Walter Benjamin's great essay on Franz Kafka exemplifies his philosophical praxis, which exhumes the prehistoric substrate of modernity to expose the myth of progress in modernity's claim to epochal legitimacy. Benjamin's physiognomic thinking endows Kafka with the features of his own thought, an intellectual messianism or revolutionary nihilism that frames Kafka's legal world with a radical critique of law. The verdict against modernity that Benjamin finds in Kafka is couched in a series of theologically tinted figures. The obscurity of Kafka's “parables,” the fruit of an aesthetics of “failure” that observes das Bilderverbot, veils a messianic vision of justice. Benjamin's gnostic picture of modernity as a bureaucratic prison house reflects Josef K.'s victimized view of his situation in The Trial. Hans Blumenberg's therapeutic account of myth suggests a view of Kafka's work at odds with Benjamin's idea of the normless, “mythic” quality of law and politics in modernity.

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