2023/09/24 - 05:54


by Chuck Richardson


Parables and Paradoxes, Bi-lingual Edition, by Franz Kafka, Schocken Books, New York, 1958.

The Great Short Works of Franz Kafka: A New Translation by Joachim Neugroschel, Scribner Paperback Fiction,

               And, how does it work, exactly—this book that takes us into hell?
                       William H. Gass, Fiction and the Figures of Life 1

                     Criticism is the highest form of autobiography.
                       Oscar Wilde 2

                      A belief like a guillotine – as heavy as light.
                       Franz Kafka 3

If K had rendered his own New Testament, his fictional messiah, profoundly alienated and ignored by His
countrymen, being pressured by His Father to do something—even if it’s wrong, might have nailed Himself to a
cross of His own making…out of necessity.

Of course, He would have had to engineer then construct an apparatus that would do His nailing for Him as He
positioned Himself—forming an angel in the imaginary snows of Golfgully, His back chafing nigh the blasphemous
rood, pleasing His sadistic Dad.

The contraption, naturally, would not work according to The Plan, but mete out justice by its own whim.
Resurrection would be pointless, or worse: a Sisyphean nightmare. 4 

As modest delusions exact small rewards, K would’ve got his kicks being evil for a while, playing devil’s advocate to
the apparent organic damnation informing his environment and spirit. His devil writes to be lived.

By exposing the metaphysical horror of creation (the selective physiology of physicality) and mocking it, K reveals
the absurdity of his evolutionary, existential dilemma: that he is sentient and therefore must participate in
sentience, even if it seems awry.5 K escapes this conscious charge by fictionalizing it. Writing is a sinful pleasure
that exorcises and projects his deepest sense of realness onto the page, revivifying him while, perhaps, vicariously
weakening the pragmatic, worldly resolve of unwary, bureaucratic readers consuming his “story.”

Unlike his consumers, K is unconcerned with the nature of reality. For him, the reality of nature is quite enough,


K deploys humor as an evasion tactic against the civilizing forces that oppose his escape from social reality to the
other side, where existence might seem more credible and personal.

Fifty-eight pages into The Metamorphosis, I scribbled this note in the margin: “Too long! Dragging it out…why?
Reader begins feeling like Gregor.” K then tweaks my evolving empathy on the very next page (talk about timing):

Was he a beast to be so moved by music? He felt as if he were being shown the path to the unknown food he was
yearning for. 6

Alas, the unknown food may be Gregor’s escape from meaninglessness: death. The meaning of life—the story—is
it stops. Somehow, when spirit evaporates signifiers inch closer to what they’re trying to music. Bullshit
stops and the visible absence of soulfulness, ethereality, make awareness more acute, allowing the perceiver’s
mind to temporarily transcend itself before falling victim to memory. Many have had a similar sensation looking at a
loved one’s corpse. Though dead, the flesh (or text—now a forever closed book) retains the power to trigger the
perceiver’s imagination like a moving picture, sound or smell. The feelings are physical manifestations of absence,
much the way an amputee still abides the throbbing of her lost limb. The anguish is real, though its source no
longer exists beyond that which signifies it.

One of the underlying paradoxes of K’s work is that absence/escape is oneness and a means to spiritual
nourishment, rather than a separation or dismemberment from it. Enduring life’s overall meaninglessness feeds his
artistic expression, and despair paradoxically becomes K’s primary signifier and the existential vehicle for
expressing his reality. The text revels in the black hole of magical nonsense and hocus pocus diction, leaving the
reader’s empathy just as tweaked to K’s fictional universe as K’s sensitivities are attuned to his lived one.

As the reader’s absorption in Gregor Samsa’s existential torment reaches its saturation point, Gregor’s little sister,
who has taken charge of the family, speaks for everyone, including this reader and her dung beetle brother:

“My dear parents, …things cannot go on like this. You may not realize it, but I do. I will not pronounce my brother’s
name in front of this monstrosity, and so all I will say is: We must try to get rid of it. We have done everything
humanly possible to look after it and put up with it; I do not believe there is anything we can be reproached for.” 7

As my friends had warned, here was the riptide, the current that washed away the façade of familial bonds—the
chains of blood. Strings of loyalty, grown tenuous over time, now break in the most familiar fashion, as the sister

“People who have to work as hard as we do can’t also endure this nonstop torture at home.” 8

It is now obvious that the desperation Gregor has so quietly endured, even as a cockroach, requires more stamina
than his human family can muster.

Further belittling human selfishness (anthropo-, ethno- and egocentrism), K has Gregor’s son-sacrificing father
respond feebly to his daughter’s harsh call for preemption:

“If he understood us,” the father repeated, closing his eyes in order to take in the sister’s conviction that this was
impossible, “then perhaps we might come to some sort of terms with him. But as things are now—” 9

His daughter cuts him off:
“It has to go…that’s the only way, Father. You simply have to try and get rid of the idea that it is Gregor. Our real
misfortune is that we believed it for such a long time. Just how can that possibly be Gregor? If that were Gregor, he
would have realized long ago that human beings can’t possibly live with such an animal and he would have left of
his own accord.” 10

Gregor, of course, is Gregor, and he’s listening, as are we. Adding to the heartbreak is K’s description of Gregor’s

He could barely feel the rotting apple in his back or the inflamed area around it, which were thoroughly cloaked with
soft dust. He recalled his family with tenderness and love. His conviction that he would have to disappear was even
stronger than his sister’s. He lingered in this state of blank and peaceful musing until the tower clock struck three in
the morning. He held on long enough to glimpse the start of the overall brightening outside the window. Then his
head involuntarily sank to the floor, and his final breath came feebly from his nostrils. 11

We mourn for ourselves through the cockroach, for we have become Gregor Samsa. Humans are the real bugs,
alien and cruel. Ironically, it is this realization that sensitizes the reader to her own humaneness, which she then
perceives in opposition to civil society. She ends up taking life personally, as one should.


That said I was surprised by many ticklish passages, each appearing at the most intriguing moments. K’s humor is
always subtle, ever showing but never telling.

An online associate writes that K “horrified me totally.” Another said K infected her psyche with a nauseating
melancholy that exacerbated her depression. Each warned I was swimming into elusively deep waters agitated by
wicked riptides, and they were right.

A good example of this is a peculiar story for K in that the narrator is in the position of power, similar to the narrator
of Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener,” in that each voice is attempting to discover something meaningful in the
actions of an odd inferior. 12

The piece under consideration is an early one,  “Conversation with the Worshiper.” 13 Here, a non-believer (i.e.:
outsider/alien/interloper) has been stalking a seemingly devout young woman he’s infatuated with at the church in
the town square. A voyeur, the narrator grows offended by one of the worshiper’s effusive prostrations. Further
infuriating the narrator is the young man’s more consistent attendance at mass over time than his original quarry—
the woman. This fact agitates the prowler’s insensitive, bureaucratic soul (he later claims to be a member of the
secret police), which is seeking escape through flights of sexual fantasy, which keep landing on “the worshiper:”

Finding his conduct unseemly, I resolved to accost him when he left the church and to question him about why he is
praying in this manner [basically dry-humping the church floor]. Yes indeed, I was annoyed because my girl had not
come. 14

After the young man escapes from the narrator’s first slapstick attempt at capturing him, the tramp is caught and,
much like a leprechaun, agrees to answer his interrogator’s questions:

“Oh God, your heart is alive, but your head is a block of wood. You say I’m a lucky catch—how lucky you must be!
For my poor luck is one that teeters, it teeters on a thin edge, and if anyone touches my poor luck it will fall on the
questioner. Good night, sir.”

“Fine,” I said, clutching his right hand, “if you won’t answer me, then I’ll start yelling here in the street. And all the
shopgirls who are now coming out of their shops and all their sweethearts who are looking forward to seeing them
will come dashing over here, for they’ll think that a cab horse has collapsed or that something similar has
happened. Then I’ll make a public display of you.”

He now tearfully kissed my hands, alternating between them. “I’ll tell you what you wish to know, but please, let us
go over to that side street.” I nodded, and that was where we went. 15

It all goes downhill from there, at least for the narrator. Take, for instance, his very first rhetorical question:

“You are an utter lunatic, that’s what you are! How can you behave like that in church! It is so annoying and so
unpleasant for the onlookers! How can people feel devout if they have to look at you.” 16

And the worshiper’s response:

“Don’t be annoyed—why should you be annoyed at things that aren’t relevant to you. I’m annoyed at myself when I
behave imprudently; but if someone else behaves imprudently, then I’m delighted. So please don’t be annoyed if I
tell you that the goal of my life is to be looked at by other people.” 17

The narrator, oblivious to the shifting diction of his interrogation, belittles his subject’s apparent situational
stupidity, but ironically his words describe his own mental state (like those in power today):

“…your condition is a seasickness on dry land…You called the poplar in the fields the `Tower of Babel,’ for you did
not know or did not want to know that it was a poplar, and now it was swaying again without a name, and you would
have to call it `When Noah Was Drunk.’” 18

Yet, his captive rewards no touché: “I’m glad I didn’t understand what you said.” 19

His lack of pretension, and by extension the text’s authenticity, trump his interrogator’s (i.e.: reader’s) shallowness
of perception. The worshiper is using language symbolically, as a means to construct metaphor, whereas the
narrator, oddly enough, views language as a literal medium for the conveyance of meaning. The worshiper views
the world as something in flŭ, the interrogator, on the other hand, is trying to pin down its meaning and hold onto
it. The former sees perceived reality as symbolic, the latter sees it as actual.

The brief narrative ends this way:

He said that I was dressed nicely and that he liked my necktie very much. And what a fine complexion I had. And
that confessions were the most informative when they were rescinded. 20

In other words, we have the author’s paradox stripped naked, not told: all authors are liars, “I” am an author; which
can be extended to any Derridean form of writing (i.e.: all corporate politicians are liars, I am a corporate politician).
21 Truth is rescinded for the higher reality of life processes—the highest of which, for we humans anyway, is
poetry. In the end, it is not the narrator who’s really writing or making fiction, communicating on a poetic level. The
narrator is always in a position of power, but not the deepest one, which is inevitably reserved for K’s protagonists—
and by extension the author and readers themselves, who share a perceptual advantage over their subjects and
the possibility of deriving pleasure from the text.

Consider the ending of  “A Hunger Artist,” whose protagonist, dying of self-imposed professional starvation for the
amusement of others, confesses to the carnival owner, his employer, the only reason he became such an ignored

"…I couldn't find the food that I liked. If I had found it, believe me, I should have made no fuss and stuffed myself
like you or anyone else.” 22

This confession rescinds the hunger artist’s professional validity and shreds the authenticity of his motives, while
casting a hilarious light upon the comedy of errors committing his tragedy, which is, in the end, his antagonistic
audiences’ inadequacies, and by extension the shortcomings of K’s readers and his own as a writer (in the way he
feels them).


A tool that cuts even more deeply than humor, however, is one deployed by K throughout his work: an
intertextuality suggestive of an evolving personal unconscious that increasingly feeds the author-reader’s
awareness. 23

Rather than viewing K’s texts distinctively, one might read them fruitfully as one narrative whose elemental aspects
vary according to the situation, yet remain situated upon a single sensibility informing their private mythologies with
the protean archetypes bubbling up from their minds’ interconnected recesses.

For instance, The Judgment, which K considered a personal breakthrough, has strong intertextual resonances with
a much longer and later work, The Metamorphosis. 24

The Judgment begins with the narrator, Georg, having just finished writing a letter to an old friend in Russia, which
K describes in a way that suggests Georg is smitten by his distant pal:

Having just finished writing a letter to a boyhood friend in a foreign country, he sealed the envelop with playful
slowness and then, propping his elbow on the desk, he gazed out the window at the river, the bridge, and the
sparely green rises on the opposite bank. 25

Just dreamy. Georg then goes to his father to tell him about the letter, and this of course turns out badly. K implies
a sexual tension between son and father that pivots on the distant friend. Georg is engaged to marry, but it’s
obvious from the start that the engagement is doomed. In the end, Georg’s father sentences him to death by
drowning and Georg carries out the order by jumping from the bridge into the river dividing the town.

Upon closer inspection, what are its similarities to, or intertextual relationship with The Metamorphosis? To better
understand their likeness to each other, let’s begin with a fundamental difference between them: in TJ the father
seems to pass sentence, while TM has the sister collude with his judgment, which is thus somewhat feminized.
Gregor’s father is not a “giant” like Georg’s pop, and unlike Georg, Gregor is terrifying. K appears to activate the
various genders and emergent sexualities of his fundamental characters according to their situation, allowing an
ebb and flow of sexual identities for protagonist and antagonist alike. Furthermore, K plays with the order of letters
in his protagonists’ names—Georg, Gregor (The added letter suggests Gregor is emergent from Georg and also
possesses more power, as his name has an extra “r,” yet each character seems somehow incomplete, at least in
translation, by lacking an “e,” or silent vowel—breath, and sometime vowel “y” in the latter case). It seems that K’s
protagonists are all the same person embodied within a specifically situated ethic. 26

The nuances of K’s intertextuality centers on power inversions within the nuclear family unit. Most “action” in TJ/TM
occurs in bedrooms, the most private, unshared sanctuary within the walls of the “home.” The humor is active and
mocking, almost sarcastic, as K explores alienation even here—in the womb of his existence. Parents and siblings
usurp the protagonists’ primacy in their bedchambers. These familial interlopers desire recognition and acceptance
or escape from their ontological crises just like their protagonist sons and brother. Implied incest and death,
sex/intercourse and dying are symbiotic elements, one rising as the other falls according to the situation’s

Intertextual humor also reverberates in the characters’ confusions, making literary interpretation a comedy of errors
(see Parables and Paradoxes below). Whereas TJ implies doubts about life’s normalcy by Georg’s unquestioningly
carrying out his father’s word, TM does not question reality’s strangeness, which Gregor consistently accepts (as
does the reader by the suspension of her disbelief). Georg is suicided, Gregor murdered—their fathers, however,
are intimately involved in each outcome. The sister-fiancé are the primary rejecters of the protagonists’ physicality.
Georg dies a bug, Gregor awakens as one. Simply put, TJ raises doubts about reality while TM accepts its
weirdness. It is, after all, downstream from the protagonist’s initial plunge.

What “judgment” is implied by both pieces? What is the “metamorphosis” implied in both? How is TM a logical
artistic extension of TJ?


The above questions are good ones, but first a more fundamental inquiry might be made into the human need to
categorize and construct information into meaningful sequences. What happens when these methods fail, and a
lack of cause-and-effect data defuses our sensibilities’ power to attain sensitivity, enlightenment, or escape?
Parables and Paradoxes occupies the interstice between deeper perception and utter madness, placing our
species permanently on the brink between discovery and annihilation—memory and forgetting—while being in
perpetual motion. P&P consciously resists all readerly attempts to elucidate its presented abstractions in a
meaningful way.

One way of evading K’s evasions is to ride his narrative the way a surfer, after choosing her wave, navigates the
ride on her “board,” her tool for apprehending her version of reality, or at-one-ment (the ride itself and whatever it
morphs into). This decision—a combination of learning and instinct conjuring up intuition—embodies a shared
emotional aspect with our uniquely human dilemma: the private struggle to cope with the particular qualities of one’
s singular mind that enables the individual to behave constructively in a destructive world without falling victim to
Babel. Truth is not centrally located, nor is it particular or universally principled. Rather, it’s wherever and however
meaning is derived from passing phenomena, the dreams informing the technology we invent to create an
authentic experience of life. K begins TM with Gregor awakening from fitful dreams (downstream from TJ’s bridge)
and teetering on the brink of collapse, a virtual, mirrored magnification of Georg and his father in TJ. Each is on the
cusp of awakening, which is either arriving or leaving, depending on the place and time, or situation.

K reveals that parables and paradoxes, like TJ and TM, are abstractions of each other that form a yin-yang or,
better, the Tao, symbolized by the river, in P&P as elsewhere throughout K’s oeuvre. TM is a parable because
language equals reality, reveals the metaphysics of presence, and the hyper-real unreality of sentient beings. TJ,
on the other hand, represents paradox. Presence equals reality, probing the metaphysics of language symbolized
by Georg’s letter, which conveys, second hand, an unreal sense of reality.

K’s protagonists struggle privately with their ontological crises, heroically preventing their big jihads from overtaking
the public sphere via their psychological projections. Paradoxically, the individual mind has the greatest freedom in
societies that curb the means by which their privileged elite can project their neuroses downward onto the masses
with spirit-numbing effect.

Consider The New Attorney, in which K presents a Dr. Bucephalus [sounds like a venereal disease], who was
Alexander the Great’s Karl Rove [Aristotle under a different name]. 28 A man of privilege and historical
significance, society is making room for him, and he studies ancient books to occupy his time. A living historical
spectacle, Bucephalus assumes the cultural function of privileged celebrity. Society favors subjects and objects of
diachronic authority, which it deems worthy and marketable for mass consumption.

Yet citizens now—in TNA’s universe—are overwhelmingly sensing the weights of their body:
Today, no one can deny, there is no Alexander the Great. 29

This follows K’s assertion several pages earlier in Alexander the Great that the young emperor, despite the means
and opportunity, might not have been motivated to conquer foreign lands:

It is conceivable that [he]…might have remained standing on the bank of the Hellespont and never have crossed it,
and not out of fear, not out of indecision, not out of infirmity of will, but because of the mere weight of his own body.

Alexander might not have needed to escape his ontological situation, rejecting opportunity in favor of repose. This
relates forward to Dr. Bucephalus in that he has learned through experience what his student could not, being
young with fewer things to re-member and not yet having begun to forget (one of Gregor’s problems, and one of
Georg’s father’s apparent difficulties). K’s protagonists, by and large, are struggling to re-member themselves
midstream in life:

Today the gates have been shifted elsewhere and higher and farther away; nobody points out their direction; many
hold swords, but only flourish them, and the glance that tries to follow them becomes confused. (TNA). 31

Bucephalus functions socially as living memory of what once seemed possible, which is now merely tragic; yet
privately he’s escaped into his interior jihad, progressing backward in his mind. The ensuing friction titillates his
spirit into organic bliss, finding pleasure in the text:

Free, his flanks unrepressed by the thighs of a rider, under a quiet lamp, far from the din of Alexander’s battles, he
reads and turns the pages of our old books. 32

K himself famously said when he writes he serves the devil. His work is more devious and pleasurable than most of
his critics—who feel there must have been something wrong with him—realize, in that it constantly emphasizes
physicality’s trumping of idealism. Consider Georg’s initial impression of his father upon entering his bedroom:

“Ah, Georg!” his father said, promptly going toward him. His heavy robe swung open as he walked, and the skirts
flapped around his legs. “My father is still a giant,” Georg thought to himself.
               “Why, it’s unbearably dark here,” he then said. 33

Georg’s mind may be more acute, but it’s put in place by the size of his father’s penis, or so K implies.
Also, Gregor’s metamorphosis—the fact he’s become a bug—outweighs any morality or ethics his family may have
had in their dealings with him. Again and again throughout K physical reality blocks all attempts by those with
humane sentiments to correct or improve existence.

Ironically, this most mind-numbing author writes from his gut. His language is an underling’s vent—a bureaucrat’s
way out. It opposes dis-ease. It is healthy and, perhaps, even therapeutic for the writer/reader and his consumers
who share a creative aesthetic for cathartic jouissance. 34

For K—as it was for Nietzsche before him and will be for Roland Barthes later—literature’s function is to provoke
people into being more alert, clever, intellectual and aloof in their pursuits of pleasure. As Barthes would ultimately
say, “…the text is that uninhibited person who shows his behind to the Political Father.” 35

K’s output is more than an unlocked litany of sparked words. Literary jouissance emerges from its body’s tortuous
development of and torturous hunt for its own physical-spiritual design. 36  Content never shares ideas with “you”
or “I” because that which spawns “us” is ineffable.


K copes with the quotidian grind—opposing the banality of evil—by mocking the hypocrisy of everything that
distracts him from his need to escape civilization [a process, in this case, not a thing].37 K uses subtle irony and
morbid humor to find room for his own spirit to breathe amid the general smog informing the materiality of each
unfolding situation. His vocation is a revolt against all forms of external and physical authority that serve their own
necessity, which in effect multiplies material need and suffering, its life blood, among the living spirits that inhabit
and inform the world.

Such authority is symbolized by the “apparatus” of “In the Penal Colony,” a term K repeats an astonishing thirteen
times in the first three pages:
“It’s a singular apparatus,” the officer said to the explorer, running his somewhat admiring eyes over the apparatus,
with which he was after all familiar…”

The traveler had little interest in the apparatus and was almost visibly unconcerned as he walked down behind the
condemned man, while the officer took care of the final adjustments, crawling underneath the apparatus, which was
inserted deep in the ground, or scaling a ladder to examine the upper parts. These were chores that could have
actually been left to the mechanic; but the officer performed them with great zeal either because he was a strong
supporter of this apparatus or because there were other reasons why the job could not have been entrusted to
anyone else…

“But now look at this apparatus,” he promptly added, drying his hands with a towel while simultaneously motioning
toward the apparatus. “Up to this point, it requires manual labor, but from now own, the apparatus works

“…After all, the apparatus has to keep working uninterruptedly for twelve hours…”

“I don’t know,” said the officer, “whether the commander has already filled you in about the apparatus.” The
traveler gestured vaguely; the officer could ask for nothing better, since now he could explain the apparatus
himself. “This apparatus,” he said, grasping a crank handle and leaning against it, “was invented by our former
commander”…The entire setup of the penal colony is his achievement. By the time he died, we, his friends, already
knew that the colony, as he had organized it, was so self-contained that it would take his successor many years to
change anything, even if he had a thousand plans in mind. And our prediction was correct; the new commander
was forced to realize it. Too bad you never met the old commander! But,” the officer interrupted himself, “I’m rattling
on, and the apparatus is standing here in front of us…” 38

The “apparatus,” we discover, is a torturous method of executing witless victims. It’s an exquisitely complex
contraption that, in the end, serves its own inhuman purposes.

K is well aware that repeating “apparatus” so many times is a way of hammering home the machine’s equivalence
to the highly centralized and bureaucratized state. Replacing the terms “apparatus” with “bureaucracy” and “officer”
with “bureaucrat” and “commander” with “office manager” illustrates the point. Of course, there’s the Russian term
“apparatchik,” which K would have been familiar, referring to a professional functionary who’s a member of the
governmental “apparat.” In other words, an apparatchik is a bureaucrat with political responsibility or politician with
a bureaucratic function. According to Wikipedia, appartchiks were “associated with a specific mindset, attitude and

But how do they become this unaware of themselves, so distinct in their behaviors in the eyes of others? “In the
Penal Colony” examines these questions without answering them. We see that the officer is eventually made in the
image of the apparatus, that his ego was formed by established social mores that imposed their forms on him,
limiting his options. His mind was disciplined by his commander’s disciple system to be its subject. The fact he is
eventually killed by the apparatus, its cold-blooded judgment etched in his flesh, the officer’s function is to perceive
himself as a reflection of the machine. Trapped within the text, he becomes a word being reveling in his anguish.
K, like few other writers, understands the need for the modern, civilized individual to escape their ontological
situation and emerge from their crisis of perception.

The world need not be unjust and arbitrary, bound to some blind woman set in stone, whose torch is not a flame,
but a sword. 39 Liberation involves asking what it means “to be,” and do we have an innate responsibility, due to
our existence, that most of us ignore at our own peril?  Do we wish a butterfly effect on the lives of those we love?
Do our butterfly actions doom us to future regrets? What price must we pay to exist? Is death our only atonement?


How might one read Red Peter’s claim, in “A Report for an Academy,” that it was not freedom he desired so much
as “a way out,” and it was this craving that changed him from ape to man?40 [Footnote on how this is the
situational opposite of TM—include description of piece].

Freedom—an immaterial, static ideal—is an abstraction; but evolution-domestication-civilization-assimilation (ET
AL) is a process that functions as an enabling obstacle for the individual organism’s drive to exist soundly within its
environment.  By creating original music from her unique sensitivities to ET AL’s general harmonic chaos, the
individual generates tales of conceiving civilization by joining its evolution and taming herself. Freedom is an
ideology that pits her against Life and society, while escape synchronizes her personality with the somatic
fluctuations of passing incidents, which she innately categorizes during her self-driven, mental development (i.e.:
individuation) and composition. 41

K reveals this paradox—the symbiosis of idea/actuality—through Red Peter, former ape now man, who’s been
invited by an august scientific body to relate his personal experience of becoming human. RP begins, stating his
“achievement would have been impossible had [he] wished to cling obstinately to [his] origin, to the memories of
[his] youth.” 42

He is, above all, a flexible ape, an evolutionary trait he’s carried over into his current, human form. Because of this
flexibility, or his earlier inflexibility as a young ape, Red Peter reports he awakened after his capture from the wild
“inside a cage in the steerage of the Hagenbeck steamer…The structure was too low to stand up in and too narrow
to sit down in. I therefore had to crouch with bent knees that constantly trembled, and since at first I probably
wanted to see no one and remain in the dark, I kept facing the crate while behind me the bars sliced into my flesh.
People see an advantage in keeping wild beasts like that during their early confinement, and today, after my
experience, I cannot deny that this is truly the case from a human point of view.” 43

Red Peter’s story is a sadly familiar one—that of too many people. Captured in their homes, they are brutally
uprooted and enslaved by the company or “man.” 44 Further, as in TM, human managers and employees are not
depicted as morally superior to lesser, unemployed creatures. Rather, they are viewed as apparatchiks, or what
today might be called corporatists:

However, for the Hagenbeck Zoo Company, apes belong up against the crate wall—well, so I had to stop being an
ape. A fine, lucid train of thought, which I must have somehow concocted with my belly, for apes think with their
bellies. 45

As do corporations, who because of their legal personhood seek maximum profits despite the cost to those they
perceive as lower forms of person who, if they’re lucky, benefit a little from some trickle down. Of course, it seldom
rains in the desert, but when it does…
K’s narrator, unsurprisingly, is one who goes along to get along. He is, put unkindly, an Uncle Tom voice in the
American cultural sense and fundamentally anti-heroic. 46 This new Adam, this bloodied Peter, embodying the
ultimate brown-noser and disciple, has no thought of sacrificing himself to some old ape ideal. He was not only
going to survive, but thrive. Like many successful individuals who’ve been forced to leave their homelands, having
dodged death and, worse, overcome it, freedom is an absurdity and something “human beings all too often deceive
themselves about[:]”

No, it was not freedom I wanted. Just a way out; right, left, wherever—that was all I demanded. Let the way out be a
mere delusion—my demand was small, the delusion would be no greater. Keep going, keep going! Just don’t stand
still with raised arms, squeezed against a crate wall! 47

Samuel Beckett echoes these sentiments in I Can’t Go On, I’ll Go On and The Lost Ones. 48 K is writing before
World War II, at the end of the colonial era, and Beckett in the postwar wreckage of modernism during the epoch of
the corporate coup d’etat of the highly bureaucratized nation state. What Beckett’s time and K’s time have in
common with our time is that we’re all witnessing the birth of a new elite security apparatus that seeks to enslave
the individual. The transformation from bug to human, from ape to man, from individual to citizen, and from citizen
to consumer occur in the blink of an eye, or the duration of the episode, however the situation is perceived by
those involved.

K, writing as a pre-war Vienna Jew, expresses himself from the viewpoint of the captured alien who’s trying to fit into
his new society as comfortably as possible, while leaving some room for himself. Though a bureaucrat, K made
time to rage against the entrapping mechanism that motivates rather than invites his participation:

"…it did not entice me to imitate human beings; I imitated them because I was seeking a way out, and for no other
reason." 49

The bureaucracy, however, will not, and cannot, conceive of the effects its oppression is having on those who must
deal with it on a daily basis. Without possession of flesh and blood bodies, these court recognized persons
dominate society by creating a shared need for distraction among their wage-slave-producer-consumers that’s met
by cheerful images—the mimetic shards of their noble savage brands of centuries past. Bureaucracy and its
content, to borrow a famous phrase of Walter Lippman’s, is essential to the material system by which the state can
“manufacture consent.” 51 Everyone’s life is literally at stake, or so it seems.

K lays bare the results of such an inhuman political system in “Before the Law.” 52 A petitioner arrives from the
hinterlands at the outskirts of the Law, and is prevented from entering by a friendly gatekeeper:
…The man reflects and then asks whether he will be able to enter later on.
               “It is possible,” says the gatekeeper, “but not now.” 53
Even though the gate is open, he obeys the gatekeeper. Furthermore, his friend tells him the gatekeepers further
in are even fiercer than he, so severe that he himself does not go there. The subject of the Law had not expected
so much difficulty in entering and claiming his rightful place. He believed it was somehow different here than home,
that the Law “is supposed to be always accessible to everyone.” 54

Confused and cautious, he never challenges the gatekeeper, waiting patiently with Zen focus, until finally dying
nearly alone, except for his peaceful nemesis, who bore witness:

       Before his death all his experiences of the entire period gather in his mind as one question that he has never
asked the gatekeeper. He beckons him because he can no longer raise his rigidifying body. The gatekeeper bends
way down to him, for their difference in size has changed greatly to the man’s disadvantage.
       “What else do you want to know?” the gatekeeper asks. “You are insatiable.
       “All people strive for the Law,” says the man. “How come in these many years no one but me has asked to be
let in?”
       The gatekeeper realizes that the man is approaching the end, and so, in order to reach his waning hearing,
he yells at him:
       “No one else could be let in here, for this entrance was meant for you alone. Now I’m going to go and shut it.”

The faithful subject dies just that, not his own man but like the officer of “In the Penal Colony.” For what has he
lived? As in “An Imperial Message,” the peasant waits for the Word that never arrives, that can never arrive, never
realizing the irrelevance of something so distant, or relevance of something so central, to his place in time. 56
Rather than seeing the obstacle as enabling, K’s petitioner at the gate views it as restrictive. Obedience to the Law
is the same as preferring freedom over escape.

Mostly, it seems K is transcribing the sensibility of a mind exiled from its body, projecting its mimetic trace of outcast
untouchableness onto a millennia-long diaspora. K is the fringe of this periphery, an ecstatic avant-garde of one.
His peculiarity is his universal appeal. Everywhere, people wait desperately to be chosen by those above the Law
to join them in the good life of their promised land. What they get instead is motivation to get there or die.


K’s protagonists do not waste what time they have quibbling over facts, nor do they seek meaning or truth through
immortality, only admittance to a better existence while here. Their delusions are small ones, and their suffering
does not set them free. Like everyone else, they’re guilty beyond doubt. They sense their spirit’s material existence
in their flesh, its thinking in their thoughts, its feeling as their emotion. They are allotted their roles, but receive no

Consider “Jackals and Arabs,” a brief first person account of a European’s journey to the desert where he is
solicited by talking jackals to slit the throats of the Arabs who are oppressing and victimizing them. 57

At first, it seems shocking that K would equate Zionist Jews to jackals. Until, that is, we view K’s “European-Anglo-
Lawrence of Arabia” type position within the text as a more personal, psychological form of Zionism, rather than a
racial or political-economic one. 58

The jackals express their desires with passionate eloquence, projecting the gut instincts that hound and shadow K’
s deepest thoughts, giving shape to his destructive/creative energies. Responding to their hoped for Euro-messiah’
s question of how he can help, the Zionist jackals howl their pack mentality in horrifying unison:

“Sir, we would like you to end the quarrel that tears the world apart. You look exactly like the person who our
forebears said would do it. We must have peace from the Arabs; breathable air; our view cleansed of them all
around the horizon; no shriek of a lament from a sheep slaughtered by the Arab; all creatures should perish
quietly; undisturbed, they should be drained by us and cleansed, purified down to the bones. We want purity,
nothing but purity…” 59

Ending their diatribe, the eldest jackal brings the white man a pair of rusty sewing scissors on his fang, hoping he
will use it to cut the despicable throats of the Arabs and return the desert to them.

Once having dispersed the pathetic jackals with his whip, the Arab joyfully tells the European he’s glad that the
proposed messiah has now “seen and heard this spectacle” for himself, and is perfectly aware of the beasts’ plans
for the Arabs, describing them as “notorious.” 60

…as long as Arabs have existed, that pair of scissors has been wandering through the desert and will wander with
us until the end of time. It is offered to every European for the great work; every European happens to strike them
as precisely the destined man. These beasts have an absurd hope; they are fools, utter fools. That is why we love
them; they are our dogs; more beautiful than your dogs…61

And today’s neocons, who pin their Zionist hopes on America and its foolish political-economic leadership, are the
very same murderous jackals K depicts, whom “we as Americans” love as our beautiful dogs. K actually knows
many Zionists, having quietly attended their organizational meetings. 62 K feels the world’s descent into military-
industrial-bureaucratic madness, sensing the coming holocaust from his bones outward to his skin, and seeks
escape from it through fiction. He never wrote for the reader, but his own sanity. This, perhaps, explains why K
wanted all of his manuscripts burned upon his death. 63 They may not have been intended for public consumption,
but personal therapy:

…I felt more comfortable and more thoroughly included in the human world; the storm that blew after me from my
past calmed down; today it is merely a draft that cools my heels; and the distant aperture through which it passes
and through which I once passed has grown so small that even if I had sufficient strength and desire to run back
that far, I would have to flay the very hide from my body to squeeze through. Frankly, much as I like to use images
for these things, your apehood, gentlemen, insofar as you have anything of that nature behind you, cannot be
more remote from you than mine from me. Yet anyone who walks here on earth feels a tickling in his heel: from the
small chimpanzee to the great Achilles. 64

And there it is, the hubris that afflicts our whole ape family, the congenital weakness jeopardizing our existence in
Earth’s evolutionary crapshoot. Even today, not one living soul is capable of true devoutness if they face their
eventual annihilation head on. Evasive tactics are necessary for those who want to survive being targeted and
invaded by other people, becoming word-beings made flesh by authorial invisibility and elegance.65
In P&P’s closing paragraph, which is the end (or meaning) of “A Report for an Academy,” K writes:
In any case, I have, all in all, attained what I set out to attain. Let no one say it was not worth the bother. Besides, I
am not intent on any human verdict: I only want to spread knowledge; I only report; for you too, honored gentlemen
of the Academy, I have only reported. 66

Writing is indeed, as K once told his friend Max Brod, who saved K’s manuscripts from destruction when the author
died, “a sweet, wonderful reward.” 67


1.        Gass, William H. Fiction and the Figures of Life, David R. Godein Publisher, Boston, 1971. The paragraph
from which this quote was grabbed, in its entirety: “How does it feel to be the fore end of a metaphor, especially
one so fierce and unrelenting? And how does it work, exactly—this book which takes us into hell? The philosophical
explanation is complex. Here I can only suggest it. But you remember how Kant ingeniously solved his problem. Our
own minds and our sensory equipment organize our world; it is we who establish these a priori connections which
we later discover and sometimes describe, mistakenly, as natural laws. We are inveterate model makers, imposing
on the pure data of sense a rigorously abstract system. The novelist makes a system for us too, although his is
composed of a host of particulars, arranged to comply with esthetic conditions, and it both flatters and dismays us
when we look at our own life through it because our life appears holy and beautiful always, even when tragic and
ruthlessly fated. Still for us it is only `as if.’” From “In Terms of the Toenail…,” p. 71.
2.        Wilde, Oscar. This quote is taken from Richard Ellman’s biography, Oscar Wilde, p. 51. Unfortunately,
Ellman doesn’t specify his source.
3.        Kafka, Franz. “Reflections on Sin, Suffering, Hope, and the True Way,” #87, at http://www.eigengrau.
4.        See Albert Camus’s absurdism, particularly “The Myth of Sisyphus,” at http://stripe.colorado.
edu/~morristo/sisyphus.html; and for a brief breakdown, see
5.        See The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on “existentialism” at http://plato.stanford.
6.        The Great Short Works of Franz Kafka: A New Translation by Joachim Neugroschel, Scribner Paperback
Fiction, 1995, p. 176.
7.        Ibid, #6, p. 179.
8.        Ibid, #6, p. 180.
9.        Ibid #8.
10.        Ibid #8.
11.        Ibid, #6, p. 182.
12.        Melville, Herman. “Bartleby the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street,” at
13.        Ibid, #6, p. 3
14.        Ibid, #13.
15.        Ibid, #6, pp. 5-6.
16.        Ibid #6, p. 6
17.        Idid #6, pp. 6-7. Also, for some interesting insight on the concept of word being, see “The Word-Being
Talks: An Interview with Raymond Federman,” at The Write Stuff,
18.        Ibid #6, p. 7.
19.        Ibid #18.
20.        Ibid #6, p. 11.
21.        Derrida, Jacques. Excerpt from his essay “Differance,” may be viewed at http://www.hydra.umn.
22.        Kafka, Franz. “The Hunger Artist,” short fiction e-text available free online at http://www.mala.bc.
23.        “…an intertextuality suggestive of an evolving personal unconscious that increasingly feeds the author-
reader’s awareness…” For more on intertextuality, see At the point of
textual emergence, the author is the reader. It is as if something is about to dawn.
24.        Ibid #6, pp. 57-72. Written in 1912, a good translation of this work is available online at http://facstaff.
25.        Ibid #24, p. 57.
26.        Wikipedia’s entry on “situated ethics:” Situated ethics, often confused with situational ethics, is a view of
applied ethics in which abstract standards from a culture or theory are considered to be far less important than the
ongoing processes in which one is personally and physically involved, e.g. climate, ecosystem, etc. It is one of
several theories of ethics within the philosophy of action associated with anarchism. It is sometimes thought to be a
more abstract name for Gaia philosophy, as the planet one lives on is quite important in situated ethics. There are
also situated theories of economics, e.g. most green economics, and of knowledge, usually based on some
situated ethics. All emphasize the actual physical, geographical, ecological and infrastructural state the actor is in,
which determines that actor's actions or range of actions - all deny that there is any one point of view from which to
apply standards of or by authority. This makes such theories unpopular with authority, and popular with those who
advocate political decentralisation.
27.        For a wonderful breakdown of the word “jihad,” especially its theological and spiritual aspects, see
Wikipedia at
28.        Parables and Paradoxes, Bi-lingual Edition, by Franz Kafka, Schocken Books, New York, 1958, “The New
Attorney,” pp. 97-99.
29.        Ibid #28, p. 97.
30.        Ibid #28, “Alexander the Great,” p. 95.
31.        Ibid #29.
32.        Ibid #29.
33.        Ibid #24, p. 63.
34.        Cathartic jouissance: a type of organic bliss functioning as a release mechanism for psychological
pressure. We laugh to stave off our tears.
35.        Nietzsche, Friedrich. See Wikipedia entry at Barthes, Roland. The
Pleasure of the Text, Translated by Richard Miller, Hill and Wang, 1975. The quote is on p. 53, and Wikipedia
describes the book this way: “Barthes divides the effects of texts into two: pleasure and bliss. The pleasure of the
text corresponds to the readerly text, which does not challenge the reader's subject position. The blissful text
provides Jouissance (bliss, orgasm, explosion of codes) which allows the reader to break out of his/her subject
position. This type of text corresponds to the "writerly" text. The "readerly" and the "writerly" texts are identified and
explained in Barthes's S/Z: An Essay (ISBN 0374521670). Retrieved from "http://en.wikipedia.
org/wiki/The_Pleasure_of_the_Text." Literature’s function, therefore, is a means to organic happiness, not
happiness itself.
36.        Consider spiritual materialism this way: “As the Harvard philosophy professor Tu Wei-Ming stated, "The
crisis of modernity is not secularization per se but the inability to experience matter as the embodiment of spirit."22
(my emphasis) Physicist Nick Herbert makes an encompassing pertinent new paradigm recommendation: `Religions
assure us that we are all brothers and sisters, children of the same deity; biologists say that we are entwined with
all life-forms on this planet; our fortunes rise or fall with theirs. Now, physicists have discovered that the very atoms
of our bodies are woven out of a common superluminal fabric. Not merely in physics are humans out of touch with
reality; we ignore these connections at our peril.29’ … I assert and aim to demonstrate that sound-current
nondualism is the foundational model for resolving the root theoretical contradictions of the global eco-justice
crisis. Sound-current nondualism is, as Bordwell describes theory, a "systematic propositional explanation of the
nature and functions" for inferring implicit perceptional norms. He advocates theory that challenges dominant
western institutions, as my analysis will do.36 This is not another symbolically linear and thus limited nostalgic
project but meets Flinn's goal for music theorists, namely, "how to talk concretely and specifically about the effects
generated by a signifying system that is so abstract."37 … It is not surprising that Pythagorean rhythmic vibrations
of energy can be easily understood, as Woodhouse puts it, "as a powerful root metaphor and as a concrete model
of explanation" for global spiritually-based ecological justice. Theoretical physicist David Bohm in his well-received
contribution on consciousness, Wholeness and the Implicate Order, states that "This activity in consciousness
[experiencing music] evidently constitutes a striking parallel to the activity that we have proposed for the implicate
order in general."50 Dr. Mae-Wan Ho, premier scientific critic of genetic engineering, and researcher at the Open
University, UK has stated that "the visible body just happens to be where the wave function of the organism is the
most dense."51 … radical ecologist Charlene Spretnak points out, "...the vibratory field of matter/energy does not
exist apart from its manifestations of form...[it] is not a base, or source, but part of the play of matter/energy."52  
After drawing from Nietzsche and noting the ability for music to "transcend cultural and personal differences,"
University of Texas philosopher Kathleen Marie Higgins states that "Music is exemplary in reflecting both rationally
perceptible structure and the vital involvement of its listener with the larger world." Higgins promotes the study of
foundations of music for creating a new knowledge system that addresses the lost Pythagorean roots, transcends
the Enlightenment and is in accord with cultures around the world.57 Unlike the groundbreaking yet oft-maligned
Fritoj Capra work The Tao of Physics I will demonstrate how transformative, yet empirical music theory, not
materialistic science, plays a universal formal linkage between radical ecology and contrasting worldviews.61 The
same resonating ecological approach to reality is found in cultures across the globe, just as the same basis for the
sophisticated philosophy of Taoism is also found universally. The harmonic and rhythmic processes of yin and
yang forces are rooted in a "deep ecology of the body," according to the work of Taoist qi gong master Mantak
Chia.62.”  For more, on how deep ecology leads to a spiritual materialism that can heal the world through new-old
modes of perception, see: Drew Hempel’s introduction to Epicenters of Justice at http://www.lightmind.
com/library/hempel/introduction.html. The linked footnotes above are pasted from the introduction. That said, the
reason K has Gregor listen to music in his dying moments becomes clear. Music is the only means of escaping his
ontological horror, of re-membering his former at-one-ment, his only spiritual nourishment.
37.        See Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (1963). For an interesting
online lecture on the subject, see:
38.        Ibid #6, pp. 191-229. Read The Kafka Project’s English translation of In the Penal Colony here: http://www.,167,0,0,1,0.
39.        Kafka, Amerika: The Man Who Disappeared, New Directions Publishing, 2004. Kafka started writing
Amerika—his first novel—in 1911. It remained, however, unfinished out of necessity. Karl Rossman, a scandalized
youth exiled from his European home, faces his new situation with comical bravado (a young, well-connected
Ignatius Reilly), penetrating into the heart of the heart of the country— The Great Nature Theater of Oklahoma—
with nuanced yet visceral immediacy.
40.        Ibid #6, pp. 281-293. “A Report to an Academy,” seems to me, something of a situational inversion of The
Metamorphosis. In the former, you have an ape turned human; in the latter you have human turned insect. The first
is accepted and invited by humans, the second rejected but motivated by them. Each text’s situated ethic examines
the contours of perception among species from the inhuman perspective.
41.        Ibid #36.
42.        Ibid #40, p. 281.
43.        Ibid #40, p. 282.
44.        Cocteau, Jean. Diary of an Unkown, (A New Translation by Jesse Browner) Paragon House, 1988:
“Accuracy is vexing to a crowd of would-be fantasizers. Hasn’t our age coined the term `escapism,’ when in fact the
only way to escape oneself is to allow oneself to be invaded?” From “On Invisibility,” p. 9.
45.        Ibid #6, p. 285.
46.        “K’s narrator, unsurprisingly, is one who goes along to get along. He is, put unkindly, an Uncle Tom voice
in the American cultural sense and fundamentally anti-heroic.” For Uncle Tom and anti-hero, see http://en.wikipedia.
org/wiki/Uncle_tom : Essentially, the accusation of being an Uncle Tom or tomming questions the accused person's
integrity, or courage, or both. The implication is that the person is demeaning him- or herself, or acting against the
interests of blacks, generally, for their own personal benefit, out of fear, or simply because they have been
brainwashed to be complicit in their own oppression. A "tom" can be someone judged to be insufficiently outraged
by, or inadequately engaged in opposition against, a status quo of white privilege and power and black
disadvantage. Sometimes, the term is applied to individuals who simply are perceived as being unnecessarily
accommodating of whites. During slavery, tomming could be a cunning subterfuge. White masters often gave well-
liked and trusted slaves coveted, less physically demanding duties to perform. "Faithful" bondsmen and women
also tended to be watched less closely, allowing them opportunities to escape to freedom or engage in clandestine
acts of defiance. A tomming fieldhand who had been bullwhipped might set a field afire or destroy farm implements.
An outwardly compliant cook whose husband or children had been sold away from her might burn down the
cookhouse or exact a slow and agonizing death from her master by poisoning his food with finely ground glass or
other harmful substances. Slaves also often calculatingly pandered to white supremacist assumptions about
blacks. The self-referential use of the word "nigger" to their own advantage was a typical, self-deprecatory artifice
of tomming. Implicit in taking on such a label was the unspoken reminder to whites that a presumed inherently
morally or intellectually inferior person or subhuman reasonably could not be held responsible for work performed
incorrectly, an "accidental" fire, or any other similar occurrence. Tomming effectively could enable someone to
dodge personal responsibility for sometimes blatant insubordination or perceived incompetence and allow them to
escape completely the wrath of an overseer or master. Acting in a dimwitted manner was another effective device,
which also helped put whites at ease.” For anti-hero, see
com/books/bag/2000/05/15/begley/print.html : “K., too, is an anti-hero, his character a mixture of servile cowardice,
slyness, opportunism and occasional rebellious optimism. Just like the man from the underground, he is dismally
lonely, his solitude relieved only by fleeting sexual contacts. In the end, K. is executed by the court's envoys, men
who look like 10th-rate old actors. In a vacant lot, one of them thrusts a knife into K.'s heart. "'Like a dog!' he said;
it was as if the shame of it must outlive him."
47.        Ibid #40, p. 286.
48.        Beckett, Samuel. I can’t go on, I’ll go on, Grove-Atlantic, 1992; The Lost Ones, Grove Press, 1972.
49.        Ibid #40, p. 291.
50.        “Noble savage brands” see Wikipedia article “The concept of the
"noble savage", because it is somewhat unrealistic, condescending, and frequently based on (or the basis of)
certain stereotypes, is frequently considered a form of racism, even when it replaces the older stereotype of the
"blood-thirsty savage". The reference to brands implies the slave being branded, products being marketed as
name brands, becoming memes that enable mass consumption-production.
51.        “Manufacturing consent,” see Wikipedia’s entry on Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky’s “propaganda
model:” seeks to explain the supposed systemic biases of the mass media in terms of structural economic causes.
First presented in the book Manufacturing Consent: the Political Economy of the Mass Media, the theory views
private media as businesses selling a product — readers and audiences rather than news — to other businesses
(advertisers). The theory postulates five "filters" that sort out the type of news that finally gets published. These
are: ownership, funding, sourcing, flak, and anti-communist ideology, with the first three being the most important.
Although the model was based mainly on United States media, Chomsky and Herman believe the theory applicable
to any country that shares the basic economic structure which the model postulates as the cause of media biases.”
52.        Ibid #28, “Before the Law,” pp. 61-79.
53.        Ibid #52, p. 61.
54.        Ibid #53.
55.        Ibid #52, pp. 63-64.
56.        Ibid #28, “An Imperial Message,” pp. 13-15.
57.        Ibid #6, “Jackals and Arabs,” pp. 252-257.
58.        For more on Kafka’s politics, see Michael Lowy’s “Franz Kafka and Libertarian Socialism,” from New
Politics, vol. 6, no. 3 (new series), whole no. 23, Summer 1997 at
59.        Ibid #57, p. 255.
60.        Ibid #57, p. 256.
61.        Ibid #60.
62.        For more on Kafka’s Zionism, see Labor Zionism and Socialist Zionism at http://www.mideastweb.
63.        Kafka writes for his own sanity, perhaps explaining why he wanted Max Brod to burn his manuscripts upon
his death. For a brief, but excellent biography, see
64.        Ibid #6, p. 282.
65.        Ibid #44, “On Invisibility,” p. 7: “It seems to me that invisibility is the required provision of elegance.
Elegance ceases to exist when it is noticed. Poetry, being elegance itself, cannot hope to achieve visibility…[it’s] an
outrage to modesty, though its exhibitionism is squandered on the blind.”
66.        Ibid #6, p. 293.
67.        See


Revision: 2021/01/09 - 23:40 - © Mauro Nervi

Top Back Print Search Sitemap Tip Login