Endless

It’s endless, isn’t it, I ask X, the injustice is endless, the rage is endless. I’ve barely dipped my toes in it and I’m full of rage and grief and thoughts of hurricanes and floods. What you’ve done to me, what I’ve done to people, what people have done to me, what they’re doing to young people in this country, what they’re doing to this world! There’s no end to it, because there’s no end to human evil. Don’t be hysterical, he says, haven’t you grown out of this sort of thing by now?

The teacher

You had me by the throat from day one, I tell X. You’d started undermining me before I had any idea what was happening, before I had any resources to combat you or the fear you were planting in me. You were teaching me about fear, watching me give myself over to it before I knew the danger I was in, give into it wholeheartedly before I knew what I was doing. Oh, you taught me, but you taught me without teaching, you weren’t interested in teaching, you cared only about power. I was left to learn what I could, and I learned much more than you and very quickly, once I started learning. It was easy, fear is always one step ahead, you catch up almost instantly, almost despite yourself, yet in a sense you learn nothing, less than nothing. The foundation was rotten from the start, it couldn’t withstand the pressure from above. (In this way you made sure that none of it seemed real, that I could easily be convinced it was all in my head, something I’d made up because of the weakness that was in me from the beginning.) If you’d put a chain around my ankles, if you’d beat me into submission, it would have made no real difference, and at least I would have had an excuse, something real to fight against or at least try to escape, some proof of wrongdoing that anyone could understand. Instead your wrongdoings became mine. Because you didn’t acknowledge them in the slightest their burden had to fall on someone, and I accepted them willingly, happily, shamefully. I accepted the burden of your sins to the point when I began to commit those very sins myself, seeking others to undermine, to plant fear in, to complete the circle. Because that’s what you taught me, my teacher. You still monitor me, don’t you, still read every word I write, hear every word I say, indifferent to everything except my fear and my self-disgust (at the slightest signs of which you perk up from your slumber), stupid in every respect but this one, in this one respect you’re a genius, you have the subtle eyes of a torturer. And I, too, am a torturer, who longs to torture his torturer, to teach his teacher.

I’m making a test

I’m making a test: on the balcony is a sparrow which expects me to throw some bread from the table on to the balcony, instead of which I drop the bread beside me on the floor in the middle of the floor. It stands outside and from there in the semi-darkness sees the food of its life, terribly tempting, it’s shaking itself, it’s more here than there, but here is the dark and beside the bread am I, the secret power. Nevertheless it hops over the threshold, a few more hops, but farther it doesn’t dare go and in sudden fright it flies away. But with what energy does this wretched bird abound, after a while it’s back again, inspects the situation, I scatter a little more to make it easier for it, and – if I hadn’t intentionally-unintentionally (this is how the secret powers work) chased it away with a sudden movement, it would have got the bread.

– Kafka, Letters to Milena (tr. T. and J. Stern)

The satanic circle

I began to look at everything in relation to the child. My hands, for instance, which would some day touch and hold it, our third-floor apartment, the Kandlgasse, the VII. District, the ways that one could take criss-cross through the town right down to the Prater Meadows, and finally the whole world, with all that’s in it, which I would explain to the child. It was from me that it should learn the names: table and bed, nose and foot. And also such words as: spirit and God and soul, useless words in my opinion, but ones that could not be kept from it, and, later on, words as complicated as: resonance, diapositive, chiliasm, and astronautics. I would have to see to it that my child learnt what everything meant and how everything was to be used, a door-handle and a bicycle, a gargle and a printed form. My head whirled.

***

I had thought I would have to teach him about the world. Since my mute dialogues with him I had begun to doubt that, and finally realized it was not so. Was it, for instance, not in my power to conceal from him what things were called and not to teach him the use of things? He was the first human being. Everything had its beginning with him, and there was no saying that everything might not also become quite different because of him. Should I not leave the world to him, immaculate and without meaning? After all, I didn’t have to initiate him into functions and aims, into good and evil, into what was real and what only seemed to be so. Why should I educate him into my own likeness, causing him to know and to believe, to rejoice and to suffer! From here, from where we stand, this is the worst of all possible worlds and nobody has understood it down to this day; but from where he stood nothing was decided. Not yet. How long was there still to go?

***

When he was a little older Fipps was sometimes allowed to play with other children in a blind alley beside the house. Once, on my way home at lunchtime, I saw him there with three other little boys, scooping up water from the gutter in an old tin can. Then they stood in a circle, talking. It looked like a conference. (It was the way engineers conferred about where they would begin the boring, where the first well should be sunk.) They squatted down on the pavement, and Fipps, who was holding the tin, was on the point of emptying it when they got up again and went three paving stones further. But this place also seemed to turn out unsuitable for the undertaking. They got up once again. There was tension in the atmosphere. What masculine tension! Something must be done! And then, a yard away, they found the place. They squatted down again, becoming silent, and Fipps tilted the tin. The dirty water flowed over the cobbles. They stared at it, silently, solemnly. The thing had been done, it was finished. Perhaps it was a success. It must surely have been a success. The world could rely on these small men; they would keep it going all right. I was now quite certain that they would keep it going. I went into the house, up to the apartment, and threw myself on the bed in our room. The world had been kept going, the place had been found whence some more progress could be made, and it had been done, a move in the same old direction. I had hoped my child would not find that direction. And once, a long time ago, I had even feared that he might not find his way about at all. Fool that I was, I had feared he would not find the direction!
I got up and flung a few handfuls of water, cold from the tap, into my face. I wanted no more of this child. I hated him because he understood things too well, because I could already see him following in all the footsteps there were.
I went about extending my hatred to everything that emanated from human beings, to the tram-routes, the number-plates on houses, titles, clocks and calendars, all that ingenious tangled mess that is called orderI hated the collecting of garbage, programs of series of lectures, registrar’s offices, all these wretched institutions that it’s now futile to attack and which indeed nobody even dreams of attacking, all these altars at which I too had sacrificed but at which I had no mind to see my child sacrificed. What had my child to do with it? He had not set the world up the way it was, he had not caused the damage done to it. Why should he set himself up in it just the same way! I screamed at the census office and the schools and the barracks: Give him a chance! Give my child just one single chance before he goes to the dogs! I raged against myself because I had forced my son into the world and had done nothing to set him free. I owed it to him, I had to act, I must go away with him, go off to some island with him. But where is there an island from which a new man can found a new world? I was trapped together with the child, condemned from the very beginning to keep on keeping on with the old world. That was why I dropped the child. I dropped him out of my love. For this child was capable of everything, only not of stepping out of the ranks, breaking through the satanic circle.

– Ingeborg Bachmann, ‘Everything

Sure you will

It’s bad again, isn’t it, I ask X, really bad. Don’t be stupid, he says. It’s bad though, isn’t it, I say, this time it’s bad. A bit, he says. A bit, I say, it’s humiliating, it’s a fucking disgrace how we were treated in there, can’t you see that, can’t they see that? Why can’t anyone see it? Why do we always run up against people like that, against psychopaths? What is it about us? Is it you? It’s you, isn’t it? Always hanging around me, giving me that look? Don’t be hysterical, he says. You feel it too, though, don’t you? I say. A bit, he says, I suppose a bit. A bit, I say. You’re fuming, you’re chomping at the bit to get at their throats. We both know that’s you, he says, you’re having a tantrum because you can’t get your way. But he disgraced us in there, I say, that one guy with the lazy eye, he disgraced us for no good reason, didn’t he? Objectively he did, didn’t he? A bit, I guess, says X, but he was just following the rules. Rules he made up, I say, because he could, because of me, because of you, because he saw I was with you, because he saw how much you’ve weakened me, all my life, so he knew he could get away with it, because that’s how those people are, isn’t it, they’ll do it if they get a chance, the minute they sense weakness, and they know I can’t get back at them, know I can’t resist them. But this time I’ll get them, I say, this time they’ve really gone too far, they brought up things they shouldn’t have brought up, they got personal, they went way beyond the pale. This time I’ll figure out my rights, I say, I’ll google the proper authorities, send letters and make appointments. We both know you won’t, says X. They’ve seen a million people like you. Fuck you, I say, we’re both in this together. Get a grip, he says. This time I’ll do it, I say, that guy with the lazy eye, I’m gonna knock it right, I’m telling you. At least I know the difference between right and wrong, I say, I’ll knock sense into his face. You’ll punch him in the eye and teach him all about what’s right, that’s a good one, says X. You need perspective, says X, you don’t have a clue how the system works. Fuck you, I say, and fuck the system. Ah yes, that’s what I was waiting for, says X, fuck the system, go say that to them. I will, I say. Sure you will, he says.

One of these days

One of these days I’m really gonna blow up, I tell X. One of these days when I come across a psychopath, when I come across one of those scumbags who can’t tell right from wrong, I’m gonna do something bad, really bad. You realise what you’re doing, writing these things down, says X. You think you’re anonymous? I don’t care, I say. Sure you don’t, he says, you don’t know very much. And you don’t understand what you’ve done to me, I say, you don’t know and you don’t seem to care, you’re one of them. That’s nice, he says. No it’s not, I say.

Then you should know

Do you have any empathy? I ask X. Do you? Why do you always side with them over me? Why? Listen to yourself, X says. I am, I say. Then you should know, he says.