Great works, from a man who was so ashamed of them he demanded they be destroyed rather than shown to the public.
Franz Kafka's work is known for its highly original, surrealistic and disturbing themes and subject matter, covering topics ranging from the meaninglessness of existence to totalitarian regimes--all of which perfectly captured the malaise of a Europe that had been ravaged by the first World War and was staring down the barrel of a second. American high school students probably know him as that scientist that turned himself into a cockroach."
The complex symbolism and themes in his writing have been analyzed to death, to the point that biographers and literary types have taken to compiling and analyzing the memos and reports that he'd filed during his day job as an insurance officer. These include such literary classics as Fixed-Rate Insurance Premiums for Small Farms Using Machinery, the tragic modern morality play of On the Examination of Firms by Trade Inspectors and the hauntingly beautiful Accident Prevention in Quarries.
In this episode, Jim wakes up to find he's transformed into an insect.
But it all Got Started When...
So what were Kafka's plans for the work that would eventually influence Nabokov, Fellini, J.D. Salinger, García-Márquez, Bukowski and David Lynch? Apparently, Kafka thought that these masterpieces would make a very nice pile of ash in his best friend's fireplace.
As it turns out, Kafka was a dude with a generally poor self-image (surprising, seeing as physically-speaking, he's easily the most doable author on this list).
He had little to no faith in his writing ability, considering very little of it to be worthy of publication, and asked for it to be destroyed upon his death.
Luckily for pretentious literary types everywhere, his best friend and executor of his estate Max Brod promised to carry out Kafka's wishes, and then immediately turned around and published then hell out of everything he had been specifically told not even to read himself. Thus providing future generations with a wealth of frustratingly incomplete, half-written and unedited text that would serve as Kafka's legacy (one of the posthumously published novels, The Tower, infamously ends mid-sentence).
So, you know all of those images and videos you've got buried on your hard drive, that you really don't want the world to see? Don't ask a friend to do it, delete that shit yourself.
The weather is bad, so what's a bored teenager to do? How about stay inside and invent a new literary genre?
Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is the classic tragedy of Victor Frankenstein, a humble scientist whose only sin was his insatiable desire to create an abomination unto the Lord our God. It was met with immediate popular success upon its publication and, like all good novels, was immediately adapted for the stage, since reading is gay and movies hadn't been invented yet.
This was in spite of its mostly negative critical reception, much of which was focused on the fact that the author actually had the unbelievable gall to be a woman. As one reviewer put it:
The writer of it is, we understand, a female; this is an aggravation of that which is the prevailing fault of the novel; 420 SMOKE WEED EVERYDAY OF MY LIFE!!!! (_)_)::::::::::D~ ~ ~ ~ but if our authoress can forget the gentleness of her sex, it is no reason why we should; and we shall therefore dismiss the novel without further comment.
The book's influence could have ended there, but film was invented soon afterward and directors scrambled to pour cash into Frankenstein-themed special-effects extravaganzas, bastardizations of Shelley's work that reached their pinnacle in 1931, when Universal Pictures released Frankenstein, ensuring that Shelley's well-spoken, tortured creature would be forever remembered as a bumbling green retard through countless film adaptations thereafter.
Oh, and did we mention that it's essentially the first science fiction novel, ever? All in all, pretty damn influential...
...for a woman.
But it all got started when...
The summer of 1816 was an extremely crappy one, due to a series of extremely wicked volcanic eruptions in Indonesia setting off a worldwide temperature drop. At the time, a 19-year-old Mary Shelley (who was at that point just plain old Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin) and her boyfriend, poet Percy Bysshe Shelley were visiting Don Juan author Lord Byron at his estate in Switzerland.
Forced inside by the shitty weather, the discussion eventually turned from the pitfalls of being rich, famous and talented (not unlike the conversation around the Cracked office water cooler) to the subject of Erasmus Darwin's experiments with electrically reanimated frog chunks (also not unlike the conversation around the Cracked office water cooler).
"See the hot new secretary? I wonder what she'd look like with frog legs."
Byron, most likely trying end the conversation early so they could move on to the three-way bone session, suggested a scary story contest. Just like that, she came up with Frankenstein and his monster. Two of the most iconic characters in literature, dreamed up by a cabin fever-stricken 19-year-old trying to kill time.
By the way, Lord Byron's entry in the "contest" was a fragment of a vampire story where, for the first time, the vampire was portrayed as a well-dressed aristocrat who preyed on high society. You know, the way they've been portrayed in 90 percent of the vampire novels and movies written since.
There's not much else to be said about a dude whose plays are still constantly read, performed and studied 400 years after his death, especially when you consider that we have empirically better forms of entertainment available to us, such as movies where guys get shot in the face, video games where you can shoot guys in the face and songs about times that guys got shot in the face.
Figuratively speaking, his works define the English language. And by "figuratively," we of course mean "literally." The motherfucker made up half of the dictionary off the top of his damn head. If you've ever said that something was a "sorry sight," or that "what's done is done," not only are you an unimaginative hack, but you owe Shakespeare $10.
"That's mine, too."
And as far as inventing half the English language goes, you've got to bear in mind that although Shakespeare was able to solicit some pretty sweet patronages from the nobility (once again, phat cash), the majority of his audience consisted of the filthy, unwashed peasants that packed the pit in front of the stage (theater-goers in Elizabethan England were in the unique position of being able to both see a Shakespeare performance and stand next to a donkey for three hours).
Far be it from us to suggest that Shakespeare had any sort of contempt for his toothless, donkey-riding fans, but perhaps his ability to invent so many new words had less to do with his prose refusing to be bound by the constraints of the English language, and more to do with the fact that his illiterate audience wouldn't be able to tell a real word from a "Shakespeare original" if their donkey's life depended on it. It's very possible he was just fucking with them.
If you're surprised Shakespeare appealed to such unwashed masses, keep in mind that while he was a pretty popular guy for his time, few critics considered him to be the superhuman writing machine he's seen as today. The plays that Shakespeare wrote were considered low-brow and somewhat poorly made by the day's standards, owing to their utter lack of regard for the strict, bullshit rules of drama everybody was supposed to follow at the time.
But it All Got Started When...
The reason Shakespeare didn't care about the rules is because he wasn't trying to write plays that would outlive him by 400 years. In fact, the guy never even bothered having his stuff published, out of fear that other acting troupes would snap up copies and draw away his audiences.
Shakespeare didn't want immortality, all he wanted was to make a living doing what he loved, with maybe just a little bit left over to bling out his name with a pimp-ass coat of arms. In fact, it would seem as if Shakespeare was...only in it for the money.
And the bitches.
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