Kafka: Gender, Class, and Race in the Letters and Fictions

By Elizabeth Boa | Go to book overview

5
The Double Taboo The Male Body in The Judgment, The Metamorphosis, and In the Penal Colony

As originally used in Polynesia, Melanesia, New Zealand, etc.: set apart for or consecrated to a special use or purpose; restricted to the use of a god, a king, priests, or chiefs, while forbidden to general use; prohibited to a particular class (especially to women), or to a particular person; inviolable, sacred; forbidden, unlawful; also said of persons under a permanent or temporary prohibition from certain actions, from food, or from contact with others.

Thus the Shorter Oxford Dictionary on taboo as an adjective, and for the verb the definition runs:

To put (a thing, place, action, word or person) under a (literal) taboo. To give a sacred or privileged character to (a thing), which restricts its use to certain persons, or debars it from ordinary use or treatment; to consecrate, set apart, render inviolable; to forbid, prohibit to the unprivileged, or to particular persons. To put (a person, thing, name or subject) under a social ban; to ostracize or boycott.

The definitions convey two ostensibly opposite senses: on the one hand the taboo is a sacred mark of status or power; on the other hand the taboo object or person is to be ostracized or avoided as dangerous or unfit (certain foods, for example, or menstruating women). The taboo object at issue here is the phallus as the instrument 'restricted to the use of a god, a king, priests, or chiefs, while forbidden to general use; prohibited to a particular class (especially to women), or to a particular person; inviolable, sacred'. By the phallus I mean the symbolic representation or sign of the power accruing to men by virtue of their sex, as distinct from the male body as a material, sensuous apparatus. Kafka's representations of male bodies are iconoclastic in effect because

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