“Where was the judge he had never seen? Where was the High Court he had never reached? He raised his hands and spread out all his fingers. But the hands of one of the men closed round his throat, just as the other drove the knife deep into his heart and turned it twice.” -Kafka, The Trial
“Unable to elicit responses that suggested the contrary, staff and doctors concluded from the available court documents that Wilson’s alleged criminal behavior was the result of deviant biology— of a bad nature. ” -Susan Burch and Hannah Joyner, Unspeakable
Kafka’s writing displays a tension between an individual trying to make his way in the world who gets marked or entrapped simply for being alive. In the Metamorphosis, Gregor Samson wakes up into the nightmare of being transformed into a “gigantic vermin,” often depicted as a beetle. In The Trial, Josef K wakes up to find himself on trial for no reason–though the narrator insinuates that “someone must have been telling lies.” In The Castle, K finds summoned by The Castle to work in a town, when the same castle, through a near-comical network of bureaucratic dysfunction, executes him. From “The Country Doctor” to “The Penal Colony” and “Poseidon,” Kafka’s characters face alienation, guilt, and bureaucratic bulwarks against basic freedoms. Their being gets sentenced, suspect and shamed.
Moreover, his characters try to fight these existential sentences as best they can. But this is to no avail. As “The Messenger” makes clear:
“he is still forcing his way through the chambers of the innermost palace; never will he overcome them; and were he to succeed at this, nothing would be gained: he would have to fight his way down the steps; and were he to succeed at this, nothing would be gained: he would have to cross the courtyard. . . and if he were to burst out at last through the outermost gate—but it can never, never happen—before him still lies the royal capital, the middle of the world, piled high in its sediment.”
Reading Unspeakable, like many of the readings thus far in 711, Kafka has been close by. Here, Junius Wilson is “guilty,” much like Kafka’s characters, for his own mode of being. He is guilty by being black in the Jim Crow South. He is guilty by being deaf, muted and uncomprehensible to many–a break further exacerbated by the limitations his Raleigh signs later play compared with ASL. Later, he is made guilty of a crime he never commits, it seems, by Arthur Smith. And still later, under the sterilization law, his misdiagnosis of being “a danger to himself and others” leads to his castration.