Monday, April 8, 2013

Hunger and "Law"

Kafka’s parable “Before the Law” can be read as metonymic, metaphoric, and symbolic. In this, the writing is a fiction or an allegory for something ineffable, this experience of “Law,” expressly the “Law” that exists only for the individual to understand. The doorkeeper says, “No one but you could have been admitted here, since this entrance was meant for you alone.” The doorkeeper indicates that the door is a gateway to an entrance that the “country man” ultimately possesses: his entrance meant for himself alone.
However, he is not in possession of the “Law” or either does not realize that he is in possession of the “Law.” In a realistic sense, how can the man not see that this door is meant for him? How can he not understand that the door to the Law is his own entryway, for himself alone? And by extension, how can this character, the doorkeeper, referred to as an entity separate from himself, prevent him from passing through his own entryway?
“Law” can also be understood as rules for common, consistent behavior, as a necessary means of structuring one’s life in accordance with society as well as society’s constraints on the individual for the common good. “Law” is also something deeply personal and indicative of the ways that we, as humans, structure our lives and conceive of our experiences in an organizational pattern. This “Law” that the “country man” “strives to reach” is impossible to reach, given his inability to move past to doorkeeper. It is right, or in the common order of things, given the appearance of the doorkeeper, for him to wait to gain admittance or to “beg” and “bribe” the doorkeeper for admittance. But this does not fulfill his desire, his hunger to be inside the Law. He is not able to gain admittance whatsoever through coercive means. One could then argue that his desire, or his hunger, what the doorkeeper terms “insatiable,” ties him to the situation of waiting. But his desire does not make him rush against the doorkeeper nor defy the common order of things. To force admittance will only open to further doors and more powerful doorkeepers, so the man says. The hunger, therefore, causes the man to waste away, to desire and to never experience, to know. It is stasis or inaction.
The Greek story of Tantalus, the god from whom the verb “to tantalize” derives, offers a similarity to "Before the Law." And as follows the meaning of the term, Tantalus was indeed tantalized for his misdemeanors. He was a god who wreaked havoc on the divine and human order of things, sacrificing children in blood feuds, and the like. As a punishment, he was chained to prevent his movement beyond a certain point. He hungered desperately, as he was denied food and drink. When food appeared within his reach, he would also reach out to grasp it. The food immediately would retreat from his grasp. Likewise, when he was offered drink within his reach, and as he strove to grasp it, the drink would immediately disappear. Imagine Tantalus locked in this eternal struggle only to hunger for sustenance just beyond his reach.
The main difference between Tantalus and the “country man” is that Tantalus is physically bound to his station while the “country man” is mentally bound to his. They both hunger in insatiably for that which they cannot have. The doorkeeper and the door are similar to the chains that bind Tantalus, but ultimately, it is the hunger that keeps the man waiting, his hunger to gain admittance to the Law. Well, really, who wants to go inside the Law that badly? The country man does. He wants so badly to gain admittance to that which he already possesses and prevents himself from accessing. The doorkeeper and the door are no more than representatives of the human condition, the ways in which humans bind themselves to experience, much in the same way that Tantalus is also bound, a forced punishment (or Law) for his behavior. And in anther sense, these figures-the man, door, and doorkeeper-function as emblems for existence within the individual human.
What, then, prevents the individual from moving past the obstacles that the individual places in front of himself or herself? In a sense then, what are your doorkeepers and your doors? What is your hunger?

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