Friday, May 18, 2012

Number Ninety

Zwei Möglichkeiten: sich unendlich klein machen oder es sein. Das zweite ist Vollendung, also Untätigkeit, das erste Beginn, also Tat.

Two possibilities: making oneself infinitely small or being so. The second is perfection, that is to say, inactivity, the first is beginning, that is to say, action. [Kaiser/Wilkins]

Two alternatives: either to make oneself infinitesimally small, or to be so. The former is perfection and hence inaction; the latter a beginning and therefore action. [Hofmann]

Commentary

Both translators mark this one cancelled.

Kafka here understands action to be movement in the direction of inaction, as a goal realized. He also equates acting with growing smaller, which follows from the idea that action moves toward inaction, as long as we assume that inaction is a reduction.

If these are both possibilities, then it must be possible simply to choose to be perfect, utterly small, inactive. You can either choose to be in this state, or you can choose to be trying to be in this state.

So, if I try to make myself endlessly big, then I would be moving from action to action. The more I do the more imperfect I am. This would be a stupid observation if Kafka only meant that more activity means more opportunities for mistakes. He isn't talking about possibilities or occasions, he's talking about all times. Therefore activity is imperfection by definition, and this could have two interpretations at least; one is cynical, and I don't assume that Kafka would never write a cynical word, namely that action is always a hallmark of some insufficiency in the actor. The other interpretation would be that all real action is unrecognizeable at first because it's so new. The imperfection of an action would be that incommensurability of the action to any expectation, while the perfection of inaction would be its easily circumscribable smallness.

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