235. (Franz Kafka)

The resemblance between Kafka’s The Castle and the Alice books is obvious. But the differences are more telling. In Kafka’s novel, there is neither madness nor absurdity. Absurdity follows from a lack of reasons (reasons in the Alice books are offered, but they are arbitrary, temporary, nonce); madness from a lack of rationality. In The Castle, K. encounters a surfeit of both reasons and rationality. Everyone he encounters is capable of rationally explaining, to the point of aporia (the best example of which is Olga’s story of Amalia’s shame and Barnabas’ pseudo-official status), what has been constructed for more reasons than can be fully known or suspended in any one person’s mind. It is, in fact, the abundance of reasons in Kafka’s novel that makes for the intensity of prohibitions; and K.’s position is child-like in so far as he the prohibitions, and the reasons behind them, exceed his prior experience and understanding, without failing to accord with the rationality he has been brought up to possess. The realism of the novel is a function of the insistence of reasons, and K.’s insistence upon finding reasons and providing reasons, in every situation; it is the realism of Weber’s modernity or of modern adulthood. Authority in the book cannot be understood apart from the reasons it monopolizes, which stand in for violence, and do its work. It can seem that the reasons do not cohere, or rest upon anything graspable by the reader, and that something as a consequence is missing from the novel: history perhaps? A sense that if we knew where this was and what sort of place it was, by which we would mean what sort of place it had been and was becoming, we might make sense of the reasons? But the suspicion of absence is a distraction; any additional information would be overwhelmed by the propensity for explaining why or else would be rendered hollow by K’s failure to arrive at an explanation. The vaguely parabolic nature of the tale, the thought that it aspires to transcend history, or to remove itself from one historical moment, is nowhere encouraged; it feels likely that the characters themselves would reject the notion, without offering a more satisfactory context (that would be for The Castle to do, and it won’t). Many of the encounters in it, the urgency to receive a message, to reach an Authority, to direct one’s life or to be given direction for one’s life, do feel strongly religious, nonetheless. Rather than suggest a religion in which humanity worships a god that can only, in the end, seem a perfection of itself, it suggests a religion in which humans struggle to act and not act according to an infinitude of reasons that remain ultimately out of reach. Patience, as we know from Kafka’s aphorisms, is the chief virtue; sexual desire the only motive and force that needs no accounting; opportunity, when reasons are neither offered nor withheld, arises…but it is easily missed, or else, as for K., slept through.


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