In the parable “The Problem of Our Laws”, Kafka portraits a society ruled by the laws whose content is unknown. Yet, for a very long time people were busy with interpreting the law; as a result, the interpretations acquire the status of the law. Besides, Kafka repeatedly remarks that “the laws were made to the advantage of the nobles from the very beginning”. In a later part of the parable, Kafka states that “the law is whatever the nobles do.” Accordingly, nobody would gather and form a party to resist the nobility. Yet, Kafka isn’t that pessimistic, when in the beginning of the parable he declares: “… and though there is still a possible freedom of interpretation left, it has now become very restricted.”
In the parable, Kafka seems to be attaching importance to the notion of “interpretation” in the course of achieving liberation from the dominance of the nobility. However, there are disadvantages involved during the interpretations; since not all people have a right to say in those interpretations. The law itself is unknown and it is made intelligible by the interpretations. There might be various interpretations of the law, yet most of which favour the power of the nobility. On the other hand, Kafka implies that there is still the possibility of an interpretation in the favour of the people as a result of which the nobility will vanish. In that regard, Kafka’s parable pertains to the Nietzschean notion of “will to power”. According to Nietzsche, the aim of life is the increase of power, “the will to appropriate, dominate, increase, grow stronger.” The people in Kafka’s parable should found the interpretations of the law according to their lives and perspectives in order to increase their power and diminish the dominance of the nobility; since there are no facts in life but only different perspectives and interpretations, as Nietzsche claims: “In so far as the word ‘knowledge’ has any meaning, the world is knowable; but it is interpretable otherwise, it has no meaning behind it but countless meanings – ‘Perspectivism’” Yet, during the time when the story is told, the society lives under the dominance of one interpretation, which eliminated others, that is, the interpretations of the nobles.
Kafka further distinguishes “the Law” and “our laws” from each other; when he says: “The Law is whatever the nobles do.” Kafka leaves no room for “interpretation” here when he implies that “our laws” which originate from “the Law” is totally organized, controlled and reproduced by the nobility. No matter how the people interpret the laws from their very restricted conditions in the society, “the Law” is determined by the will of the nobility. Does this metaphor of “the Law” correspond to Freudian “Primal Father”, who is murdered and devoured by his sons and who respectively becomes stronger than the living one had been due to the sons’ identification with him? Does “the Law” correspond to a “totem” animal which is obeyed, feared and celebrated at the same time? Kafka ends his parable saying “the sole visible and indubitable law that is imposed upon us is the nobility, must we ourselves deprive ourselves of that one law?” From this point of view, the law is celebrated, since it is the sole law which regulates and organizes people’s lives although the law consists of the interpretations the nobles conduct and the deeds they perform.
Hence, since the laws are determined by the deeds of the nobility, or they are whatever the nobles do, there is no room of existence for “the Law” which is unchangeable, stable and consistent whose influence determines and reproduces the lives of generations as the totems and taboos do. The Law (with capital L) on the one hand implies a concrete set of rules as opposed to “the laws”, and nevertheless it contains a floating signifier which becomes what the nobles do in any circumstance. In this respect, it points at the “state of exception” which, according to Benjamin, “has become the rule.” Therefore it is impossible to distinguish where the law begins and ends on which occasion.
Then why does Kafka insist that there is still a possible freedom of interpretation left? Further, toward the end of the story, why does he speculate on the possible ways in which the people might achieve salvation by dominating nobility which is the sole victor and the law maker in a “state of exception”? I suggest an explanation to this stance of Kafka to be explored through Walter Benjamin, who declares in his essay on Kafka: “The law which is studied but not practiced any longer is the gate to justice.” The laws of the society in Kafka’s parable are studied and interpreted for generations but they are not directly practiced since they remain a mystery. Then what one needs is, according to Agamben, is to walk through that “gate to justice” in a certain fashion: “What opens a passage toward justice is not the erasure of law, but its deactivation and inactivity – that is, another use of the law.” Yet, Agamben’s position maintains pessimism when he further claims: “What is found after the law is not a more proper and original use value that precedes the law, but a new use that is only born after it.” Agamben’s position is similar to Nietzsche’s since for him, the law which would precede the current law ruled by the nobility, would only be another interpretation and would in no way correspond to a “real”, “more truthful” or “factual” state of affairs. All in all, one can eventually suggest that Kafka’s parable portrays a society where the perpetrator/the noble is about to be the sole victor. The catastrophe didn’t arrive yet, since there is still a possibility of resistance.
Friedrich Nietzsche. “The Will to Power”. Trans. Walter Kaufmann and R. J. Hollingdale. New York, Vintage.
Sigmund Freud. “Totem and Taboo” in Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, v. XIII
Giorgio Agamben. “State of Exception”. Trans. Kevin Attell. The University of Chicago Press. Chicago and London. 2005.
Benjamin, Walter. “Franz Kafka: On the Tenth Anniversary of His Death ”, in Illuminations, trans. Harry Zohn, ed. Hannah Arendt. New York: Schocken Books, 2007.
Walter Benjamin. “On the Concept of History”. In Selected Writings, vol.4, 1938-1940. Ed. Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 2003. p.257
 Friedrich Nietzsche. “The Will to Power”. Trans. Walter Kaufmann and R. J. Hollingdale. New York, Vintage. p. 367.
 Ibid., p. 267.
 Sigmund Freud. “Totem and Taboo” in Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, v. XIII. pp. 141-142-143
 Walter Benjamin. “On the Concept of History”. In Selected Writings, vol.4, 1938-1940. Ed. Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 2003. p.257
 Walter Benjamin. “Franz Kafka: On the Tenth Anniversary of His Death ”, in Illuminations, trans. Harry Zohn, ed. Hannah Arendt. New York: Schocken Books, 2007. p. 139
 Giorgio Agamben. “State of Exception”. Trans. Kevin Attell. The University of Chicago Press. Chicago and London. 2005. p.64