Saturday, April 28, 2012

Number Eighty-Six

Seit dem Sündenfall sind wir in der Fähigkeit zur Erkenntnis des Guten und Bösen im Wesentlichen gleich; trotzdem suchen wir gerade hier unsere besonderen Vorzüge. Aber erst jenseits dieser Erkenntnis beginnen die wahren Verschiedenheiten. Der gegenteilige Schein wird durch folgendes hervorgerufen: Niemand kann sich mit der Erkenntnis allein begnügen, sondern muß sich bestreben, ihr gemäß zu handeln. Dazu aber ist ihm die Kraft nicht mitgegeben, er muß daher sich zerstören, selbst auf die Gefahr hin, sogar dadurch die notwendige Kraft nicht zu erhalten, aber es bleibt ihm nichts anderes übrig, als dieser letzte Versuch. (Das ist auch der Sinn der Todesdrohung beim Verbot des Essens vom Baume der Erkenntnis; vielleicht ist das auch der ursprüngliche Sinn des natürlichen Todes.) Vor diesem Versuch nun fürchtet er sich; lieber will er die Erkenntnis des Guten und Bösen rückgängig machen (die Bezeichnung »Sündenfall« geht auf diese Angst zurück); aber das Geschehene kann nicht rückgängig gemacht, sondern nur getrübt werden. Zu diesem Zweck entstehen die Motivationen. Die ganze Welt ist ihrer voll, ja die ganze sichtbare Welt ist vielleicht nichts anderes als eine Motivation des einen Augenblick lang ruhenwollenden Menschen. Ein Versuch, die Tatsache der Erkenntnis zu fälschen, die Erkenntnis erst zum Ziel zu machen.

Since the Fall we have been essentially equal in our capacity to know Good and Evil; nevertheless it is precisely here we look for our special merits. But only on the far side of this knowledge do the real differences begin. The contrary appearance is caused by the following fact: nobody can be content with knowledge alone, but must strive to act in accordance with it. But he is not endowed with the strength for this, hence he must destroy himself, even at the risk of in that way not acquiring the necessary strength, but there is nothing else he can do except make this last attempt. (This is also the meaning of the threat of death associated with the ban on eating from the Tree of Knowledge; perhaps this is also the orignal meaning of natural death.) Now this is an attempt he is afraid to make; he prefers to undo the knowledge of Good and Evil (the term 'the Fall' has its origin in this fear); but what has once happened cannot be undone, it can only be made turbid. It is for this purpose that motivations arise. The whole world is full of them: indeed the whole visible world is perhaps nothing other than a motivation of man's wish to rest for a moment -- an attempt to falsify the fact of knowledge, to try to turn the knowledge into the goal. [Kaiser/Wilkins]

Ever since Original Sin, we are basically all alike in our ability to know Good and Evil; even so, this is where we seek a particular advantage. Actually, it's only after knowledge that the real differences begin. The appearance to the contrary is provoked in the following way: No one can be satisfied with understanding alone but must make an effort to act in accordance with it. He lacks the strength to do so; therefore he must destroy himself, even at the risk of not receiving the necessary strength; it is simply that he has no option other than to undertake this final effort. (This is the meaning of the penalty of death for eating of the Tree of Knowledge; it may also be the original meaning of natural death.) The effort is daunting; one would rather reverse the original knowledge of Good and Evil; (the term "Original Sin" refers to this fear) but what was done cannot be undone, only muddied. To this end motivations appear. The entire world is full of them -- yes, the whole visible world may be nothing more than a motivation of a man wanting to rest for a moment. An attempt to forge the fact of knowledge, to make of the knowledge an end in itself. [Hofmann]


Resting for a moment; if reality is continuous becoming, then knowledge is all too often, as Bergson pointed out, an attempt to get a handle on it by taking a few still photos of certain movements and then plotting out the dimensions of this activity using a kind of logical model. The result is an image of things always frozen or at rest, and the assumption is that everything proceeds along cast iron chains of causation back to an initial condition that determines all forthcoming events, so that the present is determined by the past, the future by the present, and so on. This might be what is meant above when Kafka speaks of knowledge becoming the goal.

The lack of strength necessary to live in keeping with knowledge would also apply to the action of ending one's life or destroying oneself in some other way, presumably by being "torn apart" as one goes in two different ways at once, or something equally abstract and strange. One dies after eating from the tree of knowledge because one can't live with that knowledge, it demands that you abide by it even though you can't.

Again, Hofmann translates as "Original Sin" what is more properly "the Fall." To get away from the fearsome burden of knowledge, we muddy the waters and pretend not to understand, maybe even achieving genuine confusion. We do this by turning from Good and Evil actions to Good and Evil intentions, hoping to get lost in the thicket of psychology I guess.

Number Eighty-Five

Das Böse ist eine Ausstrahlung des menschlichen Bewußtseins in bestimmten Übergangsstellungen. Nicht eigentlich die sinnliche Welt ist Schein, sondern ihr Böses, das allerdings für unsere Augen die sinnliche Welt bildet.

Evil is a radiation of the human consciousness in certain transitional positions. It is not actually the sensual world that is a mere appearance; what is so is the evil of it, which, admittedly, is what constitutes the sensual world in our eyes. [Kaiser/Wilkins]

Evil is an emanation of human consciousness at certain transitional points. It is not really the physical world that is illusion, but the Evil of it, which to our eyes constitutes, admittedly, the physical world. [Hofmann]


One of the tricky elements to this one is the use of sinnliche, which means the world of sense. Sensual has a sexual aspect that isn't exactly right, but physical world might be a term that makes more assumptions than are necessary. Clearly the point of the aphorism is that Evil is absolute and relative; it is in our eyes, not in things, but it is in all our eyes, it is like an inevitable aspect of human-all-too-human thinking.

Number Eighty-Four

Wir wurden geschaffen, um im Paradies zu leben, das Paradies war bestimmt, uns zu dienen. Unsere Bestimmung ist geändert worden; daß dies auch mit der Bestimmung des Paradieses geschehen wäre, wird nicht gesagt.

We were created in order to live in Paradise, and Paradise was ordained to serve us. What was ordained for us has been changed; it is not said that this has also happened with what was ordained for Paradise. [Kaiser/Wilkins]

We were created to live in Paradise, and Paradise was designed to serve us. Our designation has been changed; we are not told whether this has happened to Paradise as well. [Hofmann]


So Paradise may no longer be suited to us, putting us in the position of striving for what would not serve us any longer. Does this mean that we must restore ourselves through striving to what we once were, or that we have to wait for a re-ordination of Paradise, or re-ordinate it ourselves? We must not take the destination for granted.

This reminds me of Klossowski's idea of the phantasm. Like a mirage, the phantasm is a destination, understood in a general way to mean the object of any desire, that we pursue, but which we never reach. This is not because the universe likes teasing us, but because we can't know the object of desire until we get it. Supposing we get it, now we have something that we can compare with our prior idea of it, and usually we find that the two are very different. Actually, the term "phantasm" is a typically pessimistic and sullen misnomer, since we do find something real at the end of our search; if we are inclined to call it a phantasm or otherwise dismiss it, that's only because we're disappointed it didn't turn out more like what we expected. It's wrong to think that there is nothing there, when what we mean is that there's nothing there that concerns us.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Number Eighty-Three

Wir sind nicht nur deshalb sündig, weil wir vom Baum der Erkenntnis gegessen haben, sondern auch deshalb, weil wir vom Baum des Lebens noch nicht gegessen haben. Sündig ist der Stand, in dem wir uns befinden, unabhängig von Schuld.

We are sinful not only because we have eaten of the Tree of Knowledge, but also because we have not yet eaten of the Tree of Life. The state in which we are is sinful, irrespective of guilt. [Kaiser/Wilkins]

We are sinful, not only because we have eaten of the Tree of Knowledge, but also because we have not yet eaten of the Tree of Life. The condition in which we are is sinful, guilt or no guilt. [Hofmann]


This seems to be saying that eating from the Tree of Life will undo the sin of the Fall. But eating from the Tree of Life can't be our redemption, only something our redemption leads to, since, I assume, it isn't possible to get back into Paradise, and hence get to the Tree of Life to eat from it, without being redeemed first.

I suppose the question of guilt is waived because, being pure and innocent, Adam and Eve couldn't have known what they were doing when they ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, since it was just that type of knowledge they could only get as a result of the act. They sinned, but they didn't know what they were doing, so there was sin without guilt. Sin and guilt are therefore two different things, and it's sin that will apparently be undone when we eat from the Tree of Life. This means we can eat from the Tree of Life and become free from sin, or at least absolved of sin, without necessarily ceasing to be guilty. So it's possible to be saved and guilty, and to sin in innocence.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Number Eighty-Two

Warum klagen wir wegen des Sündenfalles? Nicht seinetwegen sind wir aus dem Paradiese vertrieben worden, sondern wegen des Baumes des Lebens, damit wir nicht von ihm essen.

Why do we complain about the Fall? It is not on its account that we were expelled from Paradise, but on account of the Tree of Life, lest we might eat of it. [Kaiser/Wilkins]

Why do we harp on about Original Sin? It wasn't on its account that we were expelled from Paradise, but because of the Tree of Life, lest we eat of its fruit. [Hofmann]


The word Sündenfall means the Fall, not Original Sin, which is Erbsünde. The Fall is the loss of Paradise by Adam and Eve, while Original Sin is the consequence of that Fall, and hence distinct from it.

So this one seems to say that complaining about the Fall is like a murderer complaining about his sentence. The Fall is not the reason for expulsion from the garden, it is the expulsion. Is there a bathetic joke here, that blame is being laid now here, now there, but decidedly not taken by oneself?

Or is the point that we should complain about the Tree, and blame it for our trouble? Or perhaps that the complaining is pointless?

The purpose of the expulsion, then, might be to preserve the Tree of Life for us to continue to desire, rather than to have, since it is desiring and going in a direction, rather than having and staying put, which seems to be intended. It seems axiomatic that humanity is meant to be on path, wayfaring, rather than remaining.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Number Eighty-One

Niemand kann verlangen, was ihm im letzten Grunde schadet. Hat es beim einzelnen Menschen doch diesen Anschein - und den hat es vielleicht immer -, so erklärt sich dies dadurch, daß jemand im Menschen etwas verlangt, was diesem Jemand zwar nützt, aber einem zweiten Jemand, der halb zur Beurteilung des Falles herangezogen wird, schwer schadet. Hätte sich der Mensch gleich anfangs, nicht erst bei der Beurteilung auf Seite des zweiten Jemand gestellt, wäre der erste Jemand erloschen und mit ihm das Verlangen.

Nobody can desire what is ultimately damaging to him. If in individual cases it does appear to be so after all -- and perhaps it always does so appear -- this is explained by the fact that someone in the person demands something that is, admittedly, of use to someone, but which to a second someone, who is brought in half in order to judge the case, is gravely damaging. If the person had from the very beginning, and not only when it came to judging the case, taken his stand at the side of the second someone, the first someone would have faded out, and with him the desire. [Kaiser/Wilkins]

No one can crave what truly harms him. If in the case of some individuals things have that appearance -- and perhaps they always do -- the explanation is that someone within the person is demanding something useful to himself but very damaging to a second person, who has been brought along partly to give his opinion on the matter. If the man had taken the part of the second person from the outset, and not just when the time came to make a decision, then the first person would have been suppressed, and with it the craving. [Hofmann]


Spinoza found suicide a special conundrum, since he also maintained that the self acts in its own best interests, and that all action is by definition rational (Spinoza regarded most of human behavior as an irrational reflex, and so did not dignify it with the name of action). This may be Kafka's shot at a reply.

The second translation gives I think a better rendering, taking the imperious position of judging away and replacing it with opinion, although perhaps a slightly more urgent word is needed there. Also the use of "half" in Kaiser/Wilkins is unsatisfying to me; it prompts me to wonder about the second half.

The answer would seem to be that no person can crave what is destructive to him, which is asserted not as a conclusion drawn from appearances but as a conclusion that is imposed despite appearances, which all tend to the contrary conclusion; however, this disagreement, which is very typical of Kafka, is then explained. There is an assertion that no person can will self-destruction, then an observation that this kind of self destructive will seems ubiquitous, and then this disagreement is resolved by recourse to an argument whereby a person is assumed to contain other persons; self-destructiveness is therefore an illusion that arises out of a conflict of utilities between intrapersonal persons.

The problem left untouched by this solution is the status of the person who contains these other persons -- is he or she just another one of this crowd of persons, or does he or she have some special importance? It seems as if the person is something like a judge or a monarch, since it is his or her side-taking which seems to determine whether or not any of this other category of second-class inner people will continue to exist. They come into existence apparently on their own recognizance, which may be why the Main Person need take no responsibility for them; whether they continue to act upon the Main Person is up to that Main Person, but not entirely. The Main Person does not suppress one of the second class types directly, but by siding with another second-class person.

With respect to Kafka, I tend to shun the word "paradox" and, if I have been speaking of "contradictions" then I won't any more, because "disagreement" is the better word. A paradox and a contradiction are both examples of a merely logical snafu; there's something mechanical about them. A disagreement immediately conjures up the atmosphere of Kafka; the disagreement is a living, slippery contest between unpredictable actors, who want to be right and who want to win. Where there is both being right and winning, we are already well away from any scenario that can be understood monoschematically.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Number Eighty

Wahrheit ist unteilbar, kann sich also selbst nicht erkennen; wer sie erkennen will, muß Lüge sein.

Truth is indivisible, hence it cannot recognize itself; anyone who wants to recognize it has to be a lie. [Kaiser/Wilkins]

The truth is indivisible and is therefore incapable of recognizing itself; whatever claims to recognize it must therefore be a lie. [Hofmann]


Hofmann marks this once cancelled, but Kaiser/Wilkins do not.

The Hofmann translation, by saying "incapable," deprives truth of the ability to recognize itself, whereas Kaiser/Wilkins could be read to mean that the truth is circumstantially prevented from exercising a power of recognition that might exert otherwise.

Truth could only recognize itself if it were divisible, which would make it possible for one part to encounter another part and, by dint of some kind of comparison, to a model or image, or measurement according to some other criteria, most likely the criteria by which the truth was divided up, recognize it as another piece of the truth.

This is a little like the point Bergson makes in Creative Evolution, that, owing to our limitations, humans can only manage to take it a bit of nature at a time, and so humanity has to put together its picture of nature a piece at a time, knowing that, since all of nature is interconnected and basically one, we have to try to bring all our theories into a single consistency, and keep revising the overall model, which itself is too large for any one person to see, every time a new theory appears.

What is more radical here is the idea that truth can only be known from falsehood. Is the reverse true? The difference between a lie and the truth is intention; I can say something unwittingly true while I think I'm lying and, morally speaking, I will still be a liar. I can know with greater assurance, greater truth, when I'm lying, because a lie must be accompanied by an intention to lie. If I say something untrue without meaning to, that's not a lie, but a mistake.

I don't need to know the truth in order to lie, because the lie is tailored to the situation, not measured against knowledge. But in order to know the truth, I have to know the difference between truth and untruth, although it's a stretch to call all untruth "lies." Besides, Kafka isn't talking about how a person knows a difference, but how truth knows itself. It can't, only the lie can know the truth and recognize it as object whose shadow it is.

This to me hearkens back to the aphorisms in which good cannot know itself as good, in which only the evil can know good, such as Number Twenty-Seven and Number Twenty-Eight.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Number Seventy-Nine

Die sinnliche Liebe täuscht über die himmlische hinweg; allein könnte sie es nicht, aber da sie das Element der himmlischen Liebe unbewußt in sich hat, kann sie es.

Sensual love deceives one as to the nature of heavenly love; it could not do so alone, but since it unconsciously has the element of heavenly love within it, it can do so. [Kaiser/Wilkins]

Sexual love deceives us as to heavenly love; were it alone, it would not be able to do so, but containing within itself, unknowingly, a germ of heavenly love, it can. [Hofmann]


Sinnliche can mean sensual, but it can also mean simply sensory, which in this case would indicate a love of outward appearance, sense impressions. I don't know that it makes sense to assume that heavenly love is its opposite, especially since Kafka claims the one contains an element of the other. To call this a "germ" implies that the heavenly develops out of the sexual, which is not what Kafka is saying.

How is one deceived? What is the wrong thing that sensual love causes us to think about heavenly love? It seems to involve overextending a comparison between the two.

What is "heavenly love"? Whatever it is, it is not wholly unlike sexual love. It could be that the heavenly attribute attaches to the subject or to the manner of loving, which in this case amount to the same thing, namely, unselfish love. If, on the other hand, it is the object, then this would mean one loves heavenly things. Kafka does not say that heavenly love has an element of sensual love in it; is the formula reversible? Is sensual love de facto selfish?

It could be that Kafka means to draw the distinction between heavenly love, which is not apparent but an object of faith, and sensual love, which is apparent and which attaches to appearances. If sensual love has an element of heavenly love in it, then this would mean it does not respond entirely to appearances. If sensual love appears as heavenly love, this might mean that heavenly love has a way of appearing that can be mistaken for sensual love. If these are true, then heavenly love must not be a matter of faith and sensual love not just a matter of appearances.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Number Seventy-Eight

Der Geist wird erst frei, wenn er aufhört, Halt zu sein.

The spirit becomes free only when it ceases to be a support. [Kaiser/Wilkins]

The spirit only becomes free at the point where it ceases to be invoked as a support. [Hofmann]


The aphorism seems to be addressed to someone who is looking to become a free spirit, and it seems to be saying that you can't be a free spirit if you are all the time calling yourself a free spirit and trying to be one, and coming up with definitions of free spiritedness, otherwise turning it into a mechanical posture. To be a free spirit, you have to forget. It would be interesting to translate Halt here as "prop," because this would give us both the idea of propping up (supporting), but also the idea of a stage property, a mock-up of something real used in performances. A prop gun doesn't fire, and an idea of free spiritedness used as a prop is not emancipating nor is the spirit free.

Number Seventy-Seven

Verkehr mit Menschen verführt zur Selbstbeobachtung.

Association with human beings lures one into self-observation. [Kaiser/Wilkins]

Dealings with people bring about self-scrutiny. [Hofmann]


If I'm not nuts, this one could be translated: intercourse with people seduces one into self-observation (with a distant idea of masturbation behind it?). Even if this is too much of a reach, there is something similar, the relationships, in the original. What I do with others, I learn to do to myself. This kind of reversal onto oneself happens all the time in Kafka. The accuser, especially, becomes the accused just like that.

The simplest explanation would be that I watch myself so as to avoid looking as bad as the person next to me. Every new set of social circumstances remeasures me with its own yardstick. I also have to consider the effects that my actions will cause them to feel.