Welcome to Project Dog-eared. As avid readers we realised that we go through a multitude of emotions and thoughts at different stages of reading any book. But, once we have finished the book, our impression of it was often based on one predominant emotion or memory of the book rather than our whole reading experience. We wondered if this could be improved upon , and came up with the idea of Project Dog-eared.

Here, we intend to choose a book - any book - some times agreed, but mostly our own individual choices and document our thoughts and emotions as we read along. We then intend to collate it all together at the end, possibly into a review.

In other words, this is just the good old scribble at the corner of the book, but more organised and shared live on the net. We must point out the reading is not collaborative but only a collective assortment - that is - unlike book clubs you don’t discuss the books as you read along. However some of you might want to follow what others are reading and comment on others’ posts and interact. So if you feel this is something that you would be interested in, give us a shout. We will log you on here. Then all you have to do is pick up a book of your choice and start reading and posting.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

The Castle by Franz Kafka, 4

   From the mouthpiece came a humming, the likes of which K. had never heard on the telephone before. It was as though the humming of countless childlike voices—but it wasn’t humming either, it was singing, the singing of the most distant, of the most utterly distant, voices—as though a single, high-pitched yet strong voice had emerged out of this humming in some quite impossible way and now drummed against one’s ears as if demanding to penetrate more deeply into something other than one’s wretched hearing. K. listened without telephoning, with his left arm propped on the telephone stand he listened thus. 
   He had no idea how long, not until the landlord tugged at his coat, saying that a messenger had come for him. “Go,” shouted K., beside himself, perhaps into the telephone, for now someone answered. (20, emphasis added) 

Someone was able to answer the phone even if K. never dialed a number in the first place. What principle is operating here? Dream logic? The unconscious? Magical realism? Science fiction? Or is it simply a well calculated joke? From humming to singing, from children’s voices to distant singing, from listening to waiting, from static to a definite reply: there’s an apparent breach of the fundamental laws of nature here. Or is there only error in observable dimensions? A warping of spacetime, “in some quite impossible way”. But as suggested in one of the previous quoted passages, no errors ever occur; if one does occur, who can say that it is an error? 

The Castle is a palpable example of spontaneous realism, a tendency in writing characterized by shifts in narrative direction. The scene shifts may be dreamlike or not, they may be logical or not, and magical or not. Whatever the case, a spontaneous realist novel is a record of transformations: of characters, scenes, and details. The changes in the appearance and attitudes of characters may be gradual or sudden—without due warning, without being prefigured—and irrevocable.

Frieda’s disposition changes from a resolute lover to a wronged woman. Jeremias, one of the assistants, suddenly changes appearance from a youthful person to an old, infirm man “whose flesh sometimes gave one the impression that it wasn’t quite alive” (237). Some major changes are explained in flashback stories of the villagers, where a family’s economic standing suddenly plummets, their vigor turning into wretchedness, and their health deteriorating to a pitiable state. The witness to all these instabilities is tenacious K. whose search for work and recognition is rebuffed by the Count’s authorities.

“We are not your guardian angels and don’t have to follow you every single byway. Well, all right. The chairman thinks differently. Of course the actual decision, which is handled by the Count’s authorities, is not something he can speed up. But within his sphere of influence he seems to want to arrive at a truly generous temporary settlement, which you are free to accept or to reject, he is offering you temporarily the post of school janitor.” (90-91) 

To be more precise, K. was reprieved from unemployment and was now faced with underemployment. He was offered a temporary job as a school janitor. For someone trained in a technical job as a land surveyor, this was an absurd proposition. K. refused the offer. But consistent with the novel’s spontaneous absurdity, he was later made to accept the job. By the end of the book, the landlady fancied another job for him, a plausible job but utterly incompatible to his skills as surveyor. Given the serious comedy of what came before, the kind of job he was offered by the landlady adds laughter to injury.


For all the ridiculous tangles K. found himself in, his uncompleted journey to the Castle can be read as a heroic effort.

Certainly, I am ignorant, that at least is true, sadly enough for me, but the advantage here is that those who are ignorant take greater risks, and so I’ll gladly put up with my deficient knowledge and its undoubtedly serious consequences for a little while, for as long as my energy holds out. (55) 

The irony is that K.’s journey also represents a missed opportunity. At the moment when he stumbled on a Castle authority, someone who could assist him in his troubles, he was not able (the author will not let him) to seize the day. Kafka presented a possible way out for K. but he did not allow him to even consider it. At the precise moment when a light is proferred K., he collapsed in exhaustion. Whatever K. (a person, a cog in the wheel) does is answerable to the built system in place. He elected to go through the motions even if there’s a stronger and stronger indication that all his efforts are doomed.

Thus the novel is destined to be an open metaphor, concerned as it is with the collapse of meaning and representation. Its cathartic encounters and transformations tend to emphasize the tragic comedy of human existence. It is a deeply religious text in the hermeneutic sense as it takes as its object the naked individual in the face of societal (and authorial) manipulations, in the face of machinations by an inscrutable power structure. But as a secular text, the novel is more open to inquiry, more robust in its possibilities. For example, the Castle can be seen as a metaphor for metaphors, a projection of all of man's yearnings and desires.

How suicidal happiness can be! (269) 

A metaphor for happiness, if you will. Metaphors are worth pursuing. Interpreting then becomes an exercise of freedom, even if the same appears as elusive and illusory as a hulking structure enclosed in fog.

“It isn’t easy to understand exactly what she is saying, for one doesn’t know whether she is speaking ironically or seriously, it’s mostly serious, but sounds ironic.” “Stop interpreting everything!” said K. (205) 

You said it, K.

(Note: This is my last post on the novel. All quotes are from Mark Harman’s translation of The Castle (Schocken Books, 1998).)


  1. It was interesting to follow your reading and I wish i had joined in the group read. I had read Castle a long time ago, and at that time, just having joined the professional world, it seemed to me a commentary on life at workplace and the disappointments it brings. It was like Kafka forewarning me: their assessment of you will never come close to your own assessment of you - and eventually they will convince you that the place they have thought for you is the correct one.
    At the beginning of a career it was a scary proposition, and I quickly brushed it away as too depressive, pessimistic.
    I think it is time to revisit and see what I make out of it now.

  2. That's a good reading as it's an idea that ties it with The Trial. K. (and Josef K.) desperately wanting to get out of the box, while the people around him already has pre-judged him.