Starved for Recognition
Little is more damaging to the human psyche than the feeling of worthlessness. Human beings have an intrinsic need to feel as though they are part of something, have some function, indeed, do something better than anyone else. We are also a very fickle species, jumping on board with whatever new trend catches our whimsy. Franz Kafka explores the relationship between these two conditions of our existence through the eyes of a man struggling with his impending obsolescence in the tragic short-story, “A Hunger Artist.”
Nearly everyone believes that he or she is unique. While this is true, overwhelmingly we attribute our uniqueness not to the hard-wired, irreplaceable idiosyncrasies that make us individuals, but to some skill or ability that we believe makes us worthy of attention, praise, and admiration. In the case of Kafka’s Artist character, we see a man thoroughly dedicated to, if not possessed by, his craft, which happens to be the amazing ability to endure long periods of time without eating. Set, presumably, in Kafka’s time, we see a turn-of-the-20th-century world that predates television and the Internet, a world where a man of The Artist’s talents is a revered and controversial
performer. This Artist seems to prefer the time spent in his cage, starving, to the outside world. His entire philosophy centers on his art, specifically in matters of human
interaction. He does not particularly seek the adoration sought by most performers, but rather, the faith of the audience and their belief that fasting is a real skill. Despite the fact that he is guarded during the slower hours of his fast (mostly as a matter of theatrics), he is driven to prove to anyone that he is genuinely fasting, a fact that The Artist alone knows to be completely, unquestionably true. The Artist also knows that he can hold out for far longer than he has ever been pushed. To his displeasure, no fast lasts longer than forty...