The Metamorphosis and Other Stories – Franz Kafka

With a vast imagination and a philosophical mind, Kafka creates one of the most unique and metaphorical stories in literature history. With eccentric characters and surreal plots, Kafka raises very ordinary questions about our psychology, morals and philosophies.

My first encounter with Kafka was “Before the Law”. Considered more as a parable than a short story, it definitely presents a new perspective on people’s ways of thought. Is it not a common occurrence that we shy away from high authorities or persons of power, and because of that, cease our journey to justice? And what will the consequences be if we are all fearless and fight for our rights; would we be defeated or victorious? Most importantly, is the risk worth taking? Franz Kafka left the answers as mysteries, and provoked the readers’ curiosity by ending his story with a suggestion that the “gate” – metaphor for the law and justice system – is there for us to enter. Perhaps we never recognized that we can achieve justice if we were brave enough to take journey to achieving it. 

In “The Metamorphosis”, Kafka skips pass the setting quickly and gets right into a story of human psychology and behaviour. A man is mysteriously transformed into an insect. As a natural response, the reader would automatically question why this happened, but rapidly the focus and interest of the plot moves on to the events that follow his transformation. The story presents such an eccentric setting and context, but also very recognizable human beings. As soon as readers suspend their disbelief to the surreal situation, they would find the characters quite familiar. There is fear of unfamiliar events, fear of the unknown, the struggle to adapt to a new condition, both mentally and financially. There is the need to feel human contact, and the uncomfortable feeling of being left out, being in the dark, like Gregor when he is shut off to the outside world. He covets to be part of the family again, and desires to hear his sister’s violin and get her attention. However, the state he had become results in exclusion and loneliness, a fear that not only an ‘insect-man’ suffers, but that we all secretly are afraid of. There is also confusion, from Gregor’s family, around various issues such as how to take care of him now that he is an insect, how to arrange his room and how to treat him. This is a stunning example of how clumsy human psychology is when facing an unfamiliar circumstance, and sometimes the confusion can lead to misunderstanding and unreasonable behaviour, like Gregor’s father unnecessary violence toward his “insect son”. Finally, human beings, no matter what, would always feel a need for love, a need to care for their loved ones. Gregor, even as a mistreated and helpless insect, thinks about his sister’s future, his family’s financial state and wishes to help them. And Gregor’s sister, no matter her fear toward what her brother had become, takes care of him and tries to protect him to the end. On the surface, Gregor’s family may seem like they are cruel and unsympathetic of their hapless son, but I would argue that they were not driven by ignorance nor evil, but taken over by the confusion of having their son turned into a hideous creature. Ultimately, it is the share of love and caring that took over Gregor; “he thought back on his family with affection and love” and found himself peace and allowed “his last breath [to] faintly flowed”. 

Gregor’s death is a symbol of freedom. He set himself free from the worries and pressure of living as an outsider, and he also set his family free from the cumbersome fear, confusion and anxiety they faced after his transformation. The ending is hopeful: “they felt it was like a confirmation of their new dreams and good intentions.” The family is not cruel; only when the past is left behind can they start a new future. The moral of the story lies in the fact that no matter what, Gregor would not be able to return to his human self, and the only thing his family could give him is shelter and care, by sacrificing their own freedom. There is a chance for metamorphosis when there is forgiveness, love and care.

 

House of Balloons – The Weeknd

There are still two months left to go before the year is over, but I can quite safely say that my favorite music album this year is “House of Balloons” by the Weeknd.

I came across the Weeknd’s “High for this” through a dance video, and the uniqueness of the music caught me by surprise. It is a type of modern r & b mixed with techno and psychedelic vocals; an odd mixture between something classy and soulful, and something bold and new. The clean beats contrast the self-indulgent and overly melancholy vocals, making his music one of a kind.

Sometimes with my headphones one I realize I am completely zoned out, staring at an object on the table in front of me, my mind lost somewhere else, usually lost in a dance studio or stage dancing to the beats of the song. What makes the music so captivating is the various elements layered and mixed together: the beeping of electric instruments, the sharp and cold snares, the unusual bass pattern, the sultry vocals that in many cases act as an instrument as well, the autotuned voice, the sudden change of pace. I simply cannot take my mind off the way the Weeknd goes from the legato and long breathes (“well take a seat, we’ll just……”) to the sudden popping and staccato fast-paced and powerful notes (Drink it, drop it, drink it spill it/Baby, touch your body, body/You gotta, taste it, feel it, rub it on me baby). Then he tricks me into thinking the song is ending by murmuring long notes of “yeah yeah”, just to suddenly break into an entirely new beat. Never before have I heard a beat so deep, subtle and soulful. My mind is a dancer; she is moving to the song, and the song is caressing each of her movement, embracing and lifting her to a form of revelation.

The music is R-rated. The Weeknd sings about sex, drugs, cheating, partying, alcohol. His music somehow imitates the feeling of “being high”. I do not exactly how the feeling of “being high” is, but it is darkly similar to the way people have been describing it: “when you close your eyes you feel like your on a roller coaster or you are flying.  you enjoy dancing in the beggining and sleeping at the end. you feel complete and enjoy what going on around you.” (Internet) At some point i feel if I don’t stop listening to his music, I would start going crazy, because even when the song ends, the melody stings in my brain, his vocals haunting, the words he say echo (“am I making love to you through her”, “you wanna be high for this”).

Then at other times, I indulge in the warmness of his unautotuned voice. He lowers his pitch and sing as though softly whispering, “I always want you and I’m coming down”. Or he brings in more of the soulful and rhythmic r&b, or keep it unadorned, such as in “what you need” and “love through her”.

The Weeknd is often compared to Frank Ocean, but Frank Ocean, with the same indulgent and melancholic style, experiments with hiphop and possesses a more raw, more rap-style voice. I appreciate the smoothness and silkiness of the Weeknd’s vocals that work so well with his music’s tone. It is a unique style of music. I can’t see the Weeknd gaining as much popularity as mainstream music because his music is definitely not easy-listening. But I have discovered his music being quite popular among modern and young hip hop dancers, and I am looking forward to more choreography for his music.