Friday, 26 June 2009

46 - 'Der Prozess' by Franz Kafka

Tony found himself one day at the end of a long corridor, unmarked by doors, windows or even paintings. Somewhere high above, there must have been some kind of skylight, or porthole, as there was enough light by which the sides of the corridor, for a fair way into the distance, could be seen, but, apart from the light, there was nothing else in view. Clutching his book to his side, Tony ignored the sense of misgiving he felt and started to walk along the corridor, briskly at first, then, as the minutes passed, and the end of the corridor failed to become visible, more slowly. After what seemed to be at least an hour of trudging through the gloom, a faint shadow began to appear at the far end and, with each passing step (which now became brisker once more) became clearer; there was the suspicion of a doorway and more than a hint of someone beside it.

At the end of the corridor, Tony, a little warm, but in no way exhausted from the journey from the other end, stopped in front of the figure sitting next to the doorway. Behind a plain, somewhat aged wooden desk, on which were piled mountains of pieces of paper - forms, essays, reviews; it was impossible to say from the disorder they were part of - , sat a middle-aged man, writing (in what appeared to be German) on one of the many afore-mentioned pieces of paper. Tony shifted uneasily from one foot to the other, hoping to attract the eye of the writer, whose attention appeared to be devoted fully to the writing at hand, before finally deciding to speak and disturb the writer at his work. However, no sooner had Tony opened his mouth, when the man stopped writing and, without looking up from his task, declared (with a booming voice strikingly different to what Tony would have expected from someone of the writer's appearance), "Mr. Malone, you are late." Tony flinched at the unexpected challenge but then managed to stammer out, "I'm here, and I've got the book. Are you The Critic?". The writer looked up and smiled. "Let's just say that I'm a critic."

The Critic placed his pen on the table, crossed his arms and observed Tony with an amused expression. "So, you wish to discuss Kafka's 'Der Prozess'", he said. "That's right, 'The Trial'", Tony relied, to the obvious displeasure of The Critic, who waved his hand quickly in a gesture from which it was surprisingly easy to read that he didn't have time to quibble about names. "I'm a busy man, so, if you want to run your ideas by me, please do so. Now." Slightly taken aback by the abruptness of the command, Tony again shifted his weight from one foot to the other, took a deep breath and started to talk.

"Look, I'll be honest, it wasn't easy to understand exactly what Kafka had in mind when he wrote this book, and, with all the unfinished sections and alterations, it's fair to say that no-one really knows the truth of his intentions...". Tony hesitated slightly at the sight of The Critic's furrowed brow and, after a moment's pause, hurriedly continued, "but I tried to look at it from a number of angles. The first was the role of bureaucracy and the way it is ever present in our lives, making things more difficult, in contrast to the original purpose of ensuring matters run smoothly. It even, you know, stops us from getting to the people with the power, you can't get to talk to anyone who can actually help you, you have to go through, helpers, intermediaries. And that's exactly what Joseph K. experiences. Kafka, knew about that. He was a bureaucrat too, you know." The Critic nodded, the stern expression momentarily absent from his face. "Absolutely hated it though." Immediately, the stern expression returned, becoming, if possible, even sterner, the brow becoming even more wrinkled. Tony realised that he was on the wrong path and went on.

"Yes, it's an attack on bureaucracy, but the main idea is a bit more abstract than that. You see, Kafka was religious, he wanted to, wanted to... try to understand what it's all about, why we're here, and the trial is about that. The courts, the whole process (if you'll pardon the bi-lingual pun), is a representation, if you like, of the church, of the structure underpinning Christianity and the way people try to make sense of it all. At first, it all means nothing to you, but, as life becomes more difficult, finding a truth, finding the truth, becomes more and more important. That's what K. was doing, you see. At the beginning, he thought he could get by on his own, he didn't need any, any... help, support, but, eventually he does, he wants someone to sort it out for him." Tony paused to catch his breath and was gratified to see that The Critic was nodding quietly, his papers seemingly forgotten. Ignoring his pounding heart, Tony continued, trying to make his voice as persuasive as possible; "Because, you see, he doesn't know what the true way forward is, he knows that there is a court, but he knows nothing about it. He turns to the lawyer for help, then the painter,he evens listens to Mr. Block, the businessman... he just wants some truth, no matter who gives it to him. But, the thing is, the more he knows, the less he progresses. You see, he realises that all these people are just the flunkies, the underlings, he never gets past the beginning, and that's just like the priests..."

"So what?", shouted The Critic, storming to his feet in his anger and cutting the, frankly startled, Tony off in mid-sentence. "Anyone can blabber on about religion, the church, God: anyone! Have you no new ideas? Have you got nothing to justify wasting my time like this?" For a moment, there was silence in the corridor, the echoes of The Critic's outburst overcome by the all-encompassing quiet of the emptiness surrounding them. Sweating, legs aching, deeply regretting his decision to make the journey to the end of the corridor, Tony decided to make one last attempt. "There was one more idea I had..." He took a deep breath.

"Terminal illness." There was silence. The Critic slowly examined Tony, his eyes moving up and down, then side to side, before coming to a rest on Tony's own. Then, gently, but decisively, he sat back down in his chair and laid his hands on the table. "Go on."

Tony swallowed and continued speaking. "My idea, and this, by the way, is just something that's been going through my head, not sure if it's relevant or, you know, intended, but my feeling is that perhaps K. is actually a cancer victim, or something. I started thinking about this because I read somewhere that Kafka himself had a lot of health problems. Perhaps he wanted to express them in his writing, I don't know. The start of the trial, the arrest, where the two men come to tell K. about the case, maybe that's where he finds out that he's sick. And he decides that he can overcome it, he doesn't need anyone, he's, well, in a way, you could say that's he's in denial. He can't believe that he's sick, and he thinks that by just ignoring it, it will all go away." Another pause. The Critic was still sitting in the same position, his eyes glued to a point somewhere around the top of Tony's nose, unblinking. Silence.

"And that's where he goes to get help, his family, his uncle introduces him to a lawyer, a professional - that's the doctor, you see, the cancer specialist, oncologist? - so he finally starts to get help. But it doesn't work, the cancer doesn't respond to the treatment, and K. gets frustrated, he doesn't think the doctor's any good, and that's when he finds out about an alternative: the painter or, as I like to think of him, the alternative medicine bloke. K.'s dying, isn't he? He's clutching at straws!" Tony leaned forward, his hair matted with sweat, he too now had his eyes fully focused on the other man, his manner energetic and slightly manic. "And of course, the oncologist, I mean the lawyer, tries to win him back, tries to warn him off the charlatans, tells him about other cases which ended well, but K.'s had enough, he doesn't want to go through any more chemo, he just wants to..." Tony stopped, drawing breath, his shoulders dropping slightly. "And then, he... he accepts it. He knows that it's time. That's why he allows the men to take him at the end; he knows that it's time to go. It's a kind of... acceptance."

The corridor was silent again. The Critic leaned back in his chair, distracted, pondering. Tony felt the wall by his side, for the first time, and half fell against it, using it to support his weight. His legs seemed unable to keep him upright. For a while, the two men were quiet, unmoving. Dust floating in the air was the only sign of life, if you could call it that. Suddenly, The Critic took up his pen again and, before starting to write, said, "You may continue." Tony straightened up and looked uncomprehendingly at The Critic, who merely jerked his head towards the doorway, obviously gesturing for him to move on through. A deep breath, and Tony moved through the doorway into another room, leaving The Critic, and his paperwork, behind.

As Tony walked into the new room, he saw an old man looking out of a large, stained-glass window. The light streaming in through the window lit up the man's face, showing a benevolent-looking expression, an appearance aided by a small, red-framed pair of glasses. Tony stopped again and called over, asking this new apparition, "Are you The Critic?". The man turned slowly with a smile beaming all over his wrinkled face. "Well, young man, let's just say that I'm a critic...".

[This review was never completed]