuracy, striving to make his
paintings as realistic as possible.
In Greek mythology, Narcissus was a beautiful young youth, who fell
in love with his own reflection, and then drowned while trying to embrace
himself. His body was never recovered, but a flower, which was named after
him was. The left side of this painting shows the kneeling Narcissus,
outlined by the craggy rocks of what could only be Cape Creus's. On the
right side of the painting, the scene has morphed into a more idyllic and
classical scene, in which the kneeling Narcissus has become the statue
of a hand, holding a cracked egg, from which emerges The Narcissus flower.
This painting reminded me of the first chapter of Metamorphosis,
where the main character, Gregor Samsa, first realizes that he is
confronted with a ludicrous fate in the form of a gigantic insect. In both
Kafka's and Dali's work, I noticed that they both implement a certain
"receding" technique. Dali tends to put an object (In this case,
Narcissus) In the foreground, and the background of the painting tends to
be very crisp and detailed, yet unimportant, compared to Narcissus. I feel
the same way about Gregor, I see Kafka writing this story with mainly
Gregor in mind, as the main character and narrator. Kafka puts this
puzzled victim in the story as a clerk, yet that element of the story tends
to receded in to the plot of the story.
In a way, this technique seems to
intensify the scene, which later leads up to Gregor's rejection by his
family, and himself.
Another similarity between this scene and the painting, is the
fact that main 'character's' in the foreground, do not move, they only grow.
Gregor did not get out of bed the first morning of his metamorphosis, yet
he did change. In both halves of Dali's painting, Narcissus's position does
not move, yet he also grows. What is interesting about both works is that
they can both be perceived differently each time I see them. When I first
read Metamorphosis, I did not realize that Gregor was laying motionless in
bed, until a second reading. I had a similar experience with Dali's "The
Metamorphosis of Narcissus". I first saw this painting when I was on
vacation in London four years ago, at a Dali art exhibit. My first
impression of this was simply a man kneeling down in the water, who in the
other half of the painting had a flower growing out of his skull, and there
were people living around this huge 'statue'. My second viewing of this
painting, in the book Dali, by Robert Descharnes, allowed me to notice many
more things. On the left panel of the painting, Narcissus looks more human,
with long flowing hair, and a solid body.
On the right panel, Narcissus can be viewed as either a human
figure, or a hand growing out of the soil, which is grasping a blossoming
egg. I also now notice that the 'civilization' in the background of the
painting has seemed to have advanced during Narcissus'es metamorphosis. On
the left, Narcissus kneel's alone in the water, only surrounded by
wilderness, as the painting progresses narratively from the left side to
the right side, civilization seems to have advanced, human beings are
present, there is a house at the base of the mountain in the distance, a
statue in a courtyard, and there is a cow grazing in the field.
With this description of the painting, the reader can hopefully
grasp the most important similarity between both Kafka's and Dali's work,
both objects, or persons, (Gregor and Narcissus) however you perceive them,
go unnoticed, yet life continues to go on around them. Both Gregor and
Narcissus, in my opinion, are important because the are the center of
attention of each piece of work, yet the world around them seems to go on
without them, and improve.
Both of these works insist that the audience take time to interpret
and understand them. This is perhaps one of the most important reasons for
my selection of these two works. Both stimulate controversy in their
interpretations, and make the audience look deeply to find what they
believe to be their purpose, or meaning. Franz Kafka and Salvatore Dali
were both great artists of their time, who consequently have both been said
to greatly revolutionize their field, especially the latter. The difference
between them as thinkers only lies in the implementation of their thoughts.
Kafka chose to write about his thoughts and dreams, and Dali chose to
visualize them on canvas.
My comparison of Kafka's Metamorphosis and Dali's "The
Metamorphosis of Narcissus" are important to Surrealism , because they are
clearly both surrealist works which significantly took surrealism in a new
direction. Both were completed in the first half of the century, when the
modernist movement began to progress, and both are symbolic of surrealism
because they make the audience develop their own interpretation of the work.
According to the Random House College Dictionary, Surrealism is a style of
art and literature developed principally in the 20th century, stressing the
subconscious or nonrational significance of imagery arrived at by
automatism or the exploitation of chance effects...
I find that Kafka's surrealistic style, although descriptive, is
more blunt than Dali's. Dali has an advantage over Kafka in this argument,
since the audience is directly looking at what is in Dali's mind, whereas
we must visualize on our own what Kafka believes to be true of Gregor.
Another advantage of Dali's surrealism is that his color usage allows for a
much easier depiction of Dali's mood, as well as the narcissist portrayed.
1.) Tansey, Richard G. and Kleiner, Fred S. Gardner's Art Through The Ages, Book 2, Tenth Edition; Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1996, New York. P.1076
Kafka, Franz. The Metamorphosis. Mattituck: Vanguard Press, 1946