The Trial, by Kafka, #2

Welcome to part #2 of The Trial’s book club. I’ll be discussing these chapters:

Chapter 4,  In the empty courtroom / The student / The offices

Chapter 5, The Flogger

Chapter 6, The Uncle / Leni

Chapter 7, Lawyer / Manufacturer / Painter

This section is loaded, my friends. I’m glad I have a bit of perspective now that’s been a few days since I finished the book, for when I was reading these chapters, I felt like trying to make progress across a quagmire.

I apologize. Last week, in the comments, I discussed chapter 4 thinking it was chapter 3. Since I read the book in Spanish, I went online to find the titles of the chapters, and Sparks notes says the encounter with the woman belongs to chapter 3, while smoop tells me that’s chapter 4. I’m going with smoop, only because they provide with chapter titles.

The encounter with the washer woman, the student, and her husband the usher, are part of chapter 4. The woman finds K. attractive, and we are told that Kafka was a handsome man. The books that are allegedly law books belonging to the magistrate, and could give K. some information about what he is accused of, end up being pornography. This may be Kafka’s way to say that under our appearance of life and work, we all hide a different persona with not so noble interests at heart. We discussed much of this section in the first post, the idea of transaction, the concepts of using and being used, the toxic people and places and the effect that all of that can have on us.

Chapter 5, The Flogger, was to me as sadomasochistic as the title. But for anybody reading, we are not in the presence of anything explicit or distasteful, quite contrary, I’m liking Kafka more and more seeing how he offers this feel, this atmosphere and scenario subject to so many different interpretations, but never vulgar or indecent. This was ugly and wrong, though. It happens that words and K.’s testimony had horrible consequences. Franz is going to be flogged because of K.’s sins? K. tries to bribe the guards to avoid that flogging. Assuming that Franz is K.’s alter ego, is Kafka telling us that we cannot buy our salvation? If that’s going too far, at least we see here that we cannot buy our way out of problematic situations, nor save others (even if we are powerful and rich.) After the flogging, K.’s actions speak for themselves. He closes the door. Lies to the bank co-workers saying the noise is of a dog howling. (Is this a coincidence, that he chooses to say it’s a dog? -think of what calling a man a dog meant in history.) If we thought his actions couldn’t be more deplorable, the next day he tells his assistants to clean out the junk room as soon as possible.

Chapter 6, The Uncle / Leni. And now, a peculiar trio, the uncle, a lawyer, and his nurse. Looking back, I’m thinking at this point if K.’s accusation may not be his secret life and affairs with women. In this chapter, he loses interest in his case, in Huld defending him, in his uncle’s reproaches about his lack of care for K.’s daughter (this is when we hear for the first time that he has a daughter.) And what is he doing when he should be discussing his case with Huld?, having an strange affair with Leni. Leni has webbed fingers. What’s this supposed to mean? K. seems to like that fact, and he accepts her in her amphibian condition (?) by kissing her hand, which excites Leni in return. At the end of the chapter, his uncle rails at him for messing up his case. Can it be that K.’s problem is women? Can it be that when he says he’s innocent he is telling us that he is as innocent or as guilty as the next in line (be that a lawyer, judge, student…) Can it be that the women want to defend him because they don’t see his relationship (or transactions) with them as any worse or more reproachable than those of other men, (even when other men seem to have society’s approval, be that explicit, -husband, or implicit, -powerful men like the magistrate or lawyers.)

Chapter 7, Lawyer / Manufacturer / Painter. 

Last chapter for today’s post, one I found suffocating and interesting at the same time. The chapter starts with the exchange between K. and Huld, the lawyer that didn’t inspire much confidence to me, -K.’s own distrust may have prompted mine. K. just knows that he doesn’t want to be involved with this lawyer, he is trying to follow his intuition and refuse his services. The lawyer is pushy with his logic. This part of the book goes round and round in what I believe to be an example that, when our will is committed, there’s no logic that will make us change our minds on the issue. K.’s relationship with Leni is strange. It seems to be a disconnect between K. and Huld, we don’t know the nature of Huld’s relationship with Leni. It’s as if Leni and K. are in a different reality than Huld.

An important client, a manufacturer, stops by. Here Kafka leaves no doubt about K.’s lack of interest with the aspects of life that should be of the most importance to him. I can’t help but thinking Kafka is hinting at his lack of interest for his job. While K. is not devoted to his job, he doesn’t like when he perceives the vice president as undermining K.’s own position at the bank. The manufacturer knows about his trial and recommends K. to visit a man who may be able to help him. That person is no less than a painter. K. decides to visit that man, Titorelly.

The closing part of this chapter lends itself to a dissertation on Kafka and what he thought about art. But before I discuss his exchange with Titorelly, I must note that Kafka doesn’t leave any element of life untouched. His portrayal of children, (the girls that live at Titorelly’s building) is one of sick children, literally and figuratively. Not even the children are innocent in his worldview. More oppressive air. Titorelly asks K. if he’s innocent. K. assents. That has little to do with the trial, and may not even help at all. It’s clear that for K., the world moves on its own, what happens to us has little or nothing to do with our thoughts or actions. Bureaucracy is a blind god. If Achilles and Odysseus were at the mercy of the gods, K. is at the mercy of the cogs of the law. It seems that everybody gives K. their own version of how they affect the system, and how K. is affected by the system, but whether K. doesn’t care to play the game, or doesn’t think it possible to play the game and win it, he is half halfheartedly going through the motions. This is where I find his attitude towards life to be that of Meursalt in Camus’s Stranger. Titorelly was to me a very repulsive character. Art sold to the status quo. All that Titorelly seems to offer K. are stratagems to postpone the trial, patches to keep life as you know it. But even if he is apparently acquitted, he could be arrested and tried again. Sometimes I thought that K. was blind to his situation, but by the end of this chapter, I find him as the only one who sees the emperor is naked.

K. leaves Titorelly’s studio, not before being forced to buy some of his paintings, bad paintings. He also leaves the studio through the back door. Ever since K.’s arrest, his dealings with people are making K. look guilty by association. Not only did he leave through the back door (as someone who has something to hide), but now he truly has something to hide, those bad paintings from a painter with a murky reputation. Maybe Kafka is telling us we can’t escape oppression and trials. Even if we are innocent, we are meant to be guilty sooner or later. (There’s something else I want to say, but it’ll have to be next week, since it concerns the end of the book.)

All of the sudden I thought that the oppressive air may also have to do with Kafka’s pulmonary problems. He truly lived life unable to breath freely and healthily.

 

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15 thoughts on “The Trial, by Kafka, #2

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  1. Silvia said: “The books that are allegedly law books belonging to the magistrate, and could give K. some information about what he is accused of, end up being pornography. This may be Kafka’s way to say that under our appearance of life and work, we all hide a different persona with not so noble interests at heart.”

    I like this take. I was thinking more along the lines of the Law being a fraud, being rubbish, being respectable on the exterior, but depraved at its core. I think it’s both your insight and mine, and perhaps others that I haven’t thought about yet!

    I agree with you about how Kafka manages to communicate such depravity without describing it in detail. And it doesn’t feel lacking. It doesn’t feel like he is just trying to keep it clean. It almost adds to the ominous nature of this strange reality.

    I REALLY want to talk about the flogging chapter, but not enough time right now to flesh out my thoughts. Back (hopefully) soon!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, both readings apply, and possibly others, as you say.

      That’s remarkable, in my eyes, his ability to paint this picture without delving into details, like an impressionist painting.

      I am glad I have to wait for your comments on the flogging. Something to look forward to.

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      1. Don’t look forward to it too much. I have no idea what is going to come out. lol. It’s all just impressions right now – just like you keep comparing the book with impressionistic art, which I find fascinating. I remember that Kafka is considered an Expressionist, but I don’t remember what all that signifies. I like this idea of impressionism to describe the need to look from a distance. It’s fitting.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. When we read The Metamorphosis, I just remember my high school English teacher explaining that he was an expressionist. I think labels can help understand artists, but I never pay too much attention to all those “isms.” It wasn’t a major movement in literature like it was in art. Bertolt Brecht is the only other one I can think of, and I’m not familiar with his plays.

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      3. Me either, I have not read Bertolt Bretch.

        This from Wikipedia makes sense,

        “In literature, expressionism is often considered a revolt against realism and naturalism, seeking to achieve a psychological or spiritual reality rather than record external events in logical sequence. In the novel, the term is closely allied to the writing of Franz Kafka and James Joyce (see stream of consciousness).”

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  2. Okay, so I’ve wanted to talk about the whipping chapter for some time. I am so behind on everything! LOL. I haven’t even read your third blog post that you posted – I don’t even know – a week ago, or two? But here I am, for a bit! (I have a pile of pre-reading for the week sitting beside me, but it can wait)!

    The first thing that stands out to me is the fact that there is a torture room in K’s place of work. My assumption is that Franz and Willem are being punished there intentionally to put them in K’s path. K is supposed to discover them. Just like how K is supposed to meet the priest in the cathedral, even though he doesn’t know it. Is this how you all took it? There’s a sense of determinism, of fate, of inevitability in so much of what happens to K.

    K also did not recognize the men until they said they were being punished for K’s complaint against them. It seems a common thing in this book, not to immediately recognize others. Maybe because of the disconnect in relationships, the faceless nature of so many aspects of the book?

    These men are being harshly punished for a mere accusation, not for proved guilt. This society seems to operate by an attitude of guilty until proven otherwise. It’s similar with K’s case. He doesn’t know what he’s accused of and yet there is an assumption of guilt. He feels guilt and shame even though he believes himself to be innocent. It’s often implied that these trials, if they end at all, rarely end well. Such darkness and cynicism regarding man’s inward self pervade the story. Interestingly, those of us who are Christians will agree to large degree with Kafka about man’s guilt and man’s inward evilness, right? The difference is, we have hope, we have grace. Reading Kafka, I feel his desperation, his grasping for something beyond the bleakness – sadly, I don’t think he ever broke through to the light of ultimate Truth, but he does shed so much light on man’s broken condition. It’s like he sees the problem so clearly, but he never reached the solution.

    But back to the chapter…..Willem says to K, “We are only being punished because you accused us; if you hadn’t, nothing would have happened, not even if they had discovered what we did.” So, that’s twisted. Again, guilt and innocence don’t seem to matter in this world. It is a complaint alone that causes the punishment. If they had been discovered by other means, it seems they would have been left alone. What exactly did they do? Take K’s underwear or breakfast? I’m unclear about what the transgression actually was.

    Silvia said: “K. tries to bribe the guards to avoid that flogging. Assuming that Franz is K.’s alter ego, is Kafka telling us that we cannot buy our salvation? If that’s going too far, at least we see here that we cannot buy our way out of problematic situations, nor save others (even if we are powerful and rich.)”

    I would love to hear you flesh this out further. I get the same impression, that it has something to do with our inability to save ourselves. I find this passage HIGHLY intriguing:

    “K could not afford to let the dispatch clerks and possibly all sorts of other people arrive and surprise him in a scene with these creatures in the lumber-room. No one could really demand such a sacrifice from him. If a sacrifice had been needed, it would almost have been simpler to take off his own clothes and offer himself to the Whipper as a substitute for the warders. In any case the Whipper certainly would not have accepted such a substitution, since without gaining any advantage he would have been involved in a grave dereliction of duty, for as long as this trial continued, K must surely be immune from molestation by the servants of the Court….”

    Substitutionary atonement is brought up and dismissed as impossible. There is no Christ in this universe. Interestingly, K would rather take a beating – one that seems to be pretty gruesome – than have the embarrassment of being found by his colleagues with these “creatures.” Creatures, not men. Creatures, only because they have been put in a disgraceful situation. Their worth is determined not by any qualities inherent in them as people, but by whether they happen to be accused of something – of anything. They are dehumanized for the simple fact that they were unlucky.

    Why does K think he is immune as long as his trial continues? Why does this protect him?

    I have so, so, so much more to say about the ideas in this chapter, but I need to stop for the time being. Next to the Cathedral, I think this is possibly the most important scene in the book, and I want to talk about a lot more of it. Would love to hear more of what you all think about it, and I will try to come back soon!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And I was just thinking….I said that their worth isn’t determined by their qualities, and this is true, but from a Christian perspective, our worth is also not determined by anything good or bad in us. Our worth is based solely on the righteousness imputed by Christ. Kafka’s world is like an inverse of Christianity……I think?

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  3. Thinking more as I’m making supper, and I want to amend my last comment. Indeed, our worth is not based on anything that must be earned, and as a Christian, my worth is solely based on my standing in Christ. But this is too limited. We all, as human beings made in the image of God have unfathomable worth. I think of my worth in light of my faith, but each and every human being has immeasurable worth because we are God’s creation.

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  4. I got you, Katie, I too see this as an inverse christianity.

    All of the sudden, I’ve had a thought about all this… We are all trying to impute meaning into this text, -at least asking questions and trying to find answers, or at least, trying to make sense of the ideas presented in the book, and the book as a whole.

    This is what is driving me crazy. He has managed to put us in his head and his way of living life, (at least while reading the book), and I hate him for that. I believe it’s because I don’t share his worldview, (as Fariba said, this falls into a cynical, deterministic, and pessimistic way of looking at life and at others.) That’s why it keeps screaming Camus to me. Ultimately, this is ABSURD wrapped into the illusion of logic.

    I don’t know why this, but right now I’m mad at Kafka, ha ha ha. I think he is not honest with us. But maybe that’s unfair, (I’m not going to judge him, no), maybe he was honest in handing us his own mess, his own desperation, his own sickness.

    And going back to the book, AGAIN, (I cannot put it away from my mind), as you said, Katie, there’s nothing to hold on to in this world. Existence is painful, volatile, there’s no clear relation or explanation for whatever happens to K. and others. I also thought about the two men expecting him to kill himself. Isn’t that Kafka telling us that society or others very well expect us to commit suicide? (It’s as if suicide wasn’t an individual choice, but an act obviously prompted by others, -they make your life miserable, life makes no sense, it’s expected of you, if you fail to do so, others end up killing you. Dying like a dog also tells us he felt he lived like a dog. There’s no life of the soul here, as you said with the ‘creatures’, it seems beastly and dehumanized. (That’s the world one gets with God out of the picture.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, he does have an incredible way of capturing us in this messed up world of his. Personally, I don’t think he is dishonest. I actually think he is painfully, tragically honest about how he sees the world, but I don’t think he is always seeing accurately. I think he translates all the turmoil of his life and the zeitgeist of the early 20th century onto the page in a way that says a lot of true things. Not ultimate Truth, but things true to his person and, maybe to a lesser degree, to his time. He is so highly and uncomfortably personal. For me, reading this again after almost 20 years, I don’t like it as much as I did when I was young. Perhaps I’ve grown up into a more nuanced and hopeful view of this broken world, and the depth of Kafka’s despair doesn’t ring completely true to me now. I’m also more emotionally settled than I was at 22, whereas the turmoil of Kafka used to be more appealing to me. I also suspect that I derived so much appreciation and enjoyment of Kafka from the fact that I was reading in a group setting. As we’ve mentioned, he is rather hard to read alone, and the discussion is more pleasurable than the actual text. Anyway, I honestly don’t know how I feel about this book anymore!

      About the suicide. That’s a good point. Life in Kafka’s world is alienating and confounding and brutal. Suicide sounds like an acceptable and almost expected decision when the search for meaning and truth is seemingly impossible and one is left alone and detached from humanity. And the fact that if you don’t do it yourself, you will get it in the end anyway. Wow. Like, as you said, a dog. Not a human being with dignity, with a soul. So harsh.

      I should (finally) jump over to your last blog about the book. I never did get over there. The cathedral and K’s death are pretty heavy. Look forward to hearing what you’ve said about it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I totally agree with the sentiment about the book apealling more to our younger selves. I honestly believe that reading as we age, seasons us, and it cuts deeper, and we have less tolerance for that young desperation and anger, and in my case, difficulty with these type of books (even when they are brilliant.) Just today, I quit reading Breakfast of Champions. I just can’t.
        See you at post #3, lol.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Funny, Vonnegut is one of those guys that I’ve sometimes wondered, “what would I think now.” And I don’t know. I haven’t read him in a long time. And I haven’t read him widely. Slaughterhouse a couple times, which I truly did love both times. And Slapstick, which I remember enjoying. And Cat’s Cradle, which I put down and never finished over 10 years ago. But he’s that kind of guy. He shocks and he’s novel, and I do wonder if he has less appeal for those of us who have lived half our lives.

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