March 20, 2013

The Metamorphosis Revisited

“By believing passionately in something that still does not exist, we create it. The nonexistent is whatever we have not sufficiently desired.”

-Franz Kafka

“It was Franz Kafka,” I wrote in an e-mail to a friend, “The novel was The Metamorphosis.” We were trying to recall the story of the man transformed into a giant insect. At first a worry gripped my soul that I was in the grasp of losing my faculties for not having remembered the name instantly, then thought better of that when I realized that Franz Kafka is not exactly a name on the tip of everyone’s sink...Franz Kafka.
It was the second time that week that the subject of metamorphosis came up. Earlier my doctor described my very undesirable illness as a metamorphosis of the body and soul that I would have to come to accept. She likened it to a chrysalis becoming a butterfly. “More like a butterfly losing its wings and becoming enveloped in a cocoon once again,” I thought but didn’t say.
Not long after the doctor’s visit, I was reading Balzac’s Lost Illusions. Balzac made a similar observation about a reverse metamorphosis when he described actresses coming off the stage and replacing their theatrical attire for their street clothes as a kind of reverse metamorphosis - butterflies turning once again into larvae.

The synchronicity continued a fourth time. I was watching a television program about a woman who had a severe adverse reaction to a drug which left here disabled. She said something which was eerily familiar about dreaming of having sight and being able to run then awakening to the reality of sightlessness and disability - like the butterfly of dreams having a reverse metamorphosis into a larva.

I still have my sight, thank God, and can still walk short distances and occasionally run for about ten seconds. But it took many months to work up to that.  I still dream of having a normal body that moves with ease, only to awaken in the morning and roll into what often feels like a creature with an exoskeleton instead of a human body of bones and muscles. These days the full brunt of disability hits somewhat later in the day so I can devote a few hours to writing and working on some art.  On better days I have a semi return to functioning again in the evening.  I'm learning to be grateful for the better hours.

Having reflected on and hearing about allusions to metamorphosis so often over the last few weeks, I brought out a painting that I made in autumn 2011, when I was actually in much greater distress than at present. The painting is about a Kafka-like metamorphosis and is sufficiently ambiguous. Is the woman emerging from a chrysalis or is she becoming one? The painting was made from studying an actual cicada shell that I had placed on a scanner then printed out enlarged.  It is a small work - only 5" x 7" and part of a diptych. Pictured above is the left flank of the diptych with the woman facing right. In the other painting she faces left.

I liked the cicada/woman image so much that I used it later in one my illustrations for a poem, which I may post later.

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