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The Law Before It is law: Franz Kafka and the (Im)possibility of the Law’s Self-Reflection

By Gunther Teubner
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Suggested Citation: Gunther Teubner, The Law Before It is law: Franz Kafka and the (Im)possibility of the Law’s Self-Reflection, 14 German Law Journal 405-422 (2013), available at
The article offers a novel interpretation of Franz Kafka’s celebrated parable “Before the law”. It is inspired by recent developments in European legal theory, particularly by the work of Jacques Derrida, Niklas Luhmann and Giorgio Agamben. It suggests a dual role change in the confrontation of the parable’s protagonists - the “man from the country” and the “law”. According to this interpretation it is not a specific individual  that stands “before the law” but it is the legal discourse itself that is in a desperate search of its law, and the parable’s “law” for its part is not a generalized and distant authority (power, morality, religion etc), but  the valid and positive law of our times.  The article asks the question: What happens within the mysterious relationship between “Law AND law” which has always preoccupied legal theory when that relationship is subjected to the nightmarish logic in Kafka’s universe?