Ice Friday: Franz Kafka’s “The Trial”

Whenever you think you have it bad, read Kafka to realize how much worse things could be:

Once more the odious courtesies began, the first handed the knife across K. to the second who handed it across K. back again to the first. K. now perceived clearly that he was supposed to seize the knife himself, as it traveled from hand to hand above him, and plunge it into his own breast.IMG_4940 But he did not do so, he merely turned his head, which was still free to move, and gazed around him. He could not completely rise to the occasion, he could not relieve the officers of all their tasks; the responsibility for this last failure of his lay with him who had not left him the remnant of strength necessary for the deed. IMG_4945His glance fell on the top story of the house adjoining the quarry. With a flicker as of a light going up, the casements of a window there suddenly flew open; a human figure, faint and insubstantial at a distance and that height, loomed abruptly far forward and stretched both arms still further. Who was it? A friend? A good man? Someone who sympathized? Someone who wanted to help? Was it one person only? Or was it mankind? Was help at hand? Were there arguments in his favor that had been overlooked? IMG_4947Of course there must be. Logic is doubtless unshakable, but it cannot stand a man who wants to go on living. Where was the Judge whom he had never seen? Where was the high Court to which he had never penetrated? He raised his hands and spread out all of his fingers. But the hands of one of the partners was already at K.’s throat, while the other thrust the knife deep into his heart and turned it there twice. IMG_5003With failing eyes, K. could still see the two of them immediately before him, cheek leaning against cheek, watching the final act. “Like a dog!” he said; it was as if the shame of it must outlive him.*

(The end of Franz Kafka’s The Trial)

Max Frisch’s “I’m Not Stiller”

Max Frisch writes of imprisonment in his remarkable novel, I’m Not Stiller.

My cell – I have just measured it with my shoe which is a trifle less than twelve inches long – is small, like everything in this country, so clean one can hardly breathe for all the hygiene, and oppressive precisely because everything is just right. maxfrischFrisch’s book focuses not so much on physical imprisonment as the meta:

How can anyone prove who they really are? I can’t. Do I know myself who I am? That is the terrifying discovery I have made while under arrest.  I have no words for my reality. 20151024_135741And the impossibility of understanding one another:

As soon as I feel that I am alone with a simple self-evident truth I lose sight of its self-evidence, blurring it with hasty similes that are supposed to help the other person understand me, but in reality only confuse what was originally a clear realization, and finally defending what I ruined with arguments that are sheer nonsense. 20151031_163216This novel is akin to the loss of identity found in other great works, such as Vladimir Nabakov’s Invitation to a Beheading, Gunter Grass’ Tin Drum and the journeys of K throughout much of Franz Kafka’s work. 67064Similarly the issue of identity is addressed much as it is in The Return of Martin Guerre and Luigi Pirandello’s The Late Mattia Pascal. 20140209_123148Frisch is direct on this very issue throughout the narrative:

You can put anything into words, except your own life. It is this impossibility that condemns us to remain as our companions see us and mirror us, those who claim to know me, those who call themselves my friends, and never allow me to change simply so they can say” I know you.”