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.