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Before the Law

[ Edited ]
Before the Law

This parable was first published on its own but is actually a part of Kafka’s novel The Trial. It’s famously cryptic: You can take the Law to stand for several things at once, like God; nature’s impersonal inscrutability; or governmental authority, which refuses to explain itself but excludes certain members for no reason.

Remember that Kafka grew up as a Jew in Prague, and although he died of tuberculosis before WWII, he experienced that anti-Semitism that would fuel WWII and take his sisters’ lives. Does the voice of law in this story sound like a comment on totalitarianism to you?

Does it feel like a comment on our traditional notions of God?

Message Edited by IlanaSimons on 12-26-200612:15 PM




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Re: Before the Law

[ Edited ]
Kafka was a trained lawyer who turned a jaundiced (depressed?) eye onto his profession, perhaps because of his own experiences in an authoritarian 'Prussian' and anti-semitic Germany. Law can become totalitarian and Godless in a totalitarian and Godless society, and Kafka was no doubt feeling the undercurrents of fascism in Berlin when he wrote Before the Law in 1933 (the year Hitler was made Chancellor of Germany). In the UK (I don't know about the US) we generally refer to 'Law and Order' which implies that without Law there would be no Order. In this sense the Law can be seen as benign, even though, as in Dickens, it is also seen as 'a ass - a idiot' (Oliver Twist, Chapter 51). Like our elderly relatives, the law always 'means well' and is there for our 'own good'. The very word 'lawlessness' means unrestrained - we speak of a lawless mob, the lawless frontier, and so The Law in more liberal and democratic societies is generally seen as a good thing. Regrettably for Kafka and millions of other Jews, the Law in Hitler's Germany was subsumed to the will of an evil, totalitarian regime:smileysad:




IlanaSimons wrote:
Before the Law

This parable was first published on its own but is actually a part of Kafka’s novel The Trial. It’s famously cryptic: You can take the Law to stand for several things at once, like God; nature’s impersonal inscrutability; or governmental authority, which refuses to explain itself but excludes certain members for no reason.

Remember that Kafka grew up as a Jew in Prague, and although he died of tuberculosis before WWII, he experienced that anti-Semitism that would fuel WWII and take his sisters’ lives. Does the voice of law in this story sound like a comment on totalitarianism to you?

Does it feel like a comment on our traditional notions of God?

Message Edited by IlanaSimons on 12-26-200612:15 PM



Message Edited by Choisya on 12-28-200608:13 AM

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Re: Before the Law



Choisya wrote:
Kafka was a trained lawyer who turned a jaundiced (depressed?) eye onto his profession, perhaps because of his own experiences in an authoritarian 'Prussian' and anti-semitic Germany. Law can become totalitarian and Godless in a totalitarian and Godless society, and Kafka was no doubt feeling the undercurrents of fascism in Berlin when he wrote Before the Law in 1933 (the year Hitler was made Chancellor of Germany). In the UK (I don't know about the US) we generally refer to 'Law and Order' which implies that without Law there would be no Order. In this sense the Law can be seen as benign, even though, as in Dickens, it is also seen as 'a ass - a idiot' (Oliver Twist, Chapter 51). Like our elderly relatives, the law always 'means well' and is there for our 'own good'. The very word 'lawlessness' means unrestrained - we speak of a lawless mob, the lawless frontier, and so The Law in more liberal and democratic societies is generally seen as a good thing. Regrettably for Kafka and millions of other Jews, the Law in Hitler's Germany was subsumed to the will of an evil, totalitarian regime:smileysad:






Kafka did die in 1924, before Hitler really came to power, but Kafka certainly felt anti-semitism in Prague, and his sisters did eventually die in concentration camps. I really like your comment about the seeming "goodness" of law: There's a sense in this parable that the Law is "for your own good"...but you're not allowed to ask why.



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Re: Before the Law

[ Edited ]
Ah yes, thanks Ilana. I had forgotten that many of his works were published posthumously. There often seems to be the idea that we should not question the law, that it is in some way 'god given' and no doubt this is a throw-back to the days when ordinary folks had very few rights. Then there is the 'caution', if you are arrested, about having 'the right to remain silent' which in itself is a silencer. In the UK where judges and barristers still dress in wigs and robes, courts are very intimidating. It is an expensive business for the taxpayer too:smileyhappy::-

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/news.html?in_article_id=415855&in_page_id=1770



IlanaSimons wrote:


Choisya wrote:
Kafka was a trained lawyer who turned a jaundiced (depressed?) eye onto his profession, perhaps because of his own experiences in an authoritarian 'Prussian' and anti-semitic Germany. Law can become totalitarian and Godless in a totalitarian and Godless society, and Kafka was no doubt feeling the undercurrents of fascism in Berlin when he wrote Before the Law in 1933 (the year Hitler was made Chancellor of Germany). In the UK (I don't know about the US) we generally refer to 'Law and Order' which implies that without Law there would be no Order. In this sense the Law can be seen as benign, even though, as in Dickens, it is also seen as 'a ass - a idiot' (Oliver Twist, Chapter 51). Like our elderly relatives, the law always 'means well' and is there for our 'own good'. The very word 'lawlessness' means unrestrained - we speak of a lawless mob, the lawless frontier, and so The Law in more liberal and democratic societies is generally seen as a good thing. Regrettably for Kafka and millions of other Jews, the Law in Hitler's Germany was subsumed to the will of an evil, totalitarian regime:smileysad:






Kafka did die in 1924, before Hitler really came to power, but Kafka certainly felt anti-semitism in Prague, and his sisters did eventually die in concentration camps. I really like your comment about the seeming "goodness" of law: There's a sense in this parable that the Law is "for your own good"...but you're not allowed to ask why.


Message Edited by Choisya on 12-28-200611:56 AM

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Re: Before the Law

[ Edited ]

Choisya wrote:
Ah yes, thanks Ilana. I had forgotten that many of his works were published posthumously. There often seems to be the idea that we should not question the law, that it is in some way 'god given' and no doubt this is a throw-back to the days when ordinary folks had very few rights. Then there is the 'caution', if you are arrested, about having 'the right to remain silent' which in itself is a silencer. In the UK where judges and barristers still dress in wigs and robes, courts are very intimidating. It is an expensive business for the taxpayer too:smileyhappy::-

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/news.html?in_article_id=415855&in_page_id=1770

-----------------------------------

What a great post. Yes: Kafka would say we're willing pay in order to keep our higher powers looking like higher powers.

I like this aphorism of his, and would like to know what you make of it:

"The animal snatches the whip from its master and whips itself so as to become master, and does not know that all this is only a fantasy caused by a new knot in the master’s whiplash."

Makes me think: We liiiike power to look like power.

about the publication dates: It does get confusing because many of the parables were pieces taken from novels and published both on their own and in the novel. "Before the Law" appeared in Kafka's novel _The Trial_ in 1925. You're right that most of his work was published after his death. Poor man.

Message Edited by IlanaSimons on 12-28-200601:12 PM




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Re: Before the Law

[ Edited ]

IlanaSimons wrote:
I like this aphorism of his, and would like to know what you make of it:

"The animal snatches the whip from its master and whips itself so as to become master, and does not know that all this is only a fantasy caused by a new knot in the master’s whiplash."

Makes me think: We liiiike power to look like power.



We would all like the power to control our destiny, one way or another, and to this end we snatch various whips from various masters. I rather go along with Kafka and think that freedom is an illusion and that we are all controlled to some extent, by one thing or another, whether we know it or not. Marx believed that when we had 'dictatorship by the proletariat' (workers), instead of by the state or by the employer etc., ordinary people would be able to control their destiny and Engels wrote that this dictatorship would begin with 'the shattering of the former state power and its replacement by a new and truly democratic one'. However, we have seen that neither the French nor Russian Revolutions, nor the full enfranchisement of workers in the subsequent major democracies, have enabled people to control their destinies. OTH Tocqueville feared the 'tyranny of the majority' contained in 'popular dictatorship' and we have seen that democratic governments with large majorities can indeed exercise a form of tyranny - such as going to war without the will of their electorate.

In Marx's world, we are only free as individuals when, like artists, we can produce gratuitously, independent of material need. For Marx freedom (viz. control of our destiny) meant release from commercial labour - when society has achieved a certain economic surplus over material necessity. In Marx's 'utopia', enjoying Bach or writing poetry are elements of our self-realisation as much as building skyscrapers or manufacturing cars. Until then, as Sartre said, 'one cannot go beyond Marxism because we have not gone beyond the circumstances which engendered it'. It therefore seems that until we can find a better solution, better even than the democracy we all prize so highly, we will continue to whip ourselves and indulge in our fantasies of freedom, thus fulfilling Kafka's pessimistic aphorism.

Oscar Wilde, in his beautiful essay 'The Soul of Man under Socialism' put it far better than Marx - we can but dream!:-

'Now as the State is not to govern, it may be asked what the State is to do. The State is to be a voluntary association that will organise labour, and be the manufacturer and distributor of necessary commodities. The State is to make what is useful. The individual is to make what is beautiful...It is mentally and morally injurious to man to do anything in which he does not find pleasure, and many forms of labour are quite pleasureless activities, and should be regarded as such. To sweep a slushy crossing for eight hours, on a day when the east wind is blowing is a disgusting occupation. To sweep it with mental, moral, or physical dignity seems to me to be impossible. To sweep it with joy would be appalling. Man is made for something better than disturbing dirt. All work of that kind should be done by a machine....Under proper conditions machinery will serve man. There is no doubt at all that this is the future of machinery, and just as trees grow while the country gentleman is asleep, so while Humanity will be amusing itself, or enjoying cultivated leisure - which, and not labour, is the aim of man - or making beautiful things, or reading beautiful things, or simply contemplating the world with admiration and delight, machinery will be doing all the necessary and unpleasant work.'

Message Edited by Choisya on 12-28-200602:11 PM

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Stuck in the House of Symbols and Strange Correspondences

What strikes me most about the world of Kafka is the irrationality that hovers under the surface of rationality. Even if bureaucracy (represented by the man guarding the door and the infinite regress of doors and doorkeepers) represents a hyper-rationality or order, it is an order that seems part of an overall irrational scheme.

What strikes me most is a sense of metaphysical alienation. Certainly there is alienation of the individual in relation to a faceless bureaucracy, but there also exists a more fundamental metaphysical alienation in relation to an intractable universe, that is only mirrored in the labyrinthine bureaucracy and rule makers with their inflexible rules

As the door keeper points out, there haven’t been others that have sneaked past the door as that individual door was made just for him. This seems to imply the organization of the universe might be malevolent as there are correspondences between the nature of the man’s individual struggle and the shape the universe assumes around him.

Alternatively the protagonist’s struggle may not be only with the world outside him, but with his own subjectivity as well. Humans not only live in the physical world but in the world of symbols of their own making. Individually and collectively we can invent our own worlds and become trapped in our own obsessions like being stuck in a sticky glue. What is the status of the symbols we create? Are there and authorative symbols and conceptual frameworks that we need to adjust our will to? What is the relation of creative symbol making and madness and delusion?

The man never considers moving away from the door. His goal (which in the story is the fundamental project of his life) is destroying him, but he continues to pursue it because it is his nature, a nature he can neither understand or seemingly transcend.
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Re: Stuck in the House of Symbols and Strange Correspondences



Katelyn wrote:
What strikes me most about the world of Kafka is the irrationality that hovers under the surface of rationality. Even if bureaucracy (represented by the man guarding the door and the infinite regress of doors and doorkeepers) represents a hyper-rationality or order, it is an order that seems part of an overall irrational scheme.

What strikes me most is a sense of metaphysical alienation. Certainly there is alienation of the individual in relation to a faceless bureaucracy, but there also exists a more fundamental metaphysical alienation in relation to an intractable universe, that is only mirrored in the labyrinthine bureaucracy and rule makers with their inflexible rules

As the door keeper points out, there haven’t been others that have sneaked past the door as that individual door was made just for him. This seems to imply the organization of the universe might be malevolent as there are correspondences between the nature of the man’s individual struggle and the shape the universe assumes around him.

Alternatively the protagonist’s struggle may not be only with the world outside him, but with his own subjectivity as well. Humans not only live in the physical world but in the world of symbols of their own making. Individually and collectively we can invent our own worlds and become trapped in our own obsessions like being stuck in a sticky glue. What is the status of the symbols we create? Are there and authorative symbols and conceptual frameworks that we need to adjust our will to? What is the relation of creative symbol making and madness and delusion?

The man never considers moving away from the door. His goal (which in the story is the fundamental project of his life) is destroying him, but he continues to pursue it because it is his nature, a nature he can neither understand or seemingly transcend.




This is an excellent post, Katelyn. What you say about symbols relates to the discussion of language that just started under Question #2 in the Metamorphosis thread, on "what lens do you use?" I'd like to hear you say more, either here or there.

I am excited by your idea that our psychological knots mirror metaphysical and natural ones.

Here's an idea I'd like to hear your take on:
We can also say that the man is not like nature, because he introspects, which the natural system itself does not. The gatekeeper (seen as part of the natural order) says he's never seen his inside--never seen the interior. He doesn't even seem curious about looking in. He just maintains its laws. The man, in contrast, stands in front of the system and asks unending questions about it. At least we have the itch to look inside....



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Re: Stuck in the House of Symbols and Strange Correspondences

Ilana,

I agree wholeheardedly that there is something wonderful about the protagonist's "itch to look inside." I often think it is our questions rather than our answers that define who we are. Our questions take in the whole universe (perhaps in a amorphous form); as our opinions emmerge from our more incipient glimses into things we are gain something but lose something also -- the original question has lost its magic and our hold on us although it does have a second life in the framework we use to shape new questions. Questions open onto horizons on new questions. In The Law, the protagonist question is totally frustrated however and there is this wonderfully ambiguity about whether it is even good to ask etc.- I like the tenaciousness of the protagonist (if he has a name I can't remember it). He'de be someone else and less if he gave up.


I was broswing over in the other thread (for the Metamorphosis). I like the discussion that is going on over there. I especially liked how you talked about how Kafka stories in some respect were in black and white -- black and white can distort life, but it can make us see our familiar world differently. There is an aspect that is like an existential cartoon in Kafka that you captured perfectly. I haven't finished that story yet, but I like the discussion you, Prince Alfie, and others have going over there.

Happy New Year everyone (I am typing on the computer to avoid doing the exercise I planned to do today)

Kate
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Re: Before the Law

I enjoyed this post --especially how you explored this in so many dimensions and with a wide variety of thinkers. The part about Sartre at the end made me think of another quote of Sartre "Man is a useless passion". There is a futility to the protagonist's tenaciousness, but yet he cannot give up. I found your Oscar Wilde quote interesting also... I liked the phrase "Man is made for something better than disturbing dirt" -- Although I thought as I read it that you as a master gardener (as I learned from other classes) might be able to argue that there is indeed a great dignity in "disturbing dirt." I admit that would be taking Mr. Wilde out of context since he is talking about sweeping, not gardening however.

Kate





Choisya wrote:

IlanaSimons wrote:
I like this aphorism of his, and would like to know what you make of it:

"The animal snatches the whip from its master and whips itself so as to become master, and does not know that all this is only a fantasy caused by a new knot in the master’s whiplash."

Makes me think: We liiiike power to look like power.



We would all like the power to control our destiny, one way or another, and to this end we snatch various whips from various masters. I rather go along with Kafka and think that freedom is an illusion and that we are all controlled to some extent, by one thing or another, whether we know it or not. Marx believed that when we had 'dictatorship by the proletariat' (workers), instead of by the state or by the employer etc., ordinary people would be able to control their destiny and Engels wrote that this dictatorship would begin with 'the shattering of the former state power and its replacement by a new and truly democratic one'. However, we have seen that neither the French nor Russian Revolutions, nor the full enfranchisement of workers in the subsequent major democracies, have enabled people to control their destinies. OTH Tocqueville feared the 'tyranny of the majority' contained in 'popular dictatorship' and we have seen that democratic governments with large majorities can indeed exercise a form of tyranny - such as going to war without the will of their electorate.

In Marx's world, we are only free as individuals when, like artists, we can produce gratuitously, independent of material need. For Marx freedom (viz. control of our destiny) meant release from commercial labour - when society has achieved a certain economic surplus over material necessity. In Marx's 'utopia', enjoying Bach or writing poetry are elements of our self-realisation as much as building skyscrapers or manufacturing cars. Until then, as Sartre said, 'one cannot go beyond Marxism because we have not gone beyond the circumstances which engendered it'. It therefore seems that until we can find a better solution, better even than the democracy we all prize so highly, we will continue to whip ourselves and indulge in our fantasies of freedom, thus fulfilling Kafka's pessimistic aphorism.

Oscar Wilde, in his beautiful essay 'The Soul of Man under Socialism' put it far better than Marx - we can but dream!:-

'Now as the State is not to govern, it may be asked what the State is to do. The State is to be a voluntary association that will organise labour, and be the manufacturer and distributor of necessary commodities. The State is to make what is useful. The individual is to make what is beautiful...It is mentally and morally injurious to man to do anything in which he does not find pleasure, and many forms of labour are quite pleasureless activities, and should be regarded as such. To sweep a slushy crossing for eight hours, on a day when the east wind is blowing is a disgusting occupation. To sweep it with mental, moral, or physical dignity seems to me to be impossible. To sweep it with joy would be appalling. Man is made for something better than disturbing dirt. All work of that kind should be done by a machine....Under proper conditions machinery will serve man. There is no doubt at all that this is the future of machinery, and just as trees grow while the country gentleman is asleep, so while Humanity will be amusing itself, or enjoying cultivated leisure - which, and not labour, is the aim of man - or making beautiful things, or reading beautiful things, or simply contemplating the world with admiration and delight, machinery will be doing all the necessary and unpleasant work.'

Message Edited by Choisya on 12-28-200602:11 PM




Choisya,
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Re: Stuck in the House of Symbols and Strange Correspondences



Katelyn wrote:
there is this wonderfully ambiguity about whether it is even good to ask [questions about life] etc.- I like the tenaciousness of the protagonist (if he has a name I can't remember it). He'de be someone else and less if he gave up.



Yeah: the man asks questions, and this energetic imperfect mind is the thing that makes us us, and not God.

So here Kafka in some sense reverses the old idea about who's better off--God or Man. In Kafka's picture, at least man gets to live with the energy and drama of questioning. If God/Law has no curiosity, He's like a servant at a desk, just waiting for man to decide his own fate. Man is in the power position. God doesn't have the power here; he doesn't control the drama; and he's left to wait on man's decisions.



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Re: Stuck in the House of Symbols and Strange Correspondences

"So here Kafka in some sense reverses the old idea about who's better off--God or Man. In Kafka's picture, at least man gets to live with the energy and drama of questioning. If God/Law has no curiosity, He's like a servant at a desk, just waiting for man to decide his own fate. Man is in the power position. God doesn't have the power here; he doesn't control the drama; and he's left to wait on man's decisions."

My question is: did he decide his own fate? Why wasn't he wise enough to realize it was wasted energy? God/Law appears to proceed by rote with no interest in Man, but is Man really in control? Or do we prefer to perceive it as a "power position"? The man has spent his entire life waiting and questioning, studying the situation to it's minutest detail, and in the end is told that the gate was just for him ...and now it is closed. He is powerless in the futility of his chosen course, but cannot turn aside. He has taken no physical action at all, being immobilized by the idea of a succession of more powerful gatekeepers, and caught up in trying to "think his way in". The gatekeeper's response is physical without physicality: he keeps the man from entering, and then he closes the gate.
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ELee wrote:
My question is: did he decide his own fate? Why wasn't he wise enough to realize it was wasted energy? God/Law appears to proceed by rote with no interest in Man, but is Man really in control? Or do we prefer to perceive it as a "power position"? The man has spent his entire life waiting and questioning, studying the situation to it's minutest detail, and in the end is told that the gate was just for him ...and now it is closed. He is powerless in the futility of his chosen course, but cannot turn aside. He has taken no physical action at all, being immobilized by the idea of a succession of more powerful gatekeepers, and caught up in trying to "think his way in". The gatekeeper's response is physical without physicality: he keeps the man from entering, and then he closes the gate.




Great point. The man spends a life in questioning things...and it is a futile quest. Sometimes I feel like you can read Kafka as either the Romantic Kafka or as the Pessimistic Kafka. His work is vague enough so that the story goes both ways…and so becomes like a personality test for whoever’s reading (“am I more attracted to a romantic or pessimistic reading?”).
Here, the man suffers at the gate, but depending on my take, that life can look more or less beautiful than the unexamined life. (It’s obviously a bit of both: beautifully ambitious but hopeless.)
I think this question's also neat to think about with The Metamorphosis. In our talk about the book (the thread called “question 2”), esthermann just posted a comment that said the story is about helplessness. The martyr dies without a chance of changing his fate. It’s true: there’s a lot of futility. But you can also read the Metamorphosis as more romantic: as saying—almost like the Bible does—that this hero died for our sins. E.g. Kafka hopes his story is rich enough to inspire action outside of it.



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Re: Stuck in the House of Symbols and Strange Correspondences

I'd be curious to know Kafka's take on Christianity... As somebody raised Jewish, and with an apparent ambivalence toward this heritage, I wonder how much the Jewish notion of a messiah yet to come supercedes the Christian one of a messiah who's already come... since Christianity claims that the messiah has come and redeemed us of our sins, where as those Jewish are still waiting.
My (admittedly scant) knowledge of Jewish expectations around the messiah are that his coming will thoroughly transform everything.
Is there maybe something running around in all this, that the (Jewish) messiah came but didn't do what he was supposed to?
As others have mentioned quite eloquentlty, his was an anti-semitic time. I wonder whether this would lead to more doubts for him, strengthen his faith, or in some strange way do both...
Finally, I wonder if living in such an environment, and seeing "Christians" participating in the anti-semetism impacts his view on the Christian take on such things as the nature of the messiah.
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Re: Stuck in the House of Symbols and Strange Correspondences

Jeff, this is a terrific line of yours: "Running around in all this [is the idea] that the (Jewish) messiah came but didn't do what he was supposed to."

I.e. the messiah came but didn't change anything. I think that captures Kafka's tone quite well. Law can't be lifted. I like this Kafka parable:

The Tower of Babel
If it had been possible to build the tower of Babel without ascending it, the work would have been permitted.

To me, that parable says: the whole point of Law is that it forbids. By definition, law is sadistic.

You also make a great point about anti-semitism. Hannah Arendt wrote a good essay about this, in which she said that "Before the Law" prefigures the voice of Totalitarianism. Here a person is excluded without explanation. It's as if the German country says to the Jews, "You're locked out." And they ask, "Why?" And their answer: "We offer no reason. The torture is necessary, and made just for you."



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Re: Stuck in the House of Symbols and Strange Correspondences

That parable about the tower of Babel has my head spinning. That's fascinating stuff. One of the recurring themes through these disucssions seems to be one I would not have expected. I'd never noticed Kafka's love/hate thing with language. In one of the other strings, I think you posted something about Kafka's ambivalent feelings about writing in German.
I'm not entirely clear what building the tower without ascending it looks like on a metaphorical level. (I'd love somebody's thoughts on that.) But the sin, ascending the tower, I wonder if that's somehow tied up in our attempts to transcend language's limitations. Adam initially named everything (atleast all the animals in the garden) and we were perhaps intended to satisfy ourselves with the tool of language, however limited it might be. God struck down the tower of babel-- perhaps-- because we sought to got ourselves past the limitations. (Somebody mentioned Wittgenstien in one of these postings, too. I think he had some crazy/fascinating thing to say about language being a ladder which we climb up and kick out from under us... this might be a different way of talking about ascending it.)
In short... if my analysis is correct, if the act of ascending the tower is some kind of attempt at transcending linguistic limitations, what would simply have building it looked like?
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jeffcampbell7 wrote:
That parable about the tower of Babel has my head spinning. That's fascinating stuff. One of the recurring themes through these disucssions seems to be one I would not have expected. I'd never noticed Kafka's love/hate thing with language. In one of the other strings, I think you posted something about Kafka's ambivalent feelings about writing in German.
I'm not entirely clear what building the tower without ascending it looks like on a metaphorical level. (I'd love somebody's thoughts on that.) But the sin, ascending the tower, I wonder if that's somehow tied up in our attempts to transcend language's limitations. Adam initially named everything (atleast all the animals in the garden) and we were perhaps intended to satisfy ourselves with the tool of language, however limited it might be. God struck down the tower of babel-- perhaps-- because we sought to got ourselves past the limitations. (Somebody mentioned Wittgenstien in one of these postings, too. I think he had some crazy/fascinating thing to say about language being a ladder which we climb up and kick out from under us... this might be a different way of talking about ascending it.)
In short... if my analysis is correct, if the act of ascending the tower is some kind of attempt at transcending linguistic limitations, what would simply have building it looked like?




Neat post! I hear you saying this: At times, Kafka hopes that language expands what we are. At the same time, he knows language traps us.
I do think he beat himself up by exaggerating his own depression ("impossibility" is his favorite parable-word) with his black-and-white language.

Here's the most head-spinning parable I think he wrote. I'll try to say what I get out of it, and would love to hear what others think:

On Parables
by Franz Kafka
Many complain that the words of the wise are always merely parables and of no use in daily life, which is the only life we have. When the sage says: "Go over," he does not mean that we should cross over to some actual place, which we could do anyhow if the labor were worth it; he means some fabulous yonder, something unknown to us, something too that he cannot designate more precisely, and therefore cannot help us here in the very least. All these parables really set out to say merely that the incomprehensible is incomprehensible, and we know that already. But the cares we have to struggle with every day: that is a different matter.

Concerning this a man once said: Why such reluctance? If you only followed the parables you yourselves would become parables and with that rid yourself of all your daily cares.

Another said: I bet that is also a parable.

The first said: You have won.

The second said: But unfortunately only in parable.

The first said: No, in reality: in parable you have lost.


----
I think that Kafka's saying that words present a tease: the possibility of a higher life. But then we say, "Jeez! I'm just dealing with words!" Then we loose all focus: Is life anything more than words in the end, anyway?



Ilana
Check out my book, here and visit my website, here.


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LizzieAnn
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Re: Stuck in the House of Symbols and Strange Correspondences

I liked your "Pessimistic Kafka" Ilana, especially that I haven't seen the romantic one yet. If it was the romantic one who wrote this - that life on the other side is more beautiful, would it be that Kafka is saying that life in this world isn't as beautiful as life in the next? My first reaction is to agree with the futility - the waste of time & life. This man could have done so much, instead he just waited needlessly, taking whatever was handed out to him. Could he be a symboly of oppressed people?

The comment you made on Metamorphosis - how it can be viewed as romantic, was unexpected to me. I would never have seen that, but when you put it out there like that, it makes perfect sense.

As you see, I'm still tryiing to work Kafka out. Reading everyone's posts has helped, and I've continued reading. Will we be discussing the other stories as well?



IlanaSimons wrote:

Great point. The man spends a life in questioning things...and it is a futile quest. Sometimes I feel like you can read Kafka as either the Romantic Kafka or as the Pessimistic Kafka. His work is vague enough so that the story goes both ways…and so becomes like a personality test for whoever’s reading (“am I more attracted to a romantic or pessimistic reading?”).
Here, the man suffers at the gate, but depending on my take, that life can look more or less beautiful than the unexamined life. (It’s obviously a bit of both: beautifully ambitious but hopeless.)
I think this question's also neat to think about with The Metamorphosis. In our talk about the book (the thread called “question 2”), esthermann just posted a comment that said the story is about helplessness. The martyr dies without a chance of changing his fate. It’s true: there’s a lot of futility. But you can also read the Metamorphosis as more romantic: as saying—almost like the Bible does—that this hero died for our sins. E.g. Kafka hopes his story is rich enough to inspire action outside of it.
Liz ♥ ♥


Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested. ~ Francis Bacon
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jeffcampbell7
Posts: 7
Registered: ‎01-07-2007
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Re: Stuck in the House of Symbols and Strange Correspondences



IlanaSimons wrote:


jeffcampbell7 wrote:
That parable about the tower of Babel has my head spinning. That's fascinating stuff. One of the recurring themes through these disucssions seems to be one I would not have expected. I'd never noticed Kafka's love/hate thing with language. In one of the other strings, I think you posted something about Kafka's ambivalent feelings about writing in German.
I'm not entirely clear what building the tower without ascending it looks like on a metaphorical level. (I'd love somebody's thoughts on that.) But the sin, ascending the tower, I wonder if that's somehow tied up in our attempts to transcend language's limitations. Adam initially named everything (atleast all the animals in the garden) and we were perhaps intended to satisfy ourselves with the tool of language, however limited it might be. God struck down the tower of babel-- perhaps-- because we sought to got ourselves past the limitations. (Somebody mentioned Wittgenstien in one of these postings, too. I think he had some crazy/fascinating thing to say about language being a ladder which we climb up and kick out from under us... this might be a different way of talking about ascending it.)
In short... if my analysis is correct, if the act of ascending the tower is some kind of attempt at transcending linguistic limitations, what would simply have building it looked like?




Neat post! I hear you saying this: At times, Kafka hopes that language expands what we are. At the same time, he knows language traps us.
I do think he beat himself up by exaggerating his own depression ("impossibility" is his favorite parable-word) with his black-and-white language.

Here's the most head-spinning parable I think he wrote. I'll try to say what I get out of it, and would love to hear what others think:

On Parables
by Franz Kafka
Many complain that the words of the wise are always merely parables and of no use in daily life, which is the only life we have. When the sage says: "Go over," he does not mean that we should cross over to some actual place, which we could do anyhow if the labor were worth it; he means some fabulous yonder, something unknown to us, something too that he cannot designate more precisely, and therefore cannot help us here in the very least. All these parables really set out to say merely that the incomprehensible is incomprehensible, and we know that already. But the cares we have to struggle with every day: that is a different matter.

Concerning this a man once said: Why such reluctance? If you only followed the parables you yourselves would become parables and with that rid yourself of all your daily cares.

Another said: I bet that is also a parable.

The first said: You have won.

The second said: But unfortunately only in parable.

The first said: No, in reality: in parable you have lost.


----
I think that Kafka's saying that words present a tease: the possibility of a higher life. But then we say, "Jeez! I'm just dealing with words!" Then we loose all focus: Is life anything more than words in the end, anyway?




IlanaSimons wrote:


jeffcampbell7 wrote:
That parable about the tower of Babel has my head spinning. That's fascinating stuff. One of the recurring themes through these disucssions seems to be one I would not have expected. I'd never noticed Kafka's love/hate thing with language. In one of the other strings, I think you posted something about Kafka's ambivalent feelings about writing in German.
I'm not entirely clear what building the tower without ascending it looks like on a metaphorical level. (I'd love somebody's thoughts on that.) But the sin, ascending the tower, I wonder if that's somehow tied up in our attempts to transcend language's limitations. Adam initially named everything (atleast all the animals in the garden) and we were perhaps intended to satisfy ourselves with the tool of language, however limited it might be. God struck down the tower of babel-- perhaps-- because we sought to got ourselves past the limitations. (Somebody mentioned Wittgenstien in one of these postings, too. I think he had some crazy/fascinating thing to say about language being a ladder which we climb up and kick out from under us... this might be a different way of talking about ascending it.)
In short... if my analysis is correct, if the act of ascending the tower is some kind of attempt at transcending linguistic limitations, what would simply have building it looked like?




Neat post! I hear you saying this: At times, Kafka hopes that language expands what we are. At the same time, he knows language traps us.
I do think he beat himself up by exaggerating his own depression ("impossibility" is his favorite parable-word) with his black-and-white language.

Here's the most head-spinning parable I think he wrote. I'll try to say what I get out of it, and would love to hear what others think:

On Parables
by Franz Kafka
Many complain that the words of the wise are always merely parables and of no use in daily life, which is the only life we have. When the sage says: "Go over," he does not mean that we should cross over to some actual place, which we could do anyhow if the labor were worth it; he means some fabulous yonder, something unknown to us, something too that he cannot designate more precisely, and therefore cannot help us here in the very least. All these parables really set out to say merely that the incomprehensible is incomprehensible, and we know that already. But the cares we have to struggle with every day: that is a different matter.

Concerning this a man once said: Why such reluctance? If you only followed the parables you yourselves would become parables and with that rid yourself of all your daily cares.

Another said: I bet that is also a parable.

The first said: You have won.

The second said: But unfortunately only in parable.

The first said: No, in reality: in parable you have lost.


----
I think that Kafka's saying that words present a tease: the possibility of a higher life. But then we say, "Jeez! I'm just dealing with words!" Then we loose all focus: Is life anything more than words in the end, anyway?




This is very head-spinning. I think what gives me a sense of intellectual vertigo about the whole thing is that we begin by knowing it's a parable. Then we sink a level below, when the parable comments on other parables... Then the dialogue tacked on at the end, it's as if we sink a whole other layer downward, when the commentators not only remark on this but also seem to have an awareness that they too exist as figures in a parable.
In addition to all the things mentioned in the original post, it seems like there's this whole tension around the ideal vs. the real, or the theoretcial vs. the practical.
Great stuff!
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IlanaSimons
Posts: 2,223
Registered: ‎10-20-2006
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Re: Stuck in the House of Symbols and Strange Correspondences



jeffcampbell7 wrote: This is very head-spinning. I think what gives me a sense of intellectual vertigo about the whole thing is that we begin by knowing it's a parable. Then we sink a level below, when the parable comments on other parables... Then the dialogue tacked on at the end, it's as if we sink a whole other layer downward, when the commentators not only remark on this but also seem to have an awareness that they too exist as figures in a parable.
In addition to all the things mentioned in the original post, it seems like there's this whole tension around the ideal vs. the real, or the theoretcial vs. the practical.
Great stuff!




Nice comment, Jeff.
Kafka made us dizzy looking at the interplay between the ideal--which we invent with words--and the real, the stuff we live in.



Ilana
Check out my book, here and visit my website, here.


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