Monday, February 27, 2012

Number Seventy / Seventy-One

Das Unzerstörbare ist eines; jeder einzelne Mensch ist es und gleichzeitig ist es allen gemeinsam, daher die beispiellos untrennbare Verbindung der Menschen.

The indestructable is one: it is each individual human being and, at the same time, it is common to all, hence the incomparably indivisible union that exists between human beings. [Kaiser/Wilkins]

The indestructable is one thing; at one and the same time it is each individual, and it is something common to all; hence the uniquely indissoluble connection among mankind. [Hofmann]


Individuality is the property, common to all, of difference, and our difference is what binds us together, since, if we were not different, there would be no reason to bind us together; we would not be bound to each other, we would be endless images of each other.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Number Sixty-Nine

Theoretisch gibt es eine vollkommene Glücksmöglichkeit: An das Unzerstörbare in sich glauben und nicht zu ihm streben.

Theoretically there is a perfect possibility of happiness: believing in the indestructable element in oneself and not striving towards it. [Kaiser/Wilkins]

Theoretically, there is one consummate possibility of felicity: to believe in the indestructability in oneself, and then not to go looking for it. [Hofmann]


Theoretically, which is to say not only that Kafka does not claim to believe this himself, but that he is only willing to grant that it is provisionally possible. Kafka cannot fail to detect any gulf between theory and practice.

Believing there is something in you that cannot be destroyed, rather than trying to achieve a measure of indestructability, is happiness, even perfect happiness. Not immortality; he says indestructability. Immortality is an existence without death, whereas a indestructable thing may meet with deadly adversity, but it shrugs it off or survives it. That happiness isn't neverending life, but confidence.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Number Sixty-Eight

Was ist fröhlicher als der Glaube an einen Hausgott!

What is gayer than believing in a household god? [Kaiser/Wilkins]

Is there anything as blithe as believing in one's own household god? [Hofmann]


Presumably because household gods are human-sized, both particular and tribal, specifically attentive, and overall so far from the absolute. They are also found at home, rather than on a pilgrimage. It isn't necessary to follow a way to find them.

But isn't the true way just as much the path between one room of the family home and another as it is the path between the town square and the sacred shrine? Don't those household gods take on a serious look sometime, and not the bathetic seriousness of a dog or a cat, but surprising seriousness? They're saying, 'I may be small, but even I come from the infinite.'

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Number Sixty-Seven

Er läuft den Tatsachen nach wie ein Anfänger im Schlittschuhlaufen, der überdies irgendwo übt, wo es verboten ist.

He runs after facts like a beginner learning to skate, who, furthermore, practices somewhere where it is forbidden. [Kaiser/Wilkins]

He runs after the facts like someone learning to skate, who furthermore practices where it is dangerous and has been forbidden. [Hofmann]


Nothing about danger in the original.

The novice skater travels in a series of headlong plunges or by scooting doggedly along in one direction. He particularly lacks lateral mobility. This suggests a way of moving that consists in identifying a series of points and connecting the dots.

The ice may be forbidden because it is thin and therefore dangerous, but I think this buys us a link to Kafka's famous ice axe at the cost of too patent an explanation of the ban on skating. The problem isn't that the skater might or might not break the ice, but that he has already broken the rules. He might be more like Prometheus, who sees only the gift of fire he will make to humanity, but not the lateral possibilities of discovery and punishment; he is punished because his forethought failed. His foresight failed not because he did not anticipate his future torture, but because he allowed immediately present compassion to prompt his action without a thought for the future.

Maybe the fact skater doesn't realize the facts are not the point or the end.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Number Sixty-Six

Er ist ein freier und gesicherter Bürger der Erde, denn er ist an eine Kette gelegt, die lang genug ist, um ihm alle irdischen Räume frei zu geben, und doch nur so lang, daß nichts ihn über die Grenzen der Erde reißen kann. Gleichzeitig aber ist er auch ein freier und gesicherter Bürger des Himmels, denn er ist auch an eine ähnlich berechnete Himmelskette gelegt. Will er nun auf die Erde, drosselt ihn das Halsband des Himmels, will er in den Himmel, jenes der Erde. Und trotzdem hat er alle Möglichkeiten und fühlt es; ja, er weigert sich sogar, das Ganze auf einen Fehler bei der ersten Fesselung zurückzuführen.

He is a free and secure citizen of this earth, for he is attached to a chain that is long enough to make all areas of the earth accessible to him, and yet only so long that nothing can pull him over the edges of the earth. At the same time, however, he is also a free and secure citizen of heaven, for he is also attached to a similarly calculated heavenly chain. Thus, if he wants to get down to earth, he is choked by the heavenly collar and chain; if he wants to get into heaven, he is choked by the earthly one. And in spite of this he has all the possibilities, and feels that it is so; indeed, he even refuses to attribute the whole thing to a mistake in the original chaining. [Kaiser/Wilkins]

He is a free and secure citizen of the world because he is on a chain that is long enough to allow him access to all parts of the earth, and yet not so long that he could be swept over the edge of it. At the same time he is also a free and secure citizen of heaven because he is also attached to a similar heavenly chain. If he wants to go to earth, the heavenly manacles will throttle him, if he wants to go to heaven, the earthly manacles will. But for all that, all possibilities are open to him, as he is well aware, yes, he even refuses to believe the whole thing is predicated on a mistake going back to the time of his first enchainment. [Hofmann]


Free and in chains; doubly free, on earth and in heaven, and doubly chained by each. His freedom in either domain is limited by the length of the chain, which luckily is no longer or shorter than is necessary to cover the entire earth right on up to but not over the edge. Since the heavenly chain is similar, that means he can go all over heaven, too, right up to the edge. It's unusual to think of heaven with an edge, but it must have at least one, to divide it from the earth.

The word citizen has a sterile, abstract quality that doesn't do justice to the parochial nuance associated with Bürger. The word suits the limitations of the chain. He has all the possibilities, even if he has no way of realizing them.

This state of affairs, it seems to me, is the most characteristic of Kafka. It isn't just about being neither here nor there, because the person in question is always also both here and there, both already and neither one yet. Kafka's writing has far less to do with now and then, and deals almost exclusively with already and not yet. Again and again he divorces possibility and accomplishment, so that what is accomplished happens without apparently realizing any possibility, and what is possible will never happen, and yet not cease to be possible.

What is possible can never happen, because it ceases to be a possibility the moment it is realized, but this is just a stupid logic trick. I don't believe Kafka wanted to waste his time pretending that reality abides by logic. Instead, I think he returns to this divorce because it is his experience, and readers return to Kafka because this is their experience as well; possibility becomes an endless game of keep-away.

Mistake is another idea that looms over Kafka's writing. Mistakes are much less important than sins to the usual way of thinking, but in Kafka this seems to be reversed. Unnoticed and unconscious oversights are far more serious in their consequences than deliberate sins. Ordinarily, sin is attributed to man's failure to use his free will correctly, because man's will is corrupted. But to this other way of thinking, the problem isn't with man's will, or rather the problem isn't that man wills to have wrong things, but instead that man doesn't will consistently enough to pay sufficient attention to what he's doing so as to avoid mistakes.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Number Sixty-Four / Sixty-Five

Die Vertreibung aus dem Paradies ist in ihrem Hauptteil ewig: Es ist also zwar die Vertreibung aus dem Paradies endgültig, das Leben in der Welt unausweichlich, die Ewigkeit des Vorganges aber (oder zeitlich ausgedrückt: die ewige Wiederholung des Vorgangs) macht es trotzdem möglich, daß wir nicht nur dauernd im Paradiese bleiben könnten, sondern tatsächlich dort dauernd sind, gleichgültig ob wir es hier wissen oder nicht.

Expulsion from Paradise is in its main aspect eternal: that is to say, although expulsion from Paradise is final, and life in the world unavoidable, the eternity of the process (or, expressed in temporal terms, the eternal repetition of the process) nevertheless makes it possible not only that we might remain in Paradise permanently, but that we may in fact be there permanently, no matter whether we know it here or not. [Kaiser/Wilkins]

The Expulsion from Paradise is eternal in its principal aspect: this makes it irrevocable, and our living in this world inevitable, but the eternal nature of the process has the effect that not only could we remain forever in Paradise, but that we are currently there, whether we know it or not. [Hofmann]


I don't know, but I guess that number sixty-four ends at the colon, and number sixty-five is the expansion after it.

If paradise as a condition is eternal, and therefore outside ordinary clock time, then to be there once is to be there always. So there is eternal presence in paradise, and eternal expulsion from Paradise. In that case, the question would not be how to find the way back, but how to realize the extent to which you are still there.

To be in paradise without knowing it is not expulsion, and if that is possible, then it shows paradise is not only a state of mind. Paradise might be defined as an eternal place you get expelled from. The door is open and the man doesn't go through; in this case, you are in paradise but you must leave, forever be leaving it. This is like the inverse of the castle, isn't it? Or is it that the way to belong to the castle is to try to get inside it, without success?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Number Sixty-Three

Unsere Kunst ist ein von der Wahrheit Geblendet-Sein: Das Licht auf dem zurückweichenden Fratzengesicht ist wahr, sonst nichts.

Our art is a way of being dazzled by truth: the light on the grotesquely grimacing retreating face is true, and nothing else. [Kaiser/Wilkins]

Our art is an art that is dazzled by truth: the light shed on the rapidly fleeing grimace is true -- nothing else is. [Hofmann]


Only the light is true; the grimace or face are not, and perhaps neither is its yielding or backward motion. It's interesting that both translators feel the need to insert an adverb of their own before zurückweichenden, which means to yield backwards or behind. Kafka directly invokes neither rapidity or grotesqueness. By choosing to emphasize the grimace itself, Hofmann discards the face, -gesicht, which makes it. The light shed on the grimace itself might be, at least, the registration of some suffering, if we include in suffering other such negative possibilities as disgust or anger. Whereas, the idea here seems to be that the face itself is yielding as it grimaces, being drawn away from the hypothetical witness, not so obviously in flight, but only going back. What I see as I read this is the grimacing face retreating without turning away, whereas, with a rapidly fleeting grimace it is the expression that moves across the stationary face.

Is this light on the grimacing face the same dazzling light mentioned in the first half of the aphorism, or is it a contrast? We in our art, or skillfulness, are only good at dazzling ourselves with a truth whose light we can't really see by, and so it is all too much like blindness. The real light is a faint light that only momentarily illuminates an expression of pain or rejection, which, as it pulls away from us, denies us any opportunity to address it or otherwise enter into some exchange with it. Perhaps it retreats not from the witness but from the light; this could mean that the truth is that disappointment or unpleasantness of reality -- not viciousness, just nastiness -- which comes out when you look for it. There may be here a tacit criticism of the sort of art that ostentatiously aims at the heights, instead of more humbly, but perhaps on the other hand more arrogantly, probes the depths.

Truth is supposed to grant sight, not deprive or injure sight, and the analogy to light is made plain in the second half -- our skill is to be blinded by truth, perhaps to show truth in all its brilliance even as it overwhelms us and therefore cannot be fully seen, or seen at all -- there is another analogy, between truth as blinding light and law as the open but impassible door.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Number Sixty-Two

Die Tatsache, daß es nichts anderes gibt als eine geistige Welt, nimmt uns die Hoffnung und gibt uns die Gewißheit.

The fact that there is nothing but a spiritual world deprives us of hope and gives us certainty. [Kaiser/Wilkins]

The fact that the only world is a constructed world takes away hope and gives us certainty. [Hofmann]


Namely, I suppose, the certainty that all we see is coming from within us, and therefore nothing can be that isn't somehow already figured in us. Hope and certainty are not compatible, and there is plainly an exchange of them implying equivalency. Being before the law one hopes for law, but without certainty. The constructed world is a closed set, but being constructed and being spiritual are not exactly the same although the difference may not matter here.

Hope seems to belong to another world which must be inaccessible in order to belong to hope; any accessible place is not hoped for, it's only farther away. Going there will not satisfy your hopes but only alter your location. Satisfying your hopes is a miraculous and incalculable thing that cannot be accounted for even if it happens.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Number Sixty-One

Wer innerhalb der Welt seinen Nächsten liebt, tut nicht mehr und nicht weniger Unrecht, als wer innerhalb der Welt sich selbst liebt. Es bliebe nur die Frage, ob das erstere möglich ist.

Anyone who loves his neighbor within the limits of the world is doing no more and no less injustice than someone who loves himself within the limits of the world. There remains only the question whether the former is possible. [Kaiser/Wilkins]

Whoever in this world loves his neighbor does just as much and just as little wrong as who in this world loves himself. Remains the question whether the former is possible. [Hofmann]


Both translations mark this aphorism cancelled.

"... innerhalb der Welt" is the component that seems to require the most attention. It is important enough that Kafka insistently repeats it, so his topic is not love, but loving within the world. This might link up with the previous aphorism; so that loving within the limits, in an ordinary way, is not really different in character from self love.

He touches on, but I think unintentionally, the idea that we can mistake self love for love of others. The main idea here, though, is that loving the self and loving others within the world is neither here nor there, if the latter is even possible. Loving outside the world, I assume here as a renunciate, is the variation in love that would get the one beyond this indeterminate state of value, neither more or less unjust. Put another way: favoring you is not that different from favoring me, if we're both elements in the world. Perhaps, only when leaving the world behind for good do you move on to the level of loving all mankind, and so to a kind of love in which self-love and love of the neighbor are different in an important way?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Number Sixty

Wer der Welt entsagt, muß alle Menschen lieben, denn er entsagt auch ihrer Welt. Er beginnt daher, das wahre menschliche Wesen zu ahnen, das nicht anders als geliebt werden kann, vorausgesetzt, daß man ihm ebenbürtig ist.

Anyone who renounces the world must love all men, for he renounces their world too. He thus begins to have some inkling of the true nature of man, which cannot but be loved, always assuming that one is its peer. [Kaiser/Wilkins]

Whoever renounces the world must love humanity, because he is also renouncing their world. Accordingly, he will begin to have a true sense of human nature, which is incapable of anything but being loved -- assuming, that is, that one is on the same footing as it. [Hofmann]


This says that, when someone renounces the world, he or she doesn't give up only his or her world, but the world of humanity as such. This means that the renunciate doesn't retire to a private world, but either gives up any world, or enters into some higher, superhuman world that is not his or hers. Perhaps this means that renouncing the world is not just giving it up, but giving it as a gift; which would mean in turn that the renunciate doesn't turn from the world as a worthless mistake or an illusion. The world would therefore be renounced even as it is acknowledged to be a true value.

It could be that Kafka means the world may depend in part on renunciates, because they contend with the whole world as such and so bring the whole world into experience. The result of this is a better understanding of what humanity is, presumably by seeing how humanity understands the world, which can only be a concept, being too big and old to fit into human experience.

Being a peer of mankind -- and ebenbürtig can mean evenly matched as well, so this equivalence is not necessarily a peaceful one! -- is necessary if one is to be in a condition of loving mankind. That means that the renunciate, who loves humanity, must continue to be human or at least at a human level. The renunciation doesn't make him an angel, it makes him or requires of him that he be a lover of mankind. Mankind can only be loved, but only by a peer, which might not mean another human, it need only mean someone at a human level. Loving mankind doesn't make you human, but only a peer of humanity, as it makes it possible for you to renounce the world. Kafka seems to be saying that every lover of mankind must renounce the world. I don't think he means that you have to renounce mankind in order to love it, but that it if you love it, you must renounce it in order to be its peer, which is necessary in order to go on loving it.

Why can't you hate mankind? Is it because hating mankind is still very human, while loving mankind seems to be superhuman? Why can't you be indifferent to mankind? Is it because that indifference is only a kind of subhumanity, which puts you below the level of mankind? There might be overtones here of the previous aphorism about cheating, too much, too little, in the middle.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Number Fifty-Nine

Eine durch Schritte nicht tief ausgehöhlte Treppenstufe ist, von sich selber aus gesehen, nur etwas öde zusammengefügtes Hölzernes.

A stair not worn hollow by footsteps is, regarded from its own point of view, only a boring something made of wood. [Kaiser/Wilkins]

To its own way of seeing, a wooden stair moderately hollowed out by people's footfalls is just some knocked-together article of wood. [Hofmann]


This aphorism is marked cancelled in both translations. Does this mean that only the used stair knows it's a stair? Or that the unused stair despises itself for being useless? Kafka's fiction is full of inanimate things that seem to be parts of other things, or parts of a system, about which it has only secondhand or otherwise sketchy information. It is an example of a thing that is stripped down apparently to nothing but function, which is then also stripped of function. Odradek, the odd wooden thing, might be one of those nameless, ad hoc machine parts you sometimes come across in the entrails of a car or a clock; it isn't an artifact with a real name, like a cog or a gear, it may not be an artifact.

This aphorism is cancelled, and I think I see why. There's some activity in it, but not enough.

Number Fifty-Eight

Man lügt möglichst wenig, nur wenn man möglichst wenig lügt, nicht wenn man möglichst wenig Gelegenheit dazu hat.

One tells as few lies as possible only by telling as few lies as possible, and not by having the least possible opportunity to do so. [Kaiser/Wilkins]

The way to tell fewest lies is to tell fewest lies, not to give oneself the fewest opportunities of telling lies. [Hofmann]


Both translations mark this aphorism cancelled. It seems entirely straightforward, which might have made it too one-sided to be worthwhile. I wonder if telling lies is equivalent to cheating in the preceding aphorisms. If so, then the idea of avoiding or burning out evil would be a matter of giving oneself fewest opportunities, rather than simply not telling lies.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Number Fifty-Seven

Die Sprache kann für alles außerhalb der sinnlichen Welt nur andeutungsweise, aber niemals auch nur annähernd vergleichsweise gebraucht werden, da sie, entsprechend der sinnlichen Welt, nur vom Besitz und seinen Beziehungen handelt.

For everything outside the phenomenal world, language can only be used allusively, but never even approximately in a comparative way, since, corresponding as it does to the phenomenal world, it is concerned only with property and its relations. [Kaiser/Wilkins]

Language can be used only very obliquely of things outside the physical world, not even metaphorically, since all it knows to do -- according to the nature of the physical world -- is to treat of ownership and its relations. [Hofmann]


I prefer the conservatism of the Kaiser/Wilkins translation of this one. Sinnlich refers to the senses, which makes phenomenal the closer translation. The sensory world can include things that are not physical, if I can be said, for example, to sense images in my imagination. One can use language to describe extrasensory things only indirectly, by suggestion, not by comparison, because language answers to property. Metaphor is not comparison, it is identity. The lake is a mirror. The passion is a fire. The two are one. Here, the two are not one, and not even connectable by means of some common trait, the way a simile might connect them.

The sensory world is the world of having, and even in the simplest sense of having an impression, a view, a hearing, a taste. The nonsensory world includes what? Is it only what can't be possessed, which would mean (I think) the world of being, rather than having?

The problem arises directly from the instrumental root of language; if language develops principally as a practical tool, then it will be entirely bound to potential action for practical ends, particularly acquisitive ends. Language designates what is but it arises out of what we want. Remove potential action from consideration, as Bergson says, and everything settles back into a single undifferentiated continuity of existing.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Number Fifty-Six

Es gibt Fragen, über die wir nicht hinwegkommen könnten, wenn wir nicht von Natur aus von ihnen befreit wären.

There are questions we could not get past if we were not set free from them by our very nature. [Kaiser/Wilkins]

There are questions we could never get past, were it not that we are freed of them by nature. [Hofmann]


Hinwegkommen can mean to get over, as in getting over a disappointment; Natur can mean character or disposition.

Questions stop us from going on, but it is possible to get past a question You can be freed of it by your nature -- so what does that mean? It might refer to the way that some questions or problems are resolved more by time than by thinking or by making decisions; it might mean that your power to be affected by a certain question might change. It might mean that your nature answers for you. But while these common sense ideas are there in the thought-background, they don't seem to me to get the point.

How does the question stop me? A missing clue or link in a chain of speculative reasoning is one sort of barrier to further progress, but then there are questions you can't answer, such as the question of marriage. Kierkegaard wrote: get married, and you will regret it; stay single, and you will regret it; get married or stay single, you will regret it either way. So is marriage the problem or is it regretting? Assuming regret has a point at all, it must be to warn you away from a something that will lead to bad consequences; here, bordering on nonsense, you have only a hairsplitting choice between two kinds of regret.

While such questions may stop you, you don't need to come up with an answer to keep moving again; and moving on is not necessarily just quitting, giving up on the question. This means that resolving the question is not necessary for getting past it or over it; you can go on without resolving it. In that case, going on doesn't mean leaving the question behind, but going on with it somehow. The man from the country is stopped by the open door of the law, which is closed only when he dies.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Number Fifty-Five

Alles ist Betrug: das Mindestmaß der Täuschungen suchen, im üblichen bleiben, das Höchstmaß suchen. Im ersten Fall betrügt man das Gute, indem man sich dessen Erwerbung zu leicht machen will, das Böse, indem man ihm allzu ungünstige Kampfbedingungen setzt. Im zweiten Fall betrügt man das Gute, indem man also nicht einmal im Irdischen nach ihm strebt. Im dritten Fall betrügt man das Gute, indem man sich möglichst weit von ihm entfernt, das Böse, indem man hofft, durch seine Höchststeigerung es machtlos zu machen. Vorzuziehen wäre also hiernach der zweite Fall, denn das Gute betrügt man immer, das Böse in diesem Fall, wenigstens dem Anschein nach, nicht.

Everything is deception: seeking the minimum of illusion, keeping within the ordinary limitations, seeking the maximum. In the first case one cheats the Good, by trying to make it too easy for oneself to get it, and the Evil by imposing all too unfavorable conditions of warfare on it. In the second case one cheats the Good by not striving for it even in earthly terms. In the third case one cheats the Good by keeping as aloof from it as possible, and the Evil by hoping to make it powerless through intensifying it to the utmost. What would therefore seem to be preferable is the second case, for the Good is always cheated, and in this case, or at least to judge by appearances, the Evil is not cheated. [Kaiser/Wilkins]

Everything is deception: the question of whether to seek the least amount of deception, or the mean, or to seek out the highest. In the first instance, you will cheat goodness by making it too easy to acquire, and Evil by imposing too unfavorable conditions on it. In the second instance, you cheat goodness by failing to strive for it in this earthly life. In the third instance, you cheat goodness by removing yourself from it as far as you can, and Evil by maximizing it in a bid to reduce its impact. Accordingly, the second option is the one to go for, because you always cheat goodness, but -- in this case at least, or so it would seem -- not Evil. [Hofmann]


Hofmann seems to have decided that Kafka should have an anachronistically modern tone here, with "going for" this and "impact" that.

The word translated here as illusion or deception, Betrug, really means cheating. There is no avoiding it.

Refusing to cheat makes being good too easy, which is to say that goodness needs to prevail over temptations or trials, which does not mean to win the trial (in that case the victory belongs to the self), but to endure the trial and play the game without any possibility or thought of winning or losing. No trial, nothing for evil to work with or to be good about. The good becomes "too light an acquisition." The value of the good is in the labor. Meanwhile, you've made yourself too hard for Evil to get. One must be fair to Evil. Perhaps ruling out deception makes you too passive; you're a "good fellow," but automatically, not by choice.

Sticking to ordinary levels of cheating (literally, "to go on as usual") means accepting that cheating happens. That means you aren't even trying to achieve what the world defines as good. Doing less than all you can in order to be good is not good, because the good is an absolute that demands total commitment.

Cheating as much as possible is another form of cheating, since it is something one does willingly only in order to try to overcome it anyway, but it can't be done without excessive neglect to the good. It's an attempt to out-cheat cheating. Both this extreme and the extreme minimization of cheating are forms of impatience, trying to have done with the problem rather than living with it.

If cheating is evil, then goodness must not cheat. If cheating is avoided, that cheats the cheaters and makes goodness ungood. To be good, goodness must forgo all cheating and allow itself to be completely cheated. Everything evil does is cheating, even to the extent of cheating itself.

So, the middle way is better, because it allows the good to remain the good without abolishing evil.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Number Fifty-Four

Es gibt nichts anderes als eine geistige Welt - was wir sinnliche Welt nennen, ist das Böse in der geistigen, und was wir böse nennen, ist nur eine Notwendigkeit eines Augenblicks unserer ewigen Entwicklung. Mit stärkstem Licht kann man die Welt auflösen. Vor schwachen Augen wird sie fest, vor noch schwächeren bekommt sie Fäuste, vor noch schwächeren wird sie schamhaft und zerschmettert den, der sie anzuschauen wagt.

There is nothing besides a spiritual world; what we call the world of the senses is the Evil in the spiritual world, and what we call Evil is only the necessity of a moment in our eternal evolution. || One can distintegrate the world by means of very strong light. For weak eyes the world becomes solid, for still weaker eyes it seems to develop fists, for eyes weaker still it becomes shamefaced and smashes anyone who dares to gaze upon it. [Kaiser/Wilkins]

The world is only ever a constructed world; what we call the sensual world is Evil in the constructed world, and what we call Evil is only a fleeting necessity in our eternal development. || With a very strong light, one can make the world disappear. Before weak eyes it will become solid; before still weaker eyes, it will acquire fists; and to eyes yet weaker, it will be embarrassed and punch the face of anyone who dares to look at it. [Hofmann]


Kaiser/Wilkins marks the section represented here as following the two vertical lines (||) cancelled, while Hofmann preserves the separation into parts without any indicated cancellation.

I always have the same problem with formulations like these, that X is evil and that what we call evil is Y. Does this mean that senses and senses alone are really evil, and that what we call evil is actually only a necessity? Or does it telescope, one into another, so senses are evil and evil is necessity, hence senses are necessity? I think the former is meant, although it's hard to say why. Being able to say why will entail being able to understand the aphorism.

The world is a generalization not found in experience, rather it is the presumptive stage on which a series of experiences is supposed to unfold. The sensual, and the word has the same connotations in German as in English, is Evil, which is to say, what carries us away. What we call evil is a necessity, something that can't be avoided and consequently can't be considered evil in consistency with the usual ideas of morality. In our endless process of maturation, there arise these moments that flash by too quickly to see, and our reflex reactions to these sudden moments are what we call evil. So the real evil is the sensual, becoming lost to oneself in the sensory world, and not the reflex adjustments to sudden events.

The word translated moment above is Augenblick, which borrows from the rapidity of glances and blinks of the eye; the eye comes back again on its own in the separated section. The world, which can only be a mental world, is dissolved in strong light. It's a curious idea; at first he seems to be saying that the world looks different to progressively weaker eyes but by the end he seems to mean that the world reacts to being looked at differently by weaker eyes. The world might seem passive at first, but takes an active role and an affect by the end.

Strong light, the strongest, might be divine, or it might be the light of the strictest reason or self-consciousness, which dissolves the sensual world because it recognizes it as a representation. The light being truth or understanding, something like that, will take apart that world and perhaps render it down to its constituent elements, reversing an unconscious world-fashioning. The weak are not deprived of the light, but of the eyes to see it. The light makes the mental world seem solid to weak eyes, and the word for solid, fest, which foreshadows Fäuste, can also mean fixed. So it may be that the weak eyed thinker is using unchanging generalities or perceives the sensual world as unchanging. Weaker still are those who conflict with their sensory worlds, and weaker still are those who imagine that they can fight with their own sensory world as if it were not their own creation but an inimical external presence.

The difficulty in the cancelled section is the idea of weakness, which seems to have no lower limit. There doesn't seem to be a correspondingly clear position of strength.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Number Fifty-Three

Man darf niemanden betrügen, auch nicht die Welt um ihren Sieg.

One must not cheat anyone, not even the world of its victory. [Kaiser/Wilkins]

It is wrong to cheat, even if it is the world of its victory. [Hofmann]


This seems to be a clarification of the point Kafka wished to make in the previous aphorism; here the idea of struggling with the world is less conspicuous and dominating.

What would cheating be, and what's wrong with it? To me, it seems as if cheating, in this case, is falseness. On the one hand, this might be taken in a conventional sense to mean that one must not be selfish, but on the other hand, it might mean that presenting yourself falsely, playing yourself rather than being yourself, is wrong.

What is the victory of the world, and why do I assume -- previous aphorism notwithstanding -- that its victory is a victory over me? Is the court victorious when Josef K. is killed? Is the castle victorious to the extent that it keeps K. from entering it? Is the gatekeeper victorious when he shuts the door to the law? In The Trial, Josef K. is apparently in a contest with the court, but it isn't clear that the court in any way recognizes him as an opponant it wishes to destroy. The conflict seems to be largely Josef K.'s own invention, but not entirely. Even when he is killed, he seems to have compelled the court to take drastic measures by his own actions, and the executioners pass the knife back and forth over him apparently with the expectation that he will seize it and kill himself. It isn't all in Josef K's head -- he is arrested, the court is real, the executioners are real. Would he have been cheating if he had tried to conduct his case in the usual way, as a client or defendant? He does not cheat in his resistance to the court; it would be playing along that would have been cheating.

The court has to destroy a real person, not a phantom. If it didn't, it wouldn't be a court. To exist, the world needs victories, and therefore needs losers.