Kafka Reference: You're Killing It Lady, Explained

Kafka Reference: You're Killing It Lady, Explained

One of my most popular cards is the You're Fucking Killing It card, featuring an early 20th century lady plunging a feather into a giant cockroach.  Let's take a deep dive into the layers of meaning in this image, art history class style, shall we? Dim the lights and pull out the slide projector (oops, I'm showing my age.) I mean, pull out your screens and take a look.

This is one of my absolute, top 5 favorite images of all time I have ever found as an antique dealer.  It comes from the cover of La Vie Parisienne in 1916.  More on that year in a moment.  But first, let's address the direct symbolism.  The feather is actually a quill.  At the time, quills would have still been widely recognized as a writing tool.  Once we see that the feather indicates writing, we see that blood spilling from the cockroach is black, like ink.  Now we see, the woman is a writer.

But that is just what would be obvious to the viewers at the time.  Let's unpack the symbolism.  The woman is holding the quill as a weapon, which we know since it has impaled the cockroach.  We also recognize the weapon as a stand in for a sword, as the woman's hand resting on her hip is a fencing pose.  Fencing is the sport of sword fighting, an old art form that is more popular in Europe but also practiced here in the US (most significantly, by my little brother, hi Jake).

So we have arrived at the secondary meaning of the written word as weapon.  But there's more!

Why a cockroach? Well, remember I said we'd return to 1916.  Here we are.  Just one year after the publication of Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis.  You know, that story of existential dread where the narrator turns into a...giant cockroach.  Yep, this is a contemporaneous Kafka reference!