‘He’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy!’ Radicalising hermeneutics with Kafka’s The Castle

Leah Tomkins


This paper explores the politics of interpretation from the perspective of hermeneutic theory.  It presents a reading of Kafka’s novel The Castle focused on critique of the business of interpretation, where suspicion unfolds in distorted, possibly fraudulent, sense-making between protagonist, narrator and reader.  The protagonist’s mission is neither heroic nor a call to resistance to bureaucratic absurdity, but instead, the result of hubris, hoax, or even a slip of the pen, and it becomes impossible to unpick the perils of bureaucracy from the perils of interpretation, or to distinguish between error and insight.  In mining discrepancies between justification, effort and reward of interpretation, Kafka punctures the mythology of understanding, rupturing the near-sacrosanct hermeneutic connection between interpretation and meaning.  His work undermines both objective and subjective understandings, leaving us distrustful of both expert and experiential perspectives.  In a post-truth era with its ‘alternative facts’, The Castle feels startlingly fresh and relevant.


Kafka; hermeneutics; experience

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