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Reading Kafka's trial politically: justice-law-power

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

Published
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>02/2008
<mark>Journal</mark>Contemporary Political Theory
Issue number1
Volume7
Number of pages23
Pages (from-to)8-30
Publication StatusPublished
<mark>Original language</mark>English

Abstract

This article offers a political reading of Franz Kafka's posthumous work The Trial. In this novel, the main protagonist (Joseph K.) is subject to an arrest and trial conducted by the ambiguous authority of a shadowy court and its officials. This article explores Joseph K.'s experience of being subject to the Law, and relates this to our own understanding and experience of political subjectivity in modern times. K.'s doomed search for order through a 'permanent resolution' of his case is related to the modern desire for order: Specifically, the desire for both philosophical and political frameworks that provide narratives or certainty. Here modernity is understood to be characterized by an anxiety brought about by a crisis in authorship and authority. The article then considers K.'s desire for justice and the Law, and his entanglement with the power of the court, as analogous to the modern experience of the triad of justice–law–power, which is subsumed under the banner of 'sovereignty'. In particular, the article explores K.'s inability to locate, read, or fix the Law; a problem that is also reflected in the aporia of sovereignty as justice–law–power. K.'s experience alerts us to the contradictions in the triad justice–law–power; contradictions that occur as although each member of the triad is dependent upon the other two, each member of the triad also seeks to exclude or deny this dependency. Thus, read politically, K.'s struggle in The Trial can be seen as a reflection of the modern struggle with sovereignty as the triad justice–law–power, and the impasse that K. reaches is also the impasse that modernity has reached.