Monday, January 16, 2012

Number Forty

Nur unser Zeitbegriff läßt uns das Jüngste Gericht so nennen, eigentlich ist es ein Standrecht.

It is only our conception of time that makes us call the Last Judgment by this name. It is, in fact, a kind of martial law. [Kaiser/Wilkins]

It's only our notion of time that allows us to speak of the Last Judgment, in fact it's a Court Martial. [Hofmann]


The Hofmann marks this aphorism cancelled, the Kaiser/Wilkins does not. No idea why.

Martial law seems to be the likeliest translation of Standrecht; the usual term for Court Martial is Kriegsgericht. Gericht alone means court, not judgement, so perhaps Hofmann wanted to extend this idea, from Latest Court to Court Martial. The use of "allows" instead of "makes" seems more true; the concept we have of time is not compelling us to do something but only permits for this mistake.

What is the difference between Latest Court and martial law? One is the end of all judgement, the other is the suspension of ordinary legal procedure. Ordinary legal processes are conducted in the name of the Law, which is transcendent; the last judgement is the manifestation of a transcendent principle in experience. Is it simply that what is transcendent in the first case is present and active in the latter, or is there a higher idea of Justice that has the same relation to Law as the Law has with us? If there is Justice above Law, then wouldn't the Last Judgement be the manifestation of Justice? In either case, however, whether it's Law or Justice that appears in the Last Judgement, how can Kafka equate these transcendent ideas with martial law?

The idea seems to be that martial law makes no appeal to anything higher than itself; it simply acts, without reference to a model. It doesn't act randomly or shapelessly; the operation of the army conditions it, but that military organization is a self-structuring, internal principle that doesn't seek to manifest some transcendent idea. The army may draw on ideas like the Nation, but soldiers don't fight for the Nation they fight for their country; it may invoke values like Valor and Honor but these are values, while the Law is not exactly a value.

Bringing time into it, I think Kafka means that we see the last judgement as final not because it is final, capable of rendering absolute decisions, but because we continue to think of time in metrical terms as something that ends. If we think of eternity, then what becomes of finality in any form, including final judgements? There were many church fathers, Origen for one, who believed that eventually even Satan himself would be redeemed, so where is finality of judgement? This would mean that martial law or the Court Martial is Kafka's conception of the principle of this kind of judgement under the aspect of eternity. It would also mean that the transcendent and the non-transcendent are already crashing into each other.

1 comment:

Mfraser said...

Not sure if you still read this, but it's a fascinating blog and I'm really enjoying it. I suspect the distinction btw. the two juridical instances here is not distinct from the temporal aspect; a Standrecht is so named because it was a kind of trial and judgment carried out so quickly that it was done standing. There are probably a few more ways of reading or trying to make sense of this--one is that jüngstes Gericht implies proceedings, a hearing, a defense at which one could offer justifications; Standrecht implies, on the other hand, summary judgment and quick execution (one thinks of the ending of the Prozess), in which which the judgment that occurs is anything but processual.