The title of this blog entry comes from Franz Kafka’s essay In The Penal Colony. Modifying Kafka’s title suggests his allegorical framework can be used to examine America as a penal colony. Wikipedia’s entry says that allegory “is a metaphor whose vehicle may be a character, place or event, representing real-world issues and occurrences. Allegory use as a form of art is “largely because it can readily illustrate or convey complex ideas and concepts in ways that are comprehensible or striking to its viewers, readers, or listeners.” Kafka used allegory as a “literary rhetorical method to convey (semi-) hidden meanings through symbolic figures, actions, imagery, or events, which together create the moral, spiritual, or political meaning the author wishes to convey.” The issue explored, in part here, is how Kafka’s penal colony allegory can help us examine experiences In the American penal colony under Commandant Trump and more generally in humanity.
I started several times to read Wolfgang Giegerich’s psychoanalytical essay “Ending Emancipation from History: Kafka’s ‘In the penal colony’” (1985) and on, 8.8.2017, picked up the paper from my den floor, starring up at me like a Kafka metamorphosing bug – for sure, this essay has been metamorphosing and will continue doing so. This all began as another of my bookcase experiences – Wolfgang’s article was calling out, “read me!” However, shortly after beginning my read, I realized I needed to re-read, to study, Kafka’s In The Penal Colony. So, I started listening to this 65 minute unabridged audio-book In The Penal Colony – it is subtitled a “horror mystery”, beware, it is – just as many now realize Commandant Trump’s American Penal Colony is horrifying!
In The Penal Colony by Franz Kafka
As I started to study Kafka’s essay, I had a memory of meeting my high school English teacher, Dellis Schrock, at Fargo’s Street Fair. I asked Dellis if we could meet for coffee and next I heard he had passed over. I was looking forward to exploring his knowledge of literature. So, with Robert Romanyshyn’s epistemology as outlined in his book The Wounded Researcher – Research with Soul in Mind close by, I now have Dellis and Franz sitting here at my table looking over my shoulder, participating in what is unfolding – welcome guys! I cannot remember, Dellis, did we read Kafka in your class – can anyone remember? Excuse me for this dialogue moment, I hope you are both well and reading good books. The Trail by Kafka – an interesting choice Dellis. I am reminded of Pink Floyd’s The Trial and its demand to “tear down the wall” opposite of Trump’s “to build a wall”. Tearing down a wall is the psychoanalytical challenge to understand the Other first in ourselves and then in Others among us. This is the Deep Jesus, Us is each of us.
Franz Kafka’s The Trial movie seems to be getting ahead of what is unfolding. However, complexity informs us that what is unfolding is complex – so let’s get this documented and fermenting – metamorphosing, alchemizing toward what is just & true. And guys, many are now expecting America to soon be having a Trump Trail so, when watching Franz’s The Trial movie, look for a foreshadowing of Trump’s impending trial. There are many parallels, besides Josef K. wanting to “grab” every woman he encounters. An important parallel is that Josef K. and Donald T. both say they are “unaware” of what they are being charged with – “there is no collusion”. Are we seeing in The Trial a future trial of Trump?
So, returning to the main thread of our investigation – the relationship of two horror mysteries: Franz Kafka’s In The Penal Colony and Donald Trump’s sequel In The American Penal Colony. How is Kafka’s Penal Colony story foreshadowing the unfolding horrors in Trump’s real Penal Colony? The boy protagonist in Haruki Murakami‘s novel Kafka on the Shore, calling himself Kafka, imagines the colony machine as “a substitute for explaining the situation we’re in.” So, when we watch the following short Penal Colony movie, I suggest again that we note the parallels in our unfolding Trumpesque Colony – the scariest is the issue of “torture” by the machine – American Culture, that Trump is now reconstructing in his demented effort to carve into American flesh his desires.
In the Penal Colony – Short Film
My bookcase was not finished calling to me – this time to pick up Giegerich’s Volume III Soul Violence and turn to Chapter Nine The alchemy of history. This chapter is 61 pages, with Part I Salvation from History: Historicism, Natural Science, Psychology beginning with this quote from Goethe’s letter to Wilhelm von Humboldt 12.01.1831: “I willingly admit, that in my high age everything is becoming more and more historical to me: whether something happened in the past, in distant kingdoms, or is happening spatially quite close to me in the present moment, is quite the same, indeed, I myself more and more appear historical to myself.” I was struck by how this beginning quote is an experience that is now happening to me in my old age. It is now apparent that there is a personal element, a mystery of some sort, slowly being chiseled into my hide – ouch, this hurts!
After a short introduction, Part I: The invention and production of the past and the second section, The bottomless of history make up Giegerich’s theoretical paradigm – and this is tough deep reading! I am reminded of Romanyshyn’s advise that reading with a struggle is necessary to advance consciousness, which is the theme of living under the First and then Second Commandant – the advance of consciousness is alchemical – dialectic analytical. In an interview, Haruki Murakami reveals the secret to reading his novel lies in reading it several times: “Kafka on the Shore contains several riddles, but there aren’t any solutions provided. Instead, several of these riddles combine, and through their interaction the possibility of a solution takes shape. And the form this solution takes will be different for each reader. To put it another way, the riddles function as part of the solution. It’s hard to explain but that’s the kind of novel I set out to write”. What are the riddles in Trump’s penal colony? Can we make sense of what is happening and craft a solution?
Several years ago, I had read Part I alchemy of history and when as I finished re-reading it recently, I was surprised to see that Part II was Ending salvation from history: Kafka’s “In the penal colony. The other shorter separate Giegerich essay is here but now more deeply addressed. As I mentioned, understanding this is metamorphosing and several more readings are needed before having a fuller understanding of the riddles in the processes of advancing consciousness. Giegerich states his final point thus: “In the same way that the condemned prisoner in Kafka’s story mindlessly and uncomprehendingly endures what happens to him, the modern consciousness of the Explorer stands ignorant vis-à-vis what is happening and attempts in a variety of ways to defend itself against the heart-rending pain caused by the Harrow digging into him, in the mistaken belief that he can escape the collapse, which has long ago taken place, or expose it as something unreal. Among the defense mechanisms that it deploys are appeal to ethical responsibility and emotional dismay, political and social activism, confessions of quilt and hubris, stubborn insistence on human rights, a clinging to religious or tradition, of secularism, and of socialist activities, or the liberal’s condemnation of irrationality, mysticism, and imperialist forces. All these attempts to keep out of what is really happening – namely, the breaking away of the ontic basis of our being and our collapse into the unknown, underworld depths of the ontological – while nevertheless mediating between the redeemed consciousness and the factual, now indisputable existence of the new program diagram in the now-operating machine. But the ignorance of the person exposed to the apparatus and his clinging to the familiar perspective oriented towards his ontic mastering of life is part of the essence of the machine, which is always beyond one’s horizon and which has long since started to work on the person strapped into it before he even notices what is happening to him and, especially, before enlightenment begins to come to him.” (413).
This is an extraordinary conclusion that describes what Americans are currently living through with President Donald Trump and we need a new word to describe what is unfolding. We have been exploring Kafka’s book In The Penal Colony as an analogy to America’s unfolding story and the underlying literary framework in this essay relies on Kafka’s work described as Kafkaesque. There is now sufficient experience with Trump to coin the word Trumpesque. The following clip What makes something Kafkaesque uses Kafka’s The Trial to illustrates the impending trial of Donald Trump. Reading “In The Penal Colony’ as an allegory of history is how Giegerich approaches his essay on the alchemy of history. We can use What makes something Kafkaesque? to begin construction on what is unfolding as Trumpesque.
What makes something ‘Kafkaesque?
So, this clip gives us elements of what is Kafkaesque and by extension a view of what Trumpesque is beginning to look like. However, I sense a problem in uncovering what is Trumpesque is that Trump has never clerked in an office like Kafka. Trump has no real-life experiences at the bottom of the organization, only those at the top of his own. This clip makes the point that “It is not the absurdity of bureaucracy alone but the irony of the character’s circular reasoning and reaction to it that is emblematic of Kafka’s writing.” His writing acts as a “mythology to our industrial age, employing dream logic to explore the relationships between systems of arbitrary systems of power and the individuals caught up in them.” I caught myself hoping Trump will soon wake up in Kafka’s story Metamorphosis and find himself transformed into bug unable to get to work. Or like in Kafka’s story, The Hunger Artist, when Trump sees his reality-act loses popularity, he will starve himself to death, realizing his “art of the deal” has always been a fraud. There is humor in Kafkaesque but is there humor in Trumpesque? Okay, SNL, we still do have the power to create.
We end with Kafka’s story The Judgment, which has many interpretations. Russel Berman suggests that “the exiled friend in Russia exerts considerable power over the other characters—Georg, his father, and his fiancée, Frieda. In his diaries, Kafka wrote that the friend is the strongest connection between Georg and his father, for it is through this link that his father is able to reassert himself as paterfamilias and his son’s enemy and that Georg is able to submissively accept him as such. Kafka goes on to relate that the fiancée exists, in a tangential sense, only because of the father-son bond that the absent exile creates.” This appears to be giving us an uncanny view into Donald’s relationship with his father Fred, his impending marriage to Ivana, in the midsts of business discussions with a Petersburg Russian acquaintance – named Vladimir? Georg commits suicide by jumping off a bridge – not a wall!
The Judgment By Franz Kafka
To be continued with a deeper probe into Giegerich’s thesis in Volume III Soul Violence Chapter Nine The alchemy of history.