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1 Community and Individual in Kafka’s “In the Penal Colony” David Pan Humanities Core Course Winter 2011, Lecture 6.

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Presentation on theme: "1 Community and Individual in Kafka’s “In the Penal Colony” David Pan Humanities Core Course Winter 2011, Lecture 6."— Presentation transcript:

1 1 Community and Individual in Kafka’s “In the Penal Colony” David Pan Humanities Core Course Winter 2011, Lecture 6

2 2 “In the Penal Colony” describes how both the community-oriented and the individualist approaches to justice lead to specific structures for society. 1.“In the Penal Colony” presents in the officer and the explorer an intractable conflict between a community-oriented Eastern Jewish culture and an individualist Western Jewish culture. 2.The officer’s justice creates a relation between spirituality and materiality in which a pattern of sacrifice creates a structure of spirituality for the community. 3.The community is alienated from the law in a world dominated by the explorer’s system of justice.

3 3 Though the narrator is in a similar position of knowledge about the colony as the explorer, the narrator still has a distinct perspective. “It’s a remarkable piece of apparatus,” said the officer to the explorer and surveyed with a certain air of admiration the apparatus which was after all quite familiar to him. The explorer seemed to have accepted merely out of politeness the Commandant’s invitation to witness the execution of a soldier condemned to death for disobedience and insulting behavior to a superior. Nor did the colony itself betray much interest in this execution. At least, in the small sandy valley, a deep hollow surrounded on all sides by naked crags, there was no one present save the officer, the explorer, the condemned man… (213). The third-person narrator voices the same bemusement as the explorer would have about the officer’s “air of admiration” for what must be familiar to him and the emptiness of the valley. Yet, the narrator is not in the mind of the explorer because the narrator can only make conjectures about the explorer’s intentions. Opening Lines of “In the Penal Colony” Kafka, Franz. “In the Penal Colony.” Trans. Willa and Edwin Muir. The Complete Stories. New York: Schocken, Reprinted in The Human and Its Others: Divinity, Society, Nature. Humanities Core Course Guide and Reader. Ed. David T. Pan. Boston: Pearson Learning Solutions,

4 4 The narrator has the same bewilderment and poses the same kind of questions as the explorer. These were tasks that might well have been left to a mechanic, but the officer performed them with great zeal, whether because he was a devoted admirer of the apparatus or because of other reasons the work could be entrusted to no one else (213). The narrator: has no insight into the inner motives of the officer. makes conjectures similar to the ones the explorer must be making. the condemned man, who was a stupid- looking, wide-mouthed creature with bewildered hair and face, and the soldier who held the heavy chain controlling the small chains locked on the prisoner’s ankles, wrists, and neck, chains that were themselves attached to each other by communicating links (213). The narrator: points out that the chains seem to have an ornamental as well as a practical function. reproduces with this remark the explorer’s attention to this anomaly.

5 5 The narrator’s perspective shifts after the death of the officer. …through the forehead went the point of the great iron spike. * * * As the explorer, with the soldier and the condemned man behind him, reached the first houses of the colony, the soldier point to one of them and said: “There is the teahouse.” (228-29) After the death of the officer, the story could end. But instead the gaze of the narrator shifts and the explorer suddenly becomes the focus of the narrator’s attention. In the original German edition, these three stars were inserted in the text here as a separation (In der Strafkolonie 246). Kafka, Franz. In der Strafkolonie. Franz Kafka Kritische Ausgabe. Ed. Juergen Born, Gerhard Neumann, Malcolm Pasley, and Jost Schillemeit. Frankfurt am Main: Fischer, Kafkas Werke im WWW. Web. 18 January 2011.

6 6 The officer and explorer have diverging presuppositions about the process of judgment. “Does he know his sentence?” “No,” said the officer, eager to go on with his exposition, but the explorer interrupted him: “He doesn’t know the sentence that has been passed on him?” “No,” said the officer again, pausing a moment as if to let the explorer elaborate his question, and then said: “There would be no point in telling him. He’ll learn it on his body.” The explorer intended to make no answer, but he felt the prisoner’s gaze turned on him; it seemed to ask if he approved such goings-on. So he bent forward again, having already leaned back in his chair, and put another question: “But surely he know that he has been sentenced?” “Nor that either,” said the officer, smiling at the explorer as if expecting him to make further surprising remarks. “No,” said the explorer, wiping his forehead, “then he can’t know either whether his defense was effective?” “He has had no chance of putting up a defense,” said the officer, turning his eyes away as if speaking to himself and so sparing the explorer the shame of hearing self-evident matters explained. “But he must have had some chance of defending himself,” said the explorer, and rose from his seat. (215-16) The explorer expects that the sentence is part of a discursive process in which the prisoner understands the sentence conceptually presents arguments in his defense. The officer rejects the discursive understanding of justice and sees the judgment as a bodily experience considers his view to be self-evident and without need for explanation

7 7 The explorer focuses on the content of the sentence while the officer focuses on the form. “And the harrow is the instrument for the actual execution of the sentence.” “And how does the sentence run?” asked the explorer. “that such an important visitor should not even be told about the kind of sentence we pass is a new development, which—” “Our sentence does not sound severe. Whatever commandment the prisoner has disobeyed is written upon his body by the Harrow. This prisoner, for instance,”—the officer indicated the man—”will have written on his body: HONOR THY SUPERIORS!” (215) The officer is interested in the form of the sentence. The explorer is interested in the content of the sentence.

8 8 “In the Penal Colony” describes how both the community-oriented and the individualist approaches to justice lead to specific structures for society. 1.“In the Penal Colony” presents in the officer and the explorer an intractable conflict between a community-oriented Eastern Jewish culture and an individualist Western Jewish culture. 2.The officer’s justice creates a relation between spirituality and materiality in which a pattern of sacrifice creates a structure of spirituality for the community. 3.The community is alienated from the law in a world dominated by the explorer’s system of justice.

9 9 In the perspective of today’s Western culture … God and the world are given once and for all and the world and the people in it are separate from God (33). Bergmann, Hugo. “Die Heiligung des Namens.” Vom Judentum. Ed. Verein jüdischer Hochschüler Bar Kochba in Prag. Leipzig: Kurt Wolff, Judaism creates relation between God and the world. For Kafka’s friend, Hugo Bergmann, our attitude toward the world establishes a relation to God. The Jewish understanding also separates God and the world, but it connects the fate of the world and the fate of God with each other in such a way that the world is not simply dependent upon God, but - and this is of central importance for our considerations - the fate of God depends upon the world. (33) “Western” culture separates God from the world.

10 10 The life that confirms God is therefore one that pulls itself out of the tangle of conditions, cares and compromises, the unconditioned life. The consecration of the name of God thus becomes the imperative of a heroic life. For the Jew, the deepest proof of a super- sensual reality was the sacrifice of sensual being, the death of the witness, the martyr (42). The sacrifice merges sensual being with the name of God. Bergmann describes Judaism as a sacrifice of sensual being that confirms the name of God.

11 11 For the officer, the goal of punishment is to attain a spiritual transfiguration that consecrates the word. The man rarely swallows his last mouthful, he only rolls it around his mouth and spits it out into the pit. I have to duck just then or he would spit it in my face. But how quiet he grows at just about the sixth hour! Enlightenment comes to the most dull- witted. It begins around the eyes. From there it radiates. A moment that might tempt one to get under the Harrow oneself. Nothing more happens than that the man begins to decipher the inscription, he purses his mouth as if he were listening. You have seen how difficult it is to decipher the script with one’s eyes; but our man deciphers it with his wounds. (219) Rejection of pleasure Like in the circumcision, the pain becomes less important than the affirmation of the word. Sixth hour is turning point

12 12 German penal law theory of 1913 emphasizes the influence of punishment on the community. both the threat of punishment and the execution exist primarily to influence the entire community bound by the law, and they can only maintain this influence to the extent that they create an impression on both the criminal and the collective, if possible, or only on the collective, if this double effect is not possible. For this latter effect is infinitely more significant and beneficial! (15) Binding, Karl. Grundriß des deutschen Strafrechts, Allgemeiner Teil, 8th ed. Leipzig, 1913; reprint Aalen: Scientia, Punishment is more for the collective than for the criminal.

13 13 The execution process used to function as a collective ceremony. The whole day before the ceremony the valley was packed with people; they all came only to look on (221). Many did not care to watch it but lay with closed eyes in the sand; they all knew: Now justice is being done (221). The crowds participated in the experience of justice.

14 14 Justice for the community is based in their experience of the prisoner’s shift from bodily concerns to the law. Well, and then came the sixth hour! It was impossible to grant all the requests to be allowed to watch it from nearby. The Commandant in his wisdom ordained that the children should have the preference; I, of course, because of my office had the privilege of always being at hand; often enough I would be squatting there with a small child in either arm. How we all absorbed the look of transfiguration on the face of the sufferer, how we bathed our cheeks in the radiance of that justice, achieved at last and fading so quickly! What times these were, my comrade! (221) The crowd participates in the same movement from materiality to the word as the prisoner.

15 15 “In the Penal Colony” describes how both the community-oriented and the individualist approaches to justice lead to specific structures for society. 1.“In the Penal Colony” presents in the officer and the explorer an intractable conflict between a community-oriented Eastern Jewish culture and an individualist Western Jewish culture. 2.The officer’s justice creates a relation between spirituality and materiality in which a pattern of sacrifice creates a structure of spirituality for the community. 3.The community is alienated from the law in a world dominated by the explorer’s system of justice.

16 16 The explorer becomes the judge over the officer’s system of justice. for he traveled only as an observer, with no intention at all of altering other people’s methods of administering justice (220). your sincere conviction has touched me, even though it cannot influence my judgment (225). but cannot avoid passing judgment. The explorer attempts to remain neutral

17 17 The officer has the same position in the explorer’s judgment process as the prisoner has in the officer’s process. The officer kept watching the explorer sideways, as if seeking to read from his face the impression made on him by the execution, which had been at least cursorily explained to him (219). the new Commandant, who was apparently of a mind to bring in, although gradually, a new kind of procedure which the officer’s narrow mind was incapable of understanding (217). From the very beginning the explorer had no doubt about what answer he must give (224). The explorer intended to make no answer, but he felt the prisoner’s gaze turned on him; it seemed to ask if he approved such goings-on (216). Yet the movement of his [the prisoner’s] blubber lips, closely pressed together, showed clearly that he could not understand a word (215). My guiding principle is this: Guilt is never to be doubted (216). No doubt about guilt for both Position of prisonerPosition of officer Both attempt to read the explorer’s reaction Neither can understand process

18 18 The judgment against the officer results in the expansion of individual freedom, but also the breakdown of discipline. The explorer intended to make no answer, but he felt the prisoner’s gaze turned on him; it seemed to ask if he approved such goings-on (216). The explorer saw that it was no use merely giving orders, he was on the point of going over and driving them away (228). But the other two could not make up their minds to come; the condemned man actually turned away; the explorer had to go over to them and force them into position at the officer’s head (228). After the prisoner is freed, he does not heed the explorer’s orders. The plight of the individual prisoner compels the explorer to act.

19 19 The New Commandant’s rule is based on discussion and commerce rather than community unity and spirituality. Tomorrow in the Commandant’s office there is to be a large conference of all the high administrative officials, the Commandant presiding. Of course the Commandant is the kind of man to have turned these conferences into public spectacles. He has had a gallery built that is always packed with spectators. I am compelled to take part in the conferences, but they make me sick with disgust (223-24). After various trivial and ridiculous matters, brought in merely to impress the audience – mostly harbor works, nothing but harbor works! – our judicial procedure comes up for discussion too (224). 1.Conferences instead of spiritual transfiguration. 2.Separation between speakers and spectators instead of unity of community. 3.Economic activity instead of spiritual focus.

20 20 The explorer’s verdict leads to an execution without the experience of transfiguration. The Harrow was not writing, it was only jabbing, and the Bed was not turning the body over but only bringing it up quivering against the needles. The explorer wanted to do something, if possible, to bring the whole machine to a standstill, for this was no exquisite torture such as the officer desired, this was plain murder (228). It [the face of the corpse] was as it had been in life; no sign was visible of the promised redemption; what others had found in the machine the officer had not found (228). He does not experience the redemption that others had found. The officer is simply killed.

21 21 The explorer’s justice does not maintain a relation to the community. They [the soldier and the condemned man] could have jumped into the boat, but the explorer lifted a heavy knotted rope from the floor boards, threatened them with it, and so kept them from attempting the leap (229). Though he has established a new law, the explorer breaks all ties with the colony.

22 22 Conclusion: Literature has influenced German- speaking society by providing different models for imagining the relation of materiality and spirituality. I.Each version of the Faust legend has a distinctive structure with its own particular effects. A.The 1587 Faustbuch helped to establish the idea of the pact with the devil that legitimated witch hunts. B.Goethe’s Faust created the ideal of the Faustian man, whose individualist goals helped justify a Nazi ethic that is beyond good and evil. II.“In the Penal Colony” describes how both the individualist and the community-oriented approaches to justice lead to specific structures for society. III.If the trajectory of German culture has been shaped by its particular founding texts, they provide a specific example of cultural development that can be compared with others.

23 23 II. “In the Penal Colony” describes how both the community-oriented and the individualist approaches to justice lead to specific structures for society. 1.“In the Penal Colony” presents in the officer and the explorer an intractable conflict between a community-oriented Eastern Jewish culture and an individualist Western Jewish culture. a.The narrator shifts between the perspective of the officer and the perspective of the explorer. i.Though the narrator is in a similar position of knowledge about the colony as the explorer, the narrator still has a distinct perspective. ii.The narrator has the same bewilderment and poses the same kind of questions as the explorer. iii.The narrator’s perspective shifts after the death of the officer. b.The officer and explorer have diverging presuppositions about the process of judgment. i.The explorer expects a discursive process and the officer expects a bodily experience. ii.The explorer focuses on the content of the sentence while the officer focuses on the form. 2.The officer’s justice creates a relation between spirituality and materiality in which a pattern of sacrifice creates a structure of spirituality for the community. a.The Officer’s justice establishes the sacrifice of materiality as the basis of law. i.For Kafka’s friend, Hugo Bergmann, our attitude toward the world establishes a relation to God. ii.Bergmann describes Judaism as a sacrifice of sensual being that confirms the name of God. iii.For the officer, the goal of punishment is to attain a spiritual transfiguration that consecrates the word. b.The apparatus functions to establish community unity in a shared spiritual experience. i.German penal law theory of 1913 emphasizes the influence of punishment on the community. ii.The execution process used to function as a collective ceremony. iii.Justice for the community is based in their experience of the prisoner’s shift from bodily concerns to the law. 3.The community is alienated from the law in a world dominated by the explorer’s system of justice. a.The explorer relates to the officer in the same way that the officer relates to the prisoner. i.The explorer becomes the judge over the officer’s system of justice. ii.The officer has the same position in the explorer’s judgment process as the prisoner has in the officer’s process. b.The explorer establishes a new system of justice based on individualism, discussion, and materiality. i.The judgment against the officer results in the expansion of individual freedom, but also the breakdown of discipline. ii.The New Commandant’s rule is based on discussion and commerce rather than community unity and spirituality. iii.The explorer’s verdict leads to an execution without the experience of transfiguration. c.The explorer’s justice does not maintain a relation to the community.


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