Before the Law

Abogado del Diablo

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I'm not sure if this is the right sub-forum for this. It seems like it could go here or in "Comparative Studies" or "Philosophy" but this seems as apporpriate a place as those.

I've always loved Kafka's short parable "Before the Law." I've especially loved hearing people's different interpretations of what they think it means. With such a diverse group of intelligent people on this forum, I would love to hear what everyone takes away from the parable as its meaning or moral.

Here it is:

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Before The Law

by Franz Kafka
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BEFORE THE LAW stands a doorkeeper. To this doorkeeper there comes a man from the country and prays for admittance to the Law. But the doorkeeper says that he cannot grant admittance at the moment. The man thinks it over and then asks if he will be allowed in later. "It is possible," says the doorkeeper, "but not at the moment." Since the gate stands open, as usual, and the doorkeeper steps to one side, the man stoops to peer through the gateway into the interior. Observing that, the doorkeeper laughs and says: "If you are so drawn to it, 'just try to go in despite my veto. But take note: I am powerful. And I am only the least of the doorkeepers. From hall to hall there is one doorkeeper after another, each more powerful than the last. The third doorkeeper is already so terrible that even I cannot bear to look at him." These are difficulties the man from the country has not expected; the Law, he thinks, should surely be accessible at all times and to everyone, but as he now takes a closer look at the doorkeeper in his fur coat, with his big sharp nose and long, thin, black Tartar beard, he decides that it is better to wait until he gets permission to enter. The doorkeeper gives him a stool and lets him sit down at one side of the door. There he sits for days and years. He makes many attempts to be admitted, and wearies the doorkeeper by his importunity. The doorkeeper frequently has little interviews with him, asking him questions about his home and many other things, but the questions are put indifferently, as great lords put them, and always finish with the statement that he cannot be let in yet. The man, who has furnished himself with many things for his journey, sacrifices all he has, however valuable, to bribe the doorkeeper. The doorkeeper accepts everything, but always with the remark: "I am only taking it to keep you from thinking you have omitted anything." During these many years the man fixes his attention almost continuously on the doorkeeper. He forgets the other doorkeepers, and this first one seems to him the sole obstacle preventing access to the Law. He curses his bad luck, in his early years boldly and loudly; later, as he grows old, he only grumbles to himself. He becomes childish, and since in his yearlong contemplation of the doorkeeper he has come to know even the fleas in his fur collar, he begs the flea ' s as well to help him and to change the doorkeep er's mind. At length his eyesight begins to fail, and he does not know whether the world is really darker or whether his eyes are only deceiving him. Yet in his darkness he is now aware of a radiance that streams inextinguishably from the gateway of the Law. Now he has not very long to live. Before he dies, all his experiences in these long years gather themselves in his head to one point, a question he has not yet asked the doorkeeper. He waves him nearer, since he can no longer raise his stiffening body. The doorkeeper has to bend low toward him, for the difference in height between them has altered much to the man's disadvantage. "What do you want to know now?" asks the doorkeeper; "you are insatiable." "Everyone strives to reach the Law," says the man, "so how does it happen that for all these many years no one but myself has ever begged for admittance?" The doorkeeper recognizes that the man has reached his end, and, to let his failing senses catch the words, roars in his ear: "No one else could ever be admitted here, since this gate was made only for you. I am now going to shut it."


 

Ciel

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Greetings Abogado,

Vajradhara has a beautifull quote at the end of his posts;

""When the Way comes to an end, then change ---
having changed, you pass through."

As the door closes it also opens.
 

alexa

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"No one else could ever be admitted here, since this gate was made only for you. I am now going to shut it."
I really like the end of the parable. It makes you think about your life, the decissions you have taken and their consequences. And then, you think : what if ?

As Camus said :
What we call basic truths are simply the ones we discover after all the others.
 

louis

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Re: "the Law"

"No one else could ever be admitted here, since this gate was made only for you. I am now going to shut it."

From Louis....
I assume "The Law" is symbolic of something you "really
want". In which case, I agree with Mr. Darrow -when you're offered ANY chance at what you want in this life, you better TAKE IT - because that may be your ONLY chance.
 

Abogado del Diablo

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Ciel said:
Greetings Abogado,

Vajradhara has a beautifull quote at the end of his posts;

""When the Way comes to an end, then change ---
having changed, you pass through."

As the door closes it also opens.
I've always liked that quote too.
How would you relate it to "Before the Law"?
 

alexa

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Re: "the Law"

louis said:
I assume "The Law" is symbolic of something you "really
want". In which case, I agree with Mr. Darrow -when you're offered ANY chance at what you want in this life, you better TAKE IT - because that may be your ONLY chance.
Kafka on Parables: "Many complain that the words of the wise are always merely parables and of no use in daily life, which is the only life we have. When the sage says: 'Go over,' he does not mean that we should cross to some actual place, which we could do anyhow if the labor were worth it; he means some fabulous yonder, something unknown to us, something too that he cannot designate more precisely, and therefore cannot help us here in the very least. All these parables really set out to say merely that the incomprehensible is incomprehensible, and we know that already. But the cares we have to struggle with every day: that is a different matter. Concerning this a man once said: Why such reluctance? If you only followed the parables you yourselves would become parables and with that rid of all your daily cares. Another said: I bet that is also a parable. The first said: You have won. The second said: But unfortunately only in parable. The first said: No, in reality: in parable you have lost."
 

iBrian

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I've not read before, but co-incidentally there's a discussion arisen elsewhere about Metamorphosis. I guess it's Kafka week. :)
 

lunamoth

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Re: "the Law"

alexa said:
Kafka on Parables: "Many complain that the words of the wise are always merely parables and of no use in daily life, which is the only life we have. When the sage says: 'Go over,' he does not mean that we should cross to some actual place, which we could do anyhow if the labor were worth it; he means some fabulous yonder, something unknown to us, something too that he cannot designate more precisely, and therefore cannot help us here in the very least. All these parables really set out to say merely that the incomprehensible is incomprehensible, and we know that already. But the cares we have to struggle with every day: that is a different matter. Concerning this a man once said: Why such reluctance? If you only followed the parables you yourselves would become parables and with that rid of all your daily cares. Another said: I bet that is also a parable. The first said: You have won. The second said: But unfortunately only in parable. The first said: No, in reality: in parable you have lost."

Reminds me of something I heard before, paraphrasing: History can relate the true facts but only story can be Truth.
 

aquaris

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Re: "the Law"

Interestingly I had a friend who calls himself observer...
This is what he posted in his orkut community... Just today...

Hmmmmmmmmmmmm....

The man trudged along the forlon path..till he reached the Door.
But before he could knock the door...doorkeeper appeared. and warned him not to pass through that door.
There are unsurmountable obstacles behind that door...you see even I do not venture beyond that door.Thats why I am here.
The man asked ...If i do not believe you..
and pass the door..what would happen.
...you will reach another door.There will be another doorman Like Me...No..Much horrible than me.. and then you will have to pass that doorman to proceed further.
..What if I manage to go beyond that doorman too..
Then you will find another..and another...
and another....
...This is getting...bothersome...So what should I do..
...Go back to the door from which you entered here... You will find a stool there... Go sit on that and wait..
...so the Man returned...and Sat on the stool...and ages passed....and nothing happened...
He opened the door..and saw the doorman.again... that doorman was still sitting there...
I should wait more... and when that doorman is gone... i will slip pass.
....But ages passed and every time he would look he would find the doorman ...there....discouraging him to pass the door..
and then He died.
Never to pass the door.
This is inspired by Kafka's Parrable of the Law.
.... In essense it means...we live our lives..and when ever there are some important decisions to make...whenever we found our self in difficulties... its like reaching a door..
the solution to those difficulties lie beyond that door...and the door keeper is our caution...we does not allows us to
cross the door...and we wait ....and wait ..for the danger to lessen...and in the end... transform to the likes of doorkeeper itself...
...Not allowing ourself to grow...becuse
we were held back by that doorman.

and if somehow...we did manage to cross the doorman... we will find another and then another...this is the FEAR..which holds us back...
the fear to meet another doorman.....
How many of those around us....we hear..
Had the potential...and has great future..
and is so talented...and has a long way to go....
but then after sometime find him at the same place......not progressed...
Perhaps.. His doorman.. succeded in not allowing him to cross the door...

Just a random thought.... with no particular reason....
 

path_of_one

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For me, it speaks that we each have a path, and on it are gates- obstacles to the next step in our spiritual growth. We are held back from going through the gates because of our fear (the doorkeeper), which tells us that this path is difficult and fraught with danger. If we continue going through the gates, seeking truth, we will face confusion and struggle as we learn to give up what we are comfortable with, what makes us feel secure, for something for which we long (the truth beyond the gates/the Law) but do not really know.

Some, like the old man, choose to sit and wait their entire lives for the fear to subside, for the danger to dissipate. Some sit and watch others and wonder if they are going through the gates, and why others' paths and gates are not the same as their own. Some even conclude that they are the only ones on earth that are seeking truth, because they notice that everyone else is not facing their doorkeeper, and their gates.

The other option is to acknowledge the doorkeeper and then boldly walk through the gate, facing what sometimes seems terrible in order to pass through the ordeal and find out that the doorkeeper was only an illusion after all.
 

janitor

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Good thought prevoking post.

Although this is kinda off the cuff (I may post more after a bit more digestion of this), I find myself wondering if this is the archetypal serpent, (aka evil, satan, bad karma etc..) desinged to keep us from seeking that which will help us overcome the disunity with God? In the passage we are only told that what is beyond the gate are more difficult tasks, although the man see a light through the gates. The gate keeper could have been lying. Isn't one of the goals of evil to deceive us and prevent us from searching out and experiencing the things that will bring us closer to God? Thats why the gate was only for that particular man.....it played to his particular difficulties in the search for truth. That also suggests that we all have different gates because our weaknesses are different than the man at the gate....

the janitor
 

callum

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Concerning this door. If you have a STORY of a door that is closed. Well, funny thing is it will be closed. Because that's your STORY. If you have a STORY with the door opening the door will open. It's just the story you tell about whatever you're dealing with. You can never be wrong. What the thinker thinks the prover will prove. You can ad or subtract from the story and draw whatever conclusions you like. It's still the story you tell yourself. Enlightenment comes when you have NO STORY.
 
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