There's nothing especially objectionable in Digby's post on Guantanamo and the Supreme Court today, but it does show how poorly Americans--even relatively educated, literate Americans--understand literature.
I think Kafka thought he was writing a parable when he wrote The Trial.Now The Trial is not precisely a parable in the way that, say, "Before the Law" is a parable. It's too long; it has too many elements of allegory and satire; it's too insistently novelistic and too modern. I've sometimes thought that The Trial is to the folk parables of the Ashkenazim what Ulysses is to the classical epic: a great, wicked pastiche of the form that becomes its own self-defined and self-defining genre.
But I havent' come to categorize. I just want to note that Kafka wasn't writing some small tale about the excesses of bureaucracy or the perversions of judicial processes. He was writing about the absurdity of life in society, circumscribed by State and God, driven in every moment to behave at the bidding and in the interest of a vast, impenetrable, and interlocking system of systems that is opaque not only to its victims but also to its operators, and possibly to itself. This is the often unremarked theme that makes The Trial one of the great works of prose literature. Unlike 1984, which certainly covers similar territory, and which is an extraordinary book but not a great one, The Trial isn't only a tale about the depredations of tyranny and the excesses man is capable of in order to acquire and retain power. 1984 posits explicitly a tyranny that understands what it is doing. O'Brien, the Inner Party Member, explains this precisely to Winston Smith during his long torture and rehabilitation. Even though it ends hopelessly, Orwell's novel nevertheless locates the source of tyranny in human actors with wicked but understandable human intentions. They are men who want power, have acquired it, have determined to keep it, and have resolved to undertake any measure to do so. That's monstrous, but it's also almost comforting, for even as O'Brien claims that the Party has constructed an infallible mechanism for maintaining control, we know that so long as the Party is made up of and directed by men, no matter how resolved, then it is fallible and mortal.
The Trial has no party, no central committees, no intentions, no self-conscious authorities. It is a bottomless depth. Within every wheel is another wheel; every mirror faces another mirror. Its authority is concealed and concealing, obscured and obscuring, endless, personless, utterly implacable, and totally inhuman. It has no reason, no goals, no purpose, and no desire. Although it operates through human interlocutors, it is utterly and completely alien. Unlike Orwell's Party, it isn't malevolent, nor evil exactly. Kafka's authority is a vast, meteorological force of nature: a disaster, perhaps, but something totally impenetrable to moral or ethical speculation. It's more mysterious than God. His vision is terrifying for precisely these reasons. Winston Smith, at last, is able to understand the reason for his imprisonment, torture, and execution. Josef K. is not. Josef K. is the truer exemplar of our condition than Winston Smith. Even the most vicious and powerful among us, the Presidents and Vice-Presidents and Candidates-for-Life, just as much as poor Josef K.'s judges and executioners, are operating in the service of something totally beyond their capacity to understand.