In Search of Heimat: A Note on Franz Kafka's Concept of Law

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Are Fran T Kafka's representations of law and legality figments of his imagination, or do they go beyond his obsessive probing of his neurosis to reflect issues that also engaged the social and legal theorists of his time? Does Kafka's conception of law offer anything new in respect to law, justice, and bureaucracy that was not explored by his contemporaries or by later legal scholars? This paper uses Kafka's office writings as a starting point for reexamining the images of law, bureaucracy, hierarchy, and authority in his fiction-images that are traditionally treated as metaphors for things other than law. The paper will argue that the legal images in Kafka's fiction are worthy of examination, not only because of their bewildering, enigmatic, bizarre, profane, and alienating effects or because of the deeper theological or existential meanings they suggest, but also as exemplifications of a particular concept of law and legality that operates paradoxically as an integral part of the human condition under modernity. To explore this point, the paper places Kafka's conception of law in the context of his overall writing, which the paper presents as a series of representations of the modern search for a lost Heimat. Kafka's writing, the paper argues, takes us beyond the instrumental understanding of law advanced by various schools of legal positivism and allows us to grasp law as a form of experience.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Law and Society


  • authority, justice, legality, living law, state law, literature, rationality, rhetoric, Gesellschaft, community, Gemeinschaft, Kafka, Heimat, bureaucracy, positivism, sociolegal
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)463-490
JournalLaw and Literature
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2010
Publication categoryResearch