The Unknown Guilt of Herr K.

j0395954Even if Kafka’s works are rich in interpretations there is a possible “core” to be found in them, especially in The Trial. The main topic of this novel is the guilt and its relation to the Law. Joseph K. bears a guilt, but it is not any guilt, it is an Unknown Guilt, or even better, The Unknown Guilt. Herr K. is accused by the Law which is personified by high hierarchy members of the system. One can be tempted to look for some guilt in K.’s story, some wrong acts but Herr K. is not dealing with material crimes, he is dealing with himself, with the very fact of existing. It is an existential guilt which leads K. to look desperately for help. The whole nonsense of the situations and dialogues expresses the impossibility to deal with the Law; it is an irrational one. Herr K. looks for meaning, that is, sense, reason, but there is no one and with the lack of reason comes the lack of redemption, of solution. He is guilty and he will die guilty. This statement is put clearly in different moments of the novel, how impossible is to make the Court change its opinion. Moreover, K. is not the only one trapped in a nonsensical Law, other men are waiting since ages and ages to be told what they are accused of. But there is no answer. That is exactly the point, there is no answer and there will be no answer.

All the other topics are related to and acquire their meanings depending on their position to the Law. Women are marginal to the Law, as it is explained in the previous Post, and Herr K. is not interested in women, his goal is to achieve the Law. K. has no sexual aim regarding women; all possible sexual encounters have a place in relation to the Law. That is why women become a door, they can open the way to the Law if the accused pays a sexual price (from K’s perspective, which can be wrong). Women are the really ones interested in sex, not Herr K. And that is the way in which women are presented as monstrous.

Therefore, to analyse sexuality in Kafka it is necessary to place it in its correct position and such a position is to be define regarding the Law. Sex is submitted to the Law and thus related to the sense of guilt, as it is for example, in Amerika when Karl Rossmann is expelled by his father because of a sexual encounter with the maid.

Kafka’s Women: In the Borderline

tumblr_m8uulbQX5O1qc5h1co1_1280In The Trial, women configure a particular atmosphere in a mainly masculine world. Joseph K. appears as an isolated male figure, naive and innocent paying punishment for a Law of a very patriarchal structure and hierarchy. There are only men in the judicial system while women stand on marginal positions around the core of the Law. They constitute a sort of borderline between the Law and the accused; they are at the same time inside and outside the system. Thus, they are ambiguous characters, at least unfaithful because of such ambiguity. Unfaithful for both those who are inside the system and those who are outside it. This characteristic is expressed through their promiscuity, that is, through sexuality which is properly what defines them. Indeed, they are highly sexualised beings and their sexuality is always involved in helping the accused. They are mainly prostitutes as their mode of interchange is always physically: they obtain favours from the Court members in exchange of their bodies. Its use is what their master overall.

Women, as a figure bordering the Law, suggest the idea of entrance which is related to the sexual body. The man who wants to go inside the Law -in this case Joseph K.- should penetrate the threshold. In fact, Joseph K. refuses any complete sexual encounter with the nurse or the washerwoman and he loses their respective help. Joseph K. does not pay the price to be helped and his attitude contrasts with the “sexualised woman”; his virility is diminished. Kafka’s male characters are usually confronted with sexualised women and they are unable to master the situation. Men use to be shy or “sexually inferior” than women who are very self-confident. Kafka inverts the classical Western gender roles. It is possible to see how these women cause confusion in the main male characters who find themselves overcame by the situation.

The inability of male characters to engage with sexual matters is present through the whole Kafka’s work. Women are presented as inaccessible or unmastered. They can appear as strongly independent, manipulative, funny and sexualised. However, in some cases, the figure of the mother appears as a sexless and helpful woman even if her good intentions are always cast off by a male authority.

Uncanny Aesthetics in Kafka

MMA_IAP_10310749191Kafka’s America shows the story of Karl Rossmann, a young boy who is forced to leave home due to his affair with the maid. He is send by his parents on a ship to New York with nothing more than a suitcase. The novel describes all Karl’s adventures through the American country, which includes places where he lives and people whom he meets.

A general view to the novel shows that every place is a place of expulsion, in other words, Karl is successively involuntary thrown away from one place to the other. Anderson suggests this idea affirming that Karl has no “sense of place” in New York. The novel, as a whole, presents a sense of “unintentional return” or “repetition” which Freud refers to the Uncanny. Even if Freud uses the term “return” implying a coming back to the same point, in Karl, this return is metaphorical, experimented through the feeling of being again expulsed. Behind it, helplessness accompanies this repetition, as Karl finds himself in animosity with his expellers. The return becomes here an experience of repetition of the unsettlement whose origin is the expulsion of Karl by his parents. It exemplifies what Freud calls “the impulsion to repeat” which is found in the unconscious and proceeds from instinctual impulses. Such compulsion is related to the repression of drives and its common in neuroses. At the end of the explanation, Freud concludes, “anything that can remind us of this inner compulsion to repeat is perceived as uncanny”. Therefore, the reader encounters the Uncanny through the general wandering of Karl and the places which once and again force Karl to such wandering.

It is important to note how the structure of the buildings in general helps to maintain the suspense. As Gellen points out, Kafka presents and “architectural narration”, in other words, the structure of the buildings has a narrative function, they are “a mode of expression”. In fact, they are the “thought” of the “non-thought”; the materialization of what is hidden to the conscious (Rancière). The “architectural narration” is characterized by an over perception of the atmosphere, as Fuchs points out, Karl experiments a hyper-reality of the sensual perception, which leads to an anti-mimetic expression. The buildings represent a sort of aesthetic experience, in this case, an uncanny one. The reader knows Karl’s inner-state through the descriptions of the places as Karl’s self is projected on them. As Freud suggests, through aesthetics an author can achieve the goal of communication provoking in the reader, or public, the same feelings which lead him to make the work of art. He particularly refers to the sculpture due to its speechless form, but the mechanism of arousing feelings in “America” is near to that of speechless arts. The reader just perceives a few literal words appealing Karl’s state, the main information is put into images that create feelings.

In conclusion, the four closed spaces in America bring together an aesthetic concept taken from Psychoanalysis with the narrative of Kafka, particularly, its aesthetic effects. All of them arise the Uncanny through different spatial dispositions and situations, but the feeling is based in all cases on the “impulsion to repeat” the appearance of something threating for the self.

 America is an unfinished novel, however, there is one testimony in Kafka’s diaries of a possible ending. On the 30th of September, 1915, Kafka wrote, “Rossmann and K., the innocent and the guilty, both executed without distinction in the end, the guilty one with a gentler hand, more pushed aside struck down”. This testimony closes the circle of the Uncanny whose latest manifestation is the ultimate accomplishment of a repetitious threat, which is death. It is the death returning once and again, and it seemed to be Karl’s destiny. Exactly as E.T.A Hoffmann does with Nathaniel who finally dies because his threat, the Sandman, always reappears until becoming something inescapable.

The similarity the whole story presents with Charles Dickens’ wandering boys is also something undeniable, as Kafka itself notes in his diary:

Dicken’s Copperfield. “The Stoker” a sheer imitation of Dickens, the projected novel even more so. The story of the trunk, the boy who delights and charms everyone, the menial labour, his sweetheart in the country house, the dirty houses, et al., but above all the method. It was my intention, as I now see, to write a Dickens novel […]

However, a deep analysis of America shows how it results to be a more complicated novel than, at first sight, one can realize. The presence of the Uncanny introduces a self continually threated by the unconscious, and far from David Copperfield, Karl Rossmann, not just descends in the social scale but he also presents a very destabilized self. Indeed, a self which can be analysed upon the light of Psychoanalysis; he is a very modern character.


7608020870_f534eb495a_zIt is widely known how memory is important in Proust’s work. In “Swann in Love”, its main function is to reveal the truth, especially, the truth about Odette and Mme Verdurin. As Deleuze writes, “the objective is to find the truth and memory serves to this purpose (Proust and Signs, 3)”.

Mme Verdurin’s behaviour acquires a new significance upon the light of Odette’s truth. Now, Swann reminds some moments putting them together and seeing the whole picture:

“Oh, Mme Verdurin, she won’t hear of anyone just now but me. I’m a “love”, if you please, and she kisses me, and wants me to go with her everywhere, and call her by her Christian name’

Through memory, there is the possibility of encountering two stories or worlds: one while reading, and the other one remembering the reading. For Swann it means a difference between living and remembering something. The significance of memory is very close to psychoanalysis, where one changes the meaning of the past remembering it and the self acquires its real truth. These two worlds conform two different entities of significance and are related to oneself and to one’s perspective of the reality, and to the others, which are important so far as they conform such worlds. In Swann’s case, his experience was determined by Odette’s several worlds and their respective selves.  Her changes have a strong sexual component, which make her to perform different “Odettes” in front of the other. Each “Odette” is a lie if it is seen as the total Odette, and that was Swann’s problem: he took the part for the whole. However, every Odette configuring a complete picture is the truth about Odette. In this case, a multiple sexual life. Rivers emphasises homosexual characters in Proust as being considered as actors: ‘these characters display a constant, theatrical interpenetration of various modes of identity: half-hidden selves (…) and selves which are projected in order to survive’ (Proust and the Art of Love).

In fact, memory gives us a more complete meaning of our past experiences as our current distance allows us to get the part and insert it into the whole of our self which is rarely displayed as such.

The Truth about Odette in “Swann in Love”

-1040x940-15When Swann meets Odette he does not like her as her beauty responds to a traditional conception. She is not a cultivated woman as she shows, for example, asking if Vermeer, who died in 1675, is still alive. She seems to be seduced by Swann’s intelligence and cultural interests. She appears as someone who looks for affection and is devoted to Swann; she is sensitive in love matters in contrast to Swann’s first frivolity. Her main interest seems to be that of seeking a husband and a marriage in which she could develop her wife’s duties.

 In opposition to Swann, she appears as naïve and innocent; in fact, she looks as a Swann’s perfect victim. Moreover, she lacks personality or an own life. That is also one of the reasons she is a perfect Verdurin’s faithful.

The fact that she has no personality is related to her unknown past and it is expressed in her high attachment to Swann’s desire. She appears as unable to say “no”, which makes her a potential sexual slave and extremely vulnerable. Moreover, she is someone in relation to Swann, to his perspective or presence, which in this case, is that of the reader too. Odette is not presented as a consistent self; it suggests again the idea of performance (like Mme Verdurin) as far as she is not for herself but for the other. When she meets Swann, she performs a self: a delicate and helpless Odette; she performs a sexuality: she is heterosexual and a beauty expression of the Western canon; and these two performances belong to a specific world constructed by herself which gives to Swann and the reader an image of Odette based on a lie. It is a lie, as we will see later, because the part of Odette is presented as the whole.

Among all the topics which can be found in the story, Odette is one of the most important; she herself constitutes a topic. Odette begins to be suspicious for both Swann and the reader, as the process of discovering Odette is the same for they two. The first sign of Odette’s falsehood is suggested by her financial necessities which make Swann a necessary help for her.  Swann begins to spy Odette because he thinks she is been unfaithful. At this point he is excited by the idea of knowing Odette’s other life, which remains a secret for him. He is fascinated with the idea of discovering the truth about Odette, which is especially related to her sexual life. His first attitude regarding Odette’s infidelity is that of a scientist or of a doctor in sexual matters. At the same time, he is an artist finding out the secret of a masterpiece. A potential forbidden life of Odette makes her more attractive to Swann as a mystery which involves a work of art.

Swann discovers that Forcheville met Odette in her house. Forcheville becomes a rival for Swann. Mainly because Mme Verdurin sees the relationship between Swann and Odette too dangerous for her. Swann is taking away Odette from Mme Verdurin. That is the reason for finding a substitute for Swann. From now on, Swann is put apart from the faithful.   Swann discovers gradually Odette’s multiple affairs in France and abroad. She has had a lot of lovers both for money or pleasure. At this point the missing past of Odette begins to appear. Swann is now completely jealous of been missing Odette. He feels anxious and he needs to know everything about her.

The second important scene regarding Odette’s truth takes place when Swann receives an anonymous letter containing all Odette’s affairs (hetero- and homosexual ones).

Finally, Odette tells the truth to Swann who is horrified by it. Swann’s approach to Odette’s sexuality is mainly conformed by a medical perspective. As Rivers argues, the characters in the novel show contradictory selves (‘kindness and cruelty, sadism and altruism’). According to him, this expression concerns mainly the 19th century medical idea of a homosexual person as a kind of schizophrenic. Proust would include himself in this group and it could also explained the idea earlier mentioned of “performing selves”.

Together with Odette’s confession, the approach to sexuality conforms Foucault’s explanation concerning the relation between the discourse of confession and the scientific sexual discourse, both of them extremely important in the Western history and culture. According to Foucault, the methodology of confession is similar to that of science as they are based in observation and interrogation. The ‘truth of sex’ was born in the Western and institutionalized by religion and then, by the medical science which gave the correct view of sexuality. However, in this case, Odette has another truth which conforms a very challenging idea of the genre. A whole new set of sexual possibilities is being presented in literature, as Freud did in psychology. As Rivers points out, the whole assumptions of female roles in the Western world are completely distorted provoking thus a revision of the meaning of “man” and “woman”.

The whole past of Odette comes out: she was sold by her own mother. This particular fact could be seen in relation to her successively acts of selling herself. A possible psychoanalytical explanation could be that of “the compulsion to repeat” explained by Freud. It consists in a traumatic experience lived in childhood which the subject makes to come back again and it is related to the death drive because it is presented as a threat for the self. The compulsion to repeat would be an instinct because it is stronger than the pleasure principle. This behaviour of Odette is linked to a sadomasochist figure who, as Haberdstadt affirms, connects cruelty with pleasure. The sadomasochist used to find love in his childhood in exchange of something else which could not be pleasurable.

Finally, the relationship between Swann and Odette is inverted regarding the beginning, as it is Swann who becomes the victim of Odette’s lies.

Fetishism in Proust’s “Swann in Love”

cover_9070727_clippedIn In search of Lost Time, there are many topics regarding sexuality which can be analysed. I will be posting them during the next days as part of my MA research, all them based on the chapter “Swann in Love”. By now, there is here a brief thoughts on Fetishism.

The first scene suggesting fetishism takes place at the Verdurins. Mme Verdurin likes to touch the bronze grapes and to think her husband feels jealous about it. Swann too engages with this pleasure. It is a slight suggestion of Mme Verdurin homosexuality as the round form of the grapes reminds a feminine body or some parts of it. Moreover, Swann, of whom we know to be heterosexual, enjoys it too.

A similar scene takes place in the carriage between Swann and Odette. Swann finds a new pleasure touching Odette’s cattleyas, which will result later on in the sexual act. Even language itself expresses a continuum from the object, which is also related to her breast, to the whole woman, that is from the part to the whole – which is typical in fetishism. The use of the metaphor ‘do a cattleya’ becomes a substitute for “making love”. Thus, the “cattleya” becomes a sexual symbol which refers to the object itself and to a reality beyond itself.

‘And long afterwards, when the rearrangement (or, rather, the ritual pretence of a rearrangement) of her cattleyas had quite fallen into desuetude, the metaphor “Do a cattleya”, transmuted into a simple verb which they would employ without thinking when they wished to refer to the act of physical possession (…) And perhaps this particular manner of saying “to make love” did not mean exactly the same thing as its synonyms’.

Art and love, as well as the artistic and sexual object are slightly confused with each other. It is the music of Vinteuil which makes Swann feel love. As a result, he thinks to love Odette, however, he could be in love with the music or with what music provokes on him. Later on, Swann will ask Odette to play this some piece of music again. He feels pleasure listening it, especially when it is played by Odette. Music works as a substitute for the sexual act; it is a part of Odette who plays it. And, again, like the cattleyas, music is a continuum of Odette, and the sexual desire goes from the artistic object to the real person, which in this case becomes the sexual object. This relation between sex and music is clearly expressed by language identifying ‘playing again’ with ‘kissing again’.

Painting too is involved in Swann’s love for Odette. She represents Swann’s aesthetic values and she resembles Botticelli’s portrait of Zipporah, of which Swann in in love. Swann likes Odette because she represents Zipporah’s features. Therefore, Odette is subordinated to the aesthetic values at the same time that she herself has a value making possible an aesthetic experience.

Odette embodies art in the tangible world joining the artistic object and the sexual one in herself. It fits with the idea of Halberdstadt who argues that in perversion, a part of the lover believes in the real beloved and, another part, in the fantastic one.

‘Or else she would look at him sulkily, and he would see once again a face worthy to figure in Botticceli’s “Life of Moises”; he would place it there, giving to Odette’s neck the necessary inclination; and when he had finished his portrait in tempera, in the fifteenth century, on the wall of the Sistine, the idea that she was non the less in the room with him still, by the piano, at that very moment, ready to be kissed and enjoyed, the idea of her material existence would sweep over him with so violent an intoxication that (…) he would fling himself upon this Botticceli maiden and kiss and bite her cheeks’

I would like to note that, according to Deleuze, in Proust, the revelation of the essence belongs to art. In this case, Swann apprehends Beauty through music and painting, and then he is able to find this essence in Odette, who becomes a part of the work of art.

The important point is that Odette never constitutes a sexual object by herself but it is always needed the presence of a mediator, in this case, of art.               


Baroque and Modernism: Two Styles, Two Souls

3965eadf8b2b9be1b353f0f6b2b1faa3_660The narrator of Death in Venice suggests a very interesting and challenging topic. Among all the worries about art, so typical in Mann’s novels, this one particularly presents a thoughtful question. Is the artistic style and form linked to morality? One could write pages and pages trying to reply and analyse such a dilemma, because it is a dilemma as far as such a reflection involves not just art but the whole of society.

Gustav Aschenbach, the main character of the story, is an artist and as such he is experimenting a change in his conception of beauty. Gustav’s art, since its beginning, has represented the European decadence, a feeling broadly felt in Europe since the turn of the century. But Gustav feels a rebirth in his appreciation of beauty, one which has to do with simplicity. At this point, the narrator shows a chain of reflections, of wonderings regarding such simplicity. If art is simple in its forms, will then moral suffer a simplification?

“does not this in its turn signify a simplification, a morally simplistic view of the world and of human psychology, and thus also a resurgence of energies that are evil, forbidden, morally impossible?”

He is completely joining the representation of art, that is, of aesthetics, to morality. Modernist works indeed are replete by discussions on ethics and aesthetics. To simplify the form of art could mean here for the narrator a primitiveness, a coming back to human simplicity on its moral statements, a less deep thought.

It is possible however to take a general look in the history of literature to affirm, until some extent, the possibility of this statement. If there is a moment in which the form, the style and the meaning of art is opposed to the simplicity looked for by some modernists artists, it is Baroque. The Spanish Golden Age is full of incomprehensible poets, it can be actually considered the most difficult literature in Spain. And, indeed, this literature coincides with the Imperial time, the discovery of America, and the Inquisiton. All that is marked by a strong institutional power, especially the reign, the state and the Church in their most hierarchical display. There is a lack of simplicity both in art and in the representatives of society. It is the opposite side of Mann’s dilemma; the moral code was highly established and controlled. Moreover, when Modernism arrived at Spain, it was condemned by the Church, especially because of its simplistic and free spirituality, which comes back to Mann’s idea.

Modernism is also known by its polemical topics which have to do with their aesthetic representations. Therefore, Mann is not far away of reality, and the adequacy of style and interiority seems to be a fascinating topic within the sociology of literature.