What stood out to me while reading The Trial was how the system that punishes K. feels somewhat nebulous, lacking a concrete presence. As Slochower writes in The Limitations of Franz Kafka, in Kafka’s stories, the “others” “have no concretized existence. They are shadowy epiphenomena. They have no personality of their own, no individual life or legitimacy” (294). For Kafka, his enemies are unreachable and invisible, and yet, without knowing K.’s charges, the rules of the court, the intricacies of the bureaucracy, or the identity of the judges, our story continues.
This power structure that lacks any sort of tangible identification appears to elicit paranoic tendencies from our narrator. However, his initial skepticism morphs into a form of paranoic arrogance when he makes a long speech to the people in the court room, where he is “convinced that he [is] expressing their thoughts” (Kafka, 45). While what K. said was “harsher than he intended” he thought is was “nonetheless accurate…[and] should have earned an applause” (45).
In today’s world, we might refer to this nebulous power structure as “the man.” While there is an intuitive understanding of what this phrase means, when asked to explain it, it becomes a little more complex. When thinking about power and surveillance, there is no one specific “man” or building or place that holds this ultimate authority. It’s multifaceted, intricate, spread out amongst several people, places, and things. We, too surveil ourselves and others. Therefore, when the narrator attempts to get into the mind of this system of power that is charging him with who knows what, if anything, he seems to be projecting his own thoughts and anxieties onto these blank canvasses.