Diversion and Gazing in The Trial

Nic Sangiovanni

The idea of diversion in The Trial seems a particularly interesting one to me, especially considering the first real instance that Connor mentions—when K. remembers that he hasn’t seen the guards, Willem and Franz, leave his home. I specifically remember reading this passage and marking it as a moment of marked malignancy. What’s most unsettling about these lapses in attention or inhibited vision is the uncertainty about whether they’re harmless occurrences given paranoid attention by K., or whether there really is a malicious intent in the actions of members of the Court. Whatever the case, the novel does not seem interested in landing firmly on one side of the line; of course, this only increases the unmoored feeling one encounters in K. and themselves. In one startling instance in the Courtroom, K. is almost reminiscent of the narrator in Hamsun’s Hunger as he, maddeningly, becomes his own inhibitor during his oration. Kafka writes, “As K. interrupted himself at this point and glanced at the silent magistrate, he thought he noticed him looking at someone in the crowd and giving him a signal” (48). A pertinent reading here would focus on the paranoic structure of this sentence—the two gazes, K.’s which sees the magistrate but is blocked information, and the magistrate who might not know he is seen but still retains a privilege of secret information—and recognize that the anxiety and complexity of the thought comes from discontinuity, distraction, and distance from truth. Whether the Court and its magistrate are malevolent, or not, K. has internalized their function as he “interrupt[s] himself” and breaks the continuity of his diatribe against the impersonal Law and its executors. This self-imposed distraction becomes centered around yet another instance of privileged knowledge that K. does not have access to: usually it’s ‘The Law,’ abstract, but in this case it’s a furtive glance full of secret meaning that distances K. from the truth he seeks. I agree with Conor that The Trial seems to be another opportunity to employ Lacan’s work on absence and gazes; though now, distraction and self-impediment can be discussed in relation to Hunger as crutch of paranoic (and “normal”) cognition.

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