This review is from: The Castle (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
If the reader gives this novel due attention it becomes hugely labyrinthine, and as a point of circumspect habit, every novel I approach I will sit with as long as it deems possible that there is nothing I have missed. With Kafka, there are so many points of slippage and narrow crevices between meanings, so many missed connections, slopes of consciousness, that it is impossible not to become absurdly lost in its intratextual landscape. Whilst the world of The Castle is in so many respects similar to the works of Mervyn Peake, the language is almost entirely bureaucratic, all neatly compartmentalised, even between the spaces of dreams does Kafka explore occurences and their effects. Contact becomes minimal as effect grows larger, the ripples of one event slighter but so frequent and noticeable that they occupy a greater space.
It is with this novel that Kafka introduces his own interior panoramic vision of human emotion and empathy as a layered and not straight forward process. It is with this novel that transport through trainlines and thoroughfares became more neurotic for this reader, the contours and angular postures of passengers and streetwalkers becomes highly significant and loaded with pressure points. Bristled texture of evening’s stubble and the jarring scrape of heels on the pavement outside of curling streets. To put it to Kafka that his novel is fundamentally opaque would be of no use; he was very much aware of it and professed it. He was pencilling the sketches of his own interior thoughts, and as the footsteps in the snow outside his castle vanished in the night, the traces of intentions and statements became also transparent, as thin as the air itself. Kafka stresses the opacity of people, their similarity in masking intentions with abstract form, with procedure and habit.
With The Castle the world of bureaucracy and the virtual becomes highly apparent, and in protagonist K.’s honest attempts to discern human characterists inside of its labyrinthine nature becomes torturously improbable, every character acting out of subtle self interest and imploring him to stay, to remain for their own vested interest. His lack of title, authority, and visible habits are controversial in this landscape of habit and routine, and his very erratic behaviour becomes a statement of flux, of opportunity which the more desperate latch upon. In that world of the virtual, in which there is not a single real aspect, no visible acts of honest character, one must hide intention within the language of bureacrats, even in daily interaction. It is a dystopic vision of financial relations, of class types, and a cutting statement on how profoundly alone one might feel for maintaining integrity and staying honest, inviting through this the outcasts, victims, and oppressed.
Throughout the novel K. begins even to enter into this vivid virtual world made by closed representations which act to enclose rather than create. The language of bureacrats and factual people, who have groomed and preened themselves towards their particular objectives. It is the language of the modern, and the implication here is that in this fundamentally sterile language there exists the root of an extreme and unknowable violence, a violence and death of the inner voice, colliding with the voice of restraint and authority. Kafka’s distinctively emotive patterning and his understanding of inner spaces within human relationships certainly indicates no shortage of empathy but there is the admission part way through that even he is falling into the clutches of disguised meaning and the ultimate razing of evocative language.
What J.G. Ballard found in Kafka is unknown but certainly there must be something of the dystopic and crippling indictment that the modern and bureaucratic must be destroyed in order for human identity and feeling to emerge triumphant and in all of its variety and individuality. The world here is an oblique place, guaged on a variety of closed symbols and the aesthetics, certainly, of austerity and controlled decorum. And while we are at it, what does Kafka offer by means of an escape or retreat from this space? Nothing, it appears, excepts this grand architecture of virtual control and repression, which does not even establish itself through any vocalisation but rather the distinct echo of a rumour. Kafka may have lived a neurotic life, but it may rather have been a life intimately aware of the gulf that lay between the visible and the unexpressed, and how reality might be confusion with a labyrinth in which all the avenues looked similar but slightly different, evoked certain meanings but not quite. It is a cartography of a possible permanent reality, a permanent imprisonment of the soul in which the void between one and another will become greater and so much so it shall never be crossed.