Book Favourites

written on 06/08/2020
by Hubert Rauscher

It is a working principle of the authorities that they do not even consider the possibility of mistakes being made.

Kafka’s novel about someone's wasted efforts to gain access, for some purpose unknown to us, to a mysterious authority residing in a ‘castle’, is a timeless classic of German literature and one of the most comical novels ever written. The book is a brilliant satire about nonsensical organisation and administration for its own sake, but it can be interpreted in many profound ways.  

Even so, the book is an easy read; Kafka describes in crystal-clear language the struggle of the main character K to gain access into the bureaucracy of the castle’s administration, and the grotesque explanations of other characters in the novel about how the authority works.

The smallest change on his desk, the removal of a dirty mark that has been there for ever, anything like that can upset a man […]. Well, of course nothing of the kind bothers Klamm, there can be no question of that, even if it would bother anyone else in any line of work you like to mention. All the same, we are in duty bound to watch over Klamm’s comfort by removing troublesome factors if they appear to us potentially upsetting, even if they do not, as is very probable, upset him at all.

Everyone around the authority appears to have an explanation for the officials’ actions, but they often contradict themselves, and the activities of the authority itself are ambiguous. The villagers even praise this as a feature of the authority and its officials.

The novel breaks off when there seems to be another possibility for K to access the authority. Kafka did not finish the book. The magnificent, in parts surrealistic and extremely funny book about the ultimate bureaucracy is a must-read for all public administration staff.

There are only supervising authorities. To be sure, they’re not intended to detect mistakes in the vulgar sense of the word, since there are no mistakes, and even if there is a mistake, as in your own case, who’s to say that it’s really a mistake in the long run?

Franz Kafka | Das Schloβ | Anaconda Verlag, 2007 | 416 Seiten | ISBN-13: 978-3866471061

Franz Kafka | The Castle, translated by Anthea Bell (quotations are taken from this translation) | Oxford University Press Inc., 2009 | ISBN 978–0–19–923828–6