Saturday, February 4, 2012

Number Fifty-Five

Alles ist Betrug: das Mindestmaß der Täuschungen suchen, im üblichen bleiben, das Höchstmaß suchen. Im ersten Fall betrügt man das Gute, indem man sich dessen Erwerbung zu leicht machen will, das Böse, indem man ihm allzu ungünstige Kampfbedingungen setzt. Im zweiten Fall betrügt man das Gute, indem man also nicht einmal im Irdischen nach ihm strebt. Im dritten Fall betrügt man das Gute, indem man sich möglichst weit von ihm entfernt, das Böse, indem man hofft, durch seine Höchststeigerung es machtlos zu machen. Vorzuziehen wäre also hiernach der zweite Fall, denn das Gute betrügt man immer, das Böse in diesem Fall, wenigstens dem Anschein nach, nicht.

Everything is deception: seeking the minimum of illusion, keeping within the ordinary limitations, seeking the maximum. In the first case one cheats the Good, by trying to make it too easy for oneself to get it, and the Evil by imposing all too unfavorable conditions of warfare on it. In the second case one cheats the Good by not striving for it even in earthly terms. In the third case one cheats the Good by keeping as aloof from it as possible, and the Evil by hoping to make it powerless through intensifying it to the utmost. What would therefore seem to be preferable is the second case, for the Good is always cheated, and in this case, or at least to judge by appearances, the Evil is not cheated. [Kaiser/Wilkins]

Everything is deception: the question of whether to seek the least amount of deception, or the mean, or to seek out the highest. In the first instance, you will cheat goodness by making it too easy to acquire, and Evil by imposing too unfavorable conditions on it. In the second instance, you cheat goodness by failing to strive for it in this earthly life. In the third instance, you cheat goodness by removing yourself from it as far as you can, and Evil by maximizing it in a bid to reduce its impact. Accordingly, the second option is the one to go for, because you always cheat goodness, but -- in this case at least, or so it would seem -- not Evil. [Hofmann]


Hofmann seems to have decided that Kafka should have an anachronistically modern tone here, with "going for" this and "impact" that.

The word translated here as illusion or deception, Betrug, really means cheating. There is no avoiding it.

Refusing to cheat makes being good too easy, which is to say that goodness needs to prevail over temptations or trials, which does not mean to win the trial (in that case the victory belongs to the self), but to endure the trial and play the game without any possibility or thought of winning or losing. No trial, nothing for evil to work with or to be good about. The good becomes "too light an acquisition." The value of the good is in the labor. Meanwhile, you've made yourself too hard for Evil to get. One must be fair to Evil. Perhaps ruling out deception makes you too passive; you're a "good fellow," but automatically, not by choice.

Sticking to ordinary levels of cheating (literally, "to go on as usual") means accepting that cheating happens. That means you aren't even trying to achieve what the world defines as good. Doing less than all you can in order to be good is not good, because the good is an absolute that demands total commitment.

Cheating as much as possible is another form of cheating, since it is something one does willingly only in order to try to overcome it anyway, but it can't be done without excessive neglect to the good. It's an attempt to out-cheat cheating. Both this extreme and the extreme minimization of cheating are forms of impatience, trying to have done with the problem rather than living with it.

If cheating is evil, then goodness must not cheat. If cheating is avoided, that cheats the cheaters and makes goodness ungood. To be good, goodness must forgo all cheating and allow itself to be completely cheated. Everything evil does is cheating, even to the extent of cheating itself.

So, the middle way is better, because it allows the good to remain the good without abolishing evil.

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