"Unendlicher Verkehr"
A Linguistic Exercise with Das Urteil

by Christian Huber

The text begins with the words "Das Urteil" and ends with the ominous "endloser Verkehr". Giving the multiple connotations of this last term, it is no wonder that different readers arrive at different readings of this ending. Hartwich, for example, sees the death of Georg as "negative Erfahrung der Transzendenz": by jumping from the bridge he wins back the "kindlichen Zustand der Unschuld." Mark Anderson, on the other hand, sees "Verkehr" as "a kind of code word for the realm of the father: commerce, sexuality, power in the world." "Das Urteil", one could argue, thus ends with Georg Bendemann's frightful flight away from the endless traffic of human society, an image that reappears at the beginning of Die Verwandlung (i.e. when looking at the writer's biography, only a few weeks later!) Gregor Samsa, unable (and unwilling) to get out of bed, contemplates his stressful job, his worries, the bad food and the "immerwechselnder, nie herzlich werdender menschlicher Verkehr". And like Georg Bendemann, he refuses to take part in this any longer. "Verkehr", again, has manifold connotations. Samsa rejects the superficial contact with his clients which at the same time has prevented him over the years to develop an intimate relationship with women. "Verkehr" as commerce thus makes "Verkehr" as sexual intercourse impossible. After realizing this, Gregor rebels also against the "Verkehr" as power structure in the family, he no longer wants to play the role that has been allotted to him. James McGlathery sees the endless traffic on the bridge as reminiscent of Georg's sexual obsession, his "bachelor panic", which, after having been realized, leads him to suicide as the only escape from marriage.

To get away from the biographical-psychoanalytic aspects of the story, I would, however, rather like to understand "Verkehr" in the sense of human contact (after all, Georg Bendemann is a businessman and terms like "Parteienverkehr" or "mit jemandem verkehren" are no doubt connected with this sphere). If "the verdict" then reads "endless traffic" what else could the father mean than to force Georg to get out (of the room, the house, his isolation) and make contact with the world. He urges his son to find a "Brücke", something that could enable the lonely businessman to live in modern mass society. The word "ertrinken" then, takes on a completely different meaning: water is no longer the element into which Georg jumps in order to die, nor is it a refreshing element in which he is reborn, but rather, by combining these two aspects, Georg's leap from the bridge into the river is a metaphor for his "drowning" in the flow of (modern) life, his mingling with the crowd and the burying of his former reclusive existence. The "Geländer" over which he jumps is the barrier between him and society, between his old and his new self, between past and future. Maybe it is also a kind of bandage, that up until now had kept Kafka's bourgeois self together and which now breaks and opens the wound that is writing, and establishes the new found self as a writer. For writing, in the end, also includes (even if in Kafka's case only occasionally) an opening up to the public, a publication of the text and thus contact between the writer and his readers. In this sense, finally, the "death" of Georg, Bendemann corresponds perfectly with Roland Barthes' "Death of the author" which makes possible the birth of the reader, who, by reading and interpreting this text opens up and is part of a seemingly "endless traffic" in critical literature.

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last updated: 02 April 1997