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“Reading Kafka’s “The Trial”, especially for the first time, we often experience a blend of precision and obscurity; words, sentences, and single events are clear in themselves, but are linked to each other in ways we cannot always grasp. ” The blend of precision and obscurity is one of the most remarkable aspects of the style in which “The Trial” is written. The device is used constantly and consistently throughout the novel, and we assume that it is used like all other stylistic devices, i. e. to throw an aspect of the novel into relief.
In an attempt to determine, if possible, what this aspect is, follows a detailed analysis of two paragraphs on pages 159 to 160 that I deem to be characteristic of the blend of precision and obscurity. In the two paragraphs, detail and precision interact with each other to produce a blend. Almost all descriptions are quite in depth, such as the description of the “old woman wrapped in a warm shawl”, yet these detailed descriptions are not connected with anything else in the book. The old woman does not reappear anywhere else in the book, and no symbolism, hidden meaning or reference becomes apparent after having analyzed the description.
In more conventional novels, almost every character that appears is in some way, whether clear or obscure, connected with the main plot or a sub plot. Not so with “The Trial”. The old woman’s importance and connection, if indeed there is one, remains open to speculation: perhaps she belongs to the court, perhaps the “scrap of what looked like carpet” that K sees in the same paragraph comes from her “warm shawl”, perhaps this enigma is simply a device used by Kafka to confuse the reader. The possibilities and perhapses stretch on into infinity until they are lost in the obscurity of the cathedral.
Kafka describes an object, person, or concept in great detail, with very few omissions in order to give the described every semblance of reality, but the meaning of the described is left completely open to the reader. This is the particular blend which casts its mottled shadow on the novel. A possible interpretation of this presence of this blend would be to say that it serves to give the novel a dreamlike, surreal quality. One knows from one’s own dreams that certain aspects remain crystal clear in our memory, yet one can almost never remember for sure what the aspect’s role in the dream was.
It is the same way with the blend: an aspect may be clear, but the rest is hazy. Supporting this interpretation would be the fact that K cannot read: he opens his album and “looks through the pages for a while”, probably only looking at the pictures without reading the text, and eventually has to stop this futile exercise ostensibly because it is too dark. The dream interpretation would also explain the randomness of events, objects, and people. Since the subconscious is left to work unrestricted in dreams, the products can be quite random and utterly impossible to link together or make sense of using logical means.
The blend could also be viewed as a method to accentuate the confusion and plunge the reader yet deeper into the obscurity. In the second paragraph, when the candles have been lit, Kafka states that the candles “only made the darkness more intense. ” If the candles and light are taken to represent precision and the darkness obscurity, then Kafka is clearly showing why he has worked the blend in to the novel. It is impossible to judge anything unless one compares it to something else. It is by contrast that we determine what is what. If one is constantly in the dark, one will not consider it dark, because one has become accustomed.
Perhaps the candles of precision are there to throw the confusion and the haziness into sharp (or hazy? ) relief. Kafka only allows in any light so that the reader can see that he is bathed in darkness and confusion, and be attracted to the light. However, when the reader reaches the light he realizes the light is hollow as well: it is only aesthetically different from the darkness. In the second paragraph Joseph K. examines an altarpiece with his electric light. K. sees a Knight and looks at it for a “considerable period” analyzing it in detail without really understanding what the Knight is doing, nor why he was there. However, when K.
shifts his light to see the rest of the picture, he realizes that the Knight is only a small piece of a “conventional treatment of Christ’s burial”. The parallel between K. and the reader is too strong to be overlooked. The reader, while reading the book, is looking through it one page at a time, attempting to analyze details and connect events. It is as if we too are looking at disconnected close-ups of a large picture. Like a picture, the events in the book are non-linear. They can be read any which way and in any order and still retain the same meaning. Kafka is essentially telling us as readers that we ought to shift our lights as K.
does so that the whole of the picture is lit. If the reader focuses solely on one precise aspect, the rest of the picture is bathed in obscurity. Kafka, through the device of precision and obscurity, is telling the reader to take a step backwards and view the novel not as a succession of events like other conventional novels, but rather like a picture, where one’s eyes and thoughts may rove freely along any lines that they choose. Only then will the whole come into focus. With reference to the last paragraph, I have been guilty of doing exactly what Kafka tells us not to do: i. e. analyzing in detail a small part of the text.
Thus any conclusion that I may draw from these paragraphs alone are bound to be erroneous. However, draw a conclusion I will. I believe the blend of obscurity and precision is used to immerse the reader completely into the confusion of the text while at the same time advising the reader to take a step backwards. Given Kafka’s rather eccentric sense of humor, I think it is quite possible that he believed pulling the wool over the reader’s eyes was uproariously funny, especially when the wool has directions telling how to lift the wool sewn on the inside, where it is too dark to see.