Windows in a Poet’s House: Observations on Kafka’s Prozess

by Harry Heuser

Inspecting the Premises

In his postscript to Beschreibungen einer Form, Martin Walser criticizes the liberal speculations about Kafka’s work and its appropriation by theoreticians alien to literature; instead, he stresses the importance of close reading—even if it means having to count all the references to doors and windows “im Kafkaschen Gebäude” (in the Kafka edifice)—to achieve a scientific foundation of and juncture for literary analysis (130).  Although many of Kafka’s buildings, from The Castle to “The Burrow,” are ruins or rudiments, critics would do well not judge the poet’s edifice according to their personal sense of architecture, but, as Walser suggests, to count entrances and apertures to investigate their functions and purposes.  Prepared for a scrutiny of language as the building stones of the “Kafkasche Gebäude,” with an occasional glance at the builder’s personal penetrations of the interior and a doubtful eye on the at times obstructing scaffolds erected by its inspectors, it is quite appropriate to a begin the analysis of Kafka’s Der Prozess by taking Walser’s advice literally.

Much has been written about the importance of doors in Der Prozess; but its windows have attracted few discerning spectators.  A notable exception is H.J. Fickert, whose essay “The Window Metaphor in Kafka’s Trial” is a serviceable introduction to window gazing.  To be exact, the word “Fenster” (window) is mentioned seventy-three times in the novel’s ten extant chapters (i.e. without considering the omitted chapters and passages, such as “Ein Traum” and “Das Haus”), including derivatives such as the nouns “Fensterbrett” (window sill) or “Fensterscheibe” (windowpane), and the adjectives “fensterlos” (windowless), “einfenstrig” and “zweifenstrig” (with one and two windows, respectively).  While this number alone does not add to an understanding of the novel—other than offering proof that the “Kafkasche Gebäude” may not be as a bleak house as some critics care to lay it out—and is, perhaps, not even an impressive statistic considering the urban indoors settings of Der Prozess, Kafka’s windows are so prominently positioned as to become conspicuous and significant.

One of Kafka’s techniques to draw attention to windows is the frequent repetition of the word “Fenster,” often in such proximity that it could easily have been substituted by a pronoun, as the following example from the novel’s first chapter illustrates:

“Nein, ich will nicht mehr,” sagte K. und ging zum Fenster.  Drüben war noch die Gesellschaft beim Fenster und schien nur jetzt dadurch, dass K. ans Fenster herangetreten war, in der Ruhe des Zuschauens ein wenig gestört. (Der Prozess 10-11)

Similar triplications of the word “Fenster” also occur in chapters two, five, and ten.

Kafka often begins his descriptions of rooms by mentioning whether they have windows or not.  In chapter two, K., searching for the scene of his investigation, enters several apartments, noticing that they are, “in der Regel, kleine, einfenstrige Zimmer, in denen auch gekocht wurde” (29), whereas the investigation hall is introduced as a “mittelgrosses, zweifenstriges Zimmer” (30).  Advocate Huld’s study is first described as a room barely lit by “drei grossen Fenster” (84); yet even though windows are most prominent in the novel’s first chapter, Der Prozess features a fenestral frame, as onlookers observe the beginning and end of K.’s trial from their windows.

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