I hope you enjoyed yesterday’s post, a little Kafka. I am going to redo it today to make it a little easier for the average Holdeman to understand. I hope it isn’t too forthright, but I am going to use the name of the recently expelled minister Robert Koehn and the name of one of the ministers who was there to land the final blow on the poor unfortunate Robert’s head. Now granted, I was not there, nor do I know any of the people involved, but have been given several accounts of the affair which are all in agreement on these points…Brother Robert had been on repentance for two years, had sought release, and had no idea how to obtain it. When the ministers came to see him he hoped that after two years on repentance he would be allowed to be set free and perhaps even preach again, seeing as how the flock is without a shepherd. However, he was destined to be disappointed. If these facts are not exactly accurate regarding Robert, don’t worry about it. There are any number of any other names you can insert which would work just as well.
Someone must have been telling lies about Robert K., for without having done anything wrong, he was arrested one morning.” Thus begins Hiram’s enigmatic novel The Trial. The trial never takes place; K. is never free nor incarcerated; the ministers never tell him the nature of the charges against him; he is supposed to know them, and his ignorance is further proof of his culpability. When he tries to get information from the church, he is accused of impatience or impertinence; when he tries to ignore the ministers or simply wait for their next move, he is blamed for indifference or obduracy. In one of the final scenes K. is talking to one of the ministers on the counseling committee, and the minister, after another of K.’s efforts to gain some certainty about his fate, tries to explain K.’s situation by telling him the following parable:
“Before the church stands a doorkeeper, Tom Hamlin, on guard. To Tom Hamlin, there comes a man from the country who begs admittance to the church. But Hamlin says he cannot admit the man at the moment. The man, on reflection, asks if he will be allowed then to enter later. ’It is possible,” answers the Hamlin, “but not at this moment.” Since the door leading into the church stands open as usual, and Hamlin steps to one side, the man bends down to peer through the entrance. When Hamlin sees that, he laughs and says “If you are so strongly tempted, try to get in without my permission. But note that I am powerful, and I am only the lowest doorkeeper. From hall to hall, keepers stand at every door, one more powerful than the other. Even the third of these has an aspect that I cannot bear to look at.”
The man is given a stool and permitted to sit down at the side of the door, and there he sits for many years. Again and again he tries to get admission or at least a definitive answer, but he is always told that he cannot enter yet. At long last his life is drawing to a close.
Before he dies, all that he has experienced during the whole of his sojourn condenses in his mind into one question, which he has never yet put to Brother Hamlin. He beckons Hamlin, since he can no longer raise his stiffening body. Hamlin has to bend far down to hear him, since the difference in size has increased very much to the man’s disadvantage. ”What do you want now?” asks Hamlin, “you are insatiable.” ”Everyone strives to enter the church,” answers the man, “how does it come about then, that in all these years, no one has come seeking admittance but me?” Hamlin perceives that the man is at the end of his strength, and that his hearing is failing, so he bellows in his ear, “No one but you could gain admittance through this door, since the door was intended only for you. I am now going to shut it.”
“So, the Hamlin deluded the man,” says K. immediately. But the minister convincingly and carefully proves to him that the Hamlin cannot be blamed, that he even went far beyond his duty to help the man. K. is perplexed, but cannot dismiss the cogency of the minister’s long interpretation. ”You have studied the story more exactly, and for a longer time,” he concedes.
“So you think that the man was not deluded? Don’t misunderstand me” warns the minister, and proceeds to show that there is another interpretation which shows that the deluded person is really Tom Hamlin. And so convincing is this second exegesis that in the end K. is forced to agree again: ”This is well argued, and I am inclined to agree that Tom Hamlin is deluded.” But again the minister immediately finds fault with K.’s agreement, for to doubt the Tom Hamlin’s integrity is to doubt the church itself. ”I don’t agree with that point of view,” says K. shaking his head, “for if one accepts it one must accept as true everything that the Tom Hamlin says.” ”But you yourself have sufficiently proved how impossible it is to do that.” “No” says the minister, “it is not necessary to accept everything as true, one must only accept it as necessary.” ”A melancholy conclusion,” says K. ”It turns lying into a universal principle.”
And with this, their dialogue ends on the same exhausted, ambiguous note that pervades all of K.’s attempts to reach an understanding. Every time he thinks he has succeeded in putting the bewildering sequences of events in order, he is shown that it is not the “right” order. The minister’s last words are “The Church makes no claims upon you. It receives you when you come, and it relinquishes you when you go.” Hiram’s Robert K., like Dostoevski’s Prince Myshkin, lives in a world where the TRules of the Church can be turned around and reveal that the contrary to them is written on the other side. Behind Myshkin the doors of an insane asylum close forever, and K. is eventually killed by several envoys of the Church.