As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.
–The Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka
The trip having been so long and having seen so many wonderful things, I had completely forgotten Franz Kafka grew up in Prague. He was not even on my radar, to use a cliché, until, across the Vltava River, we saw a banner advertising “The Franz Kafka Museum.”
Kafka has been one of my favorite writers since being exposed to him during my undergraduate years. I connected with him on a deep level. He spoke to my emerging understanding and appreciation of modern alienation. I easily imagine myself as Joseph K, the protagonist to several of Kafka’s writings, who never has a complete identity, nor understanding of his life.
Kafka was able to capture, through absurdity and despair, the increasing human disconnection from daily existence that, I think, Marx and Engles were trying to solve with their Communist Manifesto. More and more, humankind is expected to meet the demands of systems, to sustain systems, and to value systems rather than see and appreciate the value of their own labors. Kafka skillfully captures the sense of alienation that comes with modernity.
The whole museum experience was itself, Kafkaesque. As one approaches the museum entrance, the first thing one sees is the installation aptly called, “Two Men Pissing.” (The photo doesn’t do it justice since its a moving sculpture, so I’ve included a brief video below.) Walking past the installation, we approach the museum entrance only to be instructed by a sign that tickets must be purchased in the Gift Shop. We walked across the square by the installation again and into the gift shop.
A desk to the left has a cash register on it, so it seemed like a likely spot to purchase tickets, but no one is there. In fact, the man who was sitting there left his place when we entered. We walked to the desk. On it is a sign with the word “Tickets” and an arrow point back toward the door. Confused, we look around stupefied.
The man who had left the desk returned and we asked about tickets to the Kafka Museum. He pointed to another desk on the opposite side of the Gift Shop, sort of near the door, and began to walk in that direction. We followed and, now that we were at the proper desk, which looked exactly like the other one, we were able to purchase tickets. We once again crossed the courtyard passing “Two Men Pissing,” and finally entered the museum.
The museum itself was odd, but amazing – at least for me. The designers tried to capture some of the ideas behind Kafka’s writings, so there was a fair amount of despair-inducing installations as well as some that would have made Federico Fellini or David Lynch proud. All in all, I enjoyed it, but I can’t speak for Erika., her being more a visual arts aficionado and relatively unfamiliar with Kafka’s work.
The few images below were not part of the museum, but seemed to flow well with the absurdity. There was a huge sculpture near Prague’s central square of a nude, seemingly pregnant woman on her knees with her arms akimbo behind her head. The odd part was that people could climb up into her womb. Enjoy.