Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Trial

I found a lot of good covers!  I like this one.
The Trial, by Franz Kafka

I've read some Kafka before, but never this famous novel.

Joseph K. has a good position at the bank and is doing well, until the morning that they come to arrest him.  Officers of the Court take over his landlady's house and inform him that he is free to go about his ordinary life, but he is under arrest and must come to Court when required.  He may not know what he is charged with, who accused him, or anything else.  K. is confident he can prove his innocence, but he finds that the Court is in the attic of a crowded apartment building.   He gets a lawyer, who never seems to get out of bed.  People who claim to have influence give him contradictory instructions.

Everyone seems to know about this Court, but it is secret and labyrinthine.  K's case requires all his energy, but is completely unknowable.  Detailed paperwork is mandatory, but goes nowhere.  Kafka writes in this amazing style that is both detailed and vague:

...if he were to conduct his own defence he would be putting himself completely in the power of the Court, at least for the time being, a policy which would eventually bring about his absolute and definite acquittal, but would meanwhile, provisionally at least, involve him in far greater dangers than before...

Although K. is not in prison, the case gradually takes over his whole life--even though there is nothing he can really do about it.  He can think of nothing else, but progress is impossible; in fact it becomes clear that the best that can happen is for it to drag on forever without progress.  No matter what he tries, the result is the same.  His situation is nightmarish.  By the time they come, inexplicably, to take him away and execute him, K. is just about ready to go. 

This is a really impressive novel.  When I think that Kafka wrote it 100 years ago, in 1914 and -15, and yet he captures perfectly the feeling of being caught up in the cogs of modern bureaucracy, it's just amazing to me.  I expect, however, that the Austro-Hungarian empire was quite proficient in bureaucracy too.

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