Monthly Archives: July 2010

Vocation and life

Direct intercourse with the authorities was not particularly difficult then, for well organized as they might be, all they did was to guard the distant and invisible interests of distant and invisible masters, while K. fought for something vitally near to him, for himself, and moreover, at least at the very beginning, on his own initiative, for he was the attacker; and besides he fought not only for himself, but clearly for other powers as well which he did not know, but in which, without infringing the regulations of the authorities, he was permitted to believe. But now by the fact that they had at once amply met his wishes in all unimportant matters – and hitherto only unimportant matters had come up – they had robbed him of the possibility of light and easy victories, and with that of the satisfaction which must accompany them and the well-grounded confidence for further and greater struggles which must result from them. Instead, they let K. go anywhere he liked – of course only within the village – and thus pampered and enervated him, ruled out all possibility of conflict, and transported him to an unofficial, totally unrecognized, troubled, and alien existence. In this life it might easily happen, if he were not always on his guard, that one day or other, in spite of the amiability of the authorities and the scrupulous fulfilment of all his exaggeratedly light duties, he might – deceived by the apparent favour shown him – conduct himself so imprudently that he might get a fall; and the authorities, still ever mild and friendly, and as it were against their will, but in the name of some public regulation unknown to him, might have to come and clear him out of the way. And what was it, this other life to which he was consigned? Never yet had K. seen vocation and life so interlaced as here, so interlaced sometimes one might think that they had exchanged places. What importance, for example, had the power, merely formal up till now, which Klamm exercised over K.’s services, compared with the very real power which Klamm possessed in K.’s bedroom? So it came about that while a light and frivolous bearing, a certain deliberate carelessness was sufficient when one came in direct contact with the authorities, one needed in everything else the greatest caution, and had to look round on every side before one made a single step.

— Kafka, The Castle (tr. W. and E. Muir)

Kafka quotes 2

From the Diary:

Since people lack a sense of context, their literary activities are out of context too.

The metaphysical urge is only the urge toward death.

Discoveries have forced themselves on people.

Uncertainty, aridity, peace – all things will resolve themselves into these and pass away.

What an effort to keep alive! Erecting a monument does not require the expenditure of so much strength.

The life of society moves in a circle. Only those burdened with a common affliction understand each other.

We are permitted to crack that whip, the will, over us with our own hand.

Beyond a certain point there is no return. This point has to be reached.

There is a goal, but no way; but what we call a way is hesitation.

Knowledge of oneself is something only Evil has.

We were expelled from Paradise, but Paradise was not destroyed. In a sense our expulsion from Paradise was a stroke of luck, for had we not been expelled, Paradise would have had to be destroyed.

Religions get lost as people do.

From ‘He':

Some deny the existence of misery by pointing to the sun; he denies the existence of the sun by pointing to misery.

He has found Archimedes’ fulcrum, but he has turned it to account against himself, clearly he was permitted to find it only on this condition.

From letters:

God doesn’t want me to write, but I – I must.
– To Oskar Pollak

I usually solve problems by letting them devour me.
– To Max Brod

I am away from home and must always write home, even if any home of mine has long since floated away into eternity.
– To Max Brod

Silence, I believe, avoids me, as water on the beach avoids stranded fish.
– To Felice Bauer

I write differently from what I speak, I speak differently from what I think, I think differently from the way I ought to think, and so it all proceeds into deepest darkness.
– To Ottla (sister)

Man is an immense swamp. If he is seized with enthusiasm, the effect in the general picture is as though somewhere in a corner of this swamp a little frog had flopped into the green water.

Quotes from friends:

The look in Kafka’s eyes was always a little puzzled, full of the wisdom of children and of melancholy slightly counterpointed by an enigmatic smile. He always seemed to be somewhat embarrassed.
– John Urzidil, The Kafka Problem

The fact is we all seem capable of living, because at some time or other we have taken refuge in a lie, in blindness, in enthusiasm, in optimism, in some conviction, in pessimism or something of the sort. He has never taken refuge in anything. He is absolutely incapable of lying, just as he is incapable of getting drunk.
– Milena Jesenská

He marvels at everything, including typewriters and women. He will never understand.
–Milena Jesenská



‘Unreal, unreal. Wasn’t that the truth, that I was unreal, that the world was unreal to me, as unreal as to a foetus in the womb? Unreal, unreal. Wasn’t that my secret, wasn’t that what had made the world meaningless and frightening, in the beginning? A pane of glass in front of things, mist hanging over things, mist in the head. Unreal, unreal.’


‘Some days there seemed no choice, no other way of hiding. I had to get drunk, drunk to the point of oblivion, get drunk and pass out, hide in drunkenness and sleep. I’d get up, start drinking, eat, and go to bed. I’d get up, drink more, eat more, and go to bed. They were strange dissolute days, coloured by bad dreams, those dreamlike days I could never quite escape from. Someone came to visit and I was drunk and tried not to show it. He looked at me and his look decided something about me I could barely sense in myself. Later I walked around the streets looking in at the tidy flats and felt like a bum. Exposed.’

Bad dreams

‘Then I started having bad dreams in which I was treated unfairly. Dreams in which people saw through me and stole from me and I couldn’t take charge. Old friends returned as enemies. Women gave themselves to rivals. Parties turned into trials. They were nothing new, these dreams, just more frequent and more insistent. I’d wake up scowling and have to spend time trying to think things out, time I should have spent working. It was as if the old troubles the pills had pushed under the surface (I’d felt them stirring under the surface all along) were returning by way of my dreams, in the classic way.’

Waiting for the Miracle

I don’t believe you’d like it,
You wouldn’t like it here.
There ain’t no entertainment
and the judgements are severe.
The Maestro says it’s Mozart
but it sounds like bubble gum
when you’re waiting
for the miracle, for the miracle to come.

Waiting for the miracle
There’s nothing left to do.
I haven’t been this happy
since the end of World War II.

Nothing left to do
when you know that you’ve been taken.
Nothing left to do
when you’re begging for a crumb
Nothing left to do
when you’ve got to go on waiting
waiting for the miracle to come.
When you’ve fallen on the highway
and you’re lying in the rain,
and they ask you how you’re doing
of course you’ll say you can’t complain —
If you’re squeezed for information,
that’s when you’ve got to play it dumb:
You just say you’re out there waiting
for the miracle, for the miracle to come.

— Leonard Cohen, from ‘Waiting for the Miracle’

Just about

‘I was just about able to go on. What did this “just about” amount to? An infinity, far beyond my comprehension, like a child’s first word.’