Something happened

There is a whole pile of books that I want to read in my life time and I have not been able to read as fast as I like. I read more fictions than non-fictions. I also enjoy reading memoirs and life writings. I alternate between books that are fun read and those novels that are insightful or soulful. During the lockdown period, I read The Metamorphosis, an allegory piece by Franz Kafka .

In The Metamorphosis, Gregor Samsa, a travelling salesman  wakes up one morning and finds that he has been transformed into a hideous and monstrous vermin; due to his grotesque  physique, he is held prisoner by his family and remains hidden in his room. As he  retains the human faculties of thinking and feeling, he suffers emotionally and feels helpless. He gradually goes to his ruin and annihilation. If not for the lockdown where things are happening and very much beyond our control, I probably would not have appreciated the novella as much.

I like to think that we live the reality we choose. We create our own realities and that we are our consciousness. If only we could be fully aware of what goes through our heads and how we make our choices, we will be able to take better control of our daily lives.  Since young  we have been fed with all types of information at home and in school and now we think we can actually choose what we read and what we hear, it is not happening as our minds have been influenced, conditioned and shaped from very young age. With technology we are constantly bombarded with tons of  information, we think we want to be informed so we can make well -informed decisions at the end of the day but there are always conflicting views about things work. Eventually we need our optimism and we must never lose our instinctive or intuitive power. During the lockdown period, I know it is normal to  feel anxious and challenged, I try hard to balance my perspectives against all that is happening, often the feeling is unsettling. It feels Kafkaesque.  

Years ago, I read  The Trial written by Franz Kafka. The copy  I have at home is translated by Douglas Scott and Chris Waller and it is decades old. After flipping  the pages and getting through the book, re-reading some pages back and forth, the book is presently looking tattered. It is a book that I hope to re-read later.

After his death, Kafka bequeathed a number of manuscripts to his friend, Max Brod, with the instruction that they were to be destroyed. Brod disregarded his instruction and thus Der Prozess – translated as The Trial was published a year after he died, about ten years since it was written.

From the beginning of the story, Kafka  sets the tone of his writing in a fashion that makes you feel the bleakness and doom  particularly with regards to the legal process. The mood suggests oppression. In The Trial the representatives of the law are somehow described as functionaries who follow orders in a robotic manner and fulfil their duties without understanding or attempting to understand the Law.  It is apparent from the story that the execution of the legal process was perfunctory and inexplicable. 

Although the book was written around 1914, the parable is relevant even in the present era where we cannot guarantee that the  rule of law is understood in  the only way it must be interpreted and applied.  In the story, on his thirtieth birthday, Josef K, the protagonist  is  arrested and it is never disclosed to him nor the readers the crime that he has committed . He is a bank clerk who is steadily achieving  success in his career path and he  comes across as confident and arrogant. However as the story progresses, he finds himself  getting distracted and his work at the bank is terribly affected. Upon hearing about his arrest, his uncle from the country insists that he seeks legal representation and introduces him to his old lawyer friend,  Herr Huld who is on sick bed when K and his uncle visits the latter. Strangely enough, the chief clerk of the court happens to be visiting Herr Huld when K and his uncle calls on him. K becomes frustrated with the lawyer  who has been conveying all the information about the tangled workings of the court and K gradually grows weary of his lawyer’s endless talk and seemingly minimal action. In the meantime, it has become common place that people come to know about K’s arrest and one of his bank clients suggests that he contacts a painter who paints portraits for the court. K takes client’s  advice and contacts Titorelli the official Court painter who provides him with more information about the Court and the painter offers to use his connections to aid K’s cause.  The painter has inherited the connection from his father and he claims that his position unassailable. He also tells K that the Court is impervious to proof that is brought before it.

Titorelli had pulled his chair up nearer the bed and went on in a subdued voice:

‘ I ought to have started by asking you what kind of acquittal you want. There are three possibilities, namely actual acquittal, apparent acquittal, and postponement. Actual acquittal is , naturally , the best, the only thing is I haven’t the slightest influence on that kind of verdict. In my opinion there isn’t a single person who could influence a verdict of actual acquittal. The deciding factor there is probably the innocence of the accused. As you’re innocent, it really might be possible for you to rely solely on your innocence. But then you wouldn’t need help either from me or anybody else.’

K was nonplussed at first by this neat exposition ,but then he said just as quietly as the painter :

‘ I think you ‘re contradicting yourself.’

‘How?’ Titorelli asked patiently, leaning back with a smile.

K pointed out to Titorelli the inconsistencies  one of which is that earlier on, the latter remarked that the Court was impervious to proof but then he qualified that by saying it only applied to what happened in the public sessions of the Court and yet he also said that an innocent person needs no help before the Court. The other contradiction is that the latter also indicated that the judges were open to personal persuasion then he denied by saying that an actual acquittal can never be achieved by personal persuasion. In Chapter  9 entitled ‘In the Cathedral’ K meets the priest who is supposed to be the prison chaplain and is thus connected to the court.

‘ Don’t delude yourself,’ said the priest.

‘How am I supposed to be deluding myself?’ K asked.

‘You’re deluding yourself about the Court,’ the priest said. ‘ In the writings which preface the Law it says about this delusion: before the Law stands a door-keeper. A man from the country comes up to this door-keeper and begs for admission to the Law. But the door-keeper tells him that he cannot grant him admission now. The man ponders this and then asks if he will be allowed to enter later. “Possibly, “ the door-keeper says, “but not now.“Since the door leading to the Law is standing open as always and the door-keeper steps aside, the man bends down to look inside through the door…..’

The priest tells the tale to K about the man from the country who has been denied admission to the court despite making use of everything he has, however valuable, to bribe the door-keeper who accepts it all and as he takes each thing, the door-keeper says :

I am only accepting this so that you won’t believe you have left something untried.

When he is dying, the man from the country is told by the door-keeper  that the door was intended only for him.

The door-keeper realizes that the man is nearing his end and that his hearing is fading, and in order to make himself heard he bellows at the man:

“ No one else could gain admission here, because this door was intended only for you, I shall now go and close it.” 

K and the priest engage themselves in discussing several possible interpretations of the tale.

The priest explains,

“ ……First and foremost, a free man is superior to one who is bound. Now the man from the country is actually free, he can go wherever he wants, it is  only entry to the Law that is forbidden him, and then only by one individual, the door-keeper. If he sits on a stool beside the door and stays there for the rest of his life, this is a voluntary action ,the story says nothing about compulsion. The door- keeper, on the other hand is duty-bound to stay at his post, he may not go out into the country, nor apparently is he allowed to go into the interior of the Law, even if he wanted to. What is more, he is, it’s true, in the service of the Law, yet he serves only this entrance, and therefore only this man, for whom alone this entrance is intended. For this reason, too,he is subordinate to the man. ……

When K says that he does not agree with the priest’s  point of view as he does not think everything the door-keeper says is true.

“No” the priest replied,’ one doesn’t have to accept everything as true, one only has to accept it as necessary’

“ What a gloomy point of view, “ K said. “The lie has become the order of the world.”

While The Trial is full of symbolisms and surrealism, there is the ring of truth about the relationship between the citizen and the Law and definitely about  human conditions in general that suggests corruption, vileness and misuse of power.

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