Due Process, Machinery, and the Law.
“ “It’s a remarkable apparatus,” said the Officer to the Explorer “ , Kafka opens with this in his story In the Penal Colony. Why would Kafka use the word apparatus? What is an apparatus? a series of machines or processes that accomplishes a task, an online search yields this definition:
“any system or systematic organization of activities, functions, processes, etc., directed toward a specific goal: the apparatus of government.” (dictionary.com)
Thus I find It very peculiar that Kafka would want the readers to first learn of the machine, not as a machine but an apparatus, putting on the same playing field as a court of law or entire governmental system. Not just an apparatus but a remarkable one. I would like to bring attention to the apparatus, I find it a metaphor for government. As would infer referring to it as an apparatus. The three parts representing the branches commonly found in governments of the time, or in members of the judicial committees. There is the Bed that hold the man and physically moves his body, on top is the inscriber that is responsible for delivering the movement of the Harrow, and the Harrow filled with sharp needles responsible for carrying out the transfiguration of the damned. The bed represents the law enforcement component that detains and hold people. The Inscriber represents the judge that reads and delivers the sentence. The harrow represents the punishment component, it delivers the message to the criminal.
Due process was first established in western law in the Magna Carta, clause 39 states “No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land.”. This is the foundation for the Idea of due process in the legal system of the United States. In the United States the process for becoming a convicted and punished criminal usually follow these steps, arrest, arraignment (where you are told of your transgressions and give a plea), trial, sentencing, appeal, punishment. In the penal colony there is only arrest, judgement, punishment, sentencing. The sentence is never told to the condemned but it is etched in his skin so he may decipher it with his skin, This is a very brutal way of punishment, it has no other purpose but to eliminate the offenders while forcing an intended religious epiphany of the sentence. This can be described as an intense unbalanced retributive punishment. Since guilt is absolute, then the condemned is absolutely guilty, this apparatus of punishment is punishing because they deserve to be punished, but also preventing the offender from committing further crimes by specific deterrence, in this case death.
The Officer admits to the traveler “This process and this execution, which you now have an opportunity to admire, have at present no more open supporters in our colony. I am its single defender and at the same time the single advocate for the legacy of the Old Commandant….And now I’m asking you: Should such a life’s work…come to nothing because of this Commandant”.
Even in the face of judgement and failing circumstances the Officer clings to his apparatus, attempting to use a justification of “it was here first, so it must be right”. Just as within our own legal apparatus, there are so many antiquated laws that still exist today. Possibly, the notion that it is harder to change the future than it is to forget the past? On circumstance anyway, The Officers death and the departure of the Traveller complete the metaphor. Possibly, the notion that it is harder to forget the past than to change the future until everyone who was partial to the past and in an authoritative position to impose it dies. The Officer tell the Traveler “ We, his friends, already knew at the time of his death that the administration of the colony was so self-contained that even if his successor had a thousand new plans in mind, he would not be able to alter anything of the old plan, at least not for several years. And our prediction has held.”
The Officer is talking about something that exists, but how is this possible? How is one man, the Officer able to hold this organization hostage from his position of low power? This question exposes the importance of the machine component of the Apparatus of punishment in the penal colony. The fact that the legal process of the penal colony is automated within the machine “Up to this point I still had to do some work by hand, but from now on the apparatus works entirely on it own.”, and that the machine has dominated these processes from before many of the people living there had arrived there. Gives the officer a distinct advantage in maintaining control. The machine is in control, the officer is its symbiont, with out him it could not operate, but without it he would have no specific purpose within the apparatus of punishment. Thus the Officer is held hostage within the system engineered by the deceased Commandant. The new Commandant is in obvious opposition but despite his power may only attack the institution by denying it upkeep. If this would have been a humanized apparatus of punishment the new commandant may have been able to establish his authority over the members of the process, but he seems to lack any authority over the machine other than its budgetary requirements of upkeep. The machine then holds the most power within the colony, it can punish and sentence with impunity, it has no ability for error, because it only judges those who are absolutely guilty.
What is the significance of having a machine in this position?
By having a machine in such a crucial and often controversial position within the apparatus the old Commandant assured the continuation of his invented practices long after his control of the apparatus ended. By instituting the machine into positions that would be hard to fill within a penal colony he assured that the alternative to his system was lack of a system. Thus thrusting those who came after into a catch 22, employ an unjust system or dismiss justice. For those positions the machine was filling are traditionally held for figures of reason, for it is understood by those who lack ignorance that all situations have different variable within them, it would take an educated and wise decision maker to decide the fate of another child of god. Those positions also hold those responsible to them accountable for their decisions and the consequences of them morally, where doubt could be an emotional undoing. So, are those position more fully suited to a machine? Allowing impunity to its symbiont slaves? Much is the question about those human components of the Nazi incinerators. But what was the punishment for many of those trapped within the Nazi apparatus? Those who actually loaded the people into the ovens, those who prevented them from escaping, those who captured and transported the people. Would it have been any more tolerable if it had been purely an automated genocide? Is it wrong to have a machine kill someone, or to punish someone? And can a machine carry out these complex initiatives or is it always a person behind it?
It is the case that the Travelers judgement was enough for the Officer to condemn himself to judgment and punishment through the machine. The Officer does not hesitate to initiate the apparatus upon himself. The traveler comments “ the Officer was now acting in a completely correct manner”. He had only the choice to stay true to his own system, to be just. Which as it turns out is the blueprint for the transformation he wishes to go through. But, the machine fails and instead quickly kills the officer. The Traveler remarks that this is not justice but Murder. It is in effect the last time the machine hold authority, it is being removed from power at this moment, how interesting the concept of a machine committing murder, for it was not intended too, yet it is the description given to the act in the story. A fitting and uncanny end to the story, the machine is in control and its operators facilitate it, only to die by its hand, to be judged as committing a human crime. Machines have no place in these complex apparatuses of human interaction and consequence, when they are instituted it is hard to remove them, and they don’t necessarily have to be machines, but they will always be facilitated by those who place there identification within the machine.