Before The Law (Vor dem Gesetz) is one of Kafka's better known works. It is taken from his longer novel The Trial (Der Prozess) and is often read as one of Kafka's most sustained treatments of textual problems of interpretation, semantic origin, as well as the obvious religious, existential, and legal themes running through the text.
The law is here presented by Kafka as a textual notion. As Helene Cixous would later write, the text is the law (see her book Readings). The law is the text, meaning that the law is first of all a textual problem, that is a problem of linguistics, interpretation, communication, semantics. And what is the barrier to interpretation, to reading, to writing, to any discursive space? It is "not knowing" the way to enter. It is not knowing how to start. (In Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing, Cixous talks about writing as "getting going". "One has to get going: this is what writing is." We also have similar themes at play in the writings of Jacques Derrida (for instance, in his collection of essays Writing and Difference). The only barrier to the law is not knowing how to enter. We cannot write, we cannot read, we cannot understand, until we have taught ourselves how to initiate ourselves into a practical, that is sometimes discursive, space, an architecture of reading and writing.
Yet, to read, to write... What are these things? What are these things in Before the Law. We can also observe this problematic in Kafka's parable The Problem of Our Laws. There, Kafka explicitly discusses the notion of interpretation and sets it as that which is semantically originary--that is, the origin of meaning insofar as Kafka (like Jacques Derrida) would be willing to admit to the concept of the origin.
Seeing that the man, the man who is from the country, from the outside, is at his end the doorkeeper, a hairy creature, tells the man: "The door was made only for you." The door was made only for that man. And so each of us must find our own path into reading, into reading. "Why has no one else come here?" When he asks this, the doorkeeper recognizes from the question itself, that the man from the country is at the end. In asking, in beginning to wonder about the relation between the law and the other, it can be seen that the man is beginning to recognize the solitude of reading, of writing. Cixous also wrote in her book Readings that Kafka wrote in total solitude. Total solitude. This is the law. This is the way in. It is also the most difficult path, for Kafka.