Bruce's Reviews > In The Penal Colony

In The Penal Colony by Franz Kafka
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Jan 22, 11

Read in January, 2011

This grim and horrifying short story is, among other things (for example, the nature of justice, the differences between cultures and cultural assumptions and practices, etc), a reflection on the nature of language and verbal communication. We commonly think of language as a mediator, an abstract descriptor of reality that never is quite able to be as accurate, as precise as the intended meaning, that never is able to be what we so desperately try to describe and share with each other. And we think of “deep” as positive, as profound, where we think of “shallow” as superficial, inadequate. In this story everything is turned topsy-turvy in the most fundamental way. The method of punishment in this institution is to strap the condemned into a frame that, with needles like a sewing machine, over twelve hours pierces the letters of the commandment that has been violated progressively deeper into the victim’s body until at last he understands and dies. (The condemned is assumed to be guilty – no trial, no defense.) This metaphor for language and communication raises interesting questions about how our words impact one another, how they influence who we are and who we consequently become, how meaning is precise or imprecise, communicated and understood. Kafka raises profound questions in a mere forty pages.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Cecily Hmm, I hadn't particularly thought of the language-related aspect, but it's a good lens to use for this unsettlingly brilliant book.


David Sarkies Thankyou for your thoughts on the use of language, though I didn't consider the inability of the accused when I commented on the book.


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