|Photo © Bill Martin 2014|
Will you hold it against me if I admit that the parts I most enjoyed translating were the really cruel and violent bits? (My warmup for this project was translating Jeremias Gotthelf's 19th century horror novel The Black Spider, which also, by the way, uses the word Ungeziefer.) The thing is, for all the horror of Gregor's situation, I am completely convinced that Kafka secretly found these parts uproariously hilarious and was chuckling aloud as he gorily laid out the hideous downward spiral of bug-boy's degradation. The two climactic scenes that end the first two sections (one is excerpted here) both involve physical battles with Gregor's father. This is in itself funny - after all, Gregor is now a big scary creature, and nonetheless here he is cowering and allowing himself to be abused and beaten down by domineering Dad. It's like a revenge fantasy gone awry. Despite the fear Gregor strikes into the hearts of all his family members, he himself is paralyzed with concern for everyone else's well-being (prompting several gorgeously neurotic inner monologues), and therefore he's the one who gets stomped. The whole thing is completely unfair. Are you laughing yet?
Originally my translation was commissioned as part of a new Norton Critical Edition of The Metamorphosis designed for classroom use, but since it takes a while to put together the accompanying articles for an edition of this sort (Kafka scholar Mark Anderson's doing that), and the translation was meanwhile finished, Norton decided to publish the novella as a stand-alone volume first; the NCE will follow later this year. From my point of view the best thing about the decision to publish a trade edition was that it gave Norton the opportunity to commission an introduction for the book, and they picked legendary filmmaker David Cronenberg, whose human-all-too-human horror classic The Fly was in part informed by Kafka's story. Cronenberg has some brilliant ideas about Kafka too, but I don't want to give them away here. Another gorgeous thing about the edition is the cover created by London-based designer Jamie Keenan, who turned the letters of the word "metamorphosis" into the outlines of our beleaguered bug; I think it's stunning.
The Metamorphosis will officially be published on Monday, Jan. 20, but I've been hearing reports of early sightings on bookstore shelves, so I suppose that means the book is out! If you pick up a copy, I hope you'll have at least half as much fun reading it as I had working on it. And if you're around in NYC on Jan. 31 at 6:30 p.m., please come to the book's launch party at NYU's Deutsches Haus (42 Washington Mews), where I'll be speaking with Jay Cantor, who's just published a book of stories inspired by people in Kafka's life, with Peter Mendelsund, designer of all those beautiful Kafka covers for Schocken, and Kafka-loving author and moderator Glenn Kurtz.