Friday, May 25, 2012

Number One Hundred and Two

Alle Leiden um uns müssen auch wir leiden. Wir alle haben nicht einen Leib, aber ein Wachstum, und das führt uns durch alle Schmerzen, ob in dieser oder jener Form. So wie das Kind durch alle Lebensstadien bis zum Greis und zum Tod sich entwickelt (und jenes Stadium im Grunde dem früheren, im Verlangen oder in Furcht unerreichbar scheint) ebenso entwickeln wir uns (nicht weniger tief mit der Menschheit verbunden als mit uns selbst) durch alle Leiden dieser Welt. Für Gerechtigkeit ist in diesem Zusammenhang kein Platz, aber auch nicht für Furcht vor den Leiden oder für die Auslegung des Leidens als eines Verdienstes.

We too must suffer all the suffering around us. We all have not one body, but we have one way of growing, and this leads us through all anguish, whether in this or in that form. Just as the child develops through all the stages of life right into old age and to death (and fundamentally to the earlier stage the later one seems out of reach, in relation both to desire and to fear), so also do we develop (no less deeply bound up with mankind than with ourselves) through all the sufferings of this world. There is no room for justice in this context, but neither is there any room either for fear of suffering or for the interpretation of suffering as a merit. [Kaiser/Wilkins]

All the sufferings we occasion we must also suffer. We don't all share one body, but we do share growth, and that leads us through all pain, whether in this form or in that. As the child grows through all its phases and becomes old and dies (and every stage seems unattainable to those before, whether from desire or from dread), so we develop (no less connected to others than to ourselves) through all the sufferings of the world. There is in this context no room for justice, and not for fear of suffering either, or for the presentation of suffering as merit. [Hofmann]

Commentary

Kafka dispenses with the complex of suffering, merit, justice, and fear that is so essential to both Judaism and Christianity. Suffering is set apart as an element of life and evolution in what looks to me like a Bergsonian way, and is divorced from merit or justice in a way that is basically Nietzschean in tendency. I don't think Kafka is conflating suffering with life, but I think it's clear he sees them intertwined, just as he sees all mankind intertwined in one continuous unfolding of growth. There seems to be consistency between growth understood in this way, will to power, elan vital, and becoming.

This aphorism gives us a look at life from this perspective, in part to show us how ideas like salvation through suffering and justice appear in it. I don't say Kafka is tossing justice or merit aside; he is saying that it is inappropriate to connect them to suffering as a cosmic condition of life. I don't think there is necessarily a contradiction between maintaining this disconnection while requiring people to indemnify anyone they may hurt; the consequence of the disconnection in that context is only to point out what most people would probably already concede, namely that justice and merit are social conventions grounded in manmade institutions, and not cosmic principles.

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