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Life's Fairy Tale,
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This review is from: The Castle (Oxford World's Classics) (Kindle Edition)
Kafka's 'The Castle' is perhaps my favourite of his novels. It has, for me, a fairy tale-like quality (rather than the 'nightmarish' quality so often attributed to his work) that transcends the gritty horrors of quotidian life represented: the failures of human relationships; the glib indifference of the powers that be, and their bureaucratic machines.
'The Castle' achieves this uplifted state, in my opinion, by first, never guaranteeing the resulting outcome of any particular action or event (in contrast to the grim foreboding air of 'The Trial'.) It's often not quite what you would expect. So, for instance, what may seem like a bad idea on K., the protagonists, part (say, leaving Freida at the school to visit Olga's house again) actually turns out worthwhile (K's connection with Olga appears distinctly more human and genuine than that to Freida, and he learns quite a lot). However, as in life, though enriching, this decision may in the end have been a bad one, but at the time, you might conclude that it was nevertheless the right one. It's this sense of uncertainty and inconclusiveness in each given situation that accords the novel its authenticity and vitality. It's the 'existential' quality (if you like that word) that offers a very human perspective on fairy tale like events.
The other elevating aspect of the story is the protagonist himself - K.. He arrives at the Castle from afar to take up a job as a Land Surveyor, a job that appears to no longer exist. The Castle officialdom are aware of him, of course, but in true Kafkaesque style, do not explain the situation to him, if indeed they are certain of it themselves, whoever they are, which is also unclear.
From the start K.'s attitude is never less than optimistic, and never really falters throughout, which is, at first, surprising, lending an unreal quality, because the question is always begged: "Would it not be better just to leave this place?". But despite his scant, perfunctory acknowledgement by the officialdom, he is never entirely alienated by this strange world and continually seeks and strives for acceptance, and perhaps, ultimately, status. He retains this hope and expectation, primarily, I believe, because there are always unexhausted channels or avenues for him to pursue, as in life. It is clear that he does not wish to escape the elusive laws and constrictions of the Castle's society - he is no nihilist. And in that sense, again, there is a lot of the human condition in K.'s predicament. The way back or out is negation, we must deal with this life or die.
So, yes, 'The Castle' is absurd and dream-like in its depiction of a constricted and dehumanised society bossed by a faceless and ruthless ideology permeating the people subjected by it (consider how Olga's family are demonized by the people, not officialdom) but it also
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 10 Oct 2014 10:14:35 BDT
Paul Johnston says:
I absolutely agree with you that the Castle is more encouraging than the Trial which is rather dark. But I think it is also a bit more complicated than you suggest. To take a minor point, you suggest that K arrives at the Castle to take up a job as a Land Surveyor, but this is far from clear. In the opening scene it looks very much like K had just picked the idea of being a Land Surveyor out of his head when he was in a tight spot and needed to find some justification for being allowed to continue sleeping in the Inn. He had clearly overlooked the possibility of the Inn having a telephone and for a moment it does look like he might have been rumbled. But then his claim is sort of acknowledged or at least it is left open that a Land Surveyor may have been summoned (and therefore it is possible that a stranger who says "I am the Land Surveyor you summoned" might be telling the truth). Overall, however, the balance of probabilities are rather against K on this issue. For example, he claims to be expecting his old assistants who are bringing all his equipment and this seems almost definitely a lie. They never turn up during the course of the novel and K gives no real sign of expecting them, so as I say almost definitely a lie, but you can never be sure! To go back to the original claim I would say that on the balance of probabilities the Castle probably did not actually get round to summoning a Land Surveyor. One department was indeed planning to do this, but it was left waiting for the Village to acknowledge receipt of its proposal and I think the implication is that it therefore did not proceed to action. Sordini certainly did take action, but his activities seem to be focussed on sort out the paperwork around the issue of whether or not a Land Surveyor is needed and although that generated a lot of work and confusion, I think the conclusion that was emerging before K appeared and made his claim was that no Land Surveyor was really needed. However, one cannot fully exclude the possibility that a Land Surveyor was summoned. But even if one was, it seems really hard to believe that K was the person called. He wants to get to the Castle and he wants to see and talk to Klamm, but there is never any serious suggestion that these aims have any connection with him starting work as a Land Surveyor. The title serves more like a forged passport which enables K to move about but without really grounding him in a life. Border control let me through with the passport so either they were not able to determine that it is a forgery or they spotted that it was a forgery immediately but thought that rather than simply ejecting K and then having him come back, it was wiser to admit him and keep him under surveillance. But then again perhaps the passport is genuine.
In reply to an earlier post on 12 Oct 2014 14:16:20 BDT
It is an interesting point you raise - if 'minor', as you say. It adds another dimension or mystery to K's origins and motives. Yet it does not refute nor complicate, for me, the essential existential quest at the heart of the novel.
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