Job’s Metamorphosis

‘My dear parents,’ said the sister banging her hand on the table by way of an introduction, ‘things cannot go on any longer in this way. Maybe if you don’t understand that, well, I do. I will not utter my brother’s name in front of this monster, and thus I say only that we must try to get rid of it. We have tried what is humanly possible to take care of it and to be patient. I believe that no one can criticize us in the slightest.’, F. Kafka, The Metamorphosis.

Only when you’re heard does it make sense to say something.

Job only wants one thing: to be heard. His friends listen to him. They do not hear what he is saying. Gregor wanted one thing: that his sister might develop herself. She does and so stops listening to him.

It’s all right. Both get what they want in the end. Not justice or wisdom or payback for the observation of their duties. They get want they want. They’re heard. Job’s tabernacle will be blessed and Gregor’s family fairs well as well.

You can read both as criticism. That is what happens if you try to hear what is being said. Still, think a little harder when you are trying to hear something. Or a little less. Because, you know, literally both stories end on the up and up. Gregor and Job get what they want, they literally and exactly get what they want.

If you think they don’t then you didn’t hear what they said. Maybe because you were too busy still listening to what you want for them. Probably because you only hear what you want.

Try again (warning: full-on atheism ahead):

The thing is this: it’s easy to get all emotional about the injustice of it all. These are your emotions nonetheless and not necessarily those of the authors. In Kafka’s case not a lot of people would think he was inspired by God. In Job’s case I at least think God had nothing to do with writing any of it. I don’t know what these human beings wanted to convey, if anything. I do know what they wrote because I read it and it’s not about emotion or some bloodless worry about the injustice of it all. It is about reason and the desire to be heard.

The book of Job is so much about reason that Thomas Hobbes thought it all true sincerely and without regard of whether the outcome was soothing or not. Desiring to be heard is – in the end – not about getting it the way you want. Being heard is everything that is to it – an end in itself, what makes saying something worth the while. So it’s not sad that Gregor dies when nobody can hear him. It’s neither justification for nor accusation of God that a righteous man like Job endures misery. It is just the way it is, and if solace must be found, it is to be found in both of these men being heard. Rather, it’s in the authors of both these stories being heard not indirectly via interpreters (like me) but by reading those damned things for yourself.

I submit to you that it is your emotion that makes you want these stories to be about life. They are to me about something that has become more and more unspeakable: death. In neither case the protagonists are looking for a meaning in their own life or identity. Job just wants his life to have some added value for others. Gregor may not have tabernacles and all that ancient stuff but everything he ever really wanted was to free his sister. That he could have gotten a better deal is clear but he didn’t and she did and, really, that’s fine enough to be free to die. Just like Job wanted to die if he had no added value, and was not heard. The only difference is this: Gregor dies, Job lives but both served to make a point – yes, I am atheist: human beings shouldn’t serve to make a point.

The truth is neither Gregor nor Job are human beings. Their authors made them serve a point. The only thing we can do is make sense of it so the authors don’t go unheard even if we are shocked by what they say: that life just isn’t worth living if you merely live it for your self without mattering to others, without being heard.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s