A page with handwritten annotations by Vladimir Nabokov in his personal copy of Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis.Translated by A. L. Lloyd
New York: Vanguard Press, 1946. The following is an excerpt from Nabokov’s lecture on “The Metamorphosis.” I like Nabokov, probably better than Kafka, but he was a “big baby” in many ways and that comes through in his almost idolatrous analysis of The Metamorphosis. Along with some wonderful insights.
Of course, no matter how keenly, how admirably, a story, a piece of music, a picture is discussed and analyzed, there will be minds that remain blank and spines that remain unkindled. “To take upon us the mystery of things”—what King Lear so wistfully says for himself and for Cordelia—this is also my suggestion for everyone who takes art seriously. A poor man is robbed of his overcoat (Gogol’s “The Greatcoat,” or more correctly “The Carrick”); another poor fellow is turned into a beetle (Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis)—so what? There is no rational answer to “so what.” We can take the story apart, we can find out how the bits fit, how one part of the pattern responds to the other; but you have to have in you some cell, some gene, some germ that will vibrate in answer to sensations that you can neither define, nor dismiss. Beauty plus pity—that is the closest we can get to a definition of art.