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The Trial is one of Kafka's most famous works.  It is a novel although my copy was only 172 pages long.

 

I read it because I wanted to find out what Kafka was like as an author.  I'm not sure that I have found that out conclusively but I do know that I like his prose.  

 

The Trial is about Josef K who is charged and put on trial by a remote, inaccessible authority, with the nature of his crime revealed neither to him nor to the reader.  Detailed descriptions are given of the characters, the surroundings, how Josef K is feeling and how he is affected by The Trial and the general atmosphere of Josef K's surroundings at any given time.  

 

I found out through some internet research that The Trial was never finished but there is a chapter at the end that brings the story to a close.

 

The prose is satisfyingly good and not at all sparse.  Neither is it too plentiful, nor, given that the reader never knows of what Josef K is on trial for, too vague.   And it does come to something of a satisfying end, which I won't reveal.

 

What happens to Josef K can be construed as weird (the best word that I can think of) and the people he chooses to seek advice from are not necessarily the most obvious, which I liked.

 

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and look forward to reading the other work contained in my copy of The Essential Kafka.

 

Highly recommended

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Over half a lifetime ago The Metamorphosis and this novel were my introduction to surreal and dreamlike literature, and they completely changed the course of my reading. Can't say I really remember much from The Trial, except for delighted shock that something could be so weird and ambiguous and yet be so interesting and even satisfying to read.

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It helps if you have some personal experience of what Kafka is describing. I remember when I was brought into my manager's office and told that something had happened which required that I be suspended with immediate effect. They didn't give me any further information. I spent nearly a week running through every possibly thing it could be in my mind. What did they think I'd done? What had I actually done? I even found myself creating worse case scenarios for the most basic or innocent of things in my life and twisted them until they were dark, sinister and deformed.

 

I was guilty.

 

In the end, it was nothing but if they'd told me I'd committed murder, I was so ridden with anxiety, I might have believed them.

 

Kafka was genius.

Edited by hux

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The Trial is a haunting story of a near-nameless man struggling to come to terms with bureaucracy.  He seems to have no friends, no confidants, and is forced into writing, drawing the reader into his every thought.

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Reading The Trial by Franz Kafka is having a much bigger impact on me this time than it did in my late teens, which is mostly due to some commentary I recently read by Camus on Kafka's work. When I read it then it merely struck me as a surreal indictment of Big Brother. But now I see it more as a dirge to that free floating existential anxiety inherent in our belief we must make decisions, and our ultimate powerlessness over our fate.

The secondary characters are very robotic. No, not robots-actors with a script written by an insane playwright, with their only authorial motivation being to befuddle K. They even seem to move into and out of character depending on their proximity to K. And K. thinks he has power over events and control of himself, but he just ends up reacting to the absurdities surrounding him. But I'm only 50 pages in and these feelings may change.

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I don't know whether this is a theme, or if Kaka intended it to be felt this way, but I find myself with a lot of anxiety as I read because I don't seem able to 'know' anything. It is intimated that there is a logic and rationale behind the actions of the Court, but it never becomes apparent. The reading of this novel is making me realize how dependent I am on thinking that I know what is going on. Even in a fictional world, and one where I know what ultimately happens, I find it very difficult to relax into 'not-knowing'.

 

It was very interesting how K. was sickened by the oppressive air (air of oppression) ["But one eventually gets used to the air"..."you'll hardly notice the heavy atmosphere"] in the Court Offices and revived so quickly when he got fresh (free flowing) air. And yet that same unconfined air sickened, or at least enervated, the helpful woman and the information officer.

And the way the scene in the 'lumber room just reset the next day was very disturbing! I can see why K. freaked out, because I kind of freaked out. Paranoia would be inevitable when things are so clearly set up!

 

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Just a quick comment here- this book may be only 177 pages, but they are dense pages. I don't mean dense prose, but dense with words. Conversations do not have line breaks and paragraphs are long. A single paragraph in one case is over 7 pages long! So, I'd guess, that with any standardized para graphic orientation this book wood be pushing 300 pages.

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I don't know if it's a theme or not either having only read The Trial so far but I enjoyed not knowing what was happeing and feeling K's confusion, oppression and frustration at the same time he felt it.

 

i have an omnibus edition so I'm looking forward to the other books with it.

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Enjoyed is not the term I would use! I admire the skill of Kafka to put me right in K.'s shoes, and I have enjoyed some of the humor Kafka found in the absurdity of the Court, and I do think about this book almost continuously and derive a certain pleasure from that. But the experience of reading and living K.'s life with him I find nightmarish. Not a big fan of scary movies either, although it's been decades since a movie actually spooked me. But this book gets to me because I feel like I'm seeing the reality that lurks directly beneath ours.

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I read this long ago, but my reaction was exactly like Dan's. It felt like a nightmare from which K. could never wake up. 

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Another thing I am seeing in this is that the judges are like gods. They are vain and capricious and answer to no man. But the advocates are like the priesthood, trying to placate the gods on behalf of the sinners, and no one is allowed access the gods without these intermediaries. At least that's what they tell the miserable sinners, who are guilty without even being told what crime they committed. There is only a myth of actual acquittal, but no one has ever seen it.

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Finished The Trial last night and had an odd juxtaposition of feelings. Part of me was very relieved that I

and Joseph K. , though his escape was death, which inevitability he came to accept, and even, seemingly, to welcome,

had escaped that horrible nightmare. But I was also sorely tempted to just turn around and begin it again, with a notebook at my side, and attempt to analyze all of the implications, and ramifications, all the allusions and symbology, all of the plethora of meaning which could be gleaned from this work. But I don't have the courage or the energy to immerse myself in Kafka's world again, at least not at this moment. So instead I will merely record here what I got from that reading.

First a note on the physical structure of this book. I came to believe that the use of lengthy paragraphs (many of which were multi-page!)was a technique Kafka employed to maintain an anxiety level in the reader. Those long paragraphs, most of which consisted of dialogue which explicated the more or less hopeless nature of K.'s case (though they were often ostensibly about people telling him why it wasn't hopeless they actually had the reverse effect) were extremely claustrophobic! I felt trapped in them, suffocated because I would actually forget to breathe, crushed by despair yet concentrating desperately to find some glimmer of the possibility for escape. My kingdom for a line break!????????

I think the real genius of The Trial is that it can be read on so many levels. Name any social institution; government bureaucracy, religion, corporations, education, health care, and most obviously the judicial system; you can find a scathing and irrefutable indictment of it here. Even our special love relationships are depicted. Raise your hands, anyone who has never heard from,or said to, a loved one some variation of "You know what you did; you just don't want to admit it".

But what really took this book into the stratosphere of literature as art (and at the moment I would place it somewhere in the top 5 books I've ever read, in terms of the comprehensiveness of its meaning and what we can learn from it) is what it says about the human condition, about our experience of this existence, which begins and ends in a void, and is deeply fraught with uncertainty, powerlessness and change throughout its course. But unfortunately that discussion will have to take place in another post because I have to run now.

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Have read all the commentaries and am so glad I never ventured into this book, it would have dragged me down, I need resolutions in what I read, am more of a pessimist than the other nowadays.

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Let's start at the beginning and work through this, planting spoilers as need be. Joseph K. has his life pretty well set up. He's got enough money, comfortable rooms at the boarding house, a job at the bank that satisfies his need for status, but still has room for upward mobility, and a weekend girlfriend who works at a wine bar. Cush and secure, ducks in a row. He's respected and knows just who he is. And then a couple of buffoons from the court invade his domicile and arrest him.

Everybody has had some version of this scenario, where things are going smoothly and there is a sudden monkey wrench in the works. And most of us react as K did, with some level of impatience and arrogance. But isn't there also usually some feelings of guilt? At least a niggling of doubt? Especially when it comes to employment or health. The shoulds and shouldnts start flying about. And people start acting like they are on your side, like the warders who arrested K, when it's all a sham, or they just want you to go away.

This isn't going to work! It'll just be blah blah blah by Dan and won't illuminate anyone or satisfy me. So I'll leave this for now with a few questions;

Does anyone think K could have or should have acted differently in his approach to the case?

What did you think of the idea that the accused were all handsome?

Why were there seemingly no female defendants?

Why did K's attitude toward his case go from dismissive to obsessive after his meeting with his uncle?

Do you think K could have or should have gone to the country with his Uncle, and would it have changed the outcome if he did?

A disturbingly paradoxical, yet illuminating quote from the priest; "Correct understanding of a matter and misunderstanding of the same matter do not exclude each other entirely." And from the end of that same conversation; "That means I belong to the Court," said the priest,"so why should I want anything of you? The Court asks nothing of you. It receives you when you come and releases you when you go." Does anyone take this to mean that the guilt was entirely from K's own mind? That the whole case was actually about K trying to atone for some sort of unconscious guilt?

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Do you thing it was just his case that was a delusion, or the entire idea of the absurd Court? Because if the entire thing was a delusion then it makes the book rather meaningless, doesn't it? I was thinking more along the lines that the Court tapped into subconscious guilt. And I thought that that might also be why 'handsome men' were targeted, because they felt a guilt over their unearned advantage.

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Or could it be that Kafka was saying that this whole world is just a delusion in our own mind, a manifestation of unconscious guilt, a projection designed to place that guilt 'out there' so we can deny it in ourselves?

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K's death made perfect sense to me because I thought that is was clear that he was very mentally unwell. Whether he driven there as a result of circumstances or whether his mental health created the whole as a delusion or a bit of both isn't clear from the text, imho.

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Have read all the commentaries and am so glad I never ventured into this book, it would have dragged me down, I need resolutions in what I read, am more of a pessimist than the other nowadays.

I can certainly understand what you mean, Momac. I tend to avoid depressing books, or ones which focus on horrible people or events, especially if there is no particular positive resolution. Yet there is something very different about this book. In no way would I advocate anyone reading it, nor would I deny that it might be THE most hopeless book I've ever read. But, probably because of its surreal nature, there is a quality to this work that , rather than shutting down thoughts and ideas, seems to encourage speculation. And it seems to be trying to bring into the light certain shadows of reality, and leaving it to us to banish those shadows with our light. In my (probably less than) humble opinion.

K's death made perfect sense to me because I thought that is was clear that he was very mentally unwell. Whether he driven there as a result of circumstances or whether his mental health created the whole as a delusion or a bit of both isn't clear from the text, imho.

There really wasn't much that was clear from the text, was there Luna? The entire thing was parable, myth, allegory and fable. And ultimately, ( much like life itself) it will have the meaning for each of us which we choose to give it. Which does not mean that I don't want to hear other people's opinions, nor does it mean that I think mine are the best, only, or correct way of viewing it. For one thing my opinions are not yet fully formed. In fact the reason I desire a dialogue on this book is to help me break out of certain tape loops about it I find myself embroiled in. There are aspects of this book which seem to me to call into question vast chunks of consensus reality, and I find myself drawn to that questioning.

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There really wasn't much that was clear from the text, was there Luna? The entire thing was parable, myth, allegory and fable. And ultimately, ( much like life itself) it will have the meaning for each of us which we choose to give it. Which does not mean that I don't want to hear other people's opinions, nor does it mean that I think mine are the best, only, or correct way of viewing it. For one thing my opinions are not yet fully formed. In fact the reason I desire a dialogue on this book is to help me break out of certain tape loops about it I find myself embroiled in. There are aspects of this book which seem to me to call into question vast chunks of consensus reality, and I find myself drawn to that questioning.

The fact that nothing is clear from the text is why I thought K was suffering increasingly from mental heallth problems. His world was getting more and more confused and less definite as the story went on. That K dies in the end and that he accepted that as inevitable, even though he made it clear that he did not know what was happening to him, pointed to that, imho. At the beginning he had it all and didn't seem to know why or how he'd managed that. It sounded monotonous and boring to me, which he admitted. Perhaps that was the start of his mental health problems and things deteriorated from there.

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But, if we grant reality to the Court, then that system was clearly insane, though it appeared to be based on rationality, since it started with the flawed premise that all that are accused must therefore be guilty. It seems to me that if K was mentally ill at the end of the book then it was the response of a rational mind to being enveloped by irrationality. But I'm not sure K was mentally ill. Admitting that he simply did not know what was happening may have been the sanest response of all. Trying to impose rationality upon an irrational system can only be an overlay, and it is bound to cause dissonance. I tend to go with the interpretation of a sane man in an insane world, although I could definitely see it as an insane man in an insane world. But I never got the sense of it being a tale of an insane man in a sane world.

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I've read that several times, Dan and don't know how to respond. 

 

It does seem that when K describes the little he does know to other people they seem famliar, at least with the concept, but then, you do that (and I have in the past) with someone who is clearly mentally ill.  Not insane per se but definitely not well (I can't think how else to describe it).

 

K seemed to be just about grateful that they had come to kill him, it seems to me.

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Well, Luna, I may be completely wrong in my interpretation of this book. But I found it to be full of deep and profound meanings, and I would not be able to view it that way if I thought it was merely the description of K's delusions and his descent into madness.

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