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In Kafka’s published parable The Problem of Our Laws he displays an understanding of the primacy of interpretation in textual semantics. The narrator describes his community which is ruled under ancient laws that are known by only a small group of interpreters, referred to as “the nobles”.

In the story, Kafka situates the laws as secondary to the interpretations of it. The text, that is, follows its own interpretation. The law is the text in which it is re-read, re-written, written for the very first time. “The very existence of these laws is at most a matter of presumption” (CS, 437). “Perhaps these laws that we are trying to unravel do not exist at all” (CS, 438). “If any law exists, it can only be this: the Law is whatever the nobles do” (CS, 438). Kafka is saying that there is no law outside of its interpretation. Cixous, in a brilliant analysis of Before the Law, settles on the same conclusion: “The text is the law” (R, 16). The text, written after itself, originates itself. That is, an interpretation originates the meaning of the intepreted. Interpretation, in the case of writing technologies, though generally not in the case of speech technologies where deferral and postponement are not thematically present, is a futuristic event. In certain technologies of writing (what might be called technologies of the self), there is then a total reliance on the future as the locus of writing, of writing’s meaning, of the possibility of it meaning anything at all. (We can put this another way: a text that is never read cannot be said to mean anything at all, at least not until it is read.) Kafka opens his writing out onto the future. In The Problem of Our Laws this is made explicit. Although it is seemingly presented as a “problem”, there is also a sense in which Kafka gives himself over to interpretation, recognizing its originary status in his own writing. “A writer once wrote of the law: the sole visible and indubitable law that is imposed upon us is interpretation, and must we deprive ourselves of that one law?” (CS, 438, translation modified).

Kafka Quotes taken from the Schocken edition of Franz Kafka's The Complete Stories, edited by Nahum N. Glatzer, (c) 1972.

Cixous quotes taken from Helene Cixous' Readings: The Poetics of Blanchot, Joyce, Kafka, Kleist, Lispector, and Tsvetayeva. University of Minnesota Press, 1991.

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