Husserl, the Differend and Kafka's 'The Trial'

Analecta Husserliana 49:115-125 (1996)
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Abstract

Kafka’s The Trial describes how K slowly loses his familiar language. He does speak a language but his language becomes monologic towards others and the language of others becomes monologic towards K. There seems to be no other person who, in a private and professional life, can respond to K’s words and gestures in a manner which K can understand. The others embody their own meanings into K’s words. Such meanings only possess value within the discourses of self-styled legal experts and officials who act in K’s name. The officials and experts assume that their own meanings are authoritative. K fails to gain access to their meanings. The question posed by Husserl’s phenomenology of language is ‘why?’ Conklin argues that K’s experiences seem not unlike Lyotard’s sense of a different or ‘untranslatable gap’. K remains on the fringe or outside what the experts take as an authoritative language. As a consequence, K’s experiential body slowly dies. This death paradoxically occurs at the same moments that the experts believe that they are addressing ‘K’s case’. Conklin explains the paradox by retrieving Husserl’s sense of a meaning-conferring act and the failure of K’s meaning-conferring acts from being fulfilled in the language of the legal experts.

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William Conklin
University of Windsor

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