Kafka's In der Strafkolonie (In the Penal Colony) is yet another text in which Kafka's obsession with language, semantics, and the trope of literary absence is a central figure.

The story is situated within a long conversation between an explorer and an officer native to the land in which the story takes place. Central to the story is a torture device cherished by the officer, about which the explorer is somewhat curious, though less curious than the officer would hope.

What is significant about the torture device is that it slowly kills the victim by imprinting the name of the crime on the victims body. The victim, in a sense, becomes the name of their crime, dying in so becoming such a crime.

The explorer is of course troubled by the inhumanity of the device. At the end of the story, he stands by as the officer straps himself to the machine, and commits suicide, by inscribing his crime onto his body, inscribing himself on himself. As the officer is being imprinted with his crime, the machine malfunctions, and the officer is killed outright, before the explorer's eyes. He dies before he becomes his crime, he dies before signifier turns into signified, before the name becomes that which it stands for, before he can reveal to the outsider (who, confused by a lack of understanding of the local language) that a sign does not have a meaning, but is rather inscribed with a meaning by difference.