Feed on

Franz Kafka is such a beautiful writer, and does such a phenomenal job of remaining distant whilst talking about such an emotionally deep situation. Before reading this short story I had never heard of professional/artistic fasting, I had only ever heard of spiritual and religious fasting and then on the complete other end of the spectrum, eating disorder centered fasting. I was a bit confused about the time period that this artistic fasting was popular during, and I couldn’t figure it out just by reading. I thought the concept was fascinating, a professional faster. There was a section that really stuck with me on the second page, when the author was talking about how easy it actually was to fast, and how no one believed him when he would vocalize this.

I personally struggled with an eating disorder for a little over a year, and can attest to the fact that not eating is very, very easy. There is no science to it, it is not some grand feat that should be admired, it requires zero self control. To be completely honest, I feel like it requires an immense loss of control to be able to starve yourself for prolonged periods of time. As can be seen in this piece, the hardships start when it is required for one to start eating again. It becomes a mental game. How far can I go? How much can I cut back? What exactly are my bodies limits? For me, and it seems for this hunger artist, it was thrilling, orgasmic even to push the limits of our very existence. It is like an internal battle with yourself, a divide between the physical and the mental and they are battling to see whose will is stronger.

I think Franz did an absolutely magnificent job of showing the deadly impacts that this unhealthy pattern of thinking goes. Fasting, in any sense boils down to an eating disorder, no matter the reason to begin in the first place. The mental choice to starve yourself for any amount of time is an eating disorder plain and simple. I think the ending was the most intense part of this story for me. When the hunger artist said no one should admire him because “I have to fast. I can’t help it.” I wanted to absolutely cry. That for me, is what portrayed the message of this piece the most prominently which is that fasting is a psychological war that has been glorified and exploited throughout time. Even the hunger artist himself cannot fathom why people are so fascinated with his fasting, why it is so difficult for them to believe that it is so much simpler than they can comprehend.

Fasting is a very deep, and internal journey, if I can even call it that. It makes you very aware of every part of your being, yet it also eventually makes you numb to every aspect of your being. I think the reason fasting is used as a spiritual tool (typically over shorter periods of time) is because it makes you hyper aware if done properly. The massive danger however stems from people like me who after their first experience with this awareness becomes addicted to that feeling and is scared it will disintegrate once the fasting stops. This mentality can be seen when it is time for the hunger artist to leave his cage and join the feast that was set up in his honor and he doesn’t want to leave… he wants to stay longer, starve longer. He explicitly says “Why stop fasting at this particular moment, after forty days of it? He had held out for a long time, an illimitably long time; why stop now, when he was in his best fasting form, or rather, not quite in his best fasting form? Why should he be cheated of the fame he would get for fasting longer, for being not only the record hunger artist of all time, which presumably he was already, but for beating his own record by a performance beyond human imagination, since he felt that there were no limits to his capacity for fasting?”

This piece shed so much light on a topic that goes so much deeper than people want to address these days. The eating disorders that are talked about seem to be confined to three very small boxes (starving, throwing up, and bingeing) when fasting for various reasons, and to various severities seem to be greatly overlooked. I was so moved, and so impressed by the style of writing, and the portrayal of the message.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.