If you’ve read Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis in English, it’s likely that your translation referred to the transformed Gregor Samsa as a “cockroach,” “beetle,” or, more generally, a “gigantic insect.” These renderings of the author’s original German don’t necessarily miss the mark—Gregor scuttles, waves multiple legs about, and has some kind of an exoskeleton. His charwoman calls him a “dung beetle”… the evidence abounds. But the German words used in the first sentence of the story to describe Gregor’s new incarnation are much more mysterious, and perhaps strangely laden with metaphysical significance.
Translator Susan Bernofsky writes, “both the adjective ungeheuer (meaning “monstrous” or “huge”) and the noun Ungeziefer are negations—virtual nonentities—prefixed by un.” Ungeziefer, a term from Middle High German, describes something like “an unclean animal unfit for sacrifice,” belonging to “the class of nasty creepy-crawly things.” It suggests many types of vermin—insects, yes, but also rodents. “Kafka,” writes Bernofsky, “wanted us to see Gregor’s new body and condition with the same hazy focus with which Gregor himself discovers them.”
Last night i had turned on the light in the kitchen , SCREAMED loudly as a huge cockroach skittled on my way , climbing the kitchen cabinet and disappearing in a crevice between the wall and the badly renovated kitchen cabinet .
I would meet another one or the same one, i am not sure , at 3 a.m. in the bath room, making its way towards my bed room in very quick and self assured cockroach steps ..
And so i found myself cleaning my apartment at 3.30 a.m., sweeping and washing the floors with an anti cockroach chemical , evacuating the dogs from room to room and finally fulfilling the Yogi credo of cleanliness being next to godliness.
Thank you dear insect for reminding me to clean and as for kafka , i thank him for reminding me how close we all are to being insects, treated by society and family as outcasts, and running away for cover , under a constant threat of a metaphorical broom , fleeing for our very existence , seeking shelter .