📚 The Trial (Franz Kafka)

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.”

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