Friday, December 16, 2011

Number Sixteen

Ein Käfig ging einen Vogel suchen.

A cage went in search of a bird.

Commentary

This one is translated identically in both editions.

The search is paradoxical. A bird is free, and if its freedom is considered a part of its essence, then a bird deprived of its freedom isn't the same bird anymore. I don't think the primary point here is that one may have an idea of some thing only to find that possessing that thing isn't the same as possessing that idea. Kafka is pointing out how the search for something pushes it away from you.

You want the bird, but why do you want the bird? Because it's free. So you catch a bird. Now it isn't free any more. How do you "have" a free bird?

The cage is formed around the bird, roughly in keeping with its dimensions, needs, and habits. Kafka may be saying that certain ideas are like this; they are attempts to trap something.

Searching, the cage becomes more like a bird; it would have to go where birds go, flying from branch to branch. So the cage may end its search by turning into a bird. Then again, it may turn into something entirely new, neither a bird nor a cage.

This means that the search does not always push the object away, but that when it doesn't, it also does not result in capture.

1 comment:

you can call me aloe said...

A cage is made for keeping a bird inside, depriving it of its freedom. A cage without fulfilling this function ceases to be a cage worthwhile to be a cage.

A bird symbolises freedom and movements. The movements, in relation to freedom, must be given sufficient space. So what if the cage is infinitely huge? Is the bird inside it enjoying freedom, after all?

Is not our life in some sense living inside a cage? Is not our world a cage?

Or, is it the other way around? What if the world is the bird, and we are the cage that goes in search of it? If so, perhaps we should learn to transform ourselves from a cage into, perhaps, a tree with strong branches, lush foliage and nutritious fruits, so that the bird can build its nest, linger and let its offspring develop.