Wednesday, March 3, 2010

327. The Castle - Franz Kafka

History: Kafka began writing The Castle on the evening of January 27, 1922, the day he arrived at the mountain resort of Spindlermühle (now in the Czech Republic). A picture taken of him upon his arrival shows him by a horse-drawn sleigh in the snow in a setting reminiscent of The Castle. Hence, the significance that the first few chapters of the handwritten manuscript were written in first person and at some point later changed by Kafka to a third person narrator, 'K.
Kafka died prior to finishing The Castle and it is questionable whether Kafka intended on finishing it if he had survived his tuberculosis. On separate occasions he told his friend Max Brod of two different conditions: K., the book's protagonist, would continue to reside and die in the village; the castle notifying him on his death bed that his "legal claim to live in the village was not valid, yet, taking certain auxiliary circumstances into account, he was permitted to live and work there", but then on September 11, 1922 in a letter to Max Brod, he said he was giving up on the book and would never return to it. As it is, the book ends mid-sentence.
Although Brod was instructed by Kafka to destroy all his works on his death, he did not and set about publishing Kafka's writings. The Castle was originally published in German in 1926 by the publisher Kurt Wolff Verlag of Munich. It was republished in 1935, and in 1946.
Brod had to heavily edit the work to ready it for publication. His goal was to gain acceptance of the work and the author, not to maintain the structure of Kafka's writing. This would play heavily in the future of the translations and continues to be the center of discussion on the text. Brod donated the manuscript to Oxford University.
Brod placed a strong religious significance to the symbolism of the castle. This is one possible interpretation of the work based on numerous Judeo-Christian references.
Plot: The narrator, K. arrives in the village, governed by the castle. When seeking shelter at the town inn, he gives himself out to be a land surveyor summoned by the castle authorities. He is quickly notified that his castle
contact is an official named Klamm, who, in the introductory note, informs K. he will report to the Council Chairman.The Council Chairman informs K. that, through a mix up in communication between the castle and the village, he was erroneously requested but, trying to accommodate K., the Council Chairman offers him a position in the service of the school teacher as a janitor. Meanwhile, K., unfamiliar with the customs, bureaucracy and processes of the village, continues to attempt to reach the official Klamm, who is not accessible. The villagers hold the officials and the castle in the highest regard, justifying, quite elaborately at times, the actions of the officials, even though they do not appear to know what officials do or why they do it; they simply defend it. The number of assumptions and justifications about the functions of the officials and their dealings are enumerated through lengthy monologues of the villagers. Everyone appears to have an explanation for the official's actions that appear to be founded on assumptions and gossip. One of the more obvious contradictions between the "official word" and the village conception is the dissertation by the secretary Erlanger on Frieda's required return to service as a barmaid. K. is the only villager that knows that the request is being forced by the castle (even though Frieda may be the genesis), with no regard for anyone in the village, only Klamm. Pepi and Jeremiah quickly come to their conclusions and do not hesitate to state them.
The castle is the ultimate bureaucracy with copious paperwork that the bureaucracy maintains is "flawless". This flawlessness is of course a lie; it is a flaw in the paperwork that has brought K. to the village. There are other failures of the system which are occasionally referred to. K. witnesses a flagrant misprocessing after his nighttime interrogation by Erlanger as a servant destroys paperwork when he cannot determine who the recipient should be.
The castle's occupants appear to be all adult men and there is little reference to the castle other than to its bureaucratic functions. The two notable instances are the reference to a fire brigade and that Otto Brunswick's wife is self declared as from the castle. The latter builds the importance of Hans (Otto's son) in K's eyes, as a way to gain access to the castle officials.
The functions of the officials are never mentioned. The officials that are discussed have one or more secretaries that do their work in their village. Although the officials come to the village they do not interact with the villagers unless they need female companionship, implied to be sexual.
Review: The Castle is about alienation, bureaucracy, and the seemingly endless frustrations of man's attempts to stand against the system.. One interpretation of K.'s struggle to contact the castle is that it represents a man's
search for salvation. According to Mark Harman, translator of a recent edition of The Castle, this was the interpretation favored by the original translators Harman feels he has removed the bias in the translations toward this view, but many still feel this is the point of the book. Fueling the biblical interpretations of the novel are the various names and situations. For example, the official Galater (the German word for Galatians), one of the initial regions to develop a strong Christian following from the work of Apostle Paul and his assistant Barnabas. The name of the messenger, Barnabas, for the same reason.
In The Castle, one of Kafka's last works, the setting is a village dominated by a castle. Time seems to have stopped in this wintry landscape, and nearly all the scenes occur in the dark. K. arrives at the village claiming to be a land surveyor appointed by the castle authorities. His claim is rejected by the village officials, and the novel recounts K.'s efforts to gain recognition from an authority that is as elusive as Joseph K.'s courts. But K. is not a victim; he is an aggressor, challenging both the petty, arrogant officials and the villagers who accept their authority. All of his stratagems fail. Like Joseph K., he makes love to a servant, the barmaid Frieda, but she leaves him when she discovers that he is simply using her. Brod observes that Kafka intended that K. should die exhausted by his efforts, but that on his deathbed he was to receive a permit to stay. There are new elements in this novel; it is tragic, not desolate. While the majority of Kafka's characters are mere functions, Frieda is a resolute person, calm and matter-of-fact. K. gains through her personality some insight into a possible solution of his quest, and when he speaks of her with affection, he seems himself to be breaking through his sense of isolation.
Opening Line: "It was late evening when K. arrived."
Closing Line: "It was difficult to understand her, but what she said..."
Quotes: "To be precise, one is desperate. To be more precise, one is very happy."
Rating: Difficult.

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