Kafka: Crime and punishment

  • 1 University Of Helsinki, Department of Practical Philosophy, Helsinki, Finland


When we read The Trial and In the Penal Colony together, we read about the logic of law, crime, punishment, and guilt. Of course, we cannot know the law, or, as Kafka writes, we cannot enter the law. I interpret the idea in this way: the law opens a gate to the truth. Alas, no one can enter the law, or come to know the truth, as Kafka says. The consequences are devastating: one cannot know the name of one’s own crime, which is to say guilt is eternal and permanent; nothing can absolve us. Only one solution exists. Josef K. in The Trial should have committed suicide like the Officer in “Penal Colony.” That is to say, perhaps, that you always are your own judge and executioner. Guilt cannot be doubted and thus, you are doomed. Both narratives are cruel and ruthless in their own way in their moral pessimism.

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