As much as everyone likes to moan about the Trumps or Kim Jong-Uns of the world, it is more about those who allowed them in, not the bullies as it were but the crowd that watches. In other words, our essential malaise is not the jowly hate-filled monsters but the chubby ones who do what they’re told so they can rule their sector.
Franz Kafka, best know for elucidating what is to be trapped in this all-too-real dystopia, put it like this in The Trial:It’s no use. The Examining Magistrate has sent for me. What are you thinking of? It would be the ruin of me. Let him alone. He’s only obeying orders of the Examining Magistrate and carrying me to him.
I have begun the outline for my auto-biography on my days as a teacher, Fuck Pedagogy, which has a similar grim focus. Although lacking Kafka’s literary acumen, it does focus on the same ilk in the education racket, the ones who love the seminars and hate the kids, whose lives are ruled by machinations and maneuvers and who are quietly destroying our world. And like Kafka, it’s supposed to be a comedy. Ha ha.
It was so dark that Karl could not tell at first whether the curtains were drawn or the room was perhaps windowless; finally he noticed a little attic window and pulled back the cloth, letting in some light. The room had two beds, though both were occupied. Karl saw two young people, who were fast asleep and seemed less than trustworthy, especially since for no apparent reason they slept fully dressed and one even had his boots on. (85) In the morning, the two men had no objections to Karl’s accompanying them. Karl had no sooner agreed than they gave him the friendly advice that he should take off his beautiful suit, for it would be a hindrance in finding jobs. Actually at this very inn there was a great opportunity for disposing of the suit since the chambermaid dealt in used clothing. They helped Karl, who had not yet reached a final decision about the suit, remove it and took it away. (91)
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. 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. His 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? Of 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. With 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.*
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. Frisch’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.And 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. This 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. Similarly the issue of identity is addressed much as it is in The Return of Martin Guerre and Luigi Pirandello’s The Late Mattia Pascal. Frisch 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.”