Read The Trial

The Trial (German: Der Process,[1] later Der Proceß, Der Prozeß and Der Prozess) is a novel written by Franz Kafka in 1914 and 1915 and published posthumously on 26 April 1925. One of his best known works, it tells the story of Josef K., a man arrested and prosecuted by a remote, inaccessible authority, with the nature of his crime revealed neither to him nor to the reader. Heavily influenced by Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov, Kafka even went so far as to call Dostoevsky a blood relative.[2] Like Kafka’s two other novels, The Trial was never completed, although it does include a chapter which appears to bring the story to an intentionally abrupt ending.

After Kafka’s death in 1924 his friend and literary executor Max Brod edited the text for publication by Verlag Die Schmiede. The original manuscript is held at the Museum of Modern Literature, Marbach am Neckar, Germany. The first English-language translation, by Willa and Edwin Muir, was published in 1937.[3] In 1999, the book was listed in Le Monde’s 100 Books of the Century and as No. 2 of the Best German Novels of the Twentieth Century.

I remember reading The Trial when I was younger. It remember it for its sense of dystopia and paranoia, but also the way in which it lingers.

‘Everyone wants
access to the law,’ says the man, ‘how come, over all these years,
no-one but me has asked to be let in?’ The doorkeeper can see the man’s
come to his end, his hearing has faded, and so, so that he can be heard,
he shouts to him: ‘Nobody else could have got in this way, as this
entrance was meant only for you. Now I’ll go and close it.'”

I like how Benjamin Winterhalter captures it as ‘unnervingly real’:

I’m here to suggest, following Werckmeister, that this feeling results from the fact that Kafka’s stories, despite their bizarre premises, are unnervingly real. Although there is undoubtedly an element of the absurd in the worlds Kafka creates, his style—unpretentious and specific, yet free from slang—renders those worlds with such painful accuracy that they seem totally familiar while we’re in them, like déjà vu or a memory of a bad dream

I guess it is an example of the Kafkaesque.

There are, of course, as many definitions of the Kafkaesque as there are readers of Kafka. There are also those readers who admit they cannot define it but know it when they see it — or know it when they see it in someone else’s definition. As one of those readers, I find that one of Kafka’s many biographers, Frederick R. Karl, seems to get it right. We enter the Kafkaesque, he writes, when “we view life as somehow overpowering or trapping us, as in some way undermining our will to live as we wish.”

Liked The role of hypochondria in the life and work of Franz Kafka | Aeon Essays by Will Rees (Aeon Magazine)

Kafka had several theories about the source of his illness, but his favourite was that his tuberculosis had been caused by half a decade of uncertainty about committing to Felice: ‘“Things can’t go on this way,” said the brain, and after five years the lungs said they were ready to help.’ Kafka’s imaginary ailments and his real ailments existed on a single interpretative plane: both were symbolic manifestations of his spiritual condition, and therefore could be subjected to interpretation. Perhaps this is what he meant when he declared: ‘I am made of literature.’ For Kafka, illness was always a metaphor; even as he lay dying, the hypochondriac work of reading body and soul remained forever incomplete.

Read The Metamorphosis

Metamorphosis (German: Die Verwandlung) is an allegorical novella written by Franz Kafka which was first published in 1915. One of Kafka’s best-known works, Metamorphosis tells the story of salesman Gregor Samsa, who wakes one morning to find himself inexplicably transformed into a huge insect (ungeheures Ungeziefer, lit. “monstrous vermin”) and subsequently struggles to adjust to this new condition. The novella has been widely discussed among literary critics, with differing interpretations being offered. In popular culture and adaptations of the novella, the insect is commonly depicted as a cockroach.

I found The Metamorphosis intriguing. For me, the story is less about waking an insect, as it is about coping with change.

With all the worry they had been having of late her cheeks had become pale, but, while they were talking, Mr. and Mrs. Samsa were struck, almost simultaneously, with the thought of how their daughter was blossoming into a well built and beautiful young lady.

It reminds me of Peter Carey’s The True History of the Kelly Gang, which could be interpreted as much about the way in which history is told as it is about Ned Kelly.

This sense of change reminded me of when my mother passed. I was so focused on her last days that I had overlooked how the world had continued to go on changing around me.

In getting the backyard organised for my daughter’s birthday this morning, it dawned on me that during the last month when the last thing on my list of things to do was cutting things back and nurturing the garden, that the garden didn’t care, it just kept on growing. Whether it be the passionfruit vine stretching out even further along the fence line or the lemon tree growing even taller, the garden had kept on going.
To me this is all a part of something bigger that I have come to realise. Whether it be illness, mourning or even extended holidays, the world around us does not stop.

Marginalia

No English translation disputes that Gregor wakes from troubled dreams to find himself transformed in his bed. But into what, precisely?

The adjective ungeheuren means “huge”, the noun Ungeziefer some form of “creepy-crawly” but also “vermin” – obviously more suggestive of rodents than insects, yet applicable to both, the shared characteristic being pestilent, repugnant qualities.

“Some kind of monstrous vermin” is how it was rendered by the story’s first English translator, AL Lloyd. “A gigantic insect” was the reading of Edwin and Willa Muir. “A monstrous cockroach” is how Michael Hofmann phrased it more recently.