Literature and Psychoanalysis

By Edith Kurzweil; William Phillips | Go to book overview

17.
Franz Kafka

Erich Fromm

AN OUTSTANDING EXAMPLE of a work of art written in symbolic language is Kafka The Trial. As in so many dreams, events are presented, each of which is in itself concrete and realistic; yet the whole is impossible and fantastic. The novel, in order to be understood, must be read as if we listened to a dream -- a long complicated dream in which external events happen in space and time, being representations of thoughts and feelings within the dreamer, in this case the novel's hero, K.

The novel begins with a somewhat startling sentence: "Someone must have been telling lies about Joseph K., for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one fine morning." 1

K., we might say, begins the dream with an awareness that he is "arrested." What does "arrested" mean? It is an interesting word which has a double meaning. To be arrested can mean to be taken into custody by police officers and to be arrested can mean to be stopped in one's growth and development. An accused man is "arrested" by the police, and an organism is "arrested" in its normal development. The manifest story uses "arrested" in the former sense. Its symbolic meaning, however, is to be understood in the latter. K. has an awareness that he is arrested and blocked in his own development.

In a masterful little paragraph, Kafka explains why K. was arrested. This is how K. spent his life:

From Erich Fromm, The Forgotten Language ( New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1951). Copyright 1951 © 1979 Erich Fromm. Reprinted by permission.

-261-

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