Vanguard Spotlight Book of the Month: June 2015

Monthly Reads from ASU-Beebe Students, Faculty and Staff.

Faculty/Staff/Student Favorites

Each month Abington Library will feature a favorite book from a faculty, staff member, or student. They will give a brief synopsis of their chosen book. All books featured are available for check-out at the library. 

Featured ASU-Beebe Staff Member: Larry Ranney


About Larry

Larry Ranney, Ph.D is the Testing Administrator at the ASU- LRAFB.

About the Book

           Der Prozess (The Trial) by Franz Kafka

          I did not stumble into the bizarre and nightmarish world of Franz Kafka through reading one of his three novels: Der Prozess (The Trial), Das Schloss (The Castle) and Der Verschollene (The Man Who Disappeared)  earlier translated as Amerika. Rather, I first encountered Kafka in my German language class when we read an excerpt from his novel Der Prozess entitled "Vor dem Gesetz" or "Before the Law."  As we read the text, I was enthralled by the clarity and precision of his German prose, but the narrative I found incongruous and actually disturbing.  Why are these characters acting in such a strange manner and why is this odd situation even occurring?  Honestly, I was more confused and bewildered than the characters in the narrative. 

            We completed the Kafka assignment and progressed to Thomas Mann’s masterpiece Der Tod in Venedig (Death in Venice).  Mann’s prose was written with the same precision and clarity as Kafka’s narrative, but even more important, Mann’s narrative was plausible, lucid, and rational. I appreciated the craftsmanship and artistry of Der Tod in Venedig, but there was something about Kafka that compelled me to return to his works – one might even say events took a ‘Kafkaesque’ aspect. 

            As a young Army Officer stationed in Germany, I was selected to accompany the liaison which delivered classified military documents to the American Embassies behind the ‘Iron Curtain’ in Warsaw Pact nations such as Romania, Hungary, East Germany, and Kafka’s home Prague, Czechoslovakia (today the Czech Republic).  During the mission, our group was followed, shadowed, observed, harassed, delayed, pestered, annoyed, and hounded by the security forces every moment of the journey.  It was a Kafka situation lifted directly from his novels, and I often felt like the harassed and hapless Herr K. the central character in Der Prozess as he tries to maneuver through the nightmare labyrinth of a powerful and illogical judicial system specifically designed to mentally and physically destroy all hope of acquittal. 

            Today, the ubiquitous term coined from Kafka’s works is ‘Kafkaesque’ meaning a situation filled with alienation, physical and or psychological cruelty, parent–child conflicts, characters on a terrifying quest, characters caught in the illogical and nightmarish labyrinths of bureaucracy, and mystical transformations.  That experience in Prague was certainly Kafkaesque even more so when I learned it was forbidden to read or even own a copy of Prague’s most noted author.  Not one image of Kafka or any of his works could be seen in any bookstore in Prague (what few there were) only images of V.I. Lenin, Karl Marx, and the present ‘Glorious Leader’ of the so called People’s Republic.

            This visit only sparked my interest: why are the leaders of the Czech Worker’s Utopia so frightened of a mild mannered insurance adjuster who wrote stories in the late hours after a grinding day at the office.  As I read more of Kafka’s works especially Der Prozess, I realized why he struck such terror into the dedicated servants of the People’s Paradise, and my wonder and admiration for Kafka’s work has never ceased to expand and deepen.      

            Due to the limitations in a survey course, we do not read any of Kafka’s three novels in my World Literature II class; however, I do assign the novella Die Verwandlung (The Metamorphosis) a metaphorical story which depicts the enigmatic transformation of the traveling salesman Gregor Samsa into a giant insect one morning.  Similar to my first encounter with Kafka, many of my students find the text perplexing, puzzling, and baffling and do not like the narrative nor can they identify with the characters.

            Having experienced a similar reaction myself when reading Kafka for the first time, I do not find this unusual. Additionally, I believe reading Der Prozess or any of his other novels will not have the impact upon many of my students given their limited life experience. To really appreciate Kafka’s prophetic and disturbing Weltanschauung one must first experience the dreadful inefficiency, incompetence, delay, red tape, and egotistical arrogance of any bloated bureaucracy; many of my students have not yet suffered such an encounter, but they will without a doubt in the future.

            Thus, as an instructor and a devotee of Kafka, my desire is twofold: like me years ago, I hope some of my students will be sufficiently intrigued (or rather disturbed) by Kafka’s bizarre world and want to read more of his works. Secondly and more crucially, when one of these devoted students is standing in a never advancing line waiting for hours as an arrogant and incompetent bureaucrat attempts to locate some petty form which has been subsequently misplaced four times, they will turn to another wretched individual who has also been in the same line and remark: ‘I feel like Herr K. in The Trial. This is really Kafkaesque!’  At that moment, a thin, dark haired, thirtyish, well dressed insurance adjuster in the same line will smile and heartily agree.

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