Fulfilling your role

They may know that they’re mortgaging the future of their grandchildren, that in fact everything they own will be destroyed, but they’re caught in a trap of institutional structure. That’s what happens in market systems. The financial crisis is a small example of the same thing. You may know that what you’re doing carries systemic risk, but you can’t calculate that into your transactions or you’re not fulfilling your role and somebody else replaces you.

Noam Chomsky

Everything seems to correspond to everything

Joseph Conrad, in an author’s note to his novel The Secret Agent, depicted how the idea of a central female character, Winnie Verloc, took root from a handful of remarks he happened to overhear. Her fictional fate led to a host of additional characters, complete with local colour, political background, and so on. Whenever a new productive phase set in, Kafka’s dynamic was the exact opposite of Conrad’s accretion method. As he had on the night of September 23, 1912, Kafka began to tap a reservoir that was already full. The diaries reveal that the conflicts, metaphors, gestures, and details were all there. In many cases, the images had already taken on linguistic shape. Kafka did not work from a welter of emotions but instead focused on the amassed material that his emotions brought out – hence the unparalleled, provocative plethora of references and links between the visual and linguistic elements in his texts. Everything seems to correspond to everything.

– Reiner Stach, Kafka: The Decisive Years (tr. Frisch)

Time lost

I loved watching my husband and my son walking together to the Temple, and I loved waiting behind to pray before setting out to the Temple alone, not speaking, looking at no one. I loved some of the prayers and the words read from the book aloud to us. I knew them and they came to mean soft comfort to me as I set out to walk home having listened to them. What was strange then was that in those few hours before sundown a sort of quiet battle went on within me between the after-sound of the prayers, the peace of the day, the dull noiseless ease of things, and something dark and disturbed, the sense that each week which passed was time lost that could not be recovered and a sense of something else I could not name that had lurked between the words of the book as though in waiting like hunters, or trappers, or a hand that was ready to wield the scythe at harvest time. The idea that time was moving, the idea that so much of the world remained mysterious, unsettled me. But I accepted it as an inevitable aspect of a day spent looking inward. I was glad nonetheless when the shadows melted into darkness at sundown and we could talk again and I could work in the kitchen and think once more of the others and of the world outside.

– Colm Toibin, The Testament of Mary

The epitaph of speech

Language speaks through us as the origin of speech, but it also speaks through us as the death of speech. It speaks as the moment in which the purposeful agency of speech is finally called into question and in a certain sense undermined. I think it’s appropriate to call language – again, metaphorically – the epitaph of speech, the way in which in any given speech the end of its own agency is inscribed even as that agency is going forward.

Paul Fry

Merge

To be alone; to be with children; to be with grownups; with me, unfortunately, one of these situations does not easily merge with the next (whereas for some women it is all so natural).

— Handke, The Weight of the World (tr. Manheim)

Deceit

In the whole of your absurd past you discover so much that’s absurd, so much deceit and credulity, that it might be a good idea to stop being young this minute, to wait for youth to break away from you and pass you by, to watch it going away, receding in the distance, to see all its vanity, run your hand through the empty space it has left behind, take a last look at it, and then start moving, make sure your youth has really gone, and then calmly, all by yourself, cross to the other side of Time to see what people and things really look like.

— Celine, Journey to the End of the Night (tr. Manheim)

Conceit

I knew that to be human was to be inadequate, to fail, to never be good enough. Everywhere weaknesses, everywhere flaws, which often hardened into self-righteousness. If there was one consistent character trait I saw in people, it was self-righteousness, conceit, smugness. Humility, that word that everyone in the public sphere was always tossing off, was something hardly anyone knew the meaning of anymore.

— Knausgaard, My Struggle, Vol. 6 (my tr.)