Tag Archives: Law

Kafka’s Parable Analysis

“Kafka’s” Before the Law

The first sentence of Kafka’s parable reads, “Before the law stands a doorkeeper on guard”. This one simple sentence alone sets the tone for how the law will be perceived throughout the rest of the short narrative. It implies that there is a barrier of some sort, separating the law from whoever happens to be trying to access it. It also seems to make the assumption, that the law is somewhat compelling to individuals, and therefore, must be protected and kept within secretive confines. Human nature is defined by curiosity; had there not been curiosity, people potentially would have been completely ignorant to making a vast variety of advancements that have gone on to vitally aid mankind. The line which reads, “To this door there comes a man from the country and prays admittance to the law” presents exactly this idea, that the law is attractive and mysterious, and therefore alluring. The law, in reality, is in many ways similar to this parable. The law remains a semi vague entity to many, practically a different language at times and very complex in nature and statute.

The story continues, “But the doorkeeper says that he cannot grant admittance at the moment”; this line portrays the law as detached from average society. It implies that the average citizen would encounter some difficulty readily accessing the law, let alone successfully comprehending it. The gateway represents the disconnect between the law and society, and the doorkeeper represents the individuals who work in the justice system who are seemingly the only ‘beings’ permitted and privileged to control who is allowed to ‘see’ the law. The courts and those who work within them – Crown Counsel, defense lawyers, judges, etc. in reality, essentially control how the system is run and what is tolerable and what is not. Although a member of society may be involved in the proceedings as either an individual standing trial for committing a crime, a victim or a witness, they are merely placed on a trajectory more or less at the hands of those working the system. While they may still be ‘within’ the system by matter of technicality, they certainly do not control the situation. Navigating the law is no simple task for the regular individual, and therefore, while one may be involved in trial, they too, in effect, remain before the law, as the law is still something just as ambiguous and intimidating as it was prior.

This brings up another important point to note, the doorkeeper in the narrative goes on to mention the threat of the following doorkeepers and mentions “from hall to hall there is one doorkeeper after another, each more powerful than the last”, which signifies that although the man from the country cannot even be sure of how truthful the first doorkeeper’s word is, he believes him and abides. Similarly, the law is anonymous and faceless, while still maintaining utter power over the majority of society. Although technically, there is not “one” supreme force that all of society can readily agree upon being the reason for defining their law abiding actions, society on a whole generally follows the rules. Furthermore, this points to the notion that people will follow the law even when there is not necessarily the threat of being caught committing a crime or being stopped mid crime. Philosophically, it is hard to say whether this is a question of ethics and morals or truly a strict loyalty to the law. Do citizens abide the law because they know that it is the “right” thing to do” or do they think that abiding the law is the “right” thing to do simply because it is the law? Additionally, this suggests that society will also follow the law despite not having a complete comprehension or understanding of it.

The man from the country spends his life sitting before the law, waiting for admittance and answers to his questions – admittance and answers that he never gets. This is reminiscent of the feelings experienced by many individuals who are put through the legal gamut. Many feel like their lifetimes have been spent waiting on answers that were never delivered, or receiving answers that were not nearly close to satisfying. As stated previously, the average member of society being involved in the court process has minimal control and therefore, relies on people like the ‘doorkeeper’ to determine their ultimate fate. This can be extremely frustrating for those who feel robbed of their justice, and meanwhile, have ‘wasted’ their lives toiling over a decision that was never really theirs to make to begin with.

Although this parable takes up merely one printed page, it is a vast springboard for interpretations regarding how the law functions with society, and how society functions with the law. The material above is simply several small interpretations of the piece and in no way is meant to be an exhaustive explanation of Kafka’s “Before the Law”. In a truly remarkable fashion, Kafka manipulates such a short piece of literature to provide the catalysts for a limitless array of analyses regarding the law.

Sources:

Franz Kafka, “Before the Law,” in Nahum N. Glatzer (ed.), Franz Kafka: The Complete Stores and Parables 3-4 (New York: Quality Paperback Book Club, 1971) (Willa & Edwin Muir trans.)

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Looking Ahead: Deconstruction and Justice

At first glance, my reply to Derrida’s claim “Deconstruction is Justice” is that of agreement. For all its clarity and poignancy, the answer is not easily deduced. To make sense how the agreement came to be, the internal workings of the text require critical analysis. The practice of deconstruction is to unlock provisional conventions and to make space for unanticipated patterns of being (Pavlich, p. 170). The presence of concepts and of definitions is at all times over the horizon. It is a reflexive relationship between openness and closure. The modus vivendi—our way of life—carried with our language and our text will always stand on the end of a new frontier. For Derida and all human beings, everything is language. The power of language and of words comes to define us, unite us, and separate us from others and from ourselves. To ascribe a single definition to a word is to take away its vitality. Justice, like language, is something that is in constant ebb and flow. Weber (2005) claims that justice is “of the incalculable and the unpredictable” (p. 38). It is through the process of deferring to other terms and to calculable externalities—such as law—where infinite concepts, like ‘justice’, may create “meaning, being, and presence” (Pavlich, p. 170). In this sense, one cannot revise a few definitions to the exclusion of all others.

The concept of justice is circular. The end is unknown and its beginning is undistinguished. From where I stand, Derrida (1997) is not mistaken when he claims that “Deconstruction is Justice”. The concept of justice is something that is on the verge of becoming but requires an externality to make it known. For instance, at one point in time it was legally permissible for a husband to rape his wife in Canada without legal ramifications involving responsibility (Criminal Code, 1970). In 1983, Bill C-127 was introduced into legislation to create space for conversation and to make martial rape a criminal offence. From this perspective, it can be said that justice could not be materialized in and of itself; it required the externality of law. Justice may also be observed as a measure that asks for or demands others to state what it is or what it is not. Although it is held that “law does not guarantee justice anymore than justice guarantees good law” (Pavlich, p. 173). Consequently justice, like deconstruction, is provisional and subject to reversal.

The concept of deconstruction is something that happens from within that which already exists or is said to exist. It is shaped by one’s sociological and political context (p. 174), which creates meaning and understanding through language. Deconstruction as a practice is holistic as it opens up concepts that have not been fully unpacked. For concepts and texts that appear fixed or fully understood, deconstruction becomes crucial. In summary, both deconstruction and justice are concepts that favour innovation and development; bridging the gap between theory and process, abstract and concrete. To deconstruct justice is to make possible the unattainable and provisional moments in time. Justice cannot be made a reality in and of itself. It is constantly evolving, changing shape and is in need of other words, subjects and objects that are not present. Life is not static and neither is the praxis of deconstruction or justice.

References

Bill C-127, S.C. 1983, c. 125.

Criminal Code of Canada, R.S.C. 1970, c. C-34.

Derrida, J. (1997). Deconstruction in a Nutshell: A Conversation with Jacques Derrida. Edited with a commentary by John D. Caputo. New York: Fordham University Press.

Pavlich, G. 2011. Law & Society, Refined. London: Oxford University Press.

Weber, Elisabeth (2005). “Deconstruction is Justice”, SubStance 34(1): 38-43

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Making Nature Against the Law

In the twenty-first century the illegal status of cannabis in Canada is ‘immoral, unjust, and intolerable’. The first drug law implemented in Canada was the Opium Act of 1908 when Deputy Minister of Labour Mackenzie King was concerned with an increase of use among Caucasians (Grayson 2008, p. 73). Opium was the Chinese migrants drug of choice. The cannabis plant achieved its criminal status when it was added to the Opium and Narcotic Drug Act in 1923. Today, the possession and trafficking of marijuana falls under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (S.C. 1996, c. 19) as a schedule II narcotic. As a first conviction, offenders face a maximum penalty of 6 months in jail or a $1000 fine, or both, when possessing 30 grams of marijuana or less. Without a doubt, the debate over cannabis illegality is neither new nor unique. With this in mind, it is recognized that many others believe the law to be one that is unjust and intolerable. I often wonder how citizens in a “free and liberal democratic society” claim such status when the people do not hold sovereignty over their own bodies? It is often argued that the use of cannabis is potentially harmful, however it is destructive to the welfare of our nation state and humanity when living organisms becomes prohibited. John Finnis’s framework on Law and Flourish Human Life can be used to argue that Canada’s cannabis law is unjust, as it does not further the common good by criminalizing personal choice and suppresses sociability and friendship by forcing users to partake in secrecy. For Finnis, “justice is about fostering the common good in a community” and concerns interactions and duties with others (Pavlich 2011, p. 37). Likewise, Pavlich would argue that the law prevents the formation of shared objectives that serve everyone. This point could be applied to any arbitrary law and be taken out of context, although this law is unique to others as it is victimless. Criminalizing the production, usage and distribution of cannabis essentially causes more harm and victims than if it were to be legal. For one, the production of the plant often involves the stealing of electricity and bypassing usage meters in order to meet the markets supply and demand while keeping their costs low and workers off the electrical grid (Dehaas, 2012). This then places higher cost onto the legal customers to pay for the lost power. Secondly, the usage of the cannabis plant has been proven to be less harmful than other legal counterparts such as alcohol and prescription painkillers (CBC, 2012). Thirdly, the vast distribution and demand for cannabis has resulted in billions of dollars in revenue for organized crime (Nelson, 2010). The current illegality of the organism appears to be one of hegemony—the way in which elites have their interests be adopted as the common interests—through successful lobbying on behalf of those who are benefitting by it’s illegality (e.g., law enforcement, prison industry, pharmaceutical companies, etc.) as it ensures job security for its ‘combatants’ and produces wealth in industries profiting off of its synthetic counterparts in modern medicine. The time to end prohibition of this plant is long overdue.

“If people let government decide which foods they eat and medicines they take, their bodies will soon be in as sorry a state as are the souls of those who live under tyranny.” – Thomas Jefferson

References

CBC. (March 23, 2007). Alcohol, tobacco worse than pot, ecstasy: study. CBC News, Health, http://www.cbc.ca/news/health/story/2007/03/23/alcohol-tobacco.html (accessed on September 21, 2012)

Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (S.C. 1996, c. 19)

Dehaas, J. (June 23, 2011). Grow-op electricity thefts “like a five per cent surcharge”. Macleans, News, http://oncampus.macleans.ca/education/2011/06/23/grow-op-electricity-thefts-like-a-five-per-cent-surcharge/ (accessed on September 21, 2012)

Grayson, K. 2008. Chasing Dragons: Security, Identity, and Illicit Drugs in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto.

Nelson, A. (April 20, 2012). How Big Is The Marijuana Market? CNBC, News, http://www.cnbc.com/id/36179677 (accessed on September 21, 2012)

Pavlich, G. 2011. Law & Society, Refined. London: Oxford University Press.

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