Comparison of Kafka's "Metamorphosis" and Dali's "The Metamorphosis of Narcissus"
The painting that I chose to compare to the novel Metamorphosis, by
Franz Kafka, was painted in 1937 by Salvatore Dali. Dali is an established
Surrealist painter, who, like Kafka, explored his own psyche and dreams in his
work. Dali invented a process, called the "paranoiac critical method", which is
used in this painting, to assist his creative process. As Dali described it,
his aim in painting was "to materialize the images of concrete irrationality
with the most imperialistic fury of precision...in order that the world of
imagination and of concrete irrationality may be as objectively evident...as
that of the exterior world of phenomenal reality."1
The rich landscape, seems to be limitless in detail. Dali rendered
every detail of this landscape with precise accuracy, striving to make his
paintings as realistic as possible.
In Greek mythology, Narcissus was a beautiful young youth, who fell in
love with his own reflection, and then drowned while trying to embrace himself.
His body was never recovered, but a flower, which was named after him was. The
left side of this painting shows the kneeling Narcissus, outlined by the craggy
rocks of what could only be Cape Creus's. On the right side of the painting, the
scene has morphed into a more idyllic and classical scene, in which the
kneeling Narcissus has become the statue of a hand, holding a cracked egg, from
which emerges The Narcissus flower.
This painting reminded me of the first chapter of Metamorphosis, where
the main character, Gregor Samsa, first realizes that he is confronted with a
ludicrous fate in the form of a gigantic insect. In both Kafka's and Dali's
work, I noticed that they both implement a certain "receding" technique. Dali
tends to put an object (In this case, Narcissus) In the foreground, and the
background of the painting tends to be very crisp and detailed, yet unimportant,
compared to Narcissus. I feel the same way about Gregor, I see Kafka writing
this story with mainly Gregor in mind, as the main character and narrator.
Kafka puts this puzzled victim in the story as a clerk, yet that element of the
story tends to receded in to the plot of the story. In a way, this technique
seems to intensify the scene, which later leads up to Gregor's rejection by his
family, and himself.
Another similarity between this scene and the painting, is the fact
that main ‘character's' in the foreground, do not move, they only grow. Gregor
did not get out of bed the first morning of his metamorphosis, yet he did change.
In both halves of Dali's painting, Narcissus's position does not move, yet he
also grows. What is interesting about both works is that they can both be
perceived differently each time I see them. When I first read Metamorphosis, I
did not realize that Gregor was laying motionless in bed, until a second
reading. I had a similar experience with Dali's "The Metamorphosis of
Narcissus". I first saw this painting when I was on vacation in London four
years ago, at a Dali art exhibit. My first impression of this was simply a man
kneeling down in the water, who in the other half of the painting had a flower
growing out of his skull, and there were people living around this huge ‘statue'.
My second viewing of this painting, in the book Dali, by Robert Descharnes,
allowed me to notice many more things. On the left panel of the painting,
Narcissus looks more human, with long flowing hair, and a solid body.
On the right panel, Narcissus can be viewed as either a human figure, or
a hand growing out of the soil, which is grasping a blossoming egg. I also now
notice that the ‘civilization' in the background of the painting has seemed to
have advanced during Narcissus'es metamorphosis. On the left, Narcissus kneel's
alone in the water, only surrounded by wilderness, as the painting progresses
narratively from the left side to the right side, civilization seems to have
advanced, human beings are present, there is a house at the base of the mountain
in the distance, a statue in a courtyard, and there is a cow grazing in the
With this description of the painting, the reader can hopefully grasp
the most important similarity between both Kafka's and Dali's work, both objects,
or persons, (Gregor and Narcissus) however you perceive them, go unnoticed, yet
life continues to go on around them. Both Gregor and Narcissus, in my opinion,
are important because the are the center of attention of each piece of work, yet
the world around them seems to go on without them, and improve.
Both of these works insist that the audience take time to interpret and
understand them. This is perhaps one of the most important reasons for my
selection of these two works. Both stimulate controversy in their
interpretations, and make the audience look deeply to find what they believe to
be their purpose, or meaning. Franz Kafka and Salvatore Dali were both great
artists of their time, who consequently have both been said to greatly
revolutionize their field, especially the latter. The difference between them as
thinkers only lies in the implementation of their thoughts. Kafka chose to write
about his thoughts and dreams, and Dali chose to visualize them on canvas.
My comparison of Kafka's Metamorphosis and Dali's "The Metamorphosis of
Narcissus" are important to Surrealism , because they are clearly both
surrealist works which significantly took surrealism in a new direction. Both
were completed in the first half of the century, when the modernist movement
began to progress, and both are symbolic of surrealism because they make the
audience develop their own interpretation of the work. According to the Random
House College Dictionary, Surrealism is a style of art and literature developed
principally in the 20th century, stressing the subconscious or nonrational
significance of imagery arrived at by automatism or the exploitation of chance
I find that Kafka's surrealistic style, although descriptive, is more
blunt than Dali's. Dali has an advantage over Kafka in this argument, since the
audience is directly looking at what is in Dali's mind, whereas we must
visualize on our own what Kafka believes to be true of Gregor. Another advantage
of Dali's surrealism is that his color usage allows for a much easier depiction
of Dali's mood, as well as the narcissist portrayed.
1.) Tansey, Richard G. and Kleiner, Fred S. Gardner's Art Through The Ages, Book
2, Tenth Edition; Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1996, New York. P. 1076