Monthly Archives: January 2011


It’s obvious, X tells me, I have to go mad. Balls-out mad, right-round-the-bend-looney-tunes mad. I have to pass over to the other side, that’s the only sane thing to do. Real madness, not all this shit, he says, pointing around. Maybe then I’ll be real, maybe we’ll be real.

He gobbles up the leavings and crumbs that fall from his own table; in this way he is, of course, for a little while more thoroughly sated than all the rest, but he forgets how to eat from the table itself. In this way, however, there cease to be any crumbs and leavings.

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


The dark birds are still hovering over us, X tells me. They’re still alive, still starving. They’re just waiting for the order to swoop, like in Lord of the Rings or something. We need to work together, he tells me, I need your help.


These words invoke their own absence. Thus I’ve written them before and will continue to write them, the form hardly matters, write and erase, combine and recombine, fruitlessly as they say of certain searches, that they’re ‘fruitless’. But what of a search that’s known to be fruitless from the start, what of the search that’s a search for itself?

The mystery

One morning I awoke and knew with inexplicable conviction that I was ready. I walked into the living room, sat down before the television, pressed play on the recorder and drew up to the screen. I studied her face closely, closer than ever. I saw her face on the screen, I saw my face reflected on the screen, I saw our two faces superimposed on one another. Then my face moved back and I knew. I knew what people mean when they talk about compassion. I saw clearly what it was like to live in his world, and I felt compassion for him, mingled with joy at the realisation that I had found a way in. Cate’s grace flooded my mind like an undeserved gift. I understood that I had found my true home, that I had at last entered the mystery and left behind the wretched life of the flesh.

— From an old story

The first time

Faulkner once said, ‘The stories you tell you never write’. I don’t like to talk about what I’m going to do, because if I start to talk about it… I’m always very surprised and impressed by the directors who [are interviewed and asked], ‘What is it about?’ and then they start to talk for half an hour, and you just have to sit down and look interested! The first day of shooting, of standing in the studio or on the location, and to have to make the first picture, I have the feeling that this is the first time. It’s always the first time. And I’m always making experiments. I always try and try again, try to express things. I’ve been working now for about 30 years. I’ve made 30 or 32 pictures. But every one is the first one.



Q. If a dictator took over in Sweden and said, ‘You have to choose between the theatre or movies’, what would you do?

A. If a dictator took over in Sweden I think I would not exist. Because the freedom under which we work is a basis. Nobody can come to me and say. ‘Do that or do that’. Not in the theatre and not in the film. I’m my own master. And I want the actors and the technicians and the people around me to be equal. They have also to be their own masters. We have to create [the feeling of] not being afraid, not being self-conscious, feeling, in a way, happy with our work. We must feel proud that we do this thing, this object, this thing of craftsmanship.

Q. When I spoke to Orson Welles, he said that only once in his life did he have complete control of the kind that you insist on, and have had all through your career.

A. It’s absolutely impossible for me to have somebody who has nothing to do with artistic work to interfere. If he tries I ask him to go to hell.


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)

More Kafka quotes