Kafka quotes 3

‘What is it? What is it?’ I exclaimed, still held down in bed by sleep, and stretched my arms upwards. Then I got up, still far from being conscious of the present, and with the feeling that I must thrust aside various people who were in my way, made the necessary gestures, and so at last reached the open window.

*

We are all fighting a battle. (If, attacked by the ultimate question, I reach out behind me for weapons, I cannot choose which of those weapons I will have, and even if I could choose, I should be bound to choose some that don’t belong to me, for we all have only one store of weapons.) I cannot fight a battle all of my own; if for once I believe I am independent, if for once I see nobody around me, it soon turns out that as a consequence of the general constellation, which is not immediately or even not at all intelligible to me, I have had to take this post over. This, of course, does not exclude the fact that there is a cavalry spearhead, stragglers, snipers, and all the usual and abnormal items of warfare, but there is no one who fights an independent battle. [Humiliation] of vanity? Yes, but also a necessary encouragement, and one in accordance with the truth.

*

A sunray of bliss.

*

The history of mankind is the instant between two strides taken by a traveler.

*

From outside one will always triumphantly impress theories upon the world and then fall straight into the ditch one has dug, but only from inside will one keep oneself and the world quiet and true.

*

Evil has ways of surprising one. Suddenly it turns round and says: “You have misunderstood me,” and perhaps it really is so. Evil transforms itself into your own lips, lets itself be gnawed at by your teeth, and with these new lips—no former ones fitted more smoothly to your gums—to your own amazement you utter the words of goodness.

*

A is very puffed up, he thinks he is far advanced in goodness since, obviously as an object that is ever seductive, he feels himself exposed to ever more temptations from directions hitherto unknown to him. The proper explanation is however this: that a great devil has taken up residence in him and countless throngs of smaller ones come along to serve the great one.

*

“Know thyself” [Erkenne dich selbst] does not mean “Observe thyself.” “Observe thy self” is what the Serpent says. It means: “Make yourself master of your actions.” But you are so already, you are the master of your actions. So that saying means: “Misjudge yourself! [Verkenne dich] Destroy yourself!” which is something evil – and only if one bends down very far indeed does one also hear the good in it, which is: “In order to make of yourself what you are.”

*

There was once a community of scoundrels, that is to say, they were not scoundrels, but ordinary people. They always stood by each other. If, for instance, one of them had made a stranger, someone outside their community, unhappy in some rather scoundrelly way—that is to say, again, nothing scoundrelly, but just what is usual, just the normal sort of thing—and he then confessed to the whole community, they investigated the case, judged it, imposed penances, pardoned, and the like. It was not badly meant, the interests of the individual members and of the community as a whole were strictly safeguarded, and he who was supplied with the complementary color to the color he had shown:

“What? You mean you are upset about that? But what you did was a matter of course, you acted as you were bound to. Anything else would be incomprehensible. You are in a nervous condition, that’s all. Pull yourself together and be sensible.” So they always stood by each other, and even after death they did not desert the community, but rose to heaven dancing in a ring. All in all it was a vision of the purest childlike innocence to see them fly. But since everything, when confronted with heaven, is broken up into its elements, they crashed, true slabs of rock.

*

If you were walking across a plain, had an honest intention of walking on, and yet kept regressing, then it would be a desperate matter; but since you are scrambling up a cliff, about as steep as you yourself are if seen from below, the regression can only be caused by the nature of the ground, and you must not despair.

*

Like a path in autumn: scarcely has it been swept clear when it is once more covered with dry leaves.

*

The main thing, when a sword cuts into one’s soul, is to keep a calm gaze, lose no blood, accept the coldness of the sword with the coldness of a stone. By means of the stab, after the stab, become invulnerable.

*

This is a place where I never was before: here breathing is different, and more dazzling than the sun is the radiance of a star beside it.

— Kafka, The Blue Octavo Notebooks (tr. E. Kaiser and E. Wilkins)

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