Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Number Three

Es gibt zwei menschliche Hauptsünden, aus welchen sich alle andern ableiten: Ungeduld und Lässigkeit. Wegen der Ungeduld sind sie aus dem Paradiese vertrieben worden, wegen der Lässigkeit kehren sie nicht zurück. Vielleicht aber gibt es nur eine Hauptsünde: die Ungeduld. Wegen der Ungeduld sind sie vertrieben worden, wegen der Ungeduld kehren sie nicht zurück.

There are two main human sins, from which all the others derive: impatience and indolence. It was because of impatience that they were expelled from paradise; it is because of indolence that they do not return. Yet perhaps there is only one major sin: impatience. Because of impatience they were expelled, because of impatience they do not return. [Kaiser/Wilkins]

There are two cardinal human vices, from which all the others derive their being: impatience and carelessness. Impatience got people evicted from Paradise; carelessness kept them from making their way back there. Or perhaps there is only one cardinal vice: impatience. Impatience got people evicted, and impatience kept them from making their way back. [Hofmann]


Kafka cancelled this aphorism, perhaps in favor of Number Two, which seems to be an extension of the line of reasoning evident here.

Impatience means being unwilling to wait, but the fruit of the tree of knowledge wasn't prohibited for a limited time only; it was forbidden forever and altogether, so how is the Fall a crime of impatience? If we assume the Fall was a crime of impatience, wouldn't we also have to assume that Adam and Eve mistook God's permanent ban for a temporary delay? If so, then that mistake sets up the impatience which leads to the transgression, making that confusion, rather than the act of disobedience, the origin of sin. However, it is for the disobedience they were punished, unless we assume that the confusion is included somehow in the punishment as well, even if it isn't mentioned. This doesn't seem to be Kafka's point, so perhaps he cancelled this aphorism not only because of the superfluity of indolence to his idea, but also because the Fall is out of place in it as well.

Perhaps, by impatience, Kafka means taking the rules too lightly. Adam and Eve had only one rule. You would think they could have remembered it. But, if you have to live with many rules, while you may not remember them all in particular, you are constantly aware of the existence of rules, and so you might develop a reflex causing you to check for a rule before undertaking certain kinds of actions. Someone with only one rule to follow doesn't really live according to rule in the usual sense, and might well be more likely to forget it than someone bound by many rules.

In the second aphorism, impatience is failure to follow method. Methods are caught in a double bind; on the one hand, they have to take all relevant possibilities into account, while, on the other hand, in order to function, they have to reach a conclusion that isn't arbitrary. Where the possibilities are very numerous, it becomes more and more difficult not to set an arbitrary end to methodical operations.

Then -- going back. This means that the expulsion from paradise is not permanent. But, from identifying impatience as the main, the only, human sin, it doesn't follow necessarily that patience will restore paradise. In this aphorism, Kafka only says that impatience and paradise are mutually exclusive. The first aphorism speaks of a "true way;" if that isn't also the "way back," I don't see what else it could be. Perhaps the first aphorism explains that patience is the true way, the true way back; this would make going back the non-arbitrary result of the method, unless patience itself is paradise.

Paradise is not endless procedure, unless paradise is the trial. Is Bloch patient? Or is he no longer waiting for anything? Is faith just waiting? Is patience possible where there is no anticipation of a result? Or perhaps patience is only the refusal to act, despite a strong impatience.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Number Two

Alle menschlichen Fehler sind Ungeduld, ein vorzeitiges Abbrechen des Methodischen, ein scheinbares Einpfählen der scheinbaren Sache.

All human errors are impatience, the premature breaking off of what is methodical, an apparent fencing in of the apparent thing. [Kaiser/Wilkins]

All human errors stem from impatience, a premature breaking off of a methodical approach, an ostensible pinning down of an ostensible object. [Hofmann]


Impatience is the only cause of human error. This means no human error cannot ultimately be traced back to anything but impatience. Impatience is a topic Kafka returns to throughout the aphorisms.

Why be impatient? It suggests the desire to be done and to move on is greater than the desire for the correct result; and that, as a method becomes more thorough, and therefore presumably more accurate, it becomes correspondingly more exasperating to use.

Method is designed to exhaust the possibilities, to miss nothing; taking absolutely everything into account is the key to reasonable planning and understanding, and at the same time it's a maddening exercise in frustration. You begin to realize people don't use words like "exhaust" just by chance when they talk about this.

But then, doesn't the thinker care at all about the result? He must, and yet he seems too content to plod methodically on -- unless of course he really only loves the method, and is disinclined to set much stock in results.

Ostensible objects -- they may be illusory or they may be able to be constituted in a variety of ways: the flower and the bee may be two objects from one point of view and only one object from another. It isn't just a matter of labelling an object, but of distinguishing the boundaries of each object.

Kafka seems preoccupied with methodical procedures, especially with all the ways they can go wrong, but nothing ends. The error isn't an end nor does it finish anything, but it marks the point in the development of a line of inquiry beyond which nothing useful can be expected.

The method defines what constitutes an error, but in general, error is abandoning method (usually without noticing, like falling off the rope in Number One). But how well does the method do when it comes to providing a satisfactory notion of success? The method is designed to identify and avoid error, and it may be that it can only define success in terms of scarcity of error; that minimization of error (accuracy) is equivalent to truth is taken for granted.

Error is breaking off method prematurely, but how do you know when to break off method maturely?

Error arises when one breaks off method prematurely, because this leads to an inessential understanding based on mere appearances. One settles for what seems to be true, and then reasons from that appearance. Kafka's fiction is replete with examples of this.

From this, we may infer that truth, for Kafka, is less a result and more a way of remaining true, by patient application of method.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Number One

Der wahre Weg geht über ein Seil, das nicht in der Höhe gespannt ist, sondern knapp über dem Boden. Es scheint mehr bestimmt stolpern zu machen, als begangen zu werden.

The true way is along a rope that is not spanned high in the air, but only just above the ground. It seems intended more to cause stumbling than to be walked along. [Kaiser/Wilkins]

The true path is along a rope, not a rope suspended way up in the air, but rather only just over the ground. It seems more like a tripwire than a tightrope. [Hofmann]


Interpreting aphorisms is stupid because you can't exhaust their meaning and reducing them to "meanings" destroys them. They are aphorisms because they make meaning by standing apart and intimating a context, and that only to the extent as is necessary for them to be at all intelligible. But refusing to interpret aphorisms is stupid too, because this is to refuse to read them at all. Aphorisms have to be played like pieces of music.

In this case, the point seems to be that there's a way to know whether or not you are on the true path, whatever that is supposed to be or wherever it's supposed to be leading you. If the pathway feels shaky, it's the right one.

Why is the rope low? If it where high, you would have to stay on it, whereas a low rope you can walk away from whenever you like or, more importantly, by an oversight. You can also blunder over the true way by oversight, tripping and falling over it rather than from it. Perhaps the true way is often misperceived as an obstacle? Or do people trip over it because they're looking for it in the wrong place, up high?