Saturday, February 14, 2015

Book #61 - The Trial (Franz Kafka)

You know who fucking kicks ass?  Captain America, that's who!  I mean, first off, the dude has the word "America" right in his name!  America, fuck yeah!!  And then he's got this shield he throws.  I mean, how cool is that?  Usually dudes with shields use them to shield know, as a defensive weapon.  But Captain America doesn't have time to wait around to defend himself.  Nope, he takes his goddamn shield and throws it at his enemies, doing them great bodily harm because NO ONE expects to have a shield thrown at them.  And why should Captain America need a defensive weapon when he can just throw his shield and hurt his enemies before his enemies get a chance to hurt him?  Yep, Captain America kicks ass.  

So why do I bring this up in a blog post about Franz Kafka's "The Trial"?  Am I simply tanked up on gin martinis and just ranting about the first thing that comes to my head?  Well, no.  I mean, yes.  Both, actually.  Because I am drinking a gin martini, made with Mayfair London Dry Gin.  I've never had this gin before...saw it at the store and took and chance on it and I'm glad I did because it is awesome!  It's got nice botanicals but it's not too crazy or heavy on the juniper.  It makes a refreshing martini and would be good in other mixed drinks as well because it's not overwhelmingly "ginny" (is that a word?).  But in regards to Captain America, no I'm not just ranting like a crazy man boozed out of his mind on this fine tasting gin.  Because I had a point, and my point is this:  In the totally excellent movie "Captain America: The Winter Soldier", the bad guys (led by Robert Redford, who surprisingly makes a chilling bad guy...who knew?) are ready to launch these huge drone ships that will hover above the Earth and kill with precision targeting anyone who is a threat to world no one can stop them because the ships are hovering above everyone and ready to be the judge/jury/executioner as determined by an algorithm that no one understands because it's too complicated.  And that reminded me of "The Trial", in which a man, Joseph K., is arrested and subjected to court proceedings and a trial in which the charges are never made clear.   In fact the only charge seems to be a sense of guilt, and poor Joseph K., who may or may not be guilty because we don't know what the charges are, is subjected to a Byzantine bureaucracy of secret courts and judges and lawyers, and we and he never really know what's going on.  Fuck.

OK, maybe the plot of "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" is not the best analogy, so let me try another one.  A few years ago I was driving from San Francisco to Santa Fe, New Mexico to attend a conference for work.  I decided to drive because I had a friend who was going to meet me in Las Vegas for a weekend, so we would party there for two days and then I would drive on to Santa Fe.  So I rented a car in San Francisco, drove to Vegas, had fun with my friend, and then left on Monday morning to drive to Santa Fe.  On Interstate 40, east of Flagstaff, Arizona, I was pulled over by a highway patrol officer for going a bit over the speed limit.  Oops.  I mean, it's flat, it's the desert, who cares if you speed a bit, right?  Well, he cared.  So he pulls me over and says "You were speeding and I'm just going to give you a warning...but do you mind if I search your car?"  So I say that's fine, since I only had one suitcase and a laptop bag, figuring he'd give just a quick look and knowing that I had nothing to hide.  The officer then proceeds to take every last goddamn thing out of my suitcase, all the while asking me questions like where am I from, and why am I driving a rental car, and how much is my rent (WTF?), and why do I seem nervous (um, because you're totally freaking me out?)?  After about 20 minutes of perusing my luggage he calls up another cop on the radio, who soon pulls up and gets out of his car.  The first officer goes over to him and I hear him say "Yeah, I get a bad vibe from this guy".  The newly arrived officer asks me more questions while the first officer keeps searching my car (at one point he bangs on the inside of the doors and asks me if these are "false panels".  I tell him politely how the fuck should I know, it's a goddamn rental car).  Finally the first officer comes back from searching my car and abruptly says "You can go".  It felt like I was on trial and presumed guilty and subjected to a legal proceeding beyond my control and in which I did not know the rules, which sounds like ''The Trial".  I mean, kind of, right?

This book is really surrealistic.  It's not just Joseph K.'s unexplained arrest and ongoing trial, it's everything that happens in the novel.  One day Joseph K. walks into a back room of the bank where he works to find two of the men who arrested him getting whipped.  Joseph meets an artist who knows the court system well, and helps him out.  An artist?  The artist is harassed by teenage girls living in his apartment building.  The courts are located in obscure, out-of-the-way areas of weird apartment buildings.  Joseph seems to have women throwing themselves at him hard, which seems unlikely.  The whole novel is like this - weird and dreamlike.  But in an ominous way.  Not scary, but ominous.  The novel is foreboding...all the odd things that happen, and the way they are described, lend to the feeling of being in a rather sickly universe, where people get crushed by the machinery of the society around them, but crushed in a slow, impersonal manner.

Anyway, The Trial doesn't end up well for Joseph K., but then the reader never really expects that it will.  The novel is actually unfinished...for some reason Kafka stopped writing it and put it aside, and then died of tuberculosis before getting back to it, if he ever would have.  Fortunately he wrote the ending, so the reader knows the ultimate outcome, but there are other places where there are obvious holes.  Plot threads are left dangling, and we don't know how he ended up in the situation at the end of the novel.  But whatever, the odd incompleteness I think adds to the surrealism and confusion of the novel, and thus actually helps it.  Not that Kafka needed help.  The world he paints in this novel is very, uh, Kafkaesque.  Wow, how does he get his own adjective and Captain America does not?  It's an outrage!  Anyway, it's a dark, grim, soul-crushing world he depicts, and as many have pointed out, foretells the emergence of the totalitarian horrors of the 20th century.  It's an odd and strange book, but one whose message is prescient and more relevant than ever.  Which is why we really need Captain America these days!  Where the hell is he, anyways?