Does anyone read Kafka anymore? I doubt that high school and college students take him up as faithfully as we once did, but the bureaucratic tyrants running the Department of Education in the Obama administration appear to have drawn on Kafka’s Trial as a how-to manual rather than a modernist warning of a nightmarish future.
The book opens: “Someone must have been telling lies about Josef K., he knew he had done nothing wrong but, one morning, he was arrested.”
Josef K. struggles to comprehend what is happening to him:
“And why am I under arrest?” he then asked. “That’s something we’re not allowed to tell you. Go into your room and wait there. Proceedings are underway and you’ll learn about everything all in good time. It’s not really part of my job to be friendly towards you like this, but I hope no-one, apart from Franz, will hear about it, and he’s been more friendly towards you than he should have been, under the rules, himself. If you carry on having as much good luck as you have been with your arresting officers then you can reckon on things going well with you.”
Josef K. wonders:
What sort of people were these? What were they talking about? What office did they belong to? K. was living in a free country, after all, everywhere was at peace, all laws were decent and were upheld, who was it who dared accost him in his own home? He was always inclined to take life as lightly as he could, to cross bridges when he came to them, pay no heed for the future, even when everything seemed under threat. But here that did not seem the right thing to do. He could have taken it all as a joke, a big joke set up by his colleagues at the bank for some unknown reason, or also perhaps because today was his thirtieth birthday, it was all possible of course, maybe all he had to do was laugh in the policemen’s face in some way and they would laugh with him, maybe they were tradesmen from the corner of the street, they looked like they might be – but he was nonetheless determined, ever since he first caught sight of the one called Franz, not to lose any slight advantage he might have had over these people. There was a very slight risk that people would later say he couldn’t understand a joke, but – although he wasn’t normally in the habit of learning from experience – he might also have had a few unimportant occasions in mind when, unlike his more cautious friends, he had acted with no thought at all for what might follow and had been made to suffer for it. He didn’t want that to happen again, not this time at least; if they were play-acting he would act along with them.
As it turns out, Josef K. has nothing on Laura K. FIRE’s Aaron Reese and Chris Maltby take up Laura K.’s case in “Laura Kipnis’s Title IX inquisition at Northwestern.” They write:
When Northwestern University professor Laura Kipnis published “Sexual Paranoia Strikes Academe” in The Chronicle of Higher Education in February 2015, she didn’t expect she’d become the target of a Title IX investigation as a result.
Laura K. tells the story of her Title IX inquisition in the video below.
Looking around online, I see that KC Johnson cites Kafka in “Amherst’s version of Kafka’s The Trial.” Johnson’s narrative of the Title IX proceeding he recounts is indeed Kafkaesque.
Listening to Laura K., however, it occurs to me that there is nothing institution specific about the Kafkaesque nightmare Johnson tells. The Obama administration seeks to institutionalize it on campus. It follows from the administration’s Kafkaesque “Dear Colleage” letter to educational institutions that receive federal funds. Moreover, the comparison to Kafka is literal, not metaphorical, and the Kafkaesque nightmare represents the Obama administration’s beau ideal of due process for members of disfavored groups.