weekly book art: the trial

by brandon as book art — brandon Sat 29 Apr 2006 9:53 pm

…and this is a continuation of my other exercise, where I pick a book I have and do an illustration for it. Previous shots at this are Chibi-Rorschach and the horned beasts at The End of The World. This time it came down to Kafka: probably my favorite author.

There’s this prevailing stereotype that Kafka was this gloomy, half-crazy – well, basically, goth, without the clothes or anything, preoccupied in a deeply humanistic way with the trap of existence and the senselessness of the modern world and just wracked with angst. So when people read him it’s like they turn on a dirge for the soundtrack. I have a book called Introducing Kafka that reinforces this point of view, beautifully illustrated by Robert Crumb… but kind of missing the point. See, with the Trial specifically, there’s some specifically countervailing evidence – the oft-repeated story that when Kafka first read The Trial to his friends, it was so funny to all concerned that Kafka would have to pause between fits of laughing.

So one way to really get a lot out of Kafka is to force yourself to read him as if you were reading a Monty Python script. Straight comedy. And with material like this, it’s very, very easy:

– At first, feeling he might need a witness, he was about to call one of the assistants, but then he was seized by such uncontrollable curiosity that he practically tore the door open. It was, as he suspected, a junk room. Old obsolete printed forms and overturned empty ceramic ink bottles lay beyone the threshold. In the little room itself, however, stood three men, stooping beneath the low ceiling. A candle stuck on a shelf provided light. “What’s going on here?” K. blurted out in his excitement, but not loudly. One man, who was apparently in charge of the others and drew K.’s attention first, was got up in some sort of dark leather garment that left his neck and upper chest, as well as his entire arms, bare. He didn’t reply. But the other two cried out” “Sir! We’re to be flogged because you complained about us to the examining magistrate.” And only then did K. recognize that it was indeed the guards Franz and Willem, and that the third man held a rod in his hand to flog them with.

we're to be flogged!

I mean, come on!

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