Monthly Archives: September 2010

The Castle’s communication

The murmur, the song that issues audibly from the phone as soon as any receiver is lifted in the village, is the Castle’s only acoustic manifestation. It is indistinct and, moreover, non-linguistic, a music composed of words gone back to their source in pure sonic matter, prior to and stripped of all meaning. The Castle communicates with outside world through a continuous, indecipherable sound.

— Roberto Calasso, K. (tr. G. Brock)

The invisible

The invisible has a mocking tendency to present itself as the visible, as if it might be distinguished from everything else, but only under certain circumstances, such as the clearing away of mist. Thus one is persuaded to treat it as the visible – and is immediately punished. But the illusion remains.

— Roberto Calasso, K. (tr. G. Brock)


It is entirely conceivable that life’s splendor forever lies in wait about each one of us in all its fullness, but veiled from view, deep down, invisible, far off. It is there, though, not hostile, not reluctant, not deaf. If you summon it by the right word, by its right name, it will come. This is the essence of magic, which does not create but summons.

— Kafka, Diaries (tr. M. Greenberg)

An endless Sunday

An endless, dreary Sunday afternoon, an afternoon  swallowing down whole years, its every hour a year. By turns walked despairingly down empty streets and lay quietly on the couch. Occasionally astonished by the leaden, meaningless clouds almost uninterruptedly drifting by. “You are reserved for a great Monday!” Fine, but Sunday will never end.

— Kafka, Diaries (tr. M. Greenberg)

Why was it that works of literature such as the poems of T S Eliot, the stories of Kafka and Borges, the novels of Proust, Mann, Claude Simon and Thomas Bernhard seemed worlds apart from those admired by the English literary establishment (works by writers such as Margaret Atwood, John Updike, Martin Amis and Ian McEwan)? The first group touched me to the core, leading me into the depths of myself even as they led me out into worlds I did not know. The latter were well-written narratives that, once I’d read them, I had no wish ever to reread. Was it my fault? Was I in some way unable to enter into the spirit of these works?


They take seats, separated by a table, turned not toward one another, but opening, around the table that separates them, an interval large enough that another person might consider himself their true interlocutor, the one for whom they would speak if they addressed themselves to him.

— Blanchot, The Infinite Conversation (tr. S. Hanson)

Take it back!

Nothing intimidates me when I write. I say what I think must be said. [But] when I don’t write, there is a very strange moment when I go to sleep. When I have a nap and I fall asleep. At that moment, in a sort of half-sleep, all of a sudden I’m terrified by what I’m doing. And I tell myself: ‘You’re crazy to write this!’ […] And there is a sort of panic in my subconscious, as if… what can I compare it to? Imagine a child who does something horrible. […] In this half-sleep I have the impression that I’ve done something criminal, disgraceful, unavowable that I shouldn’t have done. And someone is telling me: ‘You’re mad to have done that!” And this is something I truly believe in my half-sleep. And the implied command in this is: ‘Stop everything! Take it back! Burn your papers! What you are doing is inadmissible!’ But once I wake up, it’s over. What this means or how I interpret this is that when I’m awake, conscious, working, in a certain way I’m more unconscious than in my half-sleep. When I’m in that half-sleep there’s a kind of vigilance that tells me the truth. First of all it tells me that what I’m doing is very serious. But when I’m awake and working, this vigilance is actually asleep. It’s not the stronger of the two. And so I do what must be done.


Hopeless prayer

When I pray I think, I try to think. And this thinking prayer is not simply negative. It’s a way of asking questions […] When I pray I am thinking about negative theology, the unnameable, the possibility [that I am] totally deceived about my belief and so on. It’s a very sceptical – I don’t like this word – but it can be interpreted as a very sceptical prayer. And this scepticism is part of the prayer. […] Instead of scepticism I would call it a suspension of certainty, and this is part of the prayer. And then I consider that this suspension of certainty, this suspension of knowledge, the inability to answer your question, ‘Who do you expect to answer these prayers?’ is part of what a prayer has to be in order to be authentic. If I knew, if I were simply expecting an answer, that would be the end of the prayer. That would be an order, the way I order a pizza. No, I am not expecting anything. And my assumption is that I must give up any expectation, any certainty as to the one, or more than one, to whom I address this prayer, if this is still a prayer. […] It’s a hopeless prayer on the one hand, and I think this hopelessness is part of what a prayer should be. On the other hand I know that there is hope, there is calculation, there is economy. But what sort of economy?  […] I know that praying in that way, even if there is no one God, mother or father receiving my prayer, I know that by this act of praying in the desert – out of love, because I wouldn’t pray otherwise – something might already be good in myself. […] By doing this I try to affirm and to accept something in myself which won’t to any harm to anyone, especially to me. […] If I give up any calculation, because of this calculation around the incalculable I can become better for myself, narcissistically, but to become better narcissistically is a way of loving in a better way, of being more loveable for our loved ones. So that’s a calculation. It’s a calculation which tries to integrate the incalculable. When I pray it’s a mixture of all these things in the same instant, in the same words, in the same gestures. [Then I have] a strange experience in which the Judaism of my childhood, my experience as a philosopher, as a quasi-theologian, all the texts I’ve read, from Plato to St. Augustine to Heidegger, are there, they are my world, the world in which my prayer prays. That’s the way I pray, sometimes in a given and fixed moment during the day, sometimes anywhere, at any moment, for instance now.


Gabriel Josipovici arrived in Oxford to be interviewed for a place to study English – the most un-English of students, Jewish, twice-displaced, already passionate about the great European writers: “They kept asking me what English novelist I most admired and I kept saying ‘Dostoevsky’, and they kept saying, ‘English novelist, Mr Josipovici’, and I kept saying ‘Dostoevsky’, vaguely aware that something was profoundly wrong but unable, in the heat of the moment, to put my finger on it.”

Gabriel Josipovici, (via here)

A small room of my own

It is true I have a small room of my own, but that is not a home, only a place of refuge where I can hide my inner turmoil, only to fall all the more headlong into its clutches.

— Kafka, in G. Janouch, Conversations with Kafka (via here)