Posted by: glue | June 21, 2008

Kafka Lessons: Ausweg/los (A/poria)

How to glimpse my disposition, with a first-person angle? Kafka is one relay, articulating an approach through language.  He describes here the problem of expression.

Sketch by Kafka

“*1) Is it possible to think something unconsoling? Or, rather, something unconsoling without the breath of consolation? A way out [Ausweg] would seem to lie in the fact that recognition as such is consolation. 2) And so one might well think: You must put yourself aside, and yet one might maintain oneself, without falsifying this recognition, by the consciousness of having recognized it. 3) That, then , really means having pulled oneself out of the swamp by one’s own pigtail. 4) What is ridiculous in the physical world is possible in the spiritual world. There there is no law of gravity (the angels do not fly, they have not overcome any force of gravity, it is only we observers in the terrestrial world who cannot imagine it in any better way than that), which is, of course, beyond our power of conception, or at any rate conceivable only on a very high level. 5) How pathetically scanty my self-knowledge is compared with, say, my knowledge of my room. (Evening). Why? There is no such thing as observation of the inner world, as there is of the outer wordld. At least descriptive psychology is probably, taken as a whole, a form of anthropomorphism, a nibbling at our own limits. The inner world can only be experienced, not described. 6) Psychology is the description of the reflection of the terrestrial world in the heavenly plane, or, more correctly, the description of a reflection such as we, soaked as we are in our terrestrial nature, imagine it, for no reflection actually occurs, only we see earth wherever we turn.”

Franz Kafka, The Blue Octavo Notebooks, 14.

*Numbers added (see comment).


  1. Kafka’s aphoristic composition may be generalized into a genre. This particular example was analyzed by Richard T. Gray, in Constructive Destruction: Kafka’s Aphorisms (1987) — the basis for the following proposed sequence.

    1) Begin with a keyword, contextualized by a thought problem. Ausweg –a way out, a dodge or expedient (see Clayton Koelb) — also evokes the “no way” (Ausweglos) of aporia, the impasse whose primary manifestation structuring our lifeworld is mortality. Kafka exploits the multivalence of the term.

    2) Take the question literally, or apply it to a concrete circumstance, such as a person contemplating suicide (?). The rhetorical trick: to recognize that there is no consolation is itself a consolation.

    3) Find an analogy (or metaphor) in art, in this case in one of the tales attributed to Baron von Munchausen.

    4) Recast the analogy as a proposition (the dichotomy dividing the physical and spiritual world).
    Explain the principles organizing this imaginative stance (free of the laws of physics).

    5) Apply to one’s own world view (draw a personal conclusion).

    6) Recast the persoal insight as a tag line, or generalize it in aphoristic form.

    Use this sequence to generate one’s own attitude toward the same keyword, or with respect to another such term of one’s own repertoire.

  2. A remake of Kafka’s Ausweg.

    Is it possible to receive your own post as if for the first time, as if it were news about yourself originating from abroad? This prospect articulates the (kein) Ausweg, the no/way out or im/passe in the circuit of auto-affection. To subscribe to this channel one must use the good offices of a surrogate, a go-between (a prosopon). That, then, really means recognizing your autobiography in the schtick of a Punch and Judy show. What is commonplace, even stereotyped, in the physical world is obscure, indeterminate in the spiritual one. There there are no stock characters, no plot formulas, or rather, it is only we self-observers who continue to miss the point of our love for puppet shows. How pathetically scanty is my self knowledge compared with, say, my knowledge of my home town. (Past). And so? Any observation of the inner world is accomplished through sketches of the outer world. At least expression is doubtless a form of improvisational theater, an abstract graphing of one’s own shape. The inner life may be figured, not narrated, described, or analyzed. Expression is the opening of a passage between the two sides of life (the im/material). Or, more correctly, the invention of an aesthetic effigy that neither resembles nor indexes either dimension of my nature, since, immersed as we are in spectacle, we only see programming wherever we turn.

  3. If only more people could read this.

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