Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Conversion

In Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis Gregor Samsa awakes from some "unsettling dreams" to find himself "changed in his bed into a monstrous vermin." Gregor is now a bug and must now live out this reality. As we gather from the proceeding narrative this change was not unrelated to how he perceived himself before this occurrence both at his work and at home with his sister and parents. However, one morning things were entirely different.
It took some time to realize the similarities with the sermon I preached this past Sunday. It was on three parables (Matthew 13:44-50). The parables are about conversion and judgment. In the first two parables treasure is found. The one who finds the treasure sells all to obtain it. The third parable is about the end of the age when angels are sent out to judge between righteousness and wickedness. Kafka's work was a confirmation of the reality of conversion, a term that is almost entirely unpopular. Kafka reminds us that perhaps conversion is not a one-way street and that there may be a downward conversion or anti-conversion. Our existence is always in movement. Some conversions have been sought and received and perhaps others have been the result of a mid-life realization that one's youth and vision has been utterly replaced. If we do not place ourselves before the transcendent Giver then we will remain subject the forces of existential gravity.


Nicola Masciandaro said...

Two related thoughts come to mind reading this and your sermon. One is that conversion is not simply a powerful experience but a foundational change in the structure of experience itself, hence both the tendency to think of it as an absolute, unique event and disbelief in the possibility of its authenticity. I would like to think of conversion in terms that neither relativize it as an experience that "comes and goes" nor reify it as a fixed thing one either does or does not have. And this suggests the need for two things, to think conversion as a motion or stage within an ever deepening unfolding and to think it in terms that are more than subjective, i.e. in terms of an alteration in consciousness itself. The Kafka episode, as you point out, really captures this second aspect, that is, conversion as entry into a new seeing, seeing with new eyes and seeing something new.

Now I forgot what my other thought was! (is?)

In light of the whole reality issue (the reality of what conversion sees, the elision of reality within religious discourse, the construction of the real in secular culture, and so on) I think you might appreciate another blog I recently came across:


Unknown said...

What I wanted to communicate in this post (as I began but didn't continue) was that conversion came from somewhere. The change that occurs in conversion should not be minimized but it should also not be abstracted from the larger narrative of one's life (as I think you pointed out as well). As I am writing this I am curious how Kierkegaard relates his "leap" to the overall movement of a person's life because if there is such a thing as an anti-conversion then some may be part of a longer "slow-burning" process.

Thanks for the site suggestion.

Unknown said...

I suppose the role that the "unsettling dreams" that began Kafka's work should not be minimized in its function as a medium of sorts. It reminds me a little of the opening section in Proust's Swann;s Way (it reminds me of the opening section because that is as far as I've made it so far) where sleep and reality tend to overlap and where waking experience remains charged with the possibilities of the symbolic dream world.
I wonder if it is possible to speak of a lived conversion or transformation? At what point to transformation slip back into the mundane work of formation. I think a high view of aesthetics may contribute to understanding transformation as more than a singular event. Although I am not sure I want to do away with value and need of "events".
Okay, its too early for this type of rambling.