Posted by: glue | September 26, 2008

Limit Experience

Franz Kafka is our guide to Daimon as an experience:  limit.  We saw it with Socrates, at the beginning of Western metaphysics.  Two trials. Socrates consults his daimonion at his doorway, before leaving for his trial for corrupting the young, and hears nothing, meaning that his decision to cooperate with the court was just.  Aristotle, thereafter, uses the term for “indictment” (Kategory) to name the new classification system of literacy. The arc nears completion with Kafka’s The Trial, dramatizing the saturation of experience by “indictment” (to be under arrest).  We expect modernity to drop the allegories and personifications of experience, so that, whatever Daimon personified in reality, we now name conceptually.  Limit, border, boundary, edge, dividing inside/outside.  The whole structure of avatar as Western experience (and its ruin) –descent, striving, return–is condensed in one of Kafka’s aphorisms (apologues).

“He is a free and secure citizen of the world because he is on a chain that is long enough to allow him access to all parts of the earth, and yet not so long that he could be swept over the edge of it.  At the same time he is a free and secure citizen of heaven because he is also attached to a similar heavenly chain.  If he wants to go to earth, the heavenly manacles will throttle him, if he wants to go to heaven, the earthly manacles will.  But for all that, all possibilities are open to him, as he is well aware, yes, he even refuses to believe the whole  thing is predicated on a mistake going back to th time of his first enchainment” (The Zurau Aphorisms).

Brand (Kavka)

Brand (Kavka)

That “Kafka” means “jackdaw” in Czech makes the following apologue even more relevant (Kafka’s father used a blackbird as his business logo). “The crows like to insist a single crow is enough to destroy  heaven.  This is incontestably true, but  it says nothing about heaven, because heaven is just another way of saying:  the impossibility of crows.”
The commentators note that in Kafka there is no bridge, no way between the two dimensions of life established in the tradition of Western experience, between the individual and the world, the inside and the outside, matter and spirit, and this aporia is what makes his work and life emblematic of modernity.
The Daimon introduces itself when, suddenly, in the midst of your project, you feel the collar around your throat.  Instruction:  translate limit into measure.



  1. Image of Wide Scope

    Kafka’s letter to his father describes a memory from early childhood that ultimately functioned as his wide image, emblematizing the aporia that structured all his work. See, for example, The Castle.

    “There is only one episode in the early years of which I have a direct memory. You may remember it, too. One night I kept on whimpering for water, not, I am certain, because I was thirsty, but probably partly to be annoying, partly to amuse myself. After several vigorous threats had failed to have any effect, you took me out of bed, carried me out onto the pavlatche [a balcony around the inner courtyard], and left me there alone for a while in my nightshirt, outside the shut door. I am not going to say that this was wrong–perhaps there was really no other way of getting peace and quiet that night–but I mention it as typical of your methods of bringing up a child and their effect on me. I dare say I was quite obedient afterwards at that period, but it did me inner harm. What was for me a matter of course, that senseless asking for water, and the extraordinary terror of being carried outside were two things that I, my nature being what it was, could never properly connect with each other. Even years afterwards I suffered from the tormenting fancy that the huge man, my father, the ultimate authority, would come almost for no reason at all and take me out of bed in the night and carry me out onto the pavlatche, and that meant I was a mere nothing for him.

    “That was only a small beginning, but this sense of nothingness that often dominates me (a feeling that is in another respect, admittedly, also a noble and fruitful one) comes largely from your influence. What I would have needed was a little encouragement, a little friendliness, a little keeping open of my road, instead of which you blocked it for me, though of course with the good intention of making me go another road. But I was not fit for that.”

    The Image of Wide Scope lends a face to the Daimon (genius).

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