Sunday, March 18, 2012

Number Seventy-Six

Dieses Gefühl: »hier ankere ich nicht« - und gleich die wogende, tragende Flut um sich fühlen! Ein Umschwung. Lauernd, ängstlich, hoffend umschleicht die Antwort die Frage, sucht verzweifelt in ihrem unzugänglichen Gesicht, folgt ihr auf den sinnlosesten, das heißt von der Antwort möglichst wegstrebenden Wegen.

This feeling: "Here I shall not anchor" -- and instantly to feel the billowing, supporting swell around one! *A veering round. Peering, timid, hopeful, the answer prowls round the question, desperately looking into its impenetrable face, following it along the most senseless paths, that is, along the paths leading as far as possible away from the answer. [Kaiser/Wilkins]

The feeling: "I'm not dropping anchor here," and straightaway the feeling of the sustaining sea-swell around one. // A reversal. Lurking, fretful, hoping, the answer creeps around the question, peers despairingly into its averted face, follows it on its most abstruse journeys -- that is, those that have least to do with the answer. [Hofmann]


Kaiser/Wilkins marks the first half of this one cancelled, while Hofmann simply notes a break.

It is a relief to be provisional.

The answers do not eliminate the questions but only accompany them. Questions are eliminated when they are shown up as false questions; a real question does not get eliminated. They can be dropped, but they don't fade like abandoned things. After eight hundred years they are every bit as fresh and dewy and painful and humiliating as ever. Becoming a question is a key to immortality.

Here's how I would translate the opening of the second part: "A drastic change. Lying in wait, anxious, trusting, the answer pads along beside the question, gazing earnestly into its aloof face ..." The idea here is that the answer is the question's dog. There is no search for the answer, actually the answer is searching out the question, but when it finds its question, there must be an acknowledgement. Instead, the question simply goes on about its business like always, because it is a part of things, and can't be dismissed by an answer.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Number Seventy-Five

Prüfe dich an der Menschheit. Den Zweifelnden macht sie zweifeln, den Glaubenden glauben.

Test yourself on mankind. It is something that makes the doubter doubt, the believer believe. [Kaiser/Wilkins]

Test yourself against mankind. It teaches the doubter to doubt and the believer to believe. [Hofmann]


This is marked cancelled in both versions.

Perhaps the one who eats his own table scraps is not testing. Testing or checking is a constant puzzle in Kafka's writing; his characters are often brought up against another character with a completely different perspective on the same events he is dealing with. And yet this checking is never conclusive of anything.

Artistic editing and selection are tests, as is evident in this case since it is marked for deletion; and yet these inconclusive tests are at the same time decisive and critical, because a decision is going to happen somehow. In some ways, Kafka's fiction consists of tests.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Number Seventy-Four

Wenn das, was im Paradies zerstört worden sein soll, zerstörbar war, dann war es nicht entscheidend; war es aber unzerstörbar, dann leben wir in einem falschen Glauben.

If what is supposed to have been destroyed in Paradise was destructable, then it was not decisive; but if it was indestructable, then we are living in a false belief. [Kaiser/Wilkins]

If what was supposed to be destroyed in Paradise was destructable, then it can't have been decisive; however, if it was indestructable, then we are living in a false belief. [Hofmann]


This seems to be a return to 64/65. Normally, one does not speak of destruction so much as of a fall, so it's the use of destruction that sets up the question. Is the point that the false belief is what keeps us from getting back? Kafka's writing is not full of false beliefs, because this would entail identifying the true belief; instead he returns obstinately to the uncertainty and provisionality of any belief. The difficulty he has pinned down in this aphorism is the Hobson's choice between an indecisive paradise and a false belief.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Number Seventy-Three

Er frißt den Abfall vom eigenen Tisch; dadurch wird er zwar ein Weilchen lang satter als alle, verlernt aber, oben vom Tisch zu essen; dadurch hört dann aber auch der Abfall auf.

He gobbles up the leavings and crumbs that fall from his own table; in this way he is, of course, for a little while more thoroughly sated than all the rest, but he forgets how to eat from the table itself. In this way, however, there cease to be any crumbs and leavings. [Kaiser/Wilkins]

He scavenges the leftovers from his own table; that makes him better fed than the others for a little while, but he also forgets how to eat at table; and so the supply of leftovers dries up. [Hofmann]


This one is more mysterious to me. The problem is not that he creates waste, or even that he eats it, but that he forgets the source of the waste, and so loses the waste as well. Could this be a warning about becoming too preoccupied with reflections or commentary, so as to lose sight of experience? Then, having no experiences of any heft to speak of, like the stereotypical bookish student who has replaced life with reading, there is nothing left to comment on. I could also imagine this referring to someone who has become so vigilantly self-aware and self-questioning that he becomes paralyzed. The overall pattern seems to be one in which the secondary and dependent activity is mistaken for an end in itself. There is also the idea here of one who goes from creating and consuming to doing nothing but consuming.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Number Seventy-Two

Es gibt im gleichen Menschen Erkenntnisse, die bei völliger Verschiedenheit doch das gleiche Objekt haben, so daß wieder nur auf verschiedene Subjekte im gleichen Menschen rückgeschlossen werden muß.

In one and the same human being there are cognitions that, however utterly dissimilar they are, yet have one and the same object, so that one can only conclude that there are different subjects in one and the same human being. [Kaiser/Wilkins]

The same person has perceptions that, for all their differences, have the same object, which leads one to infer that there are different subjects contained within one and the same person. [Hofmann]


This aphorism is cancelled in each translation.

It is the plurality of perceptions or cognitions within the same person (one could also say discoveries or realizations, so this should not necessarily be read with only simple understanding in mind), that compels us (we must deduce this, he says) to acknowledge a plurality of subjects within the same person. This means that every different state of mind is a different configuration of the same subject.

I think this aphorism was cancelled because Kafka might have seen an undesirable contradiction in asserting the sameness and the serial differentiation of the subject at once. He might have decided that it would be more right to discard the idea of the same subject as a container for multiple subjects. Moreover, if there are multiple mind states discerning the object, then how is it possible to speak with confidence about it being the same object?