The Accursed Sovereign

Posted in Literature, Philosophical Anthropology by bradishn on January 26, 2010

“So!” cried K., flinging his arms in the air, his sudden enlightenment had to break out, “every man jack of you here is an official, I see, you are yourselves the corrupt agents of whom I have been speaking, you’ve all come rushing here to listen and nose out what you can about me, making a pretense of party divisions, and half of you applauded merely to lead me on, you wanted some practice in fooling an innocent man.  Well, much good I hope it’s done you, for either you have merely gathered some amusement from the fact that I expected you to defend the innocent, or else – keep off or I’ll strike you,” cried K. to a trembling old man who had pushed quite close to him – “or else you have really learned a thing or two.  And I wish you joy of your trade.”  He hastily seized his hat, which lay near the edge of the table, and amid universasl silence, the silence of complete stupefaction, if nothing else, pushed his way to the door.  (Franz Kafka, The Trial, translated by Willa and Edwin Muir, Schocken Books, New York; 1992, pp. 47-8.)

In Kafka’s The Trial, Joseph K. finds himself thrown into a strange bureaucratic world which seems as much a creation of his own as it is an external fact.  In the above passage, K. ‘discovers’ that all those who watched him attend his first ‘court date’ (for lack of a better term) were in fact officials of the court.  It is here that we find the predicament of the individual in mass society.  Though lost in the bureaucracy of modern society, the individual believes there are moments at which he is surrounded by his peers, people just like him, undergoing the same ordeal that he is taking on.  But at some point the veil is dropped, and the individual finds that the people around him are nothing like him!  In fact, they are agents of the system that is working against him.  Thus, man finds himself alienated from his society.  With no one around to understand himself through, man, Joseph K. in this instance, is just as lost to himself as he is to a bureaucratic nightmare.  Through this lack of intersubjective self-understanding, we have the birth of mental illness.

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