Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Number Thirty-Two

Die Krähen behaupten, eine einzige Krähe könnte den Himmel zerstören. Das ist zweifellos, beweist aber nichts gegen den Himmel, denn Himmel bedeuten eben: Unmöglichkeit von Krähen.

The crows maintain that a single crow could destroy the heavens. There is no doubt of that, but it proves nothing against the heavens, for heaven simply means: the impossibility of crows. [Kaiser/Wilkins]

The crows like to insist that a single crow is enough to destroy heaven. This is incontestably true, but it says nothing about heaven, because heaven is just another way of saying: the impossibility of crows. [Hofmann]

Commentary

The purpose of this aphorism might be to set dialectical reasoning running round in circles until it falls exhausted.

I don't know how to approach this aphorism without taking the stupid interpretation as my starting point.

Stupid: the crows are the doubters who deny heaven, but, since heaven is faith-in-heaven, they end up denying it to themselves. So, believe etc.

What does Kafka do to prevent a stupid interpretation? For one thing, the crows aren't denying heaven, they are asserting they can destroy it. For another thing, why crows? The hallmark of bad readings of Kafka is the assumption that he writes allegories. The crows are crows, and he must have chosen crows because they live in the sky. The word Himmel means both heaven and sky.

From the point of view of the crows, they coexist with heaven. From heaven's point of view, there's no such things as crows. This is another stab at a model of good and evil, or the positive and the negative, of the kind Kafka has been working on in other aphorisms. He's trying out different terms for these two sides, and experimenting with alternative renderings of their relationship. Evil insists on its parity with good, but good does not insist on its parity with evil, in fact, good is the absence of evil, but only in thought.

2 comments:

mikee said...

The crows are just crows. They could have been mockingbirds, or silly Canadian geese, or any flying creatures, like bats or men in jets.

Heaven defines itself by an absence, an absence which heaven cannot insure. When the presence of crows (or geese...) occurs, heaven has destroyed itself through its exclusive definition of itself.

One crow can destroy heaven only because they all know how poorly heaven defends itself from crows.

Michael Cisco said...

Thank you. Your last comment in particular, about heaven defending itself poorly, I think is helpful in that it links this aphorism more clearly to others, like 4 and 47.

My difficulty with this aphorism is the idea that heaven is destructable. How does this coincide with what he has to say about the indestructable in aphorisms like 74, for example?

One crow can destroy heaven, but heaven is never destroyed, so no crow ever does what they can do. It's like a power held in reserve, but for what purpose? Or is it that heaven can be destroyed without being destroyed? Destroyed and yet still there, denying that it is destroyed? Does it make any useful sense to suggest that heaven is nothing but this denial?