As part of my making acquaintance with the German-language canon, this week I’ve been reading Franz Kafka’s The Castle. And while my choice of novels isn’t directly in response to the on-going federal government shutdown, Kafka does provide a pretty cathartic read given the recent sanctification of bureaucratic dithering. One brief line in particular (bolded below) from The Castle stuck out this morning that I’d like to share, along with a longer contextual set up.
‘This letter is in no sense an official communication, but only a private letter. That can be clearly seen in the very of address: ‘My dear Sir.’ Moreover, there isn’t a single word in it showing that you’ve been taken on as Land-Surveyor; on the contrary, it’s all about state service in general, and even that is not absolutely guaranteed, as you know; that is, the task of proving that you are taken on is laid on you. Finally, you are officially and expressly referred to me, the Mayor, as your immediate superior, for more detailed information, which, indeed, has in great part been given already. To anyone who knows how to read official communications, and consequently knows still better how to read unofficial letters, all this is only too clear. That you, a stranger, don’t know it doesn’t surprise me. In general the letter means nothing more than that Klamm intends to take a personal interest in you if you should be taken into the state service.’
‘Mr. Mayor,’ said K., ‘you interpret the letter so well that nothing remains of it but a signature on a blank sheet of paper.’
A great line, isn’t it?