Franz Kafka's The Trial

K was accused of an undisclosed crime, based on a hidden law, by an unreachable court. Trying to uncover his crime, he encountered gatekeepers dedicated to blocking his eyes from not only the crime but also the law. At first, shocked or tickled by such a nightmare, the reader soon realized that his biases, prejudices and presumptions are those of K and that to the court administrators, K was the lunatic whose delusion had clouded his eyes.

The Court (Photographer: Matt Wade)

How could we be guilty of violating a law we don’t know of? How could there be a crime without a law? Perhaps K was guilty of holding onto such biases as logic and causality or merely of existing. Whether he understood the law or accepted the sentence, he couldn’t avoid the punishment just as a boy couldn’t avoid growing up.

Locating the crime, the law or the court pales against our discovering the colored glasses with which we see the sea and the sky, the banknote and the meatloaf, Napoleon and Genghis Khan, or for that matter, the man or woman in the mirror.

We created natural laws to rein in protons and electrons; we created civil laws to rein in John and Jane; we created ecclesiastical canons to rein in God. Then we organized these absolute truths to rein in our fears, hopes and humanity. So once in a while we should enjoy the shock as from The Trial and realize that we still could create absolute truths when we’re bored texting or twittering.

The Brothers Karamozov: Dostoevsky's Epic Philosophical Novel

The crime: someone murdered Fyodor Karamozov, the wanton, irritable, and sadistic patriarch.

The punishments: Smerdyakov, the illegitimate son, committed suicide after killing his father. Dmitri, the eldest son, passionate and immoderate like his father, whom the court found guilty of the murder, was condemned to Siberia. Ivan, the second son, who was "enlightened" and rational, struggled with the guilt of convincing his half-brother Smerdyakov that since God didn’t exist, everything, including patricide, was permitted.

Optina Monastery (Photo by Иерей Максим Массалитин)

But as the dying monk Zosima had revealed and Dmitri soon realized, everyone was complicit in and thus implicated for the crime, since, for Dostoevsky, the web of sin entangled young and old to the extend that even children suffered from their peers’ sadism.

Through his dream of the hungry and suffering children, Dmitri realized his guilt in the desire, that mustard seed in his mind, to kill his father and therefore willingly took upon the punishment for the crime he didn’t commit. In doing so, he assumed a Christ-figure, accepting punishment for another’s crime.

The Legend of the Grand Inquisitor revealed Ivan’s enlightened rationalism for a humanistic dystopia, the socialist utopia that Dostoevsky condemned. Only when, in a hallucination, the "devil"--Ivan’s dark side-- revealed the parable of the learned atheist and thus rationalism’s arid futility did Ivan realized his guilt in rationalizing patricide and prodding Smerdyakov to commit it.

Fyodor Doetoevsky

And Smerdyakov, who mirrored Ivan’s unconsciousness and who carried the latter’s reasoning to the logical conclusion, like Judas, would not have the chance to repent or atone for his crime. In the end, Dmitri assumed his punishment.

Through the tormented consciousness of Dmitri, Ivan, Smerdyakov and other characters, Dostoevsky grabbled with morality in an enlightened but Godless world, a world that he could not accept.

Anna Karenina Book Review

To seek happiness Anna left the proper and dull Karenin for the dashing and exciting Vronsky, but in the end, committed suicide to end her misery. Rather than a comment on morality, Tolstoy through Anna Karenina, as in War and Peace, sought to contrast those who like Anna ignored or opposed the ubiquitous force which direct the destiny of individuals and nations and those who like Levin flowed with it. Both Anna and Levin, unlike Stiva and Dolly, could not passively regurgitate accepted behavior to satisfy social conventions and accept a banal existence, but they paved their paths one to the north and the other to the south.

Red Square, Moscow

Passion directed Anna to oppose social conventions and with all a rebel’s defiance pursued in Vronsky’s arms the happiness that Karenin could not provide. They would love as if the whole world belonged to them. But in the end she could not live like Robinson Crusoe and was not strong enough to fend off social forces, which proclaimed reality’s omnipresence.

Levin sought to transform himself and love Kitty as social conventions could only imitate. He sought to transcend social conventions, which were not in sync with the force that directed destinies, to attune to a higher melody, one that resonates wit the natural order of things.

Leo Tolstoy

The diametrically opposing destinies of Anna and Levin revealed, as in War and Peace, Tolstoy’s search to harmonize with a natural force greater than reason, passion or will. For him, to raise the sword against that force would be to embrace the inferno.

Animal Farm Book Review

"All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others."

Joseph Stalin

In Animal Farm George Orwell reenacted the Russian Revolution and its aftermath, Major, Napoleon, Snowball, Jones, and Frederick incarnating Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky, Tsar Nicolas II and Hitler. But through the fable, Orwell critiques not only communism but also any corruption of power, leaders highlighting real or imagined threats to instill fear in followers and solidify power.

Leon Trotsky

As often repeated throughout history, people out of fear often would submit to the state’s unchecked power in exchange for security real or imagined. In the end, Napoleon exploited the animals just as Farmer Jones previously had and even emulated humans when he gave a dinner to neighboring farmers, who represented the leaders of other nations and would gladly play poker with the tyrant as long as they can benefit from the friendship. Animal Farm is a lighthearted fable for a serious subject.

George Orwell