Tuesday, May 17, 2005

from The Castle

"Mizzi is entirely of my opinion and now I am at liberty to express it. This lettter is in no sense an official communication, but only a private letter. That can be clearly seen in the very mode of address: 'My Dear Sir.' Morever, there isn't a single word in it showing that you've been taken on as Land-Surveyor; on the contrary, it's all about state service in general, and even that is not absolutely guaranteed, as you know; that is, the task of proving that you are taken on is laid on you. Finally, you are officially and expressly referred to me, the Mayor, as your immediate superior, for more detailed information, which, indeed, has in great part been given already. To anyone who knows how to read official communications, and consequently knows still better how to read unofficial letters, all this is only too clear. That you, a stranger, don't know it doesn't surprise me. In general the letter means nothing more than that Klamm intends to take a personal interest in you if you should be taken into state service."

"Mr. Mayor," said K., "you interpret the letter so well that nothing remains of it but a signature on a blank sheet of paper.* Don't you see that in doing this you depreciate Klamm's name, which you pretend to respect?"

*Here Kafka deleted a sentence which ran:
My interpretation is different; I shall stick to it even though I also have quite different weapons, and shall do all I can to get it acknowledged.

Why was this sentence dropped? Does it not risk betraying a certain fidelity on the part of the author toward K, or K's position? Did it make a fidelity too transparent? Was it the word "acknowledgement" that perhaps could not be uttered directly, although it watches over the entire text, and indeed over so many texts by Kafka...? Or was it simply not economical enough, and better shown, in a sense, by the sentence that follows, than said? But maybe I am inventing this fidelity, you will say; Kafka himself does not take sides in this debate.

The Mayor (in capitals) responds quite handily:
"You've misunderstood me," said the Mayor. "I don't misconstrue the meaning of the letter; my reading of it doesn't disparage it, on the contrary. A private letter from Klamm has naturally far more significance than an official letter, but it hasn't precisely the kind of significance that you attach to it."

Poor K., whose personal contacts have always been "illusory," who fails, even once, to "come into any real contact with our authorities."
...but because of your ignorance of the circumstances you take them to be real. And as for the telephone: in my place, as you see, though I've certainly enough to do with the authorities, there's no telephone. In inns and such places it may be of real use—as much use, say, as a penny in a musicbox slot—but it's nothing more than that. Have you ever telephoned here? Yes? Well, then, perhaps you'll understand what I say. In the Castle the telephone works beautifully of course; I've been told it's being used there all the time; that naturally speeds up the work a great deal. We can hear this continual telephoning in our telephones down here as a kind of humming and singing, you must have heard it too.

Indeed, it's warming my hand right now. And in the peeling laughter of children at play, coming from the valley.

Honestly I don't know how to read this passage. It would seem, on a metaphorical level perhaps, extremely suggestive with regard to themes such as 'the politics of translation', the im-possibility of 'sincere speech', and more...the 'standing reserve' secure-world whirring of technology? Humbert Humbert's recollection of children's voices, as if a sort of primal scene? The infinite murmuring spoken of by Blanchot? Are these thoughts, if somehow connected, not also dated?
As the subtitle, “A story of Wall-Street,” suggests, the story of Bartleby can be read as a parable of the contemporary post-industrial society, which, according to Heidegger, is dominated by the “standing reserve” mentality. According to Heidegger, “The coming to presence of technology threatens revealing, threatens it with the possibility that all revealing will be consumed in ordering and that everything will present itself only in the unconcealedness of standing-reserve” (1977, p. 33). More specifically, he writes, “That revealing concerns Nature, above all, as the chief storehouse of the standing energy reserve” (ibid., p. 21).

But all Romantic fascism aside (if only it were that easy, you say), doesn't this passage raise foremost the question of interpretation? And more precisely, the question of what may constitute (if that is indeed the right word) a 'faithful' interpretation, one attuned to the 'spirit' of the text, which is to say, remaining committed, in some radically non-dogmatic sense, to the openness not so much of its questions as of its questioning. This distinction may strike some as either obvious, banal, or academic, or a childish sort of non-question, even. But for those who know what I am getting at, I would like to see it argued with anything approaching conviction that this question is as such merely unimportant. If I was an "analytic philosopher," then my subtext would run something like, "and then I will tear you a new asshole, my stylus Baculine. Come on, step right up." But I am neither anal nor presumptuous enough to call myself a philosopher (the word should not be employed lightly), so fear not. Also, this is a blog. So step right up.

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