Kafka, The Trial: Conor

Posted by Conor

Throughout, The Trial, the main character Joseph K. struggles with gaining recognition from the officials that are persecuting him. The withhold crucial information from him about his arrest which causes K. to suffer immensely. However, Harry Slochower writes in his article that the protagonists Kafka has created are lacking. Slochower feels that they don’t have a distinct identity which hurts the story. These officials don’t appear to have any information to offer K. and they make themselves appear as lowly as possible. However, if looked at in a different perspective this was likely done on purpose by Kafka. Instead Slochower should look at these protagonists as a way of inhibiting K.’s vision. There are several instances where it appears that K. is being distracted from the truth. When K. is first confronted by the officials in his chambers at the beginning of the novel, he insists they tell him more information. They respond with indifference saying, “There’s been no mistake. After all, out department, as far as I know, and I know only the lowest level, doesn’t seek out guilt among the general population, but, as the Law states, is attracted by guilt and has to send us guards out. That’s the Law” (Kafka 8). In this quote, no information has been given. In fact, it appears that the officials are attempting to appear unknowing as to what K. has done. K. is naturally angered by this and presses further, but in vain. No information is given to him. In the end, K.’s attention is diverted as if to prevent any more prying. It is suspicious behavior. This diversion of attention from the truth is similar to the plot in, The Purloined Letter. K., like Paris’s police are searching for something. The letter is in plain sight, but the fact that it is in plain sight diverts the eyes of the police so they are hidden from the truth. K. even acknowledges at one point that his attention is being affected by the officials. “Then K. remembered that he hadn’t seen the inspector and the guards leave: the inspector had diverted his attention from the three clerks, and now the clerks, had done the same for the inspector. They didn’t show much presence of mind, and K. resolved to pay greater attention to such things” (Kafka 19). This theme of diversion continues where K. is left in the dark. Once he attempts to gain more information, a distraction stops him from discerning the truth. What other instances in the narrative do you see the officials are adverting K.’s attention, and how does this affect the storyline? Or should K. use the technique of self-observation used to heal paranoia patients to discover what it is he has been accused from? The book doesn’t ever give a straight answer.

Hamsun, Hunger, and Desire

Edvard Munch, “Separation” (“Løsrivelse”), 1896

In our beginning discussion of Hamsun’s Hunger, we thought about connecting the novel’s physical hunger to a more abstract psychological, emotional, and ethical spectrum of desire. This might be a good occasion to bring Lacan back into our conversation….

Lacan, appropriating Baruch Spinoza, insisted that “desire is the essence of man” (Lacan, Sem. XI). The desire Lacan has in mind is unconscious desire—which is, after all, the very heart of psychoanlaysis— and while he extends Freud to state that  “the motives of the unconscious are limited…to sexual desire…” he also makes an intriguing observation that “the other great generic desire, that of hunger, is not represented” (i.e. is not represented in the unconscious). I wonder if this might be a productive starting point for thinking about Hamsun and desire.

For Lacan, desire (in French “désir,” Lacan’s equivalent fo Freud’s wunsch, or “wish”) is like the purloined letter (and all signification, for that matter), in that it constitutes the subject, is permanently displaced, and can never be brought to satisfaction (it only yields further


In the 1953 essay  “The function and Field of Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis,” Lacan emphasizes that “Nowhere does it appear more clearly that man’s desire finds its meaning in the desire of the other, not so much because the other holds the key to the object desired, as because the first object of desire is to be recognized by the other.”

Perhaps most germane to Hamsun’s novel is Lacan’s contention that in the clinical setting  “What is important is to teach the subject to name, to articulate, to bring desire into existence.”

Can we draw on these ideas to make some observations about the relationship between desire, naming, writing, and paranoid delusion in Hamsun’s text?

Freud and Schreber

1. How should we read Schreber’s memoirs? Are these factual accounts? If so, what are the facts as presented by Schreber?  Are these experiences interpretable or hermetically sealed inside their own idiosyncratic logic? Do we regard this as an utterly alien account of a uniquely damaged psyche or do they disclose something about the nature of the self, religious/spiritual belief, power relations, sexuality, etc.?  According to what sort of interpretive scheme could we read them?

2. What do you think of Freud’s interpretation of Schreber? Do you buy it? Why or why not? Are there problems that you might point out in his psychoanalytic approach? Are there persuasive, useful aspects even if you find that the reading is problematic?

3. Freud’s extraction of a theory of the mechanism of paranoia was one of the most influential in the early clinical history of paranoia and dementia praecox (schizophrenia). What is the mechanism of paranoia as Freud understands it? How is it different from other psychopathologies in Freud’s opinion?

For some additional insight into Schreber’s life and cultural milieu, follow this link to learn a bit about his father: https://alchetron.com/Moritz-Schreber