Life without solitude is a deafening din. Solitude punctuates our life, making it more musical, restores us to ourselves.
—Dumitru Tsepeneag, Pigeon Post, trans. Jane Kuntz.
How dark it is. The moon must have stolen away secretly. The stars have thrown their spears down and departed.
Self-development is the kernel of sagacity. Your main duty is towards yourself: you must be the bond-man of your own will. A whimpering baby, you come into the world as into an enemy’s camp: you are not wanted there; henceforth the universe will be against you. You are in the posture of a new poet who is smartly told that the world would have been never the poorer had his effusions remained incoherent. “Here is another pretender!” cries mankind, assembling against the latest comer. Remember you are not a volunteer, and it follows that you need not take a side. You are in nobody’s debt. Your makers considered their pleasure; the country of your birth is a political accident, and is perhaps the first to hand you the mud; you had no choice about accepting the cup of life. The best thanks you can offer for existence is to make your days by fair means or desperate a matter of self-portrait. Woe to him who stands in the way, whether as friend or open foe! You are to grasp your I firmly with both hands and use it as a bludgeon.
In this struggle things are not noble or base; they are merely expedient. Every man, however fair spoken, has in mind some secret advantage: he is for himself and therefore against you: you must cross Is with him. Your part is to have your I out of the scabbard before he can get his well in hand. Sweet words and actions are but brilliant parries; affection is a fatal snare; and you will be wise to regard all protests of sincerity with suspicion, since humanity tends to the vile. These are but tricks in the game, and the good player is he who is swift to use them for himself and to baffle them in others. Hold yourself in life as you would at a card-table where everyone cheats. And above all, be sure to chaunt in your heart your own Gloria. That which you do you must think fine; what other people think does not matter in the least. Patriotism we are told (chiefly by interested persons) is a virtue to which we ought to sacrifice, and it is thought decorous to slave for the public fortune; but have you not perceived, that the man who is held most in honour by his country is the man who has been most successful in referring all to himself?
I want to say the same words over and over. I want just the sound. I want to fill up what space I am with one note. I want to follow the note beyond my own conclusion.
That was the time in my life when I was happiest. Why, you ask? It’s a puzzle I leave to you analysts of the psyche. I have little time for notions of repression and sublimation, for symbols of the unconscious or the subconscious. I have no wish to be autopsied while I am still alive. Let what I am remain private, whole, and mysterious. Let it continue to yield sufferings and joys uncomprehended. And when I die may it all be destroyed, like an unopened letter.
[M]aybe it is impossible to say anything new and better, but the dust of time falls on everything that has been written and so I think it’s right if every ten years someone else draws a line through all those old things and describes the world-of-today in different words.
I would like to have become someone else, wouldn’t you? But we should have started earlier; now, it is too late. Indeed, it would not be so bad never to have been born in the first place, but that happens more and more seldom, I could scarcely list any cases, except right off the bat; but you certainly would not care for that, and you are right not to, I do not like that either. We have been given our lives—I do find that expression highly euphemistic, but be that as it may: gifts from parents or from people who become parents only by the act of giving can be neither rejected nor passed on, for one would never find the right taker. Besides, at the time of the giving, one does not yet possess the right vocabulary to make the thing palatable to others. Oh well, it would not be possible to return the gift anyway. But I am amazed that the recipient’s screams of protest right after the act of giving do not give the givers food for thought.
You can’t imagine how clever you have to be in order to never be ridiculous.
After he had been writing for a while he became aware of how many times he used the word ‘fingers’, the fact of them, the image of them, in his poems. All that talk of reaching and touching, all those barriers his fingers seemed to encounter between him and some imagined other. The metaphors. The similies. The symbolisms. And then one day he realized that of course he was always staring at his hand when he wrote, was always watching the pen as it moved along, gripped by his fingers, his fingers, floating there in front of his eyes just above the words, above that single white sheet, just above these words i’m writing now, his fingers between him and all that, like another person, a third person, when all along you thot it was just the two of you talking and he suddenly realized it was the three of them, handing it on from one to the other, his hand translating itself, his words slipping thru his fingers into the written world. You.
In the squalid boarding houses of the old quarters, in the bare tenements on the outskirts, someone suddenly gets out of bed, in the dead of night, runs into the hallway, and wakes the other tenants. “Let’s set off!” he shouts, inflamed by incomprehensible hopes. His face has become radiant. Is it a miracle? No one complains about being wakened at that absurd hour. “Where are we heading?” a woman asks with a smile, looking out from the door of her room. “The Americas,” someone proposes with enthusiasm. “The Indies!” “Pannonia,” says another voice. “The Caliph awaits us!” Oblivious to the difficulties, they excitedly discuss the journey, an inexplicable haste has seized them, they feel lighthearted, and the injustice of those wretched walls, those torn robes, those foul odors, those flaccid faces, all that bitter truth is denied in the poetry of the night. “Come on, hurry!” he urges. “The bags! The cloaks! The ship is about to sail. Don’t you hear the siren?”
Actually, in my opinion, a man didn’t have to be insane to be sensitive. There were people who could be wounded by trifles and whom a single hard word could kill. I gave her to understand that I was that sort of a person.
Note: I preferred Bly’s—over Lyngstad’s definitive—translation of this passage, and I added the emphasis. It’s fitting to mention that the character could also be saved from complete madness, self-annihilation, by a single ‘word’: kuboa.
Kafka imagines a man who has a hole in the back of his head. The sun shines into this hole. The man himself is denied a glimpse of it. Kafka might as well be talking about the man’s face. Others “look into it.” The most public, promiscuous part of his body is invisible to himself. How obvious. Still, it takes a genius to say that the face, the thing that kisses, sneezes, whistles, and moans is a hole more private than our privates. You retreat from this dreadful hole into quotidian blindness, the blindness of your face to itself. You want to light a cigarette or fix yourself a drink. You want to make a phone call. To whom? You don’t know. Of course you don’t. You want to phone your face. The one you’ve never met. Who you are.