In the Penal Colony

This post and the next have been sitting in the Draft stage for a few weeks. I’m just going to throw them up since I’m saving some financial stuff for a big next week (make sure to tune in!). When’s the last time you read Kafka’s In The Penal Colony? Have you read it in the past year? It’s been several years for me. Try re-reading it now. Grabbing it off the shelf this past week was very surreal, as it reminded me of all the debates we’ve just gone through on waterboarding. Check this out, and see if you wonder (like I did) if the torture device The Officer is fetishizing is the Waterboard instead of the Harrow:

“It’s a remarkable apparatus,” said the Officer to the Explorer and gazed with a certain look of admiration at the device, with which he was, of course, thoroughly familiar…

“So now, only the most essential things. When the man is lying on the Bed and it starts quivering, the Harrow sinks onto the body. It positions itself automatically in such a way that it touches the body only lightly with the needle tips. Once the machine is set in position, this steel cable tightens up immediately into a rod. And now the performance begins. Someone who is not an initiate sees no external difference among the punishments”…

“This process and this execution, which you now have an opportunity to admire, have at present no more open supporters in our colony. I am its single defender and at the same time the single advocate for the legacy of the Old Commandant. I can no longer think about a more extensive organization of the process—I’m using all my powers to maintain what there is at present. When the Old Commandant was alive, the colony was full of his supporters. I have something of the Old Commandant’s persuasiveness, but I completely lack his power, and as a result the supporters have gone into hiding. There are still a lot of them, but no one admits to it.

And now I’m asking you: Should such a life’s work,” he pointed to the machine, “come to nothing because of this Commandant and the women influencing him?”

It’s that same mix of glee, defensive shame, nightmarish bureaucratic mentality and boastful pride that raged around a lot of the internet when it came to those who couldn’t understand how the weak wanted to shut down our efficient torture machines. Every time we think we’ve hurdled out of the most dystopic modernist nightmare Kafka is right there waiting for us. How many low-level torturers, who no longer can get the best leather straps for their waterboards, would love to tell you about the glory of the old Commandants we had during the previous 8 years. If only you could have met them…

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2 Responses to In the Penal Colony

  1. Ted K says:

    I’m ashamed to say at the age of 36 that’s probably the largest excerpt I’ve read of Kafka in my life. Seems I’ve heard the name almost as much as Hemingway, but I’ve never made the effort to choose one of his novels and sit and read it. I plan to rectify that.

  2. q says:

    last week i saw an absolutely gorgeous woman reading “in the penal colony” on the new york subway.

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