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The Myth of Sisyphus

Albert Camus

Appendix: …The Works of Franz Kafka

The Myth of Sisyphus

Appendix: …The Works of Franz Kafka, page 2

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Summary

The works of Franz Kafka present an interesting case: Camus opens by asserting that Kafka's works are to be re-read, that they are open to many possible interpretations, and that they are highly symbolic in nature.

The Trial reads as a work of absurd fiction. It tells the story of Joseph K., who is accused, brought before court, and condemned, without ever finding out for what crime he has been charged. Having been condemned, his life returns to normal, but he struggles to find out what he has been charged with and to appeal the court's decision. The novel ends with Joseph K.'s execution, and no explanation is given.

Everything seems natural to Joseph K. despite the fact that he inhabits a world with a peculiar logic that he accepts. This peculiar logic is due to Kafka's complex symbolism, which he uses to link the ordinary world with the world of our spiritual ambitions and supernatural anxieties. In The Trial we see all the anxiety, ambiguity, and hope of our spiritual life projected into the very concrete realities of a judicial system and bureaucracy. The Trial reads as absurd to the extent that it discusses the spiritual life in terms of concrete, everyday realities.

Camus explains that logic and ordinariness are important to tragedy and the absurd. The horror found in tragedy and the absurd come from seeing frightful consequences fall out as a part of a natural, logical order. The perverse logic of the absurd, and of Kafka's works, forces us to recognize that what repels us also makes sense.

In The Castle, Kafka goes beyond the absurd world he describes in The Trial and tries to find an explanation or some form of hope. The Castle tells the story of a character named K., who arrives in a town because he has been appointed the Land Surveyor to the castle in the town. However, K. finds that he is unable to communicate with the castle, and the villagers refuse to believe that he has any authority. This story is less dark and hopeless compared with The Trial, as there is always a sense of hope that K. might make some breakthrough. He tries to become a part of the community, and enters into a relationship with a woman who has had some tie to the castle. At the end of the story, he abandons this woman for the family that is the most outcast and least accepted by either the castle or the villagers. Camus reads The Castle as a deification of the absurd, a kind of existential leap similar to Kierkegaard's.

The Trial shows us that there is no hope to be found on earth, and so Kafka seems to conclude in The Castle that this makes hope in God all the more sensible. The lucidity brought on by absurd reasoning is sterile, so Kafka rejects it in favor of an existential leap.

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