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.

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