Wednesday, June 1, 2011

'Meowmorphosis': Existentialism, transformation and kittens

Posted By on Wed, Jun 1, 2011 at 10:11 AM

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I have been thinking a lot about transformation lately, especially the kind of transformation we undergo when we realize that some things are simply out of our hands. There's a sweet peace that comes with that realization but there's also a certain kind of heartache that lingers. We stop struggling against our own dreams, but we also stop struggling for them. I found myself in this frame of mind when I received this book as a gift.

Kafka's original was so unique and indelible that it spawned the term Kafkaesque, an adjective applied to literature, or really anything, that connotes morbid disorientation, surreal complexity, absurdity in reality. Gregor Samsa, the protagonist, awakens to find himself transformed into an odious insect, unable to communicate with his human family and incapable of finding any harmony between his own mind and body. The Metamorphosis has stood the test of time to become a quintessential study of the irony and the heartbreak of the human condition.

More often than not we think of transformation in terms of abandoning one state of being for another state of being that is better, fuller, or simply more advanced. Butterflies, as a matter of fact, experience a complete metamorphosis in order to become the beautiful, delicate creatures they are. What Kafka managed to do was have us imagine transformation in a radically different way. What if transformation could mean that we stop examining our lives, we stop striving for some sort of illuminating epiphany and we give in to our animal instincts instead? That's a lot of food for thought. There are, of course, quite a number of other questions that the previous question begs and I do hope you share some.

I absolutely love plunging into the cold waters of the mind and scratching at the wicked underbelly of humanity, but I also love things that make me go, "Squee!" Consider this: imagine that Gregor Samsa, instead of being transformed into an insect, is transformed into a...kitten. That changes the flavor of the story altogether. For one, a kitten is way more complex than an insect. Also, a kitten is a helluva lot cuter. Coleridge Cook's retelling of Kafka's story is clever and, OMG, so adorable. Gone is the family's revulsion towards Gregor's new insectness, a revulsion that is a manifestation of Gregor's own self-loathing. Instead, Gregor is now a furry, purring, sweet-faced kitten. The Meowmorphosis, however, remains a menacing story because Cook retains Kafka's somber style.

The existentialism, fraught with despair, is there as is an undercurrent of unfulfilled potential and the ever-looming specter of death, the ultimate sleep. But there's also a cute kitten. Kittens are somehow impervious to the repulsive attributes that are so easily ascribed to insects which is why there is a deep dissonance between Kafka's frightful story and the idea of kittens. Which would you rather be, a darkly winged, many-legged little monster or a cuddly, sunshine-smelling ball of sweetness? You should curl up with a kitten while you ponder this question.

Leticia Medina blogs from time to time for this respectable publication and is eagerly awaiting your comments and questions. Get at me here and follow @aynrandom on Twitter.

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