The Predator in My Kitchen (Learning about Literature from Kafka)

There was mayhem. In my kitchen. Invisible though it was, I benefited from the mayhem. After all, I had a problem before, and now I have none. I confess. The murderer in my kitchen has taken care of my problem. I’ll admit more even. Cockroaches. That was my problem. No longer, not since a gecko has become my unforgiving enforcer in the kitchen. As far as I can tell, the cockroaches are all gone. The gecko, ruthless in its purpose, has released me from the unhappy prospect of calling the exterminator. No more spraying of pesticides in my kitchen.

I know geckos. I grew up with them. In India, we call them wall lizards. They live behind curtains, picture frames, bookshelves, furniture. Sometimes you enter a room in the middle of the night, switch on a lamp, and catch one frozen on a wall, eyes iridescent in the sudden light. Now a distant relative has found its way into my kitchen here in Honolulu. To my benefit, for I do not fear the gecko. On the whole, I am pleased with the metamorphosis in my kitchen, which has made it unnecessary for me to introduce toxic chemicals into my home.

But what of the annihilated cockroaches? Professor of literature that I am, I think of Kafka and his celebrated short story. Gregor Samsa transformed into an insect. That is what comes to mind. Using his extraordinary gifts, Kafka entered into the condition of an insect, even if only as imagined by a human being. Let us call it trans-species communing through the power of literature.

I cannot resist the prod from sad Gregor, dead at the end of the story like my cockroaches. I have to ask—what is my karmic portion in the mayhem of my kitchen? No meaningful answer to that question is possible right now; or ever, some will no doubt say, finding the question inexcusably absurd. No matter. I’m still glad to have been provoked by Kafka and the (sometimes) redemptive power of great literature—a power that, Kafka shows, does not fear the risky embrace of the ridiculous.

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