Monthly Archives: March 2017

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