As Celine mentioned in her post, we left our conversation last Monday thinking about the nature of law and power in Kafka’s The Trial. While there are many layers to this reading, Glen is aiming to discern the nature of law as it appears in The Trial. His ultimate conclusion is that the “appearance of law in Kafka’s work is a function of the necessity of punishment” (26).
As he unpacks the essence of law in The Trial, Glen finds that the contents of the law are an “empty norm,” meaning that the law is essentially essence-less. (41). As Glen notes, the law only exists as a relation, “it cannot be defined…It is known only as a verbal construct and is designated to come and go, in relation with a concrete object” (generally people) (41).
Once the law has been reified (making something that is not “real” become more “real”), it has the power to permeate all bodies of authority. We see this in the warders who arrest K. in how they “represent a formalism born of the reification of the legal system.” They don’t question the legitimacy of their orders to watch over K., “but go about their task blindly, keeping him under their eyes for the required ten hours daily and then drawing their pay for the job” (59).
Glen argues that K.’s unwillingness to enter this system of law where he would essentially play the part of the accused is what ultimately leads to his death. His reluctance to submit to the machine is what purges his from the system entirely.
When thinking about the essence of the law in The Trial, can you think of any other particular examples where characters reify the law through their actions? Thinking outside of the text, how do we reify our laws? What are laws even meant to do? What do you think is the difference between laws and justice?
As always, if you see something else in the text that strikes your fancy, bring it up in the comments!