Posted by: glue | February 7, 2009

Categorial Law


The parable “Before the Law,” introduced as a mise-en abyme in The Trial, suggests the problematic nature of Gateway.  The man from the country comes to the city and encounters the law as a gateway guarded by a doorkeeper (a threshold guardian, a daimon).

Before his death he gathers in his head all his experiences of the entire time up into one question which he has not yet put to the gatekeeper.  He waves to him, since he can no longer lift up his stiffening body.  The gatekeeper has to bend way down to him, for the great difference has changed things to the disadvantage of the man. “What do you still want to know, then?” asks the gatekeeper. “You are insatiable.”  “Everyone strives after the law,” says the man, “so how is that in these many years no one except me has requested entry?”  The gatekeeper sees that the man is already dying and, in order to reach his diminishing sense of hearing, he shouts at him, “Here no one else can gain entry, since this entrance was assigned only to you.  I’m going now to close it. (Franz Kafka, “Before the Law,” Trans. Ian Johnston).

Crossing Over

Crossing Over

The ambiguous lesson is kairotic:  kairos.  The Trial and The Castle both treat this theme of the moment, and the fear of missing it, the missed encounter. In both stories the protagonist comes very close to the bridge, to the moment that would open the link between the two realms (whatever they might be –- the hearth and the uncanny).  The paradox of revelation in Kafka’s vision is that the closer one is to illumination, the weaker one becomes, to the point of exhaustion or sleep, so that the Augenblick never occurs.  The reader, however, is given to understand what is possible. “Awakening, the bodhi that is continually spoken of in Indian thought from the Vedas to the Buddha, is something that happens during wakefulness, an invisible shift, a sudden change in distances and in the mental pace, thanks to which consciousness is able to observe itself—and is therefore able to observe itself in its typical role as observer.  The most effective metaphor for this event is the awakening from sleep, the passage from dream to wakefulness” (Roberto Calasso, 226).

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