A Note on Translation

A couple of weeks ago I read Kafka's Metamorphosis; I loved the overall concept but was pretty disappointed in the narrative. It just felt so stilted and immature, which is SO unlike Kafka. So, for some stupid reason, I decided to wikipedia it and discovered something wonderful (at least I thought it was wonderful) Basically, the Metamorphosis of the english speaking world is a very different book to the original text. For one thing, the "thing" that Gregor Samsa is transformed into isn't intended to be anything specific. In the english translation it is always said to be an "insect" (or "bug". tch Americans) and this isn't strictly accurate. In German Gregor is described as an Ungeziefer. Now in middle German this was considered an unclean animal unsuitable for sacrifice and in Nazi Germany it was a term often used to describe the Jews. Only very generally does it mean "bug", the offical word being Insekt, it actually translates directly as "a monstrous vermin" but that just sounds crap.

On discovering this the book began to take on a whole different meaning, it suddenly felt VERY Kafka (he is known for his ambiguity!) He didn't want to label Gregor as anything specific, rather he wanted to convey Gregor's disgust at his transformation, which is why the word Ungeziefer works so well. Kafka even complained when the English copy of his book had a picture of a beetle on the front! He was like "what are you doing punks?"

What really frustrates me, is how people try to dum down Kafka. You can't dum down Kafka, the guy's a genius! Some stupid kiddy website was comparing the book to Twilight - PLEASE! Metamorphosis is... argg just SO SO MUCH BETTER. So yeah rant over. I guess what I'm trying to say is, everyone should learn German and read Kafka. It will make you better people.


  1. I do need to point out though that modern-day readers in Germany will most likely read "Ungeziefer" as "bug". or, at the very least, "insect" It's just the modern connotation - Ungeziefer, basically, are destructive or unwanted insects: everything that kills a harvest or a forest. Or sits in your cupboard.

  2. That's interesting, and helpful! Thanks :-)