Kafka’s second aphorism

Alle menschlichen Fehler sind Ungeduld, ein vorzeitiges Abbrechen des Methodischen, ein scheinbares Einpfählen der scheinbaren Sache.

All human errors are impatience, the premature breaking off of what is methodical, an apparent fencing in of the apparent thing. (tr. Kaiser/Wilkins)

All human errors stem from impatience, a premature breaking off of a methodical approach, an ostensible pinning down of an ostensible object. (tr. Hofmann)

Commentary by Michael Cisco

Impatience is the only cause of human error. This means no human error cannot ultimately be traced back to anything but impatience. Impatience is a topic Kafka returns to throughout the aphorisms.

Why be impatient? It suggests the desire to be done and to move on is greater than the desire for the correct result; and that, as a method becomes more thorough, and therefore presumably more accurate, it becomes correspondingly more exasperating to use.

Method is designed to exhaust the possibilities, to miss nothing; taking absolutely everything into account is the key to reasonable planning and understanding, and at the same time it’s a maddening exercise in frustration. You begin to realize people don’t use words like “exhaust” just by chance when they talk about this.

But then, doesn’t the thinker care at all about the result? He must, and yet he seems too content to plod methodically on — unless of course he really only loves the method, and is disinclined to set much stock in results.

Ostensible objects — they may be illusory or they may be able to be constituted in a variety of ways: the flower and the bee may be two objects from one point of view and only one object from another. It isn’t just a matter of labelling an object, but of distinguishing the boundaries of each object.

Kafka seems preoccupied with methodical procedures, especially with all the ways they can go wrong, but nothing ends. The error isn’t an end nor does it finish anything, but it marks the point in the development of a line of inquiry beyond which nothing useful can be expected.

The method defines what constitutes an error, but in general, error is abandoning method (usually without noticing, like falling off the rope in Number One). But how well does the method do when it comes to providing a satisfactory notion of success? The method is designed to identify and avoid error, and it may be that it can only define success in terms of scarcity of error; that minimization of error (accuracy) is equivalent to truth is taken for granted.

Error is breaking off method prematurely, but how do you know when to break off method maturely?

Error arises when one breaks off method prematurely, because this leads to an inessential understanding based on mere appearances. One settles for what seems to be true, and then reasons from that appearance. Kafka’s fiction is replete with examples of this.

From this, we may infer that truth, for Kafka, is less a result and more a way of remaining true, by patient application of method.

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