Existential Book Club discussion

The Trial
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Book Discussions > The Trial by Franz Kafka

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Rachel Louise Atkin | 54 comments Mod
In June we'll be reading The Trial by Franz Kafka. Feel free to leave comments and thoughts down below!
I'm currently working out books for the coming few months so sit tight for updates, and the rest of the titles will be up very soon. Thanks for being patient I'm all over the place currently.


Michael (knowledgelost) | 16 comments Mod
Can't wait to re-read this book


John Graham Wilson | 37 comments Interesting book. Anyone who has completed the online applications designed by governments these days will easily recognise the way they can further hide themselves from meaningful dialogue and leave us floundering in isolation. Kafka had it right!


tortoise dreams (tortoise_dreams) | 21 comments I think I read this early last year, & am eager for a re-read. Is there a preferred or favorite or best (or whatever!) translation of The Trial that anyone would suggest? Thanks! (sorry if I missed a previous discussion about this).


Rachel Louise Atkin | 54 comments Mod
I'd say get your hands on whichever copy is easiest for you, and then if there are any radical differences in translation we can compare them for a bit of discussion on language. I always find that fun :)


tortoise dreams (tortoise_dreams) | 21 comments Thanks -- I like your idea of fun!


Rachel Louise Atkin | 54 comments Mod
Thought this video would be interesting for those currently reading the Trial with us:
https://youtu.be/wkPR4Rcf4ww

How is everyone finding it so far?


Merry Rachel Louise wrote: "Thought this video would be interesting for those currently reading the Trial with us:
https://youtu.be/wkPR4Rcf4ww

How is everyone finding it so far?"

Thanks for the TEDEd. I've not gotten into The Trial very far, but some observations: the viewpoint is interesting, given that K's situation is framed through his mind rather than a fully objective narrator.

In considering translation, there's an interesting preface in The Trial: A New Translation Based on the Restored Text that talks about the the original German and potential issues with translation...the first sentence alone has some lost nuance in certain interpretations. I find the book abrupt so far - but I'm pretty sure that's part of Kafka's shtick. He's not exactly a beach read, is he?


Rachel Louise Atkin | 54 comments Mod
What has struck me the mot so far is K's insistence on proving his innocence, despite the fact he doesn't know what he's even been arrested for. I think it highlights the power we sometimes give to institutions to tell us what is right and wrong, and we are not confident enough to question.

And I have a translator's note too! Mine says that there are "complex passages of reported speech" that are better identified in German, and "some shifts in perspective between an occasionally 'omniscient' narrator and Josef K.'s subjective perceptions". I think how you enjoy Kafka's work will depend greatly on the translator because it sounds like he really relies on playing with the German language.


David Rush | 3 comments I see the German title is Der Prozess, does somebody how accurate "The Trial" fits as a translation? I had assumed The Trial referred to was an an actual court trial of some sort but after reading it I'd say not.


Rachel Louise Atkin | 54 comments Mod
David wrote: "I see the German title is Der Prozess, does somebody how accurate "The Trial" fits as a translation? I had assumed The Trial referred to was an an actual court trial of some sort but after reading ..."

My edition says that the original German title suggests "a process, an interminable searching and seeking" and it more closely describes K's case rather than Trial. I agree with you that the title is kind of misleading, but I guess it begs the question of whether there really is a trial in the story. Is K on trial from the moment he is arrested? Perhaps each person he talks to in the novel puts him on some kind of emotional/political trial that he must survive, yet by the end ultimately messes up. I don't know but I do think there are other words perhaps more suited to the title, but think there must be a reason to have named it the trial lest it just be the only world that fit the translation.


Rachel Louise Atkin | 54 comments Mod
Also for anyone who is interested in more stuff by Kafka, I've just been reading 'In the Penal Colony' which struck me as linked quite heavily to the Trial. To me it was kind of the other side of the story, and told the authority's point of view but with the same kind of wit and dark humour as his other works.
I'm also part way through A Letter to my Father where he explains his fathers's influences on his fiction. You can really draw links between his family upbringing and the oppressive state that his characters reside. I think looking at the authority as a patriarchal/masculine force by using the letter would make a very good Gender reading.


tortoise dreams (tortoise_dreams) | 21 comments Rachel Louise wrote: "Also for anyone who is interested in more stuff by Kafka, I've just been reading 'In the Penal Colony' which struck me as linked quite heavily to the Trial. To me it was kind of the other side of t..."

Rachel Louise wrote: "David wrote: "I see the German title is Der Prozess, does somebody how accurate "The Trial" fits as a translation? I had assumed The Trial referred to was an an actual court trial of some sort but ..."


tortoise dreams (tortoise_dreams) | 21 comments I wondered the same thing as David did about the title, and "The Process" would've been a perfect translation, though The Trial has a double meaning (as in "all my trials"). Similarly, a closer German translation for "The Metamorphosis" would've been "The Transformation" (Die Verwandlung). For favorite stories, "The Hunger Artist" is worth a look.


Steph Ngeleka (Stephism) | 1 comments "It would have been so pointless to kill himself that, even if he had wanted to, the pointlessness would have made him unable."

One of my favourite quotes. K is such an absurdist.


tortoise dreams (tortoise_dreams) | 21 comments This was a (quick) re-read for me, & I did read it differently. The first time I focused on the inflexible bureaucracy, this time I saw it more as a stand in for an "absurd" world. K wants to make sense of the process, but the more he tries the more he fails. There is no making sense of it. He wants to go back to the Old World of tradition, meaning, & order, but instead can now (after his arrest = entry) only live in the Modern World, where there is no meaning, only chaos. I think Kafka himself was attracted to the traditions of the Old World, but couldn't live there & realized he had to live in the meaninglessness of the Modern World. Still want to read the Muir translation ...


Rachel Louise Atkin | 54 comments Mod
tortoise wrote: "This was a (quick) re-read for me, & I did read it differently. The first time I focused on the inflexible bureaucracy, this time I saw it more as a stand in for an "absurd" world. K wants to make ..."

That's really interesting that you link the absurdity with the Modern World. I started thinking about other literature with corrupt forms of government and to me they always seemed to be governments that were stuck with tradition, any kind of revolt was a move towards a new, liberal kind of system. But I think you're right, and I definitely seen a fear of the Modern world and industry in here, especially with absurdity as a refection of the societal and political changes going on at the time.
But I still see a kind of orthodoxy in the system and think it represents many autocratic, traditionalist institutions. I guess The Trial is so complex because it highlights the relationship between the two. For me, I see it now as returning to a dictatorship of an Old World in order to ward off the fear of a New, modern world. I don't know about Kafka being attracted to the Old world, but definitely think there's a complex connection between these two ideas!


tortoise dreams (tortoise_dreams) | 21 comments Good points! I haven't read enough about Ex'ism yet, so I'm still working this out for myself. But I think there's a desire for the traditional (old world) where there are answers & certainty, but also (like you say) a rejection of the autocratic & inflexible. But then one is stuck in the scary modern world, where you're on your own with no roadmap. I think because of his father Kafka felt he should embrace the old world, but really didn't want to (or couldn't) because, being Kafka, he saw clearly that he (we) was living in the chaotic modern world. It's all something I'm still thinking about, thanks for the great input! That's why I'm here.


Merry As I'm reading this, I'm noticing the contrast in terms of what is given attention in the book and what is not. Any meaningful details of K.'s trial are alluded to in the vaguest of language, for example - but locations, rooms in particular, are delineated in such a minute way that the experience is claustrophobic for the reader. The result is unsettling. As the trial becomes more and more convoluted and purposeless, the rooms are dimmer, the passages are narrower, and K.'s world closes in on him as literally as it does figuratively. It's not been a pleasant read, as intriguing as the book is.

I'm also struck by what, as K. is so loosely guarded, is keeping him mired in the nightmare. The more he clings to the idea that his circumstances can be made rational, that he can find any sort of logic in his trial, the more K. is held fast in the bureaucratic tangle. He seems more a prisoner of self than of the state.


message 20: by John (last edited Jul 01, 2017 04:37PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

John Graham Wilson | 37 comments One thing that interests me, from a Kafkaesque point of view, is govermental online applications systems: You sit at the computer for hours trying to understand and answer the questions in a manner that permits you to move to the next one (The applicant does all the work.) If you answer "incorrectly" you cannot move on and your application stalls and fails to register (you are thereby shut out of the system). You cannot get to meet anybody or talk to a real human being (How about that for a Kafkaesque situation?) Often there is nowhere you can phone if things go wrong. (You are shut of from human contact and your application happens in a non-place.) You dont know "where" your application is being handled (there is no "where" in cyberspace.) Like Joseph K, you end up feeling utterly cut off and powerless. -- Ha! (Anyone?)


Susan Doherty | 2 comments Just finished The Trial and felt it was a book I had to work through rather than read. I need to absorb and think about it before I can write a proper review but have a few observations on immediately finishing the book. A lot of it didn't make sense - I thought the descriptions of the courts in attics and the people attached to the courts were very odd - and the more you read about the court and it's labyrinthine passages and rooms, the more unsettling the book became. The fact that Josef doesn't know why he has been arrested - he never asks, just declares his innocence - is strange, and as the book progresses you can feel his guarded, suspicious paranoia in his dealing with everyone he comes across. I found the style of Kafka's writing difficult to get into at first and had to persevere with it - the very long paragraphs crammed with details felt wearying and oppressive at times - I guess that was deliberate on Kafka's part- and I don't know what I think of Josef K as a character. The dialogue with the priest was odd too but I took that whole exchange to mean that Josef was being prepared for his ultimate fate. I can't say I enjoyed the book - but it was challenging and throws up many questions and I will probably read more Kafka, and come back to it.


Merry Susan, I agree. I had a hard time rating it, in fact. It wasn't a pleasant read, and I didn't particularly enjoy it, but the book challenged me. That's worth something. I didn't find it as comical as The Metamorphosis or Amerika.


message 23: by John (new) - rated it 4 stars

John Graham Wilson | 37 comments Hi Susan,

Courts it attics and labyrinthine corridors add to the dreamlike qualities of the tale where dreamers often do not know where they are going or coming from or whether the world they are in is in any way coherent. The wearying and oppressive passages, I suspect, are intentional - he wants us to become emphatically disorientated with the character who remains, to us, also a bit of an unsolvable mystery.

In an interview following the Orson Wells movie somebody asked" Is Joseph K guilty?" To which Wells replied, "He is guilty as hell!"

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RbUe-...


Rachel Louise Atkin | 54 comments Mod
I definitely agree it was not an easy piece to read and I'm glad other people found the structure difficult too. But as others are saying, I think it's meant to be that way - we are meant to feel unsettled by K's narration because otherwise it would feel a little too comfortable and the story would unwind.

I like what you say Merry about the corridors and stuff, I never noticed that. There's definitely a correlation with the aggression of the state and the psychosis in K's head and it would be good to look at the possibility of the whole episode maybe being a product of madness.


Christie (christiebroomie) | 1 comments Totally agree with the observations about the nature of space in the book reflecting the way in which K's world closes in on him - But what I think is really interesting is that way in which at the end he finds himself in quite an open space... I wonder if there's something there about the only freedom from the absurdity of 'the trial' being death, but thats a really nihilistic existentialism and I'm not sure how well that works with Kafka.

I also found the story of the gatekeeper in the conversation with the priest really tragic, I think it was the part of the book that effected me the most. It reminded me of Kafka's short aphorisms.


message 26: by John (new) - rated it 4 stars

John Graham Wilson | 37 comments Hi Christie, Yes I think your point about nihilism is quite right. Quite a unique book, though. Nothing else like it in print.


Caroline | 1 comments I'm having a lot of trouble getting through this. Kafka is just never an easy read for me.


tortoise dreams (tortoise_dreams) | 21 comments Caroline wrote: "I'm having a lot of trouble getting through this. Kafka is just never an easy read for me."
I find his stories much more accessible than his novels ...


message 29: by John (new) - rated it 4 stars

John Graham Wilson | 37 comments I found The Trial quite an easy book to read. I quickly identified with what was going on. Its inaccessibility could be an intergenerational thing - I dont know. Whatever, we should bear in mind that the term "Kafkaesque" has entered general parlance and people have accepted that his work is representative of certain experiences with totalitarian regimes and bureaucracy. Even worse if one had lived in communist block countries during the mid 20th century!


message 30: by Phillip (new)

Phillip | 9 comments Just joined this X-ist group-- believe that Kafka is generally poorly translated and poorly understood >> which has to do with modernity itself (Know Thyself) - we no longer understand ourselves nearly so well as we may think.... If others wish to hear a different take on Kafka, I'd be happy to partake in a discussion of my newly publishished kafka book > Essential Kafka which has all of his important short stories as well as excerpts from both The Trial and The Castle (Lock=Schloss).... as everything FITS together very tigthly once you see the more esoteric side of Franz!

Let me know if there is any interest in such...

Phillip Lundberg.

ps: Google me and you can find out more from my website.


message 31: by John (new) - rated it 4 stars

John Graham Wilson | 37 comments What is Kafka s take on religion?


message 32: by Phillip (new)

Phillip | 9 comments On the surface, Kafka didn't have any religous dimension, indeed he often lamented his jewish upbringing (going only once a year to the services - and his barmitzva was a total joke....);
Underneath (which is where Kafka becomes so interesting), religious imagery plays a very prominent role in most all of his writings:
to sum up: Writing was his Religion!... he entered into a state of being that was "at the ultimate limit of what human beings can experience".-- this is an exact quotation from his diary.


message 33: by John (new) - rated it 4 stars

John Graham Wilson | 37 comments I am not an expert on Kafka, but I have always thought there were religious undertones in his writing. He also seems very existentialist. The Trial and The Castle seem to me to be books about the human political environment where it is impossible to confront bureaucracy and class domination - where people live in a kind of blind ideological prison, where many thoughts and associations are simply not possible. Very distopian.

But the short story about the man waiting for a door to open seemed to me to be about religion and enlightenment. What is he waiting for?


message 34: by Phillip (new)

Phillip | 9 comments "What is he waiting for?"-- He is frozen on his stool due to Fear... To understand more regarding his predicament, one has to listen to the Priest (Geistlicher=='spiritualist'). Indeed, the entire chapter of Josef K.'s waiting in the Cathedral (Dom) -> everything is of significance....this is what makes Kafka so great and this chapter is about as deep as it ever gets.


message 35: by John (new) - rated it 4 stars

John Graham Wilson | 37 comments It is forty years since I read Kafka, so I have probably forgotten a lot of the details. Was it really only fear? My impression was he was stuck, perhaps condemned by an unknown force. At the end of that story it is revealed that the door was made especially for him.


message 36: by Phillip (new)

Phillip | 9 comments Not only was the door "his door", the guardian of the door is also "his guardian" >> hence that the door is closed upon his death is because he's now on the other side of the door >>this is what is meant by the guardian going to "close the door" > the door which is "always open" >> always of course ONLY when one is on this side of the "door." Religion is indeed weaved into the narrative >> and we are all "guilty" since are acquiring knowledge of Good and Evil! - note: Josef K. has an apple for breakfast.


message 37: by John (new) - rated it 4 stars

John Graham Wilson | 37 comments You seem to know a lot more than me. Note: I have a fish for my breakfast.


Aravind (ak2k5) | 1 comments Have read it some 10 years back. It was one of those books that influenced me profoundly. Reading through the posts here i think its time for a reread as most of the intricate details have faded from my memory


message 39: by John (new) - rated it 4 stars

John Graham Wilson | 37 comments Okay, lets do a reread. It is a great story. I will stick around.


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