Wednesday, 7 October 2015

James Hawes on Kafka

Continuing with Kafa’s Letter to His Father:
Getting married, establishing a family, accepting all children that happen to be conceived, to support them in this uncertain world and give them even a little guidance – I am convinced that is the utmost a human being can achieve. It is no counter argument to say that many people appear to achieve those things with ease, for first of all only few people achieve it in truth, and secondly those few do not actively seek that result. Rather it happens to them. It may not be the ultimate, but it is nevertheless a great and honourable achievement (especially because action and happenstance cannot be strictly separated). And in the end the point is not to reach the ultimate goal, but to approach it, yet go a respectable distance. It is not necessary to soar to the centre of the sun, as long as one manages to crawl to a clean little spot on earth, which is reached by the rays of the sun occasionally and where one can find a little warmth. How was I prepared for that step? As poorly as can be.

I remember an evening walk with you and mother. We were at the Josefsplatz near what is now the Länderbank, and I started to talk of those “interesting things” [i.e. sex] in a foolish, bragging, superior, proud, cool (feigned), cold (in truth) manner. I stuttered the way I often did in your presence, reproached you for leaving me unprepared, so that my classmates had to take care of me. I came close to being in great danger (here I lied shamelessly, as was my habit in order to appear daring). In fact because of my timidity I had no clear idea of the “great dangers”, knew only the usual sins city boys commit in bed, yet I indicated in the end, that luckily I knew everything by then, needed no advice, and everything was alright. But I had started on this topic primarily because it gave me pleasure at least to talk of the subject, also out of curiosity, and finally to avenge somehow whatever you had done to me. You simply accepted my words, as was your way. You said only that you could advise me on how I might engage in these things without risk. Perhaps that was the kind of reply I was fishing for. It suited the lasciviousness of a child fed on meat and all good things, physically inactive, and forever focused on himself. Yet my sense of decency was so hurt, or at least I thought it had to be hurt, that against my own inclination I could no longer speak with you about that topic and arrogantly or insolently broke off the conversation.
(Source: Letter to my Father, text on; my translation)

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