Note 6

With my limited faculties I nonetheless dissent here from Michael Hofmann’s translation – which employs ‘cockroach’ – and turn to that of David Wylie offered by Project Gutenberg. Kafka uses the term ‘Ungeziefer’, itself an intensified – by the prefix ‘un’ (which he uses no less than three times in this sentence) – form of Geziefer, or ‘vermin’. I agree with those who argue that the lack of specificity is important to our ability to suspend disbelief in Gregor’s transmogrification, although I wouldn’t go as far as Nabokov, who argued that Kafka’s very precise description deliberately failed to correspond to any known insect. But certainly a more likely candidate than a cockroach for Gregor’s invertebrate counterpart would be a bedbug. Its morphology corresponds more closely to Kafka’s account, and besides, this would have been the vermin he was most exposed to: he was tormented by them during the night he spent at the Askanischer Hof Hotel in Berlin, after the dreadful ‘trial’ to which he had been subjected by Felice Bauer that ended their first engagement.

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