Saturday, May 26, 2012

Number One Hundred and Five

Das Verführungsmittel dieser Welt sowie das Zeichen der Bürgschaft dafür, daß diese Weit nur ein Übergang ist, ist das gleiche. Mit Recht, denn nur so kann uns diese Welt verführen und es entspricht der Wahrheit. Das Schlimmste ist aber, daß wir nach geglückter Verführung die Bürgschaft vergessen und so eigentlich das Gute uns ins Böse, der Blick der Frau in ihr Bett gelockt hat.

This world's method of seduction and the token of the guarantee that this world is only a transition are one and the same. Rightly so, for only in this way can this world seduce us, and it is in keeping with the truth. The worst thing, however, is that after the seduction has been successful we forget the guarantee and thus actually the Good has lured us into Evil, the woman's glance into her bed. [Kaiser/Wilkins]

The seductiveness of this world and the sign that warrants its transitoriness are one and the same. And rightly so, because only in this way can the world seduce us, and accord with the truth. The grievous thing is that after falling victim to the seduction, we forget the warranty, and so the Good has led us into Evil, the woman's smile has led us into bed with her. [Hofmann]


What is happening when I am seduced by the world? The convention is that being seduced by the world is a more or less excusable or even innocent first step, while sin and guilt are the second step. Being seduced by the world means giving it too much attention, while neglecting what lies beyond it.

But the idea that we should not pay too much attention to the world is grounded in the belief that the world is transitory, and that there is something more lasting beyond. Kafka says this is the right idea, but that it can lead to evil consequences, since, once I know this world, which includes whatever I might do in it, is transitory, then I might be inclined to think that what I do won't matter very much, and so excuse my transgressions to myself.

What might these two worlds be? Convention, dating back at least as far as Ancient Greece, tells us that the world we see is not that important, and change is the reason for that. What changes, what is impermanent, has no essence of its own, can't be relied on, and so it isn't real. It would have been more honest to say, it is not what we want to find when we go looking for reality. There's no reason we can't identify reality and change, instead of identifying reality with permanence, and when we make that other identification, then, not surprising, the resulting outlook is correspondingly very different. It is especially enlightening to look back at the conventional way of thinking from this new point of view; it suddenly seems pretty timid, conservative, suspicious, resentful.

The problem in this aphorism is the failure to take change seriously enough, and the inconsistency in relying on change to save you by transposing you to another realm where you will be miraculously preserved from change.

1 comment:

Quentin S. Crisp said...

This reminds me of what I have read recently of the philosophy of Empedocles. I read the intepretation of his work made by Peter Kingsley in his book, Reality. Kingsley says that traditional interpretations of the cosmology of Empedocles are wrong: Love does not equal good, and strife does not equal evil. Rather, love is what puts us under a spell, and strife is what breaks that spell. Love, in this case, would correspond to permanence, strife to change. However, isn't Kafka's suggestion that you will be seduced into believing what is changing is, in fact, permanent? I find this aphorism especially intriguing.