“Certainly, I am ignorant, that at least is true, sadly enough for me, but the advantage here is that those who are ignorant take greater risks”
Amid the seemingly exponential growth of claims to unique insight on the meaning of our working lives, it is disturbing how few today have read Franz Kafka. The metaphors in The Castle, his most enduring work now almost a century old, are strikingly modern and enduringly uncomfortable.
I would expect that everyone reading this post has at some point felt as Land Surveyor K., summoned to work for inaccessible employers who reside in a Castle that sits “hidden, veiled in mist and darkness” above the village at which he arrives.
We have all experienced the seemingly endless pursuit of a simple request through bewildering bureaucracy that proclaims its own perfection, yet whose administrative error first created the very reason for the pursuit.
We have known K.’s contact, the ever-elusive Castle official Klamm (in Czech, meaning “illusion”), whom K. believes holds the key to allowing him to undertake the role of Land Surveyor he believes is rightly his…if only he could speak with him.
I shudder to think too that in some form we have known employees of the Castle who have burned (or otherwise disposed of) paperwork for being unsure of the intended recipient, all behind the veil of excellence.
And we have known the all-male Castle officials whose secretaries do all of their work for them in the village, and who only ever venture to the village when they need female companionship.
More than any of these specific references however, we have felt the alienation, loneliness, uncertainty and vulnerability of being in a place rich in rules and dictates, where everything almost makes sense, yet where every apparent step closer in reality takes us further away – for “illusions are more common than changes in fortune”.
And we have felt in our frustration the self-destructive intent to keep going, having come “this far” – the hope that trumps every setback. A tiny heroism.
Kafka was never able to finish the novel, taken as he was by tuberculosis at far too young an age. As such, it ends, unresolved, mid-sentence. At that moment it leaves a greater emptiness than that into which the work has us suspended.
I always liked to think that in some guise Kafka would return and complete the story for us. In many respects, perhaps we are all completing it for him.