The Trial

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In the wake of revelations of the compilation by the government of a permanent database about people’s activities from disparate online sources, two books have been bandied about as necessary reads: 1984 and The Trial. I re-read 1984 a few years ago, but had never dipped into The Trial. Swinging by my local library to pick up a copy, I noticed that all computer screens were on the same site. It’s official, the homeless have found refuge in FB.

Josef K is accosted/arrested at home one morning by two men who will not reveal what the charge is. They claim to be too low level to have any knowledge of the matter, but that the higher levels never make any mistake. Forced to remain in his room, he is then summoned to join the inspector in another boarder’s room (Fraulein Burstner) where he is told that he is arrested, with no specific charge, and is to go about his business as usual. K is a high level officer at the bank, so heads out to work intending to laugh off the whole experience. As the months go by, he begins to unravel, becoming fixated on his trial, hiring a lawyer who claims to be greasing the wheels behind the scenes but that the time isn’t right for a petition. Ultimately, two men come for him and kill him, looking into his eyes to see how he takes the verdict.

There couldn’t be much doubt about what they would do. Signs of it could already be seen in the fact that the first petition had still not been submitted, although the trial had already lasted for months, and that according to the lawyer everything was still in the beginning stages, which was of course admirably suited to lull the defendant to sleep and keep him in a state of helplessness, so that they could assault him suddenly with the verdict, or at least announce that the inquiry had concluded unfavorably for him and was being passed on to higher administrative authorities.

For once the court was going to run into a defendant who knew how to stand up for his rights.

The petition had to be written. If he couldn’t find time at the office, which was quite likely, he would have to do it nights at home. And if the nights weren’t sufficient, he would have to take a leave of absence. Anything but stop halfway, that was the most senseless course of all, not only in business, but anywhere, at any time. Admittedly, the petition meant an almost endless task. One needn’t be particularly faint of heart to be easily persuaded of the impossibility of ever finishing the petition. Not because of laziness or deceit, the only things that kept the lawyer from finishing, but because without knowing the nature of the charge and all its possible ramifications, his entire life would have to be called to mind, described, and examined from all sides.