‘Il-Me­ta­mor­fosi’ by Franz Kafka (1883-1924)

Trans­lated into Mal­tese by Em­manuel Cu­ta­jar

The Malta Independent on Sunday - - FEATURE - Stan­ley Man­gion

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.

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