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PSC 314Political Theory and Constitutional Law


Notes on Franz Kafka, The Trial (orig. 1937 or 1927)

notes (incomplete) from Jeremy Lewis

The Definitive Edition, with Introduction by George Steiner, Trans. Willa and Edwin Muir, Revised Trans. E.M. Butler, Drawings by Franz kafka. (NY: Schocken Books, 1992. Orig. 1937.)

George Steiner, Introduction.

Unlikely that anything new can be said:
(1) "Kafkaesque" translates in 100 languages. "K" is easily recognized. "The arrest of Joseph K, the opaque tribunals, his literally bestial death, are the alphabet of our totalitarian politics." (p.vii.)
(2) voluminous literature; and
(3) Kafka's readings of Kafka exceed our own. Judiastic themes of Kafka (epic, scenic, lyric and narrative impulses) are from a tradition dormant from the Bible until the C19th. Circling and weaving commentaries upon commentaries in Talmudic tradition of legalism.

Kafka a Prague jew assimilated to German culture, ambivalent to Czech nationalism, tubercular and weak, in love with women but withdrawing from them; wracked by existential guilt. A minor insurance assessor.

Muirs saw Kafka as borrowing from Kierkegaard contradiction between human and divine law.

Marxist interpretations via sociology are reductive.

Kafka appalled by meat market of women available to men on the streets, as servants or in boarding houses, portrays this as degrading, ensoiling to men. Encounters are lustful but unsatisfying.

Kafka himself laughed on reading out other materials -- not just infinitely sad.

Kafka was steeped in Russians, French enlightenment, and Dickens.

Kafka's sweetheart Milena and her sisters perished in the death camps.

Chap 1: The Arrest, Conversation with Frau Grubach; Then Fraulein Burstner.
Under arrest by two corrupt, coarse and ignorant warders, later by Inspector in Burstner's room, but none of them knows for what. Three subordinates from bank escort him to work -- so not confined to boarding house.

Frau Grubach the fat landlady seems to have learned more from his warders, but not much.

K confides in Fraulein Burstner the typist lodging next door. She thinks if a Court of Inquiry is on him its serious but if he is still free he must be innocent. But K rejects her idea that he must be innocent -- he could be just less guilty. He laps and kisses her throat, then breaks away to sleep.

Chap 2: First Interrogation.
Called at work to interrogation at a suburban house on Sunday -- time not mentioned.

Arrived to find it a poor, crowded tenement block -- at top floor, told to go in to crowded gallery without any sign or introduction. Magistrate declares him late. Left half of crowd silent at each answer, while right half bursts into laughter.

K gave dominant speech denouncing the whole process and aware of the Magistrate's secret signals to crowd responses. He exposes Magistrates note book as a sham.

Interrupted by man shrieking after embracing woman in corner.

Crowd he notices have official badges on like Magistrates and same on both sides of gallery. K strides for door and Magistrate tells him he has flung away all the advantages to the accused of an interrogation.

Chap 3: In the Empty Courtroom; The Student; The Offices.
Lacking a summons, K returns to court next Sunday lest he be tried in his absence. Receptionist is the Embraced woman he meets again. She is married and the man had been pestering her; her husband tolerates it because aggressor is a [law] student and will be powerful. She lets him see the books.

Her home is the anteroom; the Magistrate fancies her & gave stockings; usher is her husband. Husband tells K she really throws herself at the Student. Most cases are foregone conclusions.

Clerk of Inquiries (pp.69-70) is well informed and well dressed to make a good impression with clients -- rest are shabbily dressed and live entirely in the courtroom.

Chap 4: Fraulein Burstner's Friend.
Fraulein Montag moves in with Fraulein Burstner whom he has been unable to see for a few days. Captain (nephew of landlady) talks with Montag and ignores K.
Chap5: The Whipper.
K at Bank lumber-room finds former Warders being whipped because he complained of their stealing his clothes, and being corrupt. K tries to bribe the Whipper not to do it -- his complaint is with higher auth, not lowly warders, system is wrong.

Much later he opened the door to find everything as before, unmoved, including the Whipper and Warders still with clothes on.

Chap 6: K's Uncle; Leni.