Monday, May 21, 2012

Number Ninety-Four

Zwei Aufgaben des Lebensanfangs: Deinen Kreis immer mehr einschränken und immer wieder nachprüfen, ob du dich nicht irgendwo außerhalb deines Kreises versteckt hältst.

Two tasks at the beginning of your life: to narrow your orbit more and more, and ever and ever again to check whether you are not in hiding somewhere outside your orbit. [Kaiser/Wilkins]

Two tasks of the beginning of life: to keep reducing your circle, and to keep making sure you're not hiding somewhere outside it. [Hofmann]


This seems to be a rewriting of Number Ninety, and, as it isn't cancelled, it seems safe to assume that this is to be preferred to the latter. Kafka seems to have dispensed with the distracting possibility of simply being as small as possible. I find this one especially cryptic.

Is Kafka changing his model from a line (path, rope) to a circle? Keeping the circle narrow is like keeping balanced on the rope, however. Kreis is circle, and it can also mean district or area as well as circuit, so either orbit or circle are likely translations. In both cases, there seems to be an idea of centering, since the narrowness of a circle or orbit is a matter of how far away it is from its center. Perhaps the idea here is that you need to make sure, if we are to think of the circle as an orbit, that you are doing the orbiting, rather than being its center, but that seems a more clever than profound idea.

Is the narrowness a matter of concentration? In Number Ninety, Kafka identified smallness with activity. This could mean "keep things simple" or "beware hubris" or "don't bite off more than you can chew" but it hardly seems necessary to devote an aphorism to commonplaces like these.

That this should be done at the outset of life to avoid big deviations is obvious, but does life have only one start or does it keep on starting? Is narrowing the circle like trying to reach the point of no return?

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