Why is Kafka still relevant?

Have you ever wondered what will happen if you… for example… don’t pay your taxes.

Will the IRS agents storm your house and execute you like a dog?

Franz Kafka’s „The Trial“ ponders something similar.

In its core, it is a novel about an everyday man who fears that he will make a wrong step – and that uniformed officers will jump at him and snap his neck.

All of us try to live our lives by “the rule”, we mostly try to be good – law abiding citizens.

Why is that?

Some think that it is because of fear of punishment.

While I was reading „The Trial“ I thought about all these men who are always afraid of the state – people who live in constant fear of the government.

These are the people who dread what will happen if they don’t pay taxes in time.

They fear to speak out loud against those in the position of power.

They are even afraid of being caught jaywalking.  They try to live as normal as possible in fear of attracting government’s attention.

Perhaps everyone of us would feel an instance of that fear if suddenly subpoenaed to court.

Imagine a doctor who is startled by an angry patient who threatens to sue him for negligence. Doctor thinks he did everything right, but suddenly he is stressed out, he is sweating. He needs to go to court. What if they find him guilty? Perhaps he did something wrong. He thinks he didn’t, but is unsure.

He imagines people who work in institutions as shadowy fiends, not as humans. He sees them as machines who do not accept that sometimes people make unintentional errors. You can scream at them, but they will not listen.

Perhaps you had to jaywalk because there was an elderly woman dying on the other side of the road and she needed help, but robots will serve you a fine nonetheless. They see the crime and declaim the sentence. Many people who were called to court felt something similar – fear of being judged by emotionless government body struck them. Perhaps only for a split second, but they have felt it.

This was the fear of bureaucracy.

In a brief moment of panic, some must have imagined the institution as a bad automated customer service. As automatons who give you the long list of predefined options that you have to suffer through (Press 4 to get back to the machine that greeted you when you pressed 2) while you are hopelessly burning inside wanting to talk to a real person until you give up.

I wouldn’t be surprised if someone threatened to sue Kafka for some stupid reason, let’s say for libel, and the great author was dreading of going before the judges.

This feeling of angst is palpable in his novel.

The novel is in its core about a man shaking of fear before going to court, but Kafka takes his story to extreme.

His protagonist is arrested without knowing what has he done wrong, he even starts to believe he broke some unknown rule. After the torture of unsuccessfully trying to find a “real person” who will explain what is going on, he is finally executed “like a dog” in a Kafkian style.

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