‘Il-Metamorfosi’ by Franz Kafka (1883-1924)
Translated into Maltese by Emmanuel Cutajar
Philosophers in the 20th century had a very hard time trying to communicate philosophical concepts to the people. The days of treaties seem to have been lost in the past. Philosophy suffered a lot from this lack of communication with the people and for some time philosophical works remained on the shelves unread. However, over time, this problem of communicating philosophy to the people was solved by the use of literature. Literature became the media through which philosophical values, ethics, reasoning and appreciation reached the minds and hearts of the people. Many philosophers started writing literary works to convey their philosophical thoughts about life and its meaning, on how we can live a righteous life, how we can appreciate life and other philosophical messages. In spite of significant scientific progress, only philosophy and religion can give humans the right tools with which to live in harmony with themselves and with their surroundings, including society and nature.
Suffice to mention the French Algerian philosopher Albert Camus (1913-1960) who explained that life would be futile if we abandoned philosophical thoughts. Another philosopher and writer who utilised literature to convey his philosophical and social ideas is Franz Kafka, a Hebrew by origin who lived in Prague for a long time. Kafka wrote a novella The Metamorphosis in German (almost all his writings are in German), about what life would be if a person lives an uncontrolled life. Gregor Samsa, the main protagonist in this novella, was transformed overnight, while lying on his bed, into a monstrous insect without his knowing. What was life like for him? It was wretched and this is how the part written by Kafka ended. However, Karl Brand (1895-1917), a young Moravian expressionist writer, continued Kafka’s novella with a sequel The Retransformation of Gregor Samsa. Gregor rose again and a new life began for him – a life which offered lot of challenges and struggles. A life changed from a desperate situation to a new life full of hope and anger through the acquisition of a new human form with dignity. Emmanuel Cutajar gave a very classical translation of Frans Kafka’s and Karl Brand’s works. His vocabulary used in this translation is very understandable and every now and then he uses Maltese words profound in meaning and not much used in modern Maltese which unfortunately is becoming so lazy as to completely disregard words especially of Semitic origin which are so rich in meaning. Cutajar achievements in this field are enormous. However, the translation of this philosophical and social work is not boring. On the contrary, it is a pleasant and very interesting read. The work of Frans Kafka can just be read as an interesting novella which steer our minds to imagination, so it can be a light read. On the other hand, it can be a book of meditation and inspiration through which the reader can absorb philosophical and social ideas and freshness. In that case, one has to be very cautious all the time, thinking and guessing the meanings and perhaps, like what happened to me, it will be read twice or more so that the philosophical ideas can be grasped in their full (if possible) meaning. This translation of this novella makes it easy to understand what Kafka wants to tell us in his surrealistic novella full of metaphors and imagination. Kafka wanted that this story, like all his numerous short stories, be open to imagination and deep reflections on realistic social problems and situations, both in the family as well as in modern society. As a matter of fact, when this novella was published Kafka never gave permission for the drawing of the monstrous insect into which Samsa was transformed so that the reader would be free to fantasize on what this insect looked like. Slowly and gradually, by reading the novella, the reader creates for himself the kind and nature of the metamorphosis which has taken place. Cutajar’s well-chosen words and phrases, always faithful to the original text, channel the minds of the readers to build up this creative picture intuitively.
So this translation of Kafka’s work can be read by both students of philosophy to enrich their history of philosophy and also by those who like to read about adventures and experiences in real life expressed in a surrealistic, fictional form. It is also a work that attracts all those who like the Maltese language, as it enriches the vocabulary of our modern tongue. Maltese vo- cabulary is so rich that it can foster philosophical ideas and also deal with imaginative ideas which so often people tend either to forget or not to fully grasp.
Besides the translation of this Kafka’s literary work, Cutajar also gives a chronology of important dates of Franz Kafka life, who unfortunately died at the age of 40 of pulmonary tubercu- losis. We also find a short biography of Frans Kafka.
Prof. Oliver Friggieri also gave a very interesting and instructive introduction to this wonderful novella of Franz Kafka and its translation, together with some original illustrations.
Il-Metamorfosi is another publication of the FARAXA Translation Series www.faraxapublishing.com.