Saturday, 31 August 2013

Epilogue #2

The Trial
Franz Kafka

It seems like there's not a great deal that I can say about Franz Kafka that's not already been said. But having read, for the first time, what is (except maybe for the short story 'The Metamorphosis') probably his best-known work, The Trial (as part of Vintage's The Complete Novels collection), I feel the urge to say all that stuff anyway.

For a number of reasons, reading this novel rarely gave me the feeling of one written in the early 20th-Century: obviously, there's the fact that the contemporary reader can most likely empathise with Josef K.'s frustrating dealings with a satirically absurd bureaucracy (I shamefully admit that I drew parallels between K.'s anguish and the time when I got a bit annoyed because I had to keep sending documents to the Student Finance Company). But there's a lot in Kafka's general world view that I think is very interestingly more in line with later writers and with the contemporary age in general -- the shadowy dystopian setting of The Trial, the depiction of a society controlled by unknown and un-knowable forces that exert their power elusively from a space seemingly towering above even the most elaborate hierarchies is something more akin to the culture and thinking of the post-modern age: the conspirators so frequently rambled about by Thomas Pynchon protagonists, for example, the vast conglomerates of cyberpunk fiction, or the almost alien figures behind the scenes of Mulholland Drive's film-within-a-film The Sylvia North Story.

Furthermore, there's been much notice from others regarding the fact that what - at the time - may have been read primarily as a darkly surreal satire on the bureaucracy of modernity gained a much more sinister sense of relevance in the wake of the totalitarian, fascist regimes that would contribute to the shift from modernity's world of order and categorisation into post-modernity's (rather Kafka-esque) age of increased uncertainty, distrust, and paranoia (hello GCHQ / the NSA!). This is definitely something I picked up on throughout my reading of The Trial: in the aforementioned elusiveness of its dystopian power structure, I noted that - far from being an Orwellian portrait of an oppressed 'Big Brother' state - it was (even though the whole novel is given a dreamy, surreal tone by Kafka's focus on the insular figure of K., and his effectively blunt and straight-forward prose) a more hauntingly recognisable dystopia: one where the governing systems' corruption and unhealthy disconnection from ordinary people doesn't make itself apparent (or maybe just doesn't matter to you) until, like K., you find that your fate is in its hands.

Though the novel does have a final chapter that ends K.'s story, it's a shame that Kafka died before writing what leads up to it, as The Trial resultantly concludes with an abrupt time shift. Though that said, it is quite fitting with K.'s constant state of profoundly not knowing what's going on that the novel ends so very strikingly and with such a crucial lack of supporting context as to be possibly even more powerfully Kafkaesque than Kafka himself ever intended.

I definitely look forward to progressing onto Amerika (and then, The Castle soon after) in the near future.

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