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Notes and Fragments PLATONIC ELEMENTS IN KAFKA'S "INVESTIGATIONS OF A DOG" by Lewis W. Leadbeater Few critics of Kafka, and certainly few German critics of Kafka, have been willing to allow for much of any classical influence on his works. There are exceptions, but for the most part these commentators can bring themselves to admit only the fact Kafka endured with distaste his lengthy involvement with the classical languages and literature and that, if in any way, he was influenced only in terms of syntax or style.1 Yet it is certain that Kafka read classical literature with interest and that he was well acquainted with classical epic, tragedy, philosophy , and mythology. The wandering Odysseus, the sea god Poseidon, tortured Prometheus —all these and other classical figures are to be found in his works. Indeed, a recent interpretation of The Trial involves a discussion of it in comparison with the trial of Socrates.2 The fact is that Kafka knew Plato's Apology and counted as one of his prized possessions a copy of Plato's Phaedrus. He and Brod read Plato together in high school.3 Are we really to assume, then, that, given Kafka's philosophical bent, he saw no relationship between Plato and the later philosophers, like Kierkegaard for instance, with whom he was quite taken, and that given his fertile mind and penchant for metaphor, Kafka reflects only Platonic syntax?4 Quite the contrary; we must, I think, cede his classicism to Kafka, and in the discussion which follows I should like to point out that in one of the short stories, "Investigations of a Dog," parable and metaphor blend as well as they do because of Platonic influence, and especially that of the Apology and the Phaedrus. Kafka's animals pervade his works in both metaphor and simile. Gregor Samsa awakes one morning to find himself transformed into a gigantic beetle; Joseph K dies, at the end of his trial, like a dog, and it is a questioning canine which investigates the meaning of dog104 Lewis W. Leadbeater105 ness in "Forschungen eines Hundes." Generally the animalistic metaphor involves removal, alienation, and isolation— a loss of kinship with humanity to be sure, but more important a loss of communication, an inability to communicate, and hence an emphasis on all-encompassing, frustrating silence. The natural result for these people turned animal is an involvement in a process of severe introspection frequently linked with the pursuit of some idea or ideal which will provide a hitherto unknown, transcendent nourishment for a famished, alienated soul. Such is certainly the case with Gregor Samsa and quite possibly the case with Joseph K; it is in fact such pursuits which lie at the heart of the researches of our investigating Dog. Though any attempt to pinpoint the source of Kafka's penchant for animalistic metaphors is quite certainly futile, one might well posit as paradigmatic the alienation plays of Aristophanes involving animals, and certainly the notion of a psychological link between man and beast is present in Plato's Phaedrus, a dialogue in which the soul metaphor itself involves horses, and one in which there is considerable discussion of the interchangeability of the souls of men and beasts.5 As noted above such interchangeability or transformation occurs regularly in Kafka; within the ugly form of beetle lay the psyche of Gregor Samsa. Perhaps within the not-so-ugly canine form of our investigating hound lies the soul of Socrates. Consider for a moment the character of our Dog in light of Plato's Socrates as he appears in the Apology. To begin with, the Dog, as he tells us, is a solitary creature, withdrawn and involved solely in his "investigations" (p. 278).6 In addition, he fully realizes that he is different from the rest of his species (p. 279) and that indeed at times he feels rejected by his kind, realizing as he does that his investigations run counter to the traditional values of his species, a species by which he had hoped at one time to be accepted with great honor (p. 308). What he has capitulated to is "questions" which, furthermore , have quite removed him from normal...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 104-116
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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