Kafka and I had a terrible breakup as a result of me trying to read “The Trial.” But, I can now say we’ve made up and are getting on smashingly. The story above, just a few pages long, is the reason why.
In it, he writes of the death of hunger art as a way to poke fun at society’s changing cultural “interests.” The funny thing though is that today hunger art, or performance art, actually exists. People line up to watch other people put themselves through feats of mental and physical endurance.
In Kafka’s world, when society’s interest in hunger art wanes, the hunger artist joins the circus and then the hunger artist apologizes and dies. Here’s his excuse for being a hunger artist:
I couldn’t find food which I enjoyed. If I had found that, believe me, I would not have made a spectacle of myself…
The artist doesn’t fit in, Kafka tells us, a view that’s easy enough to accept. Harder to process is his deeper message: without an audience the artist becomes artless, and audiences are not ones to stay.