Appetite for Suffering
“The children stood openmouthed, holding each other’s hands for greater security, marveling at him as he sat there pallid in black tights, with his ribs sticking out so prominently…” This is an excerpt from Kafka’s short story masterpiece, “A Hunger Artist.” Written in 1922, and published with two other short works, it is the story of an archetypical creation of Kafka’s, who is marginalized and victimized by society at large. The story depicts an aging man, who remains nameless and is referenced to as “the hunger artist,” who starves himself for unimaginable amounts of time, in part for the entertainment of his audiences, and for his own bizarre needs. The story is told retrospectively, by an unnamed narrator who nostalgically recalls the era in which a professional hunger artist could make a substantial living performing his passion. Kafka uses A Hunger Artist to examine the human affinity for suffering.
The hunger artist's art is, in a sense, suffering (or seems to be up to a certain point in the story.) The pleasure and artistry of fasting comes from the free will he exercises in his self-denial and masochism. Although he is confined to a cage, he has control over his pain and hunger (except when the impresario manages him), pushing himself past human limits in his constant search for a new artistic masterpiece, in the form of starvation. Kafka mocks the cultural view that usually would romanticize the hunger artist as an alienated "starving artist" who defies capitalist society and focuses solely on his own art. However, the hunger artist questions the importance of his unconventional art at two separate points. He admits that fasting is easy, although no one believes him. His last words also lend insight to his feelings towards his profession when he ironically tells the overseer that he shouldn’t be admired for fasting “because I couldn’t find the food I like. If I had found it,...