The Concept of Music from Kafka’s The Metamorphosis: Author vs Translator




literary translation, F. Kafka, The Metamorphosis, concept of music


This article examines the problem of preserving the meaning of the translation of fiction texts. The author refers to the translation into Russian of “War er ein Tier, da ihn Musik so ergriff?”, a phrase from Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. It is argued that in the only translation of the novella into Russian by S. K. Apt, there is an inaccuracy in the translation of this phrase, which distorts the semantics of the source. The article reveals the grounds for the assumption of this inaccuracy in the translation of the outstanding Russian Germanist. They relate to the translator’s intuitive rejection of the concept of musical art, which is reflected in the phrase analysed. While reconstructing Kafka’s thought, the author of the article concludes that Kafka’s work expresses an understanding of music that completely disagrees with the one that distinguishes the classical works of European philosophy of music, forged on the basis of Romantic aesthetics. Kafka has a non-Romantic understanding of music: he refuses to venerate it as an ideal metaphysical essence, reflecting on the nature of the impact of music on the listener. The author puts forward a hypothesis that in Kafka’s work, there is a rethinking of the philosophy of musical art belonging to F. Nietzsche, who opposed music to the non-musical human world, subordinated to logic and language. Kafka radicalises this opposition: in his logic, music alienates people from the rational world, plunging them into an animal, primordially natural state. Gregor Samsa’s sensitivity to music, which he discovers after the metamorphosis, makes him recognise his animal essence, which requires that the analysed phrase be translated as a sentence with a clause of reason (“Was he an animal because music excited him so much?”) rather than a clause of condition (as in Apt: “Was he an animal if music excited him so much?”). The reference to other novellas about “animals responsive to music” (Investigations of a Dog, Josephine the Singer, or the Mouse Folk) reinforces the proposed reconstruction of Kafka’s understanding of music, which, in turn, opens significant semantic layers of the novella related to the interpretation of the images of other characters (Gregor’s family, three guests in Mr. Samsa’s apartment) and its deep tragic content.

Author Biography

Olga Turysheva

Dr. Hab. (Philology), Professor, Ural Federal University named after the first President of Russia B. N. Yeltsin.

19, Mira Str., 620002, Yekaterinburg, Russia.

ORCID 0000-0002-3014-6153


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How to Cite

Turysheva, O. (2023). The Concept of Music from Kafka’s The Metamorphosis: Author vs Translator. Quaestio Rossica, 11(4), 1182–1195.



Problema voluminis