Friday, March 02, 2012

4.2 Kafka and Felice

Für mich ist der Sonntag wenigstens seit 1 ½ Monaten ein Wunder, dessen Schein ich schon Montag früh beim Aufwachen sehe. Das Problem bleibt, die Woche bis zum Sonntag hinzuschleppen, die Arbeit über diese Wochentage hinzuziehn und wie ich es auch anstelle, Freitag geht es gewöhnlich nicht mehr weiter. Wenn man so Stunde für Stunde einer Woche verbringt, selbst bei Tag nicht viel weniger aufmerksam als der Schlaflose in der Nacht und wenn man sich so in der unerbittlichen Maschinerie einer solchen Woche umschaut, dann muß man wirklich noch froh sein, dass diese trostlos sich aufbauenden Tage nicht zurückfallen, um von neuem zu beginnen, sondern dass sie glatt vergehn und endlich zum Aufatmen der Abend und die Nacht beginnt. 

[“For me, Sunday, at least for the last one and one half months, has been a miracle, whose light I see shining when I wake up on Monday morning. The problem remains, how to drag through the week until Sunday, pulling the work through these week days and however I arrage it, by Friday, usually, it no longer seems to work. When you go hour by hour through the week, being as attentive by day as the insomniac is at night, and why you look around you in the unrelenting machinery of such a week, you really have to rejoice that these comfortlessly piled up days don’t collapse and begin all over again, but that they smoothly pass and finally you can begin to breathe out in the evening and the night.”]

The piled up days, piled up by the “relentless machinery” of time, are, at one and the same time, the product of the person who is looking around in this machinery and the trap of the eternal return, a trap that is just barely avoided by the fact that the days pass “smoothly”. Kafka, in this passage, has brought together the Bergsonian sense of the infinitely substitutable time of matter – the time that is, theoretically, always repeatable – and the time of the assembly line, the accidents of which form one of the constant sources of his concern for the last three years, ever since he joined the Arbeiter- Unfall-Versicherungs-Anstalt fur das Konigreich Bohmen and began to investigate claims for workman’s compensation.

The letter is dated the letter of October 27, 1912. It is one of the hundreds sent to Felice Bauer, the woman he met on  August 13, 1912, at his friend Max Brod’s house.  Franz Kafka is thirty years old at this point – although he doesn’t look it. He has been promoted to the post of Concipist at the Anstalt – which means that he, as a lawyer, draws up papers concerning cases of accidents for his firm, pursues employers, and sometimes gives talks or writes articles on the prevention of accidents at the workplace. Felice is also in a fairly modern profession – she works in the gramaphone division of the Carl Lindstrom Company in Berlin as a supervisor, under whom there is a pool of secretaries.

Like coins, people have more than one side. Unlike coins, they often have even more than two sides, although eventually most people can be grasped by the head or the tail. Felice B. seemed to grasp Kafka, in the end, as a man with a white collar job and a part owner of an asbestos factory. However, as the abundant flow of letters show, he was a writer – a writer to his very fingernails. Felice B. is harder to grasp, since we don’t have her letters. And there is something irresistibly symbolic about this, because she was working for a company that was pioneering records and Dictaphones – capturing the oral without the pen or the typewriter. Ideally, that is. Kafka is in fact very inquisitive about the “parlograph” at the same time that he admits that he sees it as an obscure enemy. On  the 13th, when he meets Felice, he is engaged in his extra-office life, bringing his friend Max Brod, a manuscript for the first of Kafka’s works to be published in his lifefime.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

simultaneity 4.1: EWG in Nietzsche and Kafka

When Nietzsche came down from the mountains of Sils Maria in 1882 and wrote the first four books of the Gay Science, he was filled with a rare, unifying vision that had sprung itself upon him and completely turned around his mood. As any moraliste knows, the mood is a cognitive tool  – it is by the mood that one judges certain intangible but real changes in the world. No barometer is complex enough to allow us to judge our historical moment, with its different forms of existence that are set  loose in the quotidian and bump against each other as though in a fair; with its obsessions and routines, its shifting matrixes of exchange, its speeds. Thus, Nietzsche wrote his book with this mood like a muse on his shoulder, and revealed, shyly, like a great secret, in the fourth book, his inspiration and great idea. It was of course the doctrine of the eternal return, announced – as though balancing the lightness of the title of the book – as the heaviest weight, das grösste Schwergewicht.  The dramaturgy here is along the lines of the great philosophical coups de theatres, from Socrates’ death to Descartes’ dream: thus, it includes a demon.

“What if, one day or night, a demon slinks up to you in your loneliest loneliness and says: your life, as you live it now and have lived it, you will have to live again, and countless times again; and there will be nothing new in it, and instead, every pain and pleasure and ever thought and sigh and all the unspeakably smallnesses and greatnesses of your life must return to you and everything in the same series and succession – and likewise this spider and this moonlight between the trees, and likewise this moment and I myself. The eternal hourglass of existence is turned over again and again – and you with it, dust speck of specks!”  [My translation]

The eternal return of the same enters the literature of the late nineteenth century through many doors. Nietzsche’s is the most famous. In the early twentieth century, it enters with a bit less gravity – in fact, as a slapstick routine, performed by a po faced clown. The clown, here, is not Chaplin but Kafka, the place is in an early letter to Felice Bauer, his future fiancé, but the setting is surely Modern Times, the office version:


  “In brief, cultural history only represents a surface strike against the insight [of historicism], but not that of dialectics. For it lack...