History of Literature #139 – “A Hunger Artist” by Franz Kafka

In 1922, the miserable genius Franz Kafka wrote a short story, Ein Hungerkünstler (A Hunger Artist), about another miserable genius: a man whose “art” is to live in a cage and display his fasting ability to crowds that don’t always appreciate what he is trying to do. Inspired by actual historical figures, though suffused with nostalgia and Kafka’s penetrating insight, the story asks us to reconsider our conceptions of art and spectacle, life and death, hunger and humanity. Host Jacke Wilson is joined by superguest Mike Palindrome, President of the Literature Supporters Club, to feast on one of the greatest short stories ever written.

For more on Franz Kafka, try Episode 134 – The Greatest Night of Franz Kafka’s Life

For more on short stories, try Episode 57 – Borges, Munro, Davis, Barthelme – All About Short Stories (And Long Ones Too)

For a deep dive into Alice Munro’s “A Bear Came Over the Mountain,” try Episode 115 – The Genius of Alice Munro

For a deep dive into Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness,” try Episode 110 – Heart of Darkness – Then and Now

Help support the show at patreon.com/literature or historyofliterature.com/shop. Learn more about the show at historyofliterature.com or facebook.com/historyofliterature. Contact the host at jackewilsonauthor@gmail.com or via our new Twitter handle, @thejackewilson.

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The History of Literature #54 – The Greatest Books Ever (Part 2)

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What books are essential? Who has the authority to choose them, and what is their selection process? First, Jacke and Mike continue their look at the College Board’s 101 Books Recommended for College-Bound Readers. Then Jacke proposes a different method for determining which books are relevant in today’s world – and tests the results against the College Board’s efforts.

You can find a PDF of the College Board’s list at:

http://www.uhlibrary.net/pdf/college_board_recommended_books.pdf

Shane Sherman’s List of Lists can be found at:

http://thegreatestbooks.org/

His methodology is described at:

http://thegreatestbooks.org/lists/details

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Show Notes:  Continue reading

Restless Mind Show #1 – Comedy and Authority

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The Restless Mind Show! Jacke and Gar take a break from the history of literature to examine the nature of comedy and what makes us laugh.

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Contest Winners! The Brilliant Readers Who Guessed the Cover Themes

So here was the contest: guess the cover art themes to my book The Race and win a free copy of the book.

As a reminder, here’s the cover:

Race_12_28_final (1)

I also gave a brief description that had a few clues. I was looking for two things, or maybe three.

The book is about American politics, which the blue background and white stars reflect (as if we’ve zoomed in on a corner of the American flag).

It’s also about twilight, as a politician’s career heads toward darkness. The black and yellow at the bottom reminds me of a Wisconsin highway at night, your headlights lighting up the road as you head toward the horizon with an open starry sky ahead of you. (A good image for the loneliness of the campaign trail, at least for this particular candidate and his erstwhile biographer.)

And finally, there’s the small star that’s hanging on. Falling? Rising? Just hanging on.

“There’s some dignity in that little star!” I cried to my designer when I saw it. “It’s hanging on in spite of all the odds. No one knows why!”

My main character is elliptical in that way. Why hang on? Well, maybe he’s not capable of anything else…

I know, I know: I get a little carried away. You have to remember that I love like these, from a great Kafka series:

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Aren’t those great? The eye motif, so perfect for Kafka. And the art is bold and full of expression, and the meaning has some playfulness and thought to it.

Kafka is a hero of mine, and while not at all trying to compare myself to such a genius, I thought some of the absurdities of The Race had some affinities with Kafka (also Svevo and Poe). If the spirit of the art above could work for the covers of Kafka, I thought it would work for mine too. Hence, the lowly little star, struggling to maintain its place in the heavens.

Okay! Did anyone guess? Indeed they did! Readers nailed this.  Continue reading

Kafka: The Videogame

Definitely will need to get this when it comes out

Are Authors All Narcissists?

Where does the desire to write fiction come from? Eagerness to tell stories? Desire to connect with people? Fame and fortune? Defeat death?

Does it all boil down to unfettered narcissism? I don’t mean their fiction tends toward navel-gazing – it may or may not. I’m asking whether at the heart of all impulses to write fiction is deep, unabiding, overwhelming self-love.

But wait, you say – what about those quiet, respectable authors? What about the saints and the shy? Kafka was a quiet man who worked all day for an insurance company. Eudora Welty lived with her ailing mother.

Eudora Welty, secret narcissist?
Photograph Credit: Ulf Andersen/Getty Images
Is this the face of a raging narcissist?

That might be the wrong way to look at it. As Scott Barry Kaufman observes:

But the latest research suggests that there is also a large selfish segment of the population who say they are introverted and sensitive when they really just can’t stand it that everyone doesn’t recognize their brilliance.

Hmmm. Kaufman has developed a quiz to help you see where you are on the Maladaptive Covert Narcissism Scale.

I haven’t taken the quiz. I’ve told myself that it’s because I’m not that interested in myself – because who am I, really? Just an average schmuck. Whether I’m a narcisssist or not, or introverted or not, is not really important, to me or (especially) anyone else.

Or is it that I secretly think I’m too good for the quiz…?