A Hunger Artist

Absurdity, Masochism and Paradox: Unraveling Kafka’s “A Hunger Artist” College

“For he alone knew, what no other initiate knew, how

easy it was to fast. It was the easiest thing in the world.”

– Kafka’s “A Hunger Artist”

What does it mean to willfully fast, or to deny hunger, the most fundamental of human drives? The short story, “A Hunger Artist,” penned by Franz Kafka explores the absurdity of one man’s ability to fast indefinitely with unnatural ease. At the same time, his insatiable appetite for fame and success as the record-breaking hunger artist of his time is unmistakably contradictory to his physically starved state. Throughout the text, the futility of ascribing meaning to our lives is demonstrated by the masochistic and paradoxical nature of the Hunger Artist’s lifetime of fasting.

The hunger artist, who paradoxically chooses to give his mortal life meaning by making fasting his profession, is able to go without the most basic of human comforts due to his masochistic convictions. To start, his goal to fast immeasurably is essentially a paradox, since forgoing food is incompatible with the human condition. Although the hunger artist feels “that there were no limits to his capacity for fasting,” (884), the only possible ending for this life story can be death by starvation. And yet, the hunger...

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