Kafkaesque Bukowski

By Oğuzhan Özkan

Kafka and Bukowski may seem miles apart from each other by plain logic: they lived in different eras; they had different personalities; Kafka’s poetic skills are not what he is famous for; Bukowski was an alcoholic and a drug addict; Kafka saw himself as sexually inadequate while Bukowski used sexuality as a cure for his problems. Their differences look vast, but they shared one thing in common: they had a same feeling of repulsion for society. They directed their criticisms not only to society, but also to what they had become in the process of being a part of society, what they ended up being as a result.

Bukowski’s poems are intense. He uses intensity as a tool to shock the reader. “A Smile to Remember” is an example. He lets us hate his father and highlights her mother as the only beautiful thing in his childhood — the only person who tries to stay positive despite everything. In his poems, there are immoral people, prostitutes, alcoholic and wife-beating men, villains, drug addicts and so on, but on the other hand, in the middle of all the mess, there is his mother. She is a blooming flower and he remembers her with a heavy heart.

The very same symbolism is apparent in “The Metamorphosis.” In the middle of the same chaos, but this time arising from the burden of being a responsible man for others, Kafka symbolizes Gregor Samsa’s sister, Grete, as the blooming flower. She is seemingly his only friend. She feeds him and treats him better than their parents. Samsa sees her as the only good in the world; she weeps for him. But Samsa feels bad for her, because he’s no more able to support her future career as a violinist. This is as little Henry feels bad for his mother; they both feel sorry for the ones they love, even if the time is rough and the situation is unclear.

Kafka is a man of solitude. His character, Samsa, turns into a cockroach. This is his way of loathing the society that he has to be a part of in order to earn a living. His soul shrinks and his personality diminishes as he serves the needs of people, so much so that he finally becomes a cockroach, a symbol of human disgust. He hates himself and what he does so much to a degree that he himself is no more a human, but an insect. He is better off as a cockroach rather than being a human, but also he feels that he deserves to be a cockroach. This sickening urge for human race and his abhorring for what he has become complete each other. He welcomes his transformation as a long lost friend, of course he finds it odd at first but he gets to see it very mundane within the process. Bukowski, even though not as much as Samsa does, hates himself and society as well. He asks the girl ‘’where were you when I was living on one candy bar a day and sending short stories to the Atlantic monthly?’’ and he never gets even with the society. To become accepted by it, he thinks that you, first, have to lose your soul and mind. Samsa lost his soul and mind, and he had a good job with a good salary, well enough to feed his family. He and Bukowski react differently, but they get to the same place eventually: the point of no return. The moment Bukowski understands the terror that the society causes and the moment Samsa begins to detest himself intersect. They come to hate themselves neither more nor less they hate people. The idea of being one of them seems inescapable and they already are, knowing that they hate to be so makes everything more complicated. Bukowski seeks comfort in addiction to whatever he can get, alcohol, women and drugs to have a serene mind, but he fails. His poetry gives us the hints of a disturbed man, a man who flunks every single time he attempts to try. We already begin to witness the final chapter of Samsa’s life and there is no doubt that they come each way in different directions; Bukowski despises and Samsa dreads.

There is no happy ending for their stories. Samsa dies as something he yearns and hates to be at the same time, Bukowski’s blooming flowers wither in the end with their bitter smiles. The certainty is they feel the absence of peace, it is not that they lack the perseverance that is necessary to achieve, they just appercieve the longevity of happiness lies within lies and self-deception. Most people build fortresses around to keep themselves from heart breaking brutal facts, but not Samsa and Bukowski. They complete and hail each other from different worlds, inexplicably and surprisingly.

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