Sunday, January 8, 2012

Number Thirty-Five

Es gibt kein Haben, nur ein Sein, nur ein nach letztem Atem, nach Ersticken verlangendes Sein.

There is no having, only a being, only a state of being that craves the last breath, craves suffocation. [Kaiser/Wilkins]

There is no possessing, only an existing, only an existing that yearns for its final breath, for asphyxiation. [Hofmann]


This one sounds like a poem when you read it aloud.

Possession is a relationship, not a thing. Philosophy overflows with the topic of "to be," but it's stingy with its attention when "to have" comes up.

The idea is the exhaustion of being, but this could be read two ways, it could point to something negative, it doesn't matter whether it be the world overwhelming the self or simply ennui, or it could point to something else, and something more than a mere inversion of the negative. All these aphorisms have tended in the same direction in this respect, that the positive is not the inversion of the negative, that their opposition is different.

Kafka says that to be is to yearn; to be is to yearn for the last breath, which could mean that to be is to yearn not to be. By mentioning breath, he implicitly conflates being and living.

It could also mean that to be is to yearn to be until the end, which would mean suicide only if you meant willing your own life in its entireity, death included, by the word suicide. It might mean that the longing of the living is to be overcome by life, that death is being overcome by life and not a force that overcomes life. When I imagine the condition that craves the last breath, I imagine the overstimulated condition of someone at the limit of their endurance, whether that limit is as extensive as an athelete's or as narrow as an invalid's. When you are at that limit, begging for relief, you are also living at the summit of life's intensity.

There are two other things I notice. First, that being and having are strictly abstract, while the idea of yearning, the last breath, and suffocation, draw these abstractions into a particular, personal instant. Second, I wonder why he felt it necessary to negate having, and how that led him to being. Was he trying out the idea, "I have my life," and then did he reject it, with the thought, "I don't have my life -- I live" and then go on to say what life meant?

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