13 May 2020

Kafka in uncertain times

Should we turn to the arts to deepen our understanding of our own predicaments? Seán Williams and Sheffield student in German explore that question after watching the Royal Ballet.

Kafka danser as cockroach

Have you woken up one morning recently not feeling yourself? You may not have turned into a monstrous insect, like Kafka’s Gregor Samsa in Die Verwandlung (The Metamorphosis), but life in lockdown may well seem alienating in some way. We might even call it “Kafkaesque”. 

The Royal Ballet in London certainly feels that Kafka's famous story Metamorphoses has resonances with the current, sudden changes to our everyday lives. The film registration of the ballet, which was originally staged in 2011, is now online. Dr Seán Williams watched the ballet with Sheffield students as one of our Germanic Studies additional activities during the coronavirus quarantine. He took their responses to the ballet and literary text as the basis for his podcast. The podcast also features the Royal Ballet’s choreographer, Arthur Pita, and academics from other UK universities.

The central question the podcast addresses is: should we turn to the arts about difficult experiences that are suddenly relevant to our own situation, or is it better to just read or watch something fun instead? The podcast also suggests that Kafka isn’t all doom and gloom. By the (upbeat) end, we hope you might be dancing to Kafka around your kitchen.

Seán made the podcast together with the Austrian Cultural Forum in London, as part of their virtual programme to while away the evenings when stuck at home.

You can listen to the podcast here: Kafka in Quarantine.

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