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Michael Stoff, Director 305 East 23rd St, CLA 2.102, (G3600) Austin, TX 78712-1250 • 512-471-1442

Fall 2003

T C 125K • Topics in Arts and Science: Franz Kafka and Systems of Punishment

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
40605 M
5:00 PM-6:00 PM
PAR 302

Course Description

In many of Franz Kafka’s works, characters find themselves entangled in criminal legal processes that strike the contemporary reader as absurd, if not unintelligible. In considering their plights, one is compelled to question the principles of criminal liability and punishment at play. This course will employ two of Kafka’s best-known works, The Trial and "In the Penal Colony," as well as other readings, as springboards to examine contemporary issues related to criminal punishment. We will discuss traditional justifications for punishment (e.g., retribution, deterrence, incapacitation, and reform) and the legal systems that have been designed to effect those goals. Students will be challenged to assess contemporary systems of punishment for legitimacy, coherence and fairness, as well as compliance with cultural and Constitutional constraints. We will compare the plights of Kafka’s protagonists to those of the accused in contemporary legal systems. In the process, we will consider strategies such as "three strikes" laws, mandatory minimum sentences, determinate sentencing and guideline sentencing. We will also examine the impact of advances in DNA technology, and the resulting "actual innocence" cases. In each case, we will examine the potential for "Kafkaesque" processes or outcomes, and what might be done to prevent or mitigate any such result. Finally, in a fit of pragmatism, class members will be asked to construct a coherent model of criminal punishment that adheres to the ideals, and avoids the pitfalls, discussed during the semester.

About the professor: Robert Pitman is the Deputy United States Attorney for the Western District of Texas. As Deputy U.S. Attorney, he supervises prosecutors and staff in one of the largest federal districts in the country. Following graduation from the University of Texas School of Law, he clerked for a United States district judge and practiced with the law firm of Fulbright & Jaworski. He has served as a federal prosecutor for ten years in Austin, where he was Chief of the Austin Division, and in Washington, DC. In 2001, he was appointed by the Attorney General of the United States to serve as United States Attorney until the confirmation of a Presidential appointee.

Grading Policy

This course is pass/fail. The only requirements are attendance and class participation. Everyone begins with a pass; you have to work to fail. That said, the participation requirement is real. Registration in this course implies a good faith intention to be a contributing member of this enterprise. The format works best when participants are ready, willing and able to discuss their ideas and impressions. No more than two unexcused absences will be allowed.


The Trial, Franz Kafka "In the Penal Colony," Franz Kafka Additional readings from various law and scholarly journals


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