Monday, May 28, 2012

Number One Hundred and Eight

»Dann aber kehrte er zu seiner Arbeit zurück, so wie wenn nichts geschehen wäre.« Das ist eine Bemerkung, die uns aus einer unklaren Fülle alter Erzählungen geläufig ist, obwohl sie vielleicht in keiner vorkommt.

"But then he returned to his work just as though nothing had happened." This is a remark that we are familiar with from a vague abundance of old stories, although perhaps it does not occur in any of them. [Kaiser/Wilkins]

"And then he went back to his job, as though nothing had happened." A sentence that strikes one as familiar from any number of old stories -- though it might not have appeared in any of them. [Hofmann]


I think Hofmann hits this one more squarely, because it's hard to imagine an abundance being vague in any really meaningful way.

The point here I think is that this sentence is familiar because it's something we need, and so it isn't like a familiar aphorism or saying. You may not know who said "a rose by any other name blah blah blah," but you know it's a quotation from somewhere and that it's in circulation because it sums up the idea that what something is called is only a convention. But the idea "as if nothing had happened" belongs to another category, reserved for ideas that seem indispensible and obvious. Inventing "as if nothing had happened" is like inventing clothing or cooking; it's something so basic that it is not only too remote in the past to be traced to this or that person, but it's something that you wouldn't think people would have to invent at all.

So it would seem that this idea, that something can happen and yet have no effect, is fundamental somehow. What does that say about people? About the idea of work? As if work were a purposeless, eternal duty that no event can do more than interrupt.

1 comment:

natetin said...

... as though nothing had happened. We do not know what happened to him. We cannot judge its significance. Not entirely, anyway; finally and with certainty. We have only the outward manifestations of a behaviour towards something outside our view, as well as only the slightest suggestion of its link to an inner world, also beyond our view. The [“ultimate”] context is missing – something has, had, happened; however, there is an ambiguity in how we are to respond to this – his – response “as though nothing had happened.” As far as we know for sure, the something that has happened is – to all intent and purpose – nothing “out of the ordinary”, as least as presented in the evocation of “a man returning to his work.” Having said that, the possibility that “something extraordinary” has happened lurks in the shadows just “offstage” and is contained in the “as though” clause – that this behaviour, though having the form and appearance of normality, is, in some way, abnormal; for example, we know not whether it is the mark of stoicism or some Zen-like equanimity or a refusal to acknowledge or some other more pathological response. Or that something – imagined or otherwise – turned out to be, well, just something nothing worth worrying about. Insignificant. Would we arrive at the same judgement following in his footsteps?

So. Me. No. Thing?

This is similar to The Trial. What happened (?): the “final” judgement is always just offstage.

"This gate was made only for you."