TODAY, GOOGLE’s world turns positively Kafkaesque.
To celebrate the 130th anniversary of Franz Kafka’s birth, Google’s home page has metamorphosed into a surreal home from the pages of the towering writer’s work. Where just yesterday stood the smooth, vibrantly tinted letters of Google’s logo, now rests an unsettling, gray- and sepia-toned scene created by the Prague-born man of letters.
Overnight, aptly, the search page transformed into a visual nod to Kafka’s novella “The Metamorphosis” (1915). The Doodle takes playful liberty to depict the story’s traveling-salesman protagonist, Gregor Samsa, as walking upright, looking almost jaunty with briefcase and hat.
In the great “Metamorphosis,” of course, Gregor awakens in his “monstrous vermin” of a beetle-like body — moving like scuttling insect rather than man. The Doodle’s letters evoke his creeping and wall-climbing new limbs — and the art even includes an apple, the fruit that Gregor’s father flung at him, one lodging in his back and permanently wounding him.
In “The Metamorphosis,” Gregor also transforms from household breadwinner to family burden, as his parents and sister wrestle with the realities of caring for their beetle-boy. Kafka — who would deny his surname’s similarity to Samsa, despite the five-letter consonant and vowel placement — renders a story of alienation, parent-child conflict and family pain and dependence, all elements said to be drawn from Kafka’s own sometimes troubled life.
(Kafka achieved academically, getting his law degree, but resented that his day job took him away from his writing. As for his personal life, he got engaged but did not marry, and is said to have swung between ascetic sexual abstinence and brothel-hopping.)
The German-speaking writer from a middle-class Jewish family would contract tuberculosis during the World War I years and die in 1924 — apparently of related starvation. He was just 40 years old.
Kafka was part of a tight literary circle in Prague, including friend Max Brod — who, against Kafka’s explicit wishes, would eventually publish many of the works; Kafka didn’t gain fame till after he died.
Kafka — also known for such posthumously published such still-relevant writings as “The Trial” (1925) and “The Castle” (1926) — would help define existentialism as he influenced such thinkers as Sartre and Camus. His work has been widely adapted to stage and screen and music, inspiring even cartoonist R. Crumb’s comic “Introducing Kafka.”
Kafka would be hailed as one of the century’s greatest writers, drawing encomiums from such writers as Auden, Marquez and Nabokov.
Because he transformed literature, today we say: Happy birthday, Herr Kafka.