31 July 2007

The Castle ปราสาท

I couldn't quite remember when I first read Kafka's work, but it's quite a bizarre experience, not unlike when one enters a maze and doesn't quite know what to do and how to escape. This long holiday I just had a chance to read one of his longest novels, The Castle, translated into Thai by Achan Thanomnual Ocharoen. (In fact, I got this novel as a gift from her so here I should express my thanks for introducing me to another facet of this enigmatic writer.)

My first impression after finishing this novel was 'what the heck is he talking about?' along with the intense feeling of frustration. As the novel is left unfinished by the writer, one naturally gets that feeling. But I'm sure that had Kafka finished this, the general tone of the whole novel wouldn't haved changed that much. Kafka surely wouldn't have elaborated on what the castle is, who K. is, and why such bad relationships between the mass and the castle occur. Kafka likes it to be puzzling, enigmatic, and mysterious. And it works.

I quite like the general idea of bureaucracy and how it eats humanity at the core. Bureaucracy makes simple things more complex than necessary and one no longer can control one's own fate as it becomes the duty of bureaucratic officialdom. However, the irony is that even bureaucrats don't know what they're doing most of the time, just getting paperwork done, but not grasping the whole picture of what they're dealing with. It's so much like reading Borges's short story 'The Lottery of Babylon', in which people let their fate controlled by the drawing of lottery. First the system was simple and easy to understand; however, organisers gradually make it more complicated to the extent that the whole organisation assumes a life of its own.

This inevitably reminds me of our modern-day organisation studies, which tends to dissect an organisation into different parts, each answering to its own objectives without much relating to each other. Staff members do their job but they just don't understand what their neighbours in adjacent rooms do -- they simply don't grasp the big picture. It's this compartmentalising of society that leads to alienation and segregation that Kafka focuses his criticism on, as I think such division eventually makes us less human and becomes more competitive and antagonistic, just guarding our own interests and wishing to lock up in our own small world, as the world outside has become too 'monstrous' and incomprehensible.

Well, it's surely a time-consuming read, but I do recommend those with a lot of spare time to read this to understand the absurdity of bureaucracy, which sadly is only on the increase.

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