Kafka and the Dramatisation of the Guilty
Kafka… draws the reader into the dramatization of the (guilty) failure to arrive, to communicate, to understand. And it is this movement which he describes again and again, not only on the level of rational discourse, but on a great many levels.
Heller’s statement is at best a rather enigmatic one: riddled with unanswered questions and uncertainties. The reader of Heller’s statement would first ask himself how Kafka… draws the reader into the dramatization, then would question the failure to arrive, to communicate, to understand: arrive, communicate, understand what? Thirdly, one asks oneself what is the movement he describes again and again: drawing the reader into the dramatization or the failure to arrive, communicate, understand. And lastly, one wonders what the “many levels” are that Kafka uses to communicate the rather ambiguous “movement”.
The failure to arrive is a recurrent theme throughout the novel. Probably the best example of it is the failure to arrive at a judgement. K is on trial for the entirety of the novel, and never is judgement passed on him. He is waiting for the court to arrive at a judgement during the course of the novel, yet at the end he is only punished: the court never arrives at a judgement. This can be applied to most of the book: for instance K’s failure to arrive at the first hearing on time and the failure of his case to arrive at the highest courts. It is if events are placed in suspense, their conclusion shimmering ever so faintly in the distance and the reader, like Tantalus, attempts to attain the unattainable. Failure to arrive may indicate that in “The Trial” the journey or process is more important than its conclusion; was the original German manuscript not actually called “Der Prozess”? However, whatever be the meaning of the failure to arrive, it is instrumental in creating tension as the conclusion continues to be elusive.
The failure to arrive can possibly be linked with the failure to communicate in that if one is still in the process of thinking and has not yet arrived at a conclusion, one would find it difficult to accurately describe the thought process to another, hence the failure to communicate. I believe that the most accurate way to define the failure to communicate can be found in Brink’s interpretation of the novel. Brink sees language in “The Trial” as being unable to communicate anything. Take, for example, the advocate’s speeches. They are entirely superfluous: Huld turns endlessly around the point with out actually addressing it. Whether this is due to the inadequacy of language or to whether there actually is a point or not one is not sure, but there is clearly a failure to communicate. I believe that the concept of failure to communicate in The Trial is perhaps partly created by the language used in the novel, most of which convey only abstracted logical concepts. The language used has no substance and therefore it is completely detached from reality: the syntax is correct but it makes no sense at all.
Failure to understand also plays an extremely important rï¿½le in the novel. It can be seen to follow on directly from the failure to communicate: if one person cannot communicate, the other cannot understand. Perhaps the most important instance of failure to understand is K’s failure to understand the court system. He never seems to develop an adequate understanding of it from those who have or claim to have an understanding of it. They are unable to communicate their understanding to K, thus keeping K from arriving at an understanding or conclusion. This of course brings us back to the failure to arrive (at a conclusion) which in turns leads to the failure to communicate, and so on.
According to Heller, Kafka dramatizes these failures by creating forms in which they can interact with each other, i.e. characters. It is into this dramatization that Kafka draws us by a rather clever usage of basic trait of human nature. Human nature is rather curious by definition, and Kafka uses this facet of human nature to entice the reader into a complete immersion in the world of “The Trial”. The failure to arrive at any conclusion or judgement is rather intriguing in that it creates a permanent sense of tension: a menace hanging over one’s head in suspended animation and the goal almost visible in the distance. One does not know whether it will remain suspended, spring to life, or whether it is there at all. Indeed, one does not know if there really is a point or conclusion. This uncertainty, however, does not stop our pursuit of the glittering conclusion. The sight of it makes the state of uncertainty even more unbearable and the elusive conclusion yet more desirable.
One is enticed into entering deeper into a tangle of uncertainties by this lure. The failure to communicate supports this. By using extremely ambiguous language, devoid of any substance and meaning, one is constantly held in a state of uncertainty. Bathed in this uncertainty, we feel the need to understand, to resolve the uncertainties. The failure to understand throughout the novel is echoed in the mind of the reader: if the narrator and/or the text know nothing and/or communicate nothing it is natural that the reader is maintained in a situation where he understands nothing and his curiosity is aroused. Eventually the reader to becomes part of the drama. His failures to understand, communicate and arrive echo those in the novel and reinforce them, plunging the reader yet deeper into the labyrinth without a center.
This movement is a downward cycle in which confusion begets confusion, drawing the reader deeper and deeper into the text in a downward spiral. Heller declares that it is this movement which is described and communicated again and again throughout the text. It is indeed correct that this movement is repeated again and again: it is a chain reaction in which some begets more of the same and so on and so forth. However, one wonders how Kafka manages to communicate this to the reader. It is certainly almost impossible to explain it through the medium of language since it has been explained in the text that language is ambiguous and only confounds and obfuscates. Yet by it’s own definition then, it is perfectly suited to describe this movement and feeling in the novel.
Kafka uses the container, and not the content, in order to communicate the movement to his readers. Yet in a sense the content, or rather the lack of it, also helps to communicate the movement. One expects that a container contains. It is logical that and object should fulfill its definition. In ascribing to this logic, one falls even deeper into the text as one searches for meaning and substance. One becomes lost and confused wading through all the superfluous packaging searching for the content. But there is no center; there is no content. We echo K in his search for the high court, the nub of the court system. He fails because there is no nub; there is no high court.