29 December. Those lively passages in Goethe. Page 265, ‘I therefore led my friend into the woods.’
Goethe: 307. ‘Now I heard during these hours no other conversation save what concerned medicine or natural history, and my imagination was drawn in quite another direction.’
On the other hand, I have decided to urge to imitate them in their details, the way certain people manipulate walking sticks, the way they hold their hands, the movements of their fingers, and I can do it without any effort. But this very effortlessness reflects itself in the fact that no one is aware that I am imitating. Only my own satisfied, or more often reluctant, appreciation shows me that I have been successful. Far beyond this external imitation, however, goes the inner, which is often so striking and strong that there is no room at all within me to observe and verify it, and it first confronts me in my memory.… Even though this ability may not be so small that it cannot be divided up, he does not want to betray the fact that under certain circumstances, by the exercise of his own will, he can dispose of less than all his art.
I admitted the possibility of miracles more readily than that of real progress, but was too detached not to keep the sphere of miracles and that of real progress sharply divided. I was therefore able to spend a good deal of time before falling asleep in imaging that some day, a rich man in a coach of four, I would drive into the Jewish quarter, with a magic word set free a beautiful maiden who was being beaten unjustly, and carry her off in my coach; but untouched by this silly make-believe, which probably fed only on an already unhealthy sexuality, I remained convinced that I would not pass my final examinations that year, and if I did, I would not get on in the next class, and if by some swindle I could avoid even that, then I would certainly fail decisively in my graduation examination, convinced also that I would all at once — the precise moment did not matter — reveal some unheard-of inability and very definitely surprise my parents as well as the rest of the world, who had been lulled to sleep by my outwardly regular progress.
I was undecided, as I always was in such cases, they made me afraid that by a definite statement I would be swept away not only into an immediate unpleasantness, but beyond that into something even worse.
The sudden turn a conversation takes when in the discussion, which at first has dealt in detail with worries of the inner existence, the question is raised (not really breaking the conversation off, but naturally not growing out of it, either) of when and where one will meet the next time and the circumstances that must be considered in deciding this. And if the conversation also ends with a shaking of hands, then one takes one’s leave with momentary faith in the pure, firm structure of our life and with respect for it.
4 January. It is only because of my vanity that I like so much to read to my sisters (so that today, for instance, it is already too late to write). Not that I am convinced that I shall achieve something significant in the reading, it is only that I am dominated by the passion to get so close to the good works I read that I merge with them, not through my own merit, indeed, but only through the attentiveness of my listening sisters, which has been excited by what is being read and is unresponsive to inessentials; and therefore too, under the concealment my vanity affords me, I can share as creator in the effect which the work alone has exercised. That is why I really read admirably to my sisters and stress the accents with extreme exactness just as I feel them, because later I am abundantly rewarded not only by myself but also by my sisters.
5 January. For two days I have noticed, whenever I choose to, an inner coolness and indifference. Yesterday evening, during my walk, every little street sound, every eye turned towards me, every picture in a showcase, was more important to me than myself.
What is not written down swims before one’s eyes and optical accidents determine the total impression.
In order to achieve a good conversation one must, as it were, push one’s hand more deeply, more lightly, more drowsily under the subject to be dealt with, then it can be lifted up astonishingly. Otherwise one breaks one’s fingers and thinks of nothing but one’s pains.
Yet even if I managed fairly well in some of this, one obvious slip, and slips cannot be avoided, will stop the whole process, the easy and the difficult alike, and I will have to turn backwards in the circle. So the best resource is to meet everything as calmly as possible, to make yourself an inert mass, and, if you feel that you are carried away, not to let yourself be lured into taking a single unnecessary step, to stare at others with the eyes of an animal, to feel no compunction, to yield to the non-conscious that you believe far away while it is precisely what is burning you, with your own hand to throttle down whatever ghostly life remains in you, that is, to enlarge the final peace of the graveyard and let nothing survive save that. A characteristic movement in such a condition is to run your little finger along your eyebrows.
8 February. Goethe: ‘My delight in creating was infinite.’
Not a word is lost, nor is there the whisper of an echo, instead everything grows gradually larger, as though the voice, already occupied with something else, continued to exercise a direct after-effect, it grows stronger after the initial impetus and swallows us up.… If one looks up at the ceiling of the hall, one is drawn upward by the verses.
This sort of reciting from a chair, with the book before one, reminds one a little of ventriloquism. The artist, seemingly not participating, sits there like us, in his bowed face we see only the mouth move from time to time, and instead of reading the verses himself, he lets them be read over his head.
5 March. These revolting doctors!
Today, while bathing, I thought I felt old powers, as though they had been untouched by the long interval.
Nothing, nothing. This is the way I raise up ghosts before me.
So deserted by myself, by everything. Noise in the next room.
The reciter, Reichmann, landed in the lunatic asylum the day after our conversation.
Only the billowing overcoat remains, everything else is made up.
18 March. I was wise, if you like, because I was prepared for death at any moment, but not because I had taken care of everything that was given to me to do, rather because I had done none of it and could not even hope ever to do any of it.
In the next room my mother is entertaining the L. couple. They are talking about vermin and corns. (Mrs L. has six corns on each toe.) It is easy to see that there is no real progress made in conversations of this sort. It is information that will be forgotten again by both and that even now proceeds along in self-forgetfulness without any sense of responsibility. But for the very reason that such conversations are unthinkable without absent-mindedness, they reveal empty spaces which, if one insists, can be filled only by thinking, or, better yet, by dreams.
One quite forgets one’s earthly existence because one is so entirely full of fury and is permitted to believe that, given the opportunity, one would in the same way fill oneself with even more beautiful emotions.
Desire for a deeper sleep that dissolves more. The metaphysical urge is only the urge toward death.
—Franz Kafka, from diaries 1910-1923, edited by Max Brod.
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