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Kafka's _The Trial_: what it really takes to make that prepare for that passage to "The True World" Roth visited after his 1936 trial.

Joseph K changes his identity completely in the course of the novel. One might say it is changed for him, but the very distant narrator avoids not only emotional involvement, but anything definite about what is going on (or even how things began or ended). He says “someone must have slandered Joseph” on the first page and “It seems the shame was to outlive him” at the end. It’s like the comedian’s shrug of the shoulders after telling a howler.

To me, he is a kind of everyman, a person in pain, protesting too much about his sense of security, but going through a metamorphosis. He does not seem to know where he stands with people, and Fraulein Burstner seems to wearily tolerate him. At the start, Joseph is kind of like Gregor in THE METAMORPHOSIS—his family is proud of him, and he had learned to maintain his status, at some cost to his self-esteem. He puts up a spirited, high –handed defense at the first inquiry, which leaves the judge either confused (he’s like: “don’t have a cow, dude, we’re all in this together”), or secretly glad, b/c he’s being taken very seriously. He imposes himself on Frau Burstner and the woman at the empty court room, threatens the spectators, kicks the student who is carrying her upstairs, and peeks at the hidden-in-plain-sight porno.

Joseph changes abruptly from an aggressive to a disoriented mode with the dream-like flogging he sees or imagines he sees in the junk room. He tries to bribe the fogger, brought to the point of tears by the realization that his conduct could cause anyone such “naked” suffering. Clearly, he sees a part of himself in the victims. “Clear all this out,” he orders, echoing what happens to Gregor’s and the Hunger Artist’s corpses. Later comes the uncle’s unsettling “You’ll be crossed off,” and the lawyer’s observation that defendants are all “attractive.” “Maybe it’s something that adheres to them.” Perhaps their vulnerability is written on them. When K despises Block for his abjectness, the merchant replies that K is no better, just another defendant.
The climax is the “witch” Leni of the clawed and webbed hand, and the biting kisses. To me, she is a Lilith figure. Lilith was Adam’s first lover, who demanded equality, and was sent to the night hinterlands, to marry Samael. Leni screws up K’s case by causing his crucial absence from the Chief Clerk of the Court. “You belong to me now.”

This stage in K’s journey reminds me of Dylan’s “Ballad of a Thin Man”: “Something is happening here and you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr Jones.”

Joseph’s final stage is as a supplicant, the wall of the law closed forever. He buys all the crappy replicas Tintorelli offers, procrastinating dismissing Huld, and accepts the menial job of chaperoning an investor although he is afraid his papers will be inspected while he is out. (Note our nation’s electronic surveillance, NSA policy, suspension of habeus corpus upon suspicion of “terrorist” sympathies). Gregor begs the priest not to leave him, b/c he was so friendly and wise. As the executioners approach, he sees Burstner and thinks that resistance is fruitless. He has become a non-person, an outcast, which is not necessarily bad. So instead of calling to the cop who could have saved him from the two executioners, he runs away with them. That, in fact, is assertiveness of a different kind than the forced gestures he made at the inception of his“arrest.”

At the stone quarry, someone, perhaps in unity with K’s fate, stretches out his/her arms from a window. K. responds in the same way, extending his fingers. That is a gesture of naked yearning for mutuality and peace, of which the Law knows everything, since it represses it absolutely. K, as the outcast, has escaped all the schmucks who have nothing to fear b/c they have done nothing wrong. This ending leaved everyone else behind: Frau Burstner, the lawyer, the merchant, the Chief Clerk, Leni, the enthusiastic uncle, the flogger just doing his job, the submissive guards in the junk room, the horny student carrying the dark-eyed woman to the voyeuristic Magistrate, the well-dressed PR guy and the arresting officer with the chevron-rich uniform .
The knife in the heart is not necessarily the end. Maybe it is, as Kafka said, “The point beyond which there is no turning back. That is the point that must be reached.”

Beyond that point is another life, the life of the soul, the True world Roth wrote of in his final set of poems, in his prison memoir set in Lewisburg, and in _My Friend Yeshea," but Roth wrote to comfort and justify himself. Kafka wrote a visionary novel which may have hinted in the final paragraphs of an entrapment so deep that one must force his executioners to run with him to the place where he will have his throat slit, and where the "shame will outlive him" -- which might mean leaving it behind.
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