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.

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