From man to bug – a surreal portrait

Franz Kafka: Die Verwandlung (English title: The Metarmorphosis) ISBN 80-85938-46-4 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ A classic of German literature, the first book by Kafka that I read, a bizarre experience. It took me some time to identify the lack of self-esteem of the main character, Gregor Samsa, a man transformed without any apparent reason into a bug, as the central theme along with the sudden change of relationships within a family triggered by an singular and surreal event. Throughout his entire life, Kafka was  totured by a feeling of inferiority, unsure  about his talent, his choices in life, even unsure about his own right to live. This novel, like most of his works, has strong autobiographic traits.

The brutal change of the status of Samsa – from active to helpless, from respected to perceived as a nuisance – and the fact that Samsa gradually resignates, accepts his own decline and becomes indifferent towards others is for me a useful reminder to periodically check how I perceive others: as a means or as an end in itself. The human psyche becomes easily unhinged, man quickly looses his inhibition and disregards accepted norms of social behaviour.

A violin piece, played by Samsa’s sister is one of the few things that triggers a positive emotion in Samsa, and the surreal character of the plot fits well with Arnold Schönberg’s music, his String Quartet No. 3 Op. 30:

A democratic revolution – all notes are equal

Jihad and the disenchanted youth

Fikry el Azzouzi: Wir da draussen ISBN 978-3-8321-9829-9 ⭐️ The plot is rather straightforward: A Moroccan immigrant living in Belgium and experiencing social exclusion turns to drugs, sex, violence, crime and finally jihadism. All would have been well if the author had explored the deeper emotions of the main character or gone to the roots of the young man’s disenchantment. Instead he delivers a honest description of a human condition as it has been described many times before – nothing new there. The story remains superficial, predictable and without much interest. The best one can say is that el Azzouzi’s vulgar language is appropriate to the brutality of the subject. It remains nevertheless a 100 percent disappointment.

Since this book did not inspire me at all, I cannot provide a link to any appropiate classical music. I have no such music.

The horror of face-to-face contacts

E. M. Forster: The Machine Stops ISBN 978-0-141-19598-8⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ What a timely novel, I would say if that novel hadn’t been written in 1928. Instead Forster wrote a prescient book. He anticipated social networks, a service based economy, the ever growing dependency on machines, a fully transparent life and the degeneration of man’s social abilities – things we endure every day a little less than 100 years later. In Forster’s world men live in underground cities in small rooms and “the Machine” provides everything: contact to others living in an identical environment, food, books, music, medical assistance etc.

Face-to-face contact has become something bordering the obscene and parental duties are considered to end with the birth of the child. Thus says “the Machine” which is worshipped through a book of rules for all contingencies. Reading this novel now gives me awkward feeling when I reflect some of my daily interaction with others. What a deep thinker Forster was besides being a brilliant novellist!

The subject of the novel made the choice for a matching composer easy: Dmitry Shostakovich. Of course. He was a contemporary of Forster albeit he lived under the Communist rule while Forster lived in the capitalists’ capital, London. As for the piece to match the mood of the novel, something a little unhinged like the String Quartet No. 11, may be appropriate:

The mockingbird sings his defiant tune in F minor

Living in an uncertain world


Zygmunt Baumann: Liquid Times. Living in an Age of Uncertainty.
ISBN: 978-0-745-63987-1 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ A modern day prophet explains why we feel uneasy in a globalized world, how we became disconnected from our neighbours and what shapes our existential fears. A thoughtful book, very appropriate in a time marked by “alternate facts”, delusional politicians, racism and simplistic solutions to complex problems.

Laure Mandeville: Qui est vraiment Donald Trump? ISBN 978-2-84990-3 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Short and to the point. A portray of the 45th US president and the Unites States at a historical landmark.

Arlie R. Hochschild: Strangers in their own land. ISBN 978-1-62097-225-0 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Climbing the empathy wall to see how people in the red states of the US feel about past, present, future and why Trump’s message appeals to them – a fascinating, frightening journey.

The ascendance of a populist like Donald Trump, the United Kingdom set to leave the EU, Turkey betraying its modern history – western societies face widespread discontent with the current state of political affairs. The contemporary Armenian composer Tigran Mansurian has written an interesting piece that came to my mind while I contemplated a world that seems to fall apart:

Before and after#Brexit