Notes on Kafka’s The Trial, Chapter 1

The New Project, I’ve alluded to on my most recent podcast has caused me to restart a book I picked up years ago, got about halfway through, and gave up in dejection. Kafka is the kind of guy best read on a clackety old SEPTA train on an overcast day after you’ve smoked a Parliament Light and have nothing particular to do with your day. Reading The Metamorphosis makes you want to kill yourself. Reading The Trial makes your head hurt, if you put yourself in the position of the protagonist and and try to make sense of what’s going on. Below, my notes:

  • Establishes protagonist’s innocence in the first sentence: “Someone must have slandered Joseph K….”. And because this is third-person narration, this isn’t Joseph’s opinion. It is to be treated as fact.
  • Protagonist is named “Joseph K.” Seems a bit on the nose — K for “Kafka”?
  • Pg. 4 – Protagonist admits that he “acknowledged the stranger’s right to oversee his actions.” So much of authority lies in this – Legitimacy is silent.
  • Pg. 5 – The policemans attitude throughout the arrest scene is one of implied, never-stated threat – “We’re being polite” means “We could be very mean.”
  • Pg. 6 – The cops start hustling him immediately, bribes & theft admitted up front.
  • It’s Joseph’s 30th birthday. I feel as though this means something. A transition from innocence to awareness of the duplicity of Caesar?
  • Pg. 8 – “…we’re smart enough to realize that before ordering such an arrest the higher authorities who employ us inform themselves in great detail about the person they’re arresting and the grounds for the arrest. There’s been no mistake.” Pure Appeal to Authority, TRUST THE SCIENCE.
  • pg. 13 – He’s finally asked to identify himself. We’ve gone this far before anyone made sure they had the right man.
  • pg. 14 – If the inspector knows nothing, why does he want to see Joseph? Because that’s what he’s Supposed To Do. This is Procedure. It doesn’t matter that it accomplishes nothing. He acknowledges that. This is How Things Are Done, the Unwritten Rules, the Second Set of Books.
  • pg. 17 – “… you’re under arrest, certainly but that’s not meant to keep you from carrying out your profession.” I laughed incredibly hard at this, for a nice long time. I am fully convinced that this was the intended result. Kafka may have been a gloomy bastard, that doesn’t preclude him having a laugh. This whole book probably works best if you approach it as a comic kaleidoscope of nonsense – Winnie the Pooh for Grown-Ups.

Chapter 2 Coming soon.

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