Section on Limb Weights

There was a knock at the door and when I opened it there were three young men stranding there.  One of them, the oldest, spoke to me “Madam,” he said, “We are from the Ministry of Coal Tar Deposits, and we have come to ask you if we could weigh your limbs.”  “What, why?” I asked, perplexed, as anyone would be.  “May we come in?” he asked, ever so politely.

I ushered them into the parlour and asked them if they would like a cup of tea, but they declined.  I noticed then that the two younger men, the assistants, were each carrying something.  One had a huge axe and the other a large saw.   The older man pulled out a piece of paper from his pocket and began to read it to me, “According to law, we are required to inform you that the Ministry of Coal Tar Deposits, Section on Limb Weights, has determined that it is in the national interest that we know accurately the weight of citizens’ limbs and since it is impossible to weigh the limbs when they are attached to the body, consequently we are required to detach them first in order to obtain an accurate figure.  You may at any time request us to stop the process.”  He then put away the piece of paper and asked me to lie on the kitchen table.  I asked “why?”  “I’ve explained that,” he said and they helped me to lie on the table.  Then they set to work with their implements.

First they took off their jackets, then rolled up their shirt sleeves.  Then one of the young men climbed onto the table and swung the axe over his head and brought it down on my joints and practically severed them in one go.  At this point I thought of protesting and asking them to stop, but they had been very polite and it seemed too late then anyway. The older man said “good job, Frank.”  I must say it was quite painful and there was blood everywhere.  I asked them not to make a mess and they said they would try not to do so, but some mess was unavoidable.  They asked if they could take some rags with which to wipe up the pools of blood and I agreed.   The other man then came and used the saw to completely remove the arms and legs.

I said to them “Hey, why can’t you detach just one arm and one leg, why do you need both to get a measurement,” and he replied “we have to get an average weight, Madam.”  And they proceeded to remove all my limbs.  When they were done, the older man asked “where is the balance, don’t tell me we forgot it again,” and then he shouted at the young men, “well go and get it from the car then.”  One of  them scrambled out of the room, trying not to slip on the blood, and left and then came back a few minutes later with the balance.  They used it to weigh each of my limbs and the older man wrote the numbers down in a little book he carried in his pocket.

When he was finished he said politely, “We are very grateful to you Ma’am, you have done a great service to your country.”  Then they prepared to leave.  I shouted at them, “well what about me then, aren’t you going to re-attach my limbs?”  And he replied “Madam, I am sorry, that is not in the instructions, that is a private matter.”  And they wiped themselves down and left.  As they were leaving the older man said, “The Ministry of Coal Tar Deposits, Section on Limb Weights, thanks you very much for your assistance.”  Then they left, closing the door.  I shouted after them, “well what about me, how am I going to get about,” but they were already gone, leaving me helpless on the kitchen table in a pool of blood.

(Thanks to Franz Kafka and the Goons)

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3 thoughts on “Section on Limb Weights

    • Several people have commented on this blog post and asked me what it means. I must confess that it was intact in my mind when I woke up one morning and I just typed it out. But, I think I know its symbolic meaning. The ending of Kafka’s iconic novel “The Trial” ends with two policemen who have taken K to the outskirts of Prague and are arguing over who should kill him. He is forced to lie down while the two men pass the knife back and forth to each other. This is supposed to represent the fate of the Jews who were caught between the Germans and the Czechs, both of whom found it more convenient to attack the Jews than each other. Kafka also predicted the anonymity of totalitarian regimes, since K is found guilty of a crime that is never specified. The Goons, precursors of Monty Python, added their typical anti-establishment twist to the mix. They lampooned the ridiculous rules thought up by petty bureaucrats.

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