The ethics of the media today in kafka’s metaphorical description of the “penal machine” one hundred years after he wrote“in the penal colony”

Avraham Mounitz

Fish In this article I present a techno-ethical perspective of Kafka’s story “In the Penal Colony”. It is well known that Kafka was endowed with a penetrating perspective on reality as well as an aptitude for self-reflection. The combination of these two personality traits, together with his skill of metaphoric writing, created enigmatic multi-layered literature. Using absurd and extreme metaphors Kafka criticizes the various central power-wielding entities such as the regime, bureaucrats, judges, etc. From the point of view suggested here, in his story “In the Penal Colony” Kafka identifies the press as a power center with which he is at odds and whose strong-armed nature he has experienced personally. As we shall see below, the moral fair play of the “officer”, the handler of the faithful penal machine, breaks down at the same time as the machine under the slogan “Be just”. The press as a system identified by Kafka is unjust and is therefore presented in the story as a printing machine destined to fall apart on the journalist/editor. The similarities between the penal machine and the printing press, suggested by this article, are based on the technical knowledge acquired by Kafka while working in industrial insurance and from his contacts with printing and publishing houses. Kafka’s detailed technical description of the penal machine in terms of its structure form. parts, preparation process and operation show an almost total similarity to those of a printing press. In his metaphorical and aphorismatic writing Kafka did not intend to present a one-dimensional description, rather he always aimed at messages beyond the allegorical description in the story. As in his other stories, in “In the Penal Colony” he also embeds a moral principle, expressed throughout the story, but most significantly in the final dramatic adage that exposes the plot - “Be just”. Identifying the similarities between the penal machine and the printing press as a material metaphor paves the way for an interpretive statement regarding the morality of the press. As corroboration for this statement, the article presents, amongst other things, instances where Kafka came across the punitive aspect of the press. This adds another interpretive layer analyzing the characters in the story (both revealed and concealed), their discourse and other material elements (for example: the bowl of rice) highlighting the ethical morals of the press at the time. It seems that the workings of the press in Kafka’s time, as a system where there is an encounter between financial interests and ideological agendas, remains the same today, one hundred years after the story was written, and thus Kafka appears not only as a brilliant metaphorical writer but also an unintentional visionary.

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