Today’s Throwback Thursday is Kafka’s 1925 classic about a world where no one and nothing is safe from the machinery of a totalitarian regime, that we can hardly see, much less understand. Scary stuff in today’s world…
A young bank clerk is arrested one morning, but we’re not told what crime he has committed, or when he committed it (or even if he did it in the first place). Over the next year, our young bank clerk (Josef K.) struggles with his case: how can he argue against a crime he doesn’t know about? Against opponents who are all but invisible, in a court that doesn’t seem to exist?
On the one hand, the Trial could simply be a a satirical text on any multi-layered bureaucracy – Kafka wrote this when he was a clerk in the Workmen’s Accident Insurance Institute for the Kingdom of Bohemia. He could just be poking fun at that right?
But on the other hand, it describes so acutely some of the methods that totalitarian regimes use to keep control, that its hard not to read it as a critique in the mold of 1984, Brave New World, or the Handmaid’s Tale (or while we’re at it, the Harry Potter series, or even the Hunger Games).
The brutal, inefficient, unrelenting machinery that is set in motion in the direction of Josef K comes crashing down on him in the final chapters. Like any bureaucracy, we don’t stand a chance against opponents who have the deck stacked in their favour – it will grind towards its brutal conclusion despite our best efforts, leaving us with the utterly draining feeling that, in the end, there is nothing that can be done.
Hard not to draw some parallels with those Executive Orders coming from the White House, right?
Highly recommended. If you want the pants scaring off you I mean. Otherwise it’s completely draining.