The Fourth of July and My Favorite Kafka Character

by jdavidcharles

This year I didn’t really celebrate the fourth. The holiday has always made me uncomfortable. Don’t get me wrong–I like America (and even fancy myself patriotic), but something just sort of irks me about celebrating a revolution. I think it’s the inherent tension between patriotism/revolution–isn’t it “loyalism” we found revolting in the first place? It feels odd to be loyal on a day of such anarchy.

Somehow this reminds me of the function of the law in the “Before the Law” parable in Kafka’s The Trial. The so-called loyalist is the Tartar, the gate-keeper, while the revolutionary is the man inquiring to go inside. Neither of them know the law, neither see it, but one is deluded enough to think he has the right to protect it and the other deluded enough to think he has the right to see/take it. The Tartar’s exclamation at the end reinforces this when he says to the old man, “this entrance was assigned only to you. I’m going now to close it.” The law is for the revolutionist, but of the loyalist, that is, it is hirs to open and close the door on. The power of the parable is in part that the law could be anything–it therefore is ultimately a sort of interchangeable absence, a chaos as The Trial‘s content seems to prove–it exists, but signifies nothing.

And, suffice to say, these are the sentiments I have around the fourth. Why are we celebrating the destruction of one law for the establishing of another? Isn’t the story of revolution precisely this closing-of-the-door Kafka’s parable ends with? Active, violent revolution signifies the inescapability of loyalism. Nietzsche says somewhere in the Geneaology, “If a temple is to be erected, a temple must be destroyed: that is the law.” That is what law is. Revolution is the estblashing of a new system that demands loyalty. Systems themselves solidify their revolutions. That’s the law.

In the case of observance, systems solidify their revolutions by granting you an image of what it is they gave as revolution. Another way to say this: the law gives you a tiny space to be anarchic and says, “See how free you are–the law is for your own good!” What’s interesting is how confining this ordered sort of “anarchism” is. Think of the fourth and its feasting rituals: fireworks, meat, and beer (all with an undertone of sentimentality). To use one of my favorite big words, this is blatant carnophallogocentrism. The feast says, “Look how big my bombs are! Look how much flesh I can consume! And look how I can justify all of it!” I destroy, I eat, I rationalize. The boons of the revolution exist to secure your loyalty to it. Every fourth we justify revolution–not just the American revolution–but revolution as such: “R”evolution. The anarchy of the feast exists to justify the revolution, to make you loyal to the “new” law.

Both characters are the slave of the law: the man who spent his life outside, talking to the fleas, waiting to glimpse the law and the Tartar who stood guard and never dared glimpse inside. Which is to say both are slaves to erecting/destroying temples. I am tired of destroying and building temples. I think my favorite character, if I had to pick, in the parable is the one not in it. The one who never gave a shit about the law, never thought about it, never proved anything because of it, never consumed anything because of it. Ze’s my favorite Kafka character by far.