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A reflection of modern judicial practices in franz kafkas short story in the penal colony

  1. The two arguments that Socrates presents in the Republic are still compelling. According to Nussbaum, interpreting narrative is "a messier, less determinate, more mysterious matter" than unpacking the meaning of philosophical argumentation.
  2. Schocken Books, 1971 , 145.
  3. On the grave is an inscription prophesizing that the Commandant will rise again and lead his adherents from the teahouse to recover the colony. Some of the women listening apparently fainted because of the gruesome descriptions.

Like traditional Biblical parables, Kafka used highly symbolic characters and situations to express metaphysical questions and longings. This essay also reads "The Penal Colony" as a parable that exposes the paradoxical nature of the law, but it does not treat the parable as a genre that works exclusively at the level of the abstract and universal. By focusing on the literal e.

The soldier is accused of disobeying his superior officer. The Explorer is troubled when he finds out that the condemned man does not know the accusation against him and did not receive a trial.

The Officer in charge explains that his guiding judicial principle is that "Guilt is never to be doubted.

In the penal colony Essay Examples

The Officer is much more interested in the technicalities of the execution than the niceties of legal procedure. The actual execution is to be carried out by a complex apparatus designed by the former Commandant of the penal colony and maintained by the Officer. The machine tortures the condemned man in a process that brutally mimics and transforms the sexual act. The condemned man is strapped naked onto something akin to a bed and the top part of the apparatus, a set of knife-like needles, automatically descends, piercing his body and excreting a fluid that inscribes the sentence upon his flesh.

For the first six hours of the writing process, the condemned man "suffers only pain" 149 but as the needles pierce his internal organs more deeply, he achieves a form of enlightenment that culminates in death. At first the Explorer seems disinterested in the entire process. When he learns that the Officer has condemned the soldier based on his own arbitrary judgment, he is troubled but does not raise any objection, reasoning that "extraordinary measures were needed in a penal colony and that military discipline must be enforced to the last.

Although he disapproves of the execution, he does not express his reservations to the Officer or do anything to intervene. Instead, he vaguely hopes that the new Commandant of the penal colony, who apparently did not approve of the apparatus, might gradually reform the barbaric methods being deployed.

And although the Explorer is disturbed and fascinated by the spectacle of suffering experienced on the apparatus, he does not seem to notice the particular absurdity of the crime that the soldier was condemned to die for.

According to the Officer, the soldier was required to work as a servant during the day and a sentry during the night. When the captain found the soldier asleep, he had him condemned for the dereliction of a duty that he could not possibly have fulfilled.

The Explorer is repelled by the judicial proceedings and especially the cruelty of the torture machine, but not, apparently, by the absurd responsibilities assigned to the soldier.

‘Guilt is always beyond doubt!’ Franz Kafka’s 'In der Strafkolonie' (In the Penal Colony)

The turning point in the story comes when a minor malfunction in the execution process causes the Officer to despair, admitting that the apparatus is no longer in good repair because the new Commandant, and in fact the rest of the colony, has come to disapprove of it. The Officer is the last open adherent of the traditional system of justice. He is anxious because he suspects that the new Commandant plans to use the Explorer to legitimize his plans to end the use of the machine.

The Officer realizes that the critical judgment of an eminent foreigner would then strengthen the case for abolishing the traditional procedure altogether. When the explorer reluctantly admits that he does not approve of the procedure 159 the Officer suddenly frees the condemned man, strips off his clothes, and binds himself to the apparatus. For his own sentence, he chooses the words "Be Just. The Explorer chooses not to intervene, feeling "he had no right to obstruct the officer in anything" 163 and he watches impassively as the machine malfunctions and inflicts a horrible death, unaccompanied by any enlightenment.

If it did, then it would be possible to interpret "The Penal Colony" as a fairly straightforward critique of the brutality of a more primitive form of justice and an endorsement of the modern approach to criminal jurisprudence: In fact, many commentators still hold this view. Nevertheless, the final scene casts doubt upon this reading.

  • A Historical Introduction Oxford;
  • On the grave is an inscription prophesizing that the Commandant will rise again and lead his adherents from the teahouse to recover the colony;
  • I want to suggest a different view;
  • The book narrates the tale of a former military officer who seeks his fortune in South America;
  • Colonialism and the Rule of Law Ann Arbor:

The Explorer is shown a teahouse, in which the old Commandant is ignominiously buried. On the grave is an inscription prophesizing that the Commandant will rise again and lead his adherents from the teahouse to recover the colony. Unable to make sense of what he sees in the teahouse, the Explorer goes to the harbor where he bargains with a ferryman to take him to his ship; he notices that the condemned man and another soldier have followed him.

Fearing that they might try to jump in his boat "the explorer lifted a heavy knotted rope from the floor boards, threatened them with it, and so kept them from attempting the leap. Military Justice and Modern Law Readings of the story have tended to focus either on the sado-masochistic dimensions of the story 10 or its commentary on law and justice.

Trained as a lawyer, some of his most well-known works such as The Trial explore the paradox of the law. In "Kafka, Genealogy, and the Spiritualization of Politics," Jane Bennet presents a convincing interpretation of "In the Penal Colony," that foregrounds the way that the story "exposes the injustice in the wish for justice.

Nevertheless, she argues that the method reflects the desire for certainty that pervades any system of criminal justice. The Officer insists, "Guilt is never to be doubted. According to Bennett, this travesty of legal procedure reveals closure as the ideal of the legal system, even an adversarial system such as our own. Punishment presumes a high level of certainty and therefore the process of judgment must both allow and limit ambiguity.

The story presents an extreme illustration of the way that the desire for certainty is easily transformed into an approach that achieves certainty by systematically excluding any contradictory evidence. The Officer is particularly proud of the way that torture on the apparatus transforms the condemned prisoners. He insists, "Enlightenment comes to the most dull-witted. Nothing more happens that that the man begins to understand the inscription. Of course, the absurdity of this position is apparent given that enlightenment takes place just as the condemned man dies.

Nevertheless, the story points to the way that both the authoritarian and liberal understandings of justice 13 insist upon a link between punishment, enlightenment, and moral reform; it exposes the way that this legitimizing function can obscure the reality of punishment. Its main limitation is that it focuses on the way that the Officer and his apparatus embody injustice within the wish for Justice.

Contents related to this chapter

Thus it is largely consistent with the traditional interpretation that sees the story as a critique of and fascination with the archaic, authoritarian system of justice. Although the Explorer initially appears as either a neutral observer, or even a heroic figure who rescues the condemned man from his fate, Kafka includes a series of details that undermine this view. Understanding the way that the Explorer might be implicated in the violence of the colonial regime is especially important given that the Explorer is a character that the reader of the story is likely to identify with.

Like the reader, the Explorer is a somewhat reluctant observer, both fascinated and repelled by a machine that is used for torture and death. He is described as someone "conditioned by European ways of thought" 155 with a humanitarian sensibility. He is an outsider "with no selfish interest in the matter" 155 yet he concludes "the injustice of the procedure and the inhumanity of the execution were undeniable.

This time, however, the threat comes from the Explorer, the symbol of humanitarianism and reform-minded legality. When the condemned man and the soldier attempt to follow him onto the boat, he threatens to hit them with a heavy knotted rope. This seems to suggest that the Explorer too is willing to use violence to exercise domination.

In a letter to Kurt Wolff, Kafka wrote that he was unhappy with the ending of the story. His diary included drafts of alternate endings, including one in which an apparition of the Officer appears to the Explorer and tells him " I was executed on your command. But culpability for what? For the end of the authoritarian order? This would suggest a certain nostalgia for the old form of justice. I want to suggest a different view.

The Explorer is guilty not because he contributed to the dissolution of the authoritarian legal system of the Old Commandant and his last faithful Officer, but rather because the alternative he embodies cannot live up to its humanitarian aspirations. In the version that Kafka decided to publish, the ending leaves the reader with an uncanny feeling.

It does not leave the reader with a feeling of confidence that the destruction of the torture machine definitively marks the end of the old order and would be replaced with modern judicial procedures and fair treatment. Why would the condemned now free prisoner want to flee the island if a new humanitarian era was emerging? Why would the Explorer flee like a criminal if he had just contributed to reforming the colony in line with his principles?

The Colonial Context In order to answer these questions, we must consider the colonial context of the story, a feature that many previous commentaries have overlooked. The book narrates the tale of a former military officer who seeks his fortune in South America. Among other scenes of colonial brutality, The Sugar Baron describes a stockade used by plantation owners to punish disobedient workers.

Other volumes in the series also describe scenes of both native and foreign brutality in Central America and East Africa as recounted by German travelers. The title "In the Penal Colony," however, is the only aspect of the story that specifically refers to the practice of deportation. The rest of the story seems to focus on the practice of military justice in general and the dynamics of colonialism in particular.

Textual evidence from "In the Penal Colony" provides clues suggesting that the story takes place in an overseas colony where a European power despotically governs a native population. The Officer replies, "Of course. The Officer is keenly aware of the performative nature of colonial power. He describes with great nostalgia the glory days under the Old Commandant when executions were widely-attended, public spectacles. The military uniform, typically contrasted with native nakedness, is one of the tropes of savagery and civilization.

The uniform symbolizes civilization and therefore the legitimacy of the colonial project. The Officer is attached to this a reflection of modern judicial practices in franz kafkas short story in the penal colony of civilization because he is so deeply implicated in the barbarism that the colonial regime is supposed supplant.

Of course, criticism of the practices of a penal colonial does not necessarily imply a more general indictment of colonialism. Penal colonies also existed in remote domestic areas and were not always part of a more general system of foreign domination.

Siberia in Russia is the best-known examples. But there are clues in the story to suggest that there are racial or cultural differences between the governing military regime and the population. In the first paragraph the Explorer describes the condemned man as a "stupid-looking, wide-mouthed" creature 140which was a widely-used racial stereotype of non-Western people at the time.

The Explorer also concludes that "he could not understand a word," a statement that draws attention to linguistic difference and confirms that the condemned man apparently an enlisted man does not belong to the same cultural group as the officers who govern the island.

A final signifier of cultural and racial difference is the statement that the condemned man allegedly made when he was discovered asleep on duty. By the time Kafka wrote the story in 1916, this juxtaposition of the authoritarian and reformist modes of colonial governance was well established.

Liberal imperialism was a late-nineteenth century reform movement that justified empire as a temporary expedient aimed at bringing the benefits of rational government, fair taxation, and modern education to the oppressed masses overseas. The humanitarian argument that foreign intervention was necessary to prevent rapacious African tribes and leaders from slaughtering or enslaving their ethnic rivals was as convincing to many people then as it is today.

The partisans of this "humanitarian" imperialism were fiercely critical of the brutal practices employed by the British in the Boer War and, more generally, were opposed to the despotic government and summary justice used by other European powers abroad. Germany, a late entrant into the colonial project, justified its own participation in the scramble for Africa on the basis that it would be a kinder, gentler colonial power.

He is the liberal intellectual who prides himself on his ability to recognize the barbarism of the existing colonial regime but is reticent about denouncing it. The most obvious reason for his reticence is his commitment to objectivity and neutrality, which easily degenerates into a sort of moral relativism and paralysis.

As he ponders whether to intervene in the torture and execution of the condemned man, he rationalizes, "Were he to denounce this execution or actually try to stop it, they could say to him: You are a foreigner, mind your own business.

He could make no answer to that. There is a second reason, however, that the Explorer is unwilling to intervene in the execution. He reflects on the possibility that the summary justice and even cruelty of the Officer might be necessary to prevent chaos and disorder in the colony.