Wednesday, March 13, 2013
"wanders in a world of shadows"
(from the call of the daimon; love and truth in the writings of franz kafka by aldo carotenuto; trans. by charles nobar.)
the castle opens with a protagonist who has lost his way and wanders in a world of shadows, accompanied by the invitation of the unconscious to compare himself with his inner images. but the call that comes from within raises the problem of the answer as soon as it is perceived. what is evoked is an impalpable and fleeting world similar to the shadows that inhabit it. here we move in an indeterminate dimension shrouded in the mists of our unawareness. and it is precisely this indefinite quality of the thing that now opens before us, the impossibility of exactly circumscribing the goal, contrary to the clarity with which we can see the reality left behind us, that gives greater value and dignity to our actions. the entire story of the surveyor, his search, his desire to understand the world in which he finds himself living, his personal relationships, his efforts to reach the castle- all these can be considered his reply to the call.
the call of the unconscious- the same heard by k.- which according to jung is primarily the prerogative of the mature in years, cannot be dated chronologically. our lives continually pass through periods of crisis, stages of transition, in which the balance achieved up to then must be destroyed and another one created. each new relationship, each new job, is a death and a birth at the same time. and to open oneself to the new, to change, to what at first appears unknown and confused, means to answer an inner call, to prefer the upheaval of an authentic choice to the stagnancy of renunciation and of accommodation. to give heed to an inner voice that impels one toward a nonhabitual dimension implies the capacity to contact the unconscious, to establish a relationship with its images. human life, different from that of the animals, has a relationship with the imaginary. it is a reality that has no tangible existence, which, having no material weight, vanishes into air as soon as we try to seize it.
and yet this fantastic world obsesses us and impregnates every moment of our lives, not only in dreams, fantasies, and memories, but apparently breaking out of the very heart of reality as if to announce its imminent conversion into another dimension. the fascination of the imaginary is born from the very center of our lives, shaping itself in the form of an "elsewhere," an "out-of-this-world" that embroils us in its net and captures us (pfeiffer 1996, pg. ix). it reveals the irresistible attraction, the seduction of a dimension that eludes us, that is absent from consciousness and not reducible to it even while intensely permeating it. the eidolons that populate our world contain our past and our future inasmuch as destiny is nothing but the realization of an unconscious image.
all of life is a constant confrontation with our fantasies, which in manifesting themselves color the external world with meaning. events are important to us only insofar as we project our inner world onto them. from a psychological viewpoint it is much more the inner images than the external events that create our reality.
it is important to understand that the famous point of leverage, from which archimedes claimed he could lift the world, is situated within us. that point is not outside us, nor does it involve destiny any longer. many wrongly believe that it is enough to change external circumstances alone to achieve happiness. on the contrary- a true transformation must always take place within ourselves. a fabulous winning of the lottery will mean nothing at all if the inner condition is not changed that makes us feel poor. to be poor and a loser, if you are not living in a dramatic reality such as the third world, often is caused by the inability to live, to let oneself go without fighting. to believe oneself to be ugly, unfortunate, helpless in the face of adversity, is often to behave as if this really were so. life is a struggle. those who cannot believe in their own potential, in their own abilities to overcome the obstacles with which every individual's path is strewn, have lost before beginning to fight. heraclitus maintained: "whoever does not hope in what cannot be hoped for will never discover it because it is closed to research and no roads lead to it, because it happens."
the way in which we relate to events depends on our personal psychological experiences. riches, to continue with the same example, are illusory realities. we believe they can satisfy us only because we have projected onto them the power to fulfill our inner insufficiency. we should think of, for example, king midas, who, believing in the panacea of riches, asked the gods to turn everything he touched into gold. but having attained this power he was condemned by his own desire to die of hunger. as the myth demonstrates, however rich and splendid external objects may be, they are certainly not able to nourish our souls. true riches can only be found within us, in knowing how to relate to our daimons, and thus change the situations responsible for our suffering.
to accept the confrontation with our images, to hold dialogue with the unconscious, requires a certain capacity to bear with the tension created between the conscious ego and the secret levels of the psyche (neumann 1979, pg. 181). the extraordinary sensitivity of artists to the imaginary and their ability to describe all the shades of the human soul is due to their condition of "permanent laceration." the artist is one who knows how to express all the multiple personalities inhabiting her soul. to write, to paint, to compose music, or any other artistic expression represents the polytheistic structure of the psyche. alongside a monotheistic conception, according to which the soul tends to an ever-greater integration represented by the archetype of the self, it is possible to place a polycentric hypothesis. giving a mythical background to every complex- according to which every kind of behavior is the manifestation of a "god" or a "daimon" it is possible to recognize not only the importance and dignity of the symptom, but above all to integrate it while respecting its specific quality. to accept the multiplicity of the inner voices without trying to unify them into a single figure allows us to recognize in the process of dissolution and fragmentation a value equal to that of coagulation into a unity (hillman 1981, pg. 12-24). a transformed personality is bound to result from the recognition of the multiple personalities that dwell within us.
to accept the possibility of a plurality of psychological dimensions, of inner focal points within us, may on the one hand give us greater awareness of our fragmentation and perhaps sometimes a more acute suffering. what one wants to be is not clear and unambiguous but always changing, while, on the other hand, it allows for a better understanding and acceptance of ourselves. to leave room for every psychic component means to have greater tolerance even for our undesired aspects, for those which have not grown and which instead of continually progressing- in accordance with a positivistic idea of the psyche- take us back toward past conditions. the moment we encounter our own daimons, it is possible to recognize and listen to their voices. the result is an undoubted enrichment of the personality.
being lost and empty is a condition that immediately calls up the need of finding a "roof," an inner point in which one can take refuge. the confrontation with inner images is always difficult, hard and sometimes painful work. one feels the need of having some support. for those who go through an experience of analysis, the therapeutic relationship, especially at crucial moments, functions as a warm and reassuring place where one can pause for a moment and call a truce with ones' lacerating sufferings. but the refuge, the hostel are also and primarily endopsychic. they represent the psyche's capacity to create a containing space within itself where repressed and rejected feelings can be given some leeway. it is here that the psyche provides its own nourishment, cures its own wounds, and accepts its own illness. and such recognition is what enables one to keep the wounds from festering in isolation. the search for an inner place of refuge was predominant in franz kafka's life. in fact, in a letter to max brod, milena will say of him: "he is without the least shelter, without any refuge" (brod 1937, pg. 259). for kafka, who continued to wander as a stranger in the world, frozen by his own detachment, the only welcoming space was afforded by his writing. on december 16, 1910, in fact, we find this note in his diaries: "I won't give up the diary again. I must hold on here. it is the only place I can" (kafka 1910-1923, pg. 29). for all personalities who have difficulty in relating to the outside world, in establishing emotional contact, writing offers a substitute, an opportunity for dialogue, for comparing oneself with the other even while she remains absent, distant. those confrontations with fantasies, which the extrovert often unconsciously makes by diving directly into life, occur mainly in the imagination of the introvert.
to stop and seek refreshment at the inn, that is, to turn to one's own inner life, also implies stopping to reflect, putting questions to oneself, before taking up the difficult struggle to reach the goal to which one has been called. it is important to point out how this questioning arises at the moment when any sort of obstacle obliges us to deviate from our path. it is the effort to overcome suffering that makes us seek a meaning, something that will make what we are going through seem less absurd and accidental. just as the blind man and the cripple continue to ask the reason for their destiny, k. too during the entire novel will do nothing but question himself and others about why he is excluded from the castle and the impossibility of reaching it.
an obstacle creates a gap between us and life, a gap that we must try to reduce. people who are happy rarely question themselves about their condition. but whenever life, for one reason or another, seems to slip out of our hands, when it moves away from us, when its fullness is a distant memory and it is no longer possible to plunge joyfully into external events, then it is necessary to move away from the vortex and find that "magic" element that can put the pieces of our mosaic back together. the reply would seem to be to possess that apotropaic power to ward off suffering, perhaps only for an instant, and reestablish the disturbed order with the security that it brings...
(from k. by roberto calasso; trans. by geoffrey brock)
at the beginning there's a wooden bridge snow. thick snow. k. lifts his eyes "toward what seemed to be emptiness," in die scheinbare leere. literally: "toward the seeming emptiness." he knows there's something out in that emptiness: the castle. he's never seen it before. he might never set foot in it.
kafka sensed that by then only the minimum number of elements of the surrounding world ought to be named. he plunged the sharpest ockham's razor into the substance of the novel. to name the bare minimum, and in its pure literality. and why so? because the world was turning back into a primeval forest, too fraught with strange noise and apparitions. everything had too much power. thus it became necessary to limit oneself to what lay closest at hand, to circumscribe the zone of the nameable. then all that power, otherwise diffuse, would be channeled there, and whatever was named- an inn, a file, an office, a room- would fill with unprecedented energy.
kafka speaks of a world that precedes every division, every naming. it's not a sacred or divine world, nor a world abandoned by the sacred or the divine. it's a world that has yet to recognize such categories, to distinguish them from everything else. or that no longer knows how to recognize them or distinguish them from everything else. all is a single unity, and it is simply power. both the greatest good and the greatest evil are saturated with it. kafka's subject is that mass of power, not yet differentiated, broken down into its elements. it is the shapeless body of vritra, which contains the waters, before indra runs it through with a thunderbolt.
the invisible has a mocking tendency to present itself as the visible, as if it might be distinguished from everything else, but only under certain circumstances, such as the clearing away of mist. thus one is persuaded to treat it as the visible- and it is immediately punished. but the illusion remains.
the trial and the castle are stories about attempts to deal with a case: to extricate oneself from prosecution, to have one's nomination confirmed. the point around which everything revolves is always election, the mystery of election, its impenetrable obscurity. in the castle, k. desires election- and this thoroughly complicates every act. in the trial, josef k. wants to escape election- and this thoroughly complicates every act. to be chosen, to be condemned: two possible outcomes of the same process. kafka's relationship with judaism, every recess of which has been doggedly (often fruitlessly) examined, emerges most clearly on this point, which marks the essential difference between judaism and what surrounded it. much more so than monotheism or law or higher morality. for each of these, one can look to egypt, mesopotamia, or greece for precedents and counterbalances. but the emphasis on election- that's unique, and founded on a theology of the unique.
the court has the power to punish, the castle, to elect. these two powers are perilously close, at times identical. more than anything else, kafka, thanks to atavism and inclination, had antennae to recognize them. no one else was so aware of their proximity, their overlap. but this wasn't only a matter of jewish heritage. it had to do with everyone, and all times.
the trial and the castle share a premise: that election and condemnation are almost indistinguishable. that almost is why we have two novels rather than one...