The Zürau Aphorisms

literary work by Franz Kafka

The Zürau Aphorisms (German: Die Zürauer Aphorismen) is a collection of 109 aphorisms of Franz Kafka, written from September 1917 to April 1918 and published by his friend Max Brod in 1931, after his death.

QuotesEdit

 
All human errors are impatience, the premature breaking off of what is methodical, an apparent fencing in of the apparent thing.
 
From a certain point onward there is no longer any turning back. That is the point that must be reached.
Written from September 1917 to April 1918, many of these statements in Kafka's notebooks were first published posthumously in 1931, and later in Parables and Paradoxes (1946), and The Blue Octavo Notebooks (1954) as translated by Ernst Kaiser and Eithne Wilkins (original German text)
 
If it had been possible to build the Tower of Babel without ascending it, the work would have been permitted.
 
The indestructible is one: it is each individual human being and, at the same time, it is common to all, hence the incomparably indivisible union that exists between human beings.
 
Why do we complain about the Fall? It is not on its account that we were expelled from Paradise, but on account of the Tree of Life, lest we might eat of it.
 
We are sinful not only because we have eaten of the Tree of Knowledge, but also because we have not yet eaten of the Tree of Life.
  • The true way is along a rope that is not spanned high in the air, but only just above the ground. It seems intended more to cause stumbling than to be walked upon.
    • 1
  • Alle menschlichen Fehler sind Ungeduld, ein vorzeitiges Abbrechen des Methodischen, ein scheinbares Einpfählen der scheinbaren Sache.
  • All human errors are impatience, the premature breaking off of what is methodical, an apparent fencing in of the apparent thing.
    • 2
    • Variant translation: All human errors are impatience, a premature breaking off of methodical procedure, an apparent fencing-in of what is apparently at issue.
  • Es gibt zwei menschliche Hauptsünden, aus welchen sich alle andern ableiten: Ungeduld und Lässigkeit.
    • There are two main human sins from which all the others derive: impatience and indolence. It was because of impatience that they were expelled from Paradise; it is because of indolence that they do not return. Yet perhaps there is only one major sin: impatience. Because of impatience they were expelled, because of impatience they do not return.
    • 3 (20 October 1917); as published in The Blue Octavo Notebooks (1954); also in Dearest Father: Stories and Other Writings (1954); variant translations use "cardinal sins" instead of "main human sins" and "laziness" instead of "indolence".
  • Beyond a certain point there is no return. This point has to be reached.
    • 5; variant translations:
      From a certain point onward there is no longer any turning back. That is the point that must be reached.
      • As quoted in The Unfinished Country: A Book of American Symbols (1959) by Max Lerner, p. 452; also in Wait Without Idols (1964) by Gabriel Vahanian, p, 216; in Joyce, Decadence, and Emancipation (1995) by Vivian Heller, 39; in "The Sheltering Sky" (1949) by Paul Bowles, p. 213; and in the poem "Father and Son" by Delmore Schwartz.
    • There is a point of no return. This point has to be reached.
  • The decisive moment in human evolution is perpetual. That is why the revolutionary spiritual movements that declare all former things worthless are in the right, for nothing has yet happened.
    • 6
  • To animalise is humane, to humanise is animal.
  • One of the first signs of the beginnings of understanding is the wish to die. This life appears unbearable, another unattainable. One is no longer ashamed of wanting to die; one asks to be moved from the old cell, which one hates, to a new one, which one will only in time come to hate.
    • 13
  • A cage went in search of a bird.
    • 16
  • If it had been possible to build the Tower of Babel without climbing it, it would have been permitted.
    • 18; (9 November 1917) a slight variant of this was published in Parables and Paradoxes (1946): If it had been possible to build the Tower of Babel without ascending it, the work would have been permitted.
  • Leopards break into the temple and drink to the dregs what is in the sacrificial pitchers; this is repeated over and over again; finally it can be calculated in advance, and it becomes a part of the ceremony.
    • 20 (10 November 1917)
  • From the true antagonist illimitable courage is transmitted to you.
    • 23
  • Hiding places there are innumerable, escape is only one, but possibilities for escape, again, are as many as hiding places. There is a goal, but no way; what we call a way is hesitation.
    • 27
  • When one has once accepted and absorbed Evil, it no longer demands to be believed.
    • 28
  • The ulterior motives with which you absorb and assimilate Evil are not your own but those of Evil.
    The animal wrests the whip from its master and whips itself in order to become master, not knowing that this is only a fantasy produced by a new knot in the master’s whiplash.
    • 29
  • In a certain sense the Good is comfortless.
    • 30
  • Self-control is something for which I do not strive. Self-control means wanting to be effective at some random point in the infinite radiations of my spiritual existence.
    • 31
  • Martyrs do not underrate the body, they allow it to be elevated on the cross. In this they are at one with their antagonists.
    • 33
  • His weariness is that of the gladiator after the combat; his work was the whitewashing of a corner in a state official's office.
    • 34
    • Variant translation: His exhaustion is that of the gladiator after the fight, his work was the whitewashing of one corner in a clerk’s office.
  • Previously I did not understand why I got no answer to my question; today I do not understand how I could believe I was capable of asking. But I didn’t really believe, I only asked.
    • 36
  • The way is infinitely long, nothing of it can be subtracted, nothing can be added, and yet everyone applies his own childish yardstick to it. “Certainly, this yard of the way you still have to go, too, and it will be accounted unto you.”
    • 39
  • It is only our conception of time that makes us call the Last Judgment by this name. It is, in fact, a kind of martial law.
    • 40
  • Believing in progress does not mean believing that any progress has yet been made. That is not the sort of belief that indicates real faith.
    • 48
  • Der Mensch kann nicht leben ohne ein dauerndes Vertrauen zu etwas Unzerstörbarem in sich, wobei sowohl das Unzerstörbare als auch das Vertrauen ihm dauernd verborgen bleiben können. Eine der Ausdrucksmöglichkeiten dieses Verborgen-Bleibens ist der Glaube an einen persönlichen Gott.
    • Man cannot live without a permanent trust in something indestructible in himself, though both the indestructible element and the trust may remain permanently hidden from him. One of the ways in which this hiddenness can express itself is through faith in a personal god.
      • 50
  • The mediation by the serpent was necessary: Evil can seduce man, but cannot become man.
    • 51
  • In the struggle between yourself and the world, second the world.
    • 52, Im Kampf zwischen Dir und der Welt, sekundiere der Welt.
    • Aphorism 52 in Unpublished Works 1916-1918
    • Variant translations:
    • In the struggle between yourself and the world, back the world.
    • In the struggle between yourself and the world, side with the world.
    • In the fight between you and the world, back the world.
  • One must not cheat anyone, not even the world of its victory.
    • 53
    • Variant translation: One must not cheat anybody, not even the world of one's triumph.
  • There are questions we could not get past if we were not set free from them by our very nature.
    • 56
  • One tells as few lies as possible only by telling as few lies as possible, and not by having the least possible opportunity to do so.
    • 58
  • The fact that there is nothing but a spiritual world deprives us of hope and gives us certainty.
    • 62
  • Expulsion from Paradise is in its main aspect eternal: that is to say, although expulsion from Paradise is final, and life in the world unavoidable, the eternity of the process (or, expressed in temporal terms, the eternal repetition of the process) nevertheless makes it possible not only that we might remain in Paradise permanently, but that we may in fact be there permanently, no matter whether we know it here or not.
    • 65; a slight variant of this statement was later published in Parables and Paradoxes (1946):
      The expulsion from Paradise is in its main significance eternal:
      Consequently the expulsion from Paradise is final, and life in this world irrevocable, but the eternal nature of the occurrence (or, temporally expressed, the eternal recapitulation of the occurrence) makes it nevertheless possible that not only could we live continuously in Paradise, but that we are continuously there in actual fact, no matter whether we know it here or not.
  • What is gayer than believing in a household god?
    • 68
  • Theoretically there is a perfect possibility of happiness: believing in the indestructible element in oneself and not striving towards it.
    • 69
  • The indestructible is one: it is each individual human being and, at the same time, it is common to all, hence the incomparably indivisible union that exists between human beings.
    • 71
  • If what was supposed to have been destroyed in Paradise was destructible, then it was not decisive; but if it was indestructible, then we are living in a false belief.
    • 74
  • Test yourself on mankind. It is something that makes the doubter doubt, the believer believe.
    • 75
  • Association with human beings lures one into self-observation.
    • 77
  • Der Geist wird erst frei, wenn er aufhört, Halt zu sein.
    • The spirit only becomes free at the point where it ceases to be invoked as a support.
    • 78
  • Sensual love deceives one as to the nature of heavenly love; it could not do so alone, but since it unconsciously has the element of heavenly love within it, it can do so.
    • 79
  • Truth is indivisible, hence it cannot recognize itself; anyone who wants to recognize it has to be a lie.
    • 80
  • Why do we complain about the Fall? It is not on its account that we were expelled from Paradise, but on account of the Tree of Life, lest we might eat of it.
    • 82, a slight variant of this was later published in Parables and Paradoxes (1946):
      Why do we lament over the fall of man? We were not driven out of Paradise because of it, but because of the Tree of Life, that we might not eat of it.
    • "Paradise"
  • The whole visible world is perhaps nothing more than than the rationalization of a man who wants to find peace for a moment. An attempt to falsify the actuality of knowledge, to regard knowledge as a goal still to be reached.
    • "Paradise"
  • We are sinful not only because we have eaten of the Tree of Knowledge, but also because we have not yet eaten of the Tree of Life. The state in which we are is sinful, irrespective of guilt.
    • 83, a slight variant of this was later published in Parables and Paradoxes (1946):
      We are sinful not merely because we have eaten of the Tree of Knowledge, but also because we have not yet eaten of the Tree of Life. The state in which we find ourselves is sinful, quite independent of guilt.
      • Also quoted in this form in The Parables of Peanuts (1968) by Robert L. Short, and Like a Dream, Like a Fantasy: The Zen Teachings and Translations of Nyogen (2005)
  • Evil is a radiation of the human consciousness in certain transitional positions. It is not actually the sensual world that is a mere appearance; what is so is the evil of it, which, admittedly, is what constitutes the sensual world in our eyes.
    • 85
  • The whole visible world is perhaps nothing other than a motivation of man’s wish to rest for a moment — an attempt to falsify the fact of knowledge, to try to turn the knowledge into the goal.
    • 86
  • A belief is like a guillotine, just as heavy, just as light.
    • 87
  • Two possibilities: making oneself infinitely small or being so. The second is perfection, that is to say, inactivity, the first is beginning, that is to say, action.
    • 90
  • Towards the avoidance of a piece of verbal confusion: What is intended to be actively destroyed must first of all have been firmly grasped; what crumbles away crumbles away, but cannot be destroyed.
    • 91
  • The first worship of idols was certainly fear of the things in the world, but, connected with this, fear of the necessity of the things, and, connected with this, fear of responsibility for the things. So tremendous did this responsibility appear that people did not even dare to impose it upon one single extra-human entity, for even the mediation of one being would not have sufficiently lightened human responsibility, intercourse with only one being would still have been all too deeply tainted with responsibility, and that is why each thing was given the responsibility for itself, more indeed, these things were also given a degree of responsibility for man.
    • 92
  • There can be knowledge of the diabolical, but no belief in it, for more of the diabolical than there is does not exist.
    • 99
  • Du kannst Dich zurückhalten von den Leiden der Welt, das ist Dir freigestellt und entspricht Deiner Natur, aber vielleicht ist gerade dieses Zurückhalten das einzige Leid, das Du vermeiden könntest.
    • You can withdraw from the sufferings of the world, but perhaps that withdrawal is the only suffering you might be able to avoid.
    • We too must suffer all the suffering around us. We all have not one body, but we have one way of growing, and this leads us through all anguish, whether in this or in that form. Just as the child develops through all the stages of life right into old age and to death (and fundamentally to the earlier stage the later one seems out of reach, in relation both to desire and to fear), so also do we develop (no less deeply bound up with mankind than with ourselves) through all the sufferings of this world. There is no room for justice in this context, but neither is there any room either for fear of suffering or for the interpretation of suffering as a merit.
    • 103
  • Du kannst Dich zurückhalten von den Leiden der Welt, das ist Dir freigestellt und entspricht Deiner Natur, aber vielleicht ist gerade dieses Zurückhalten das einzige Leid, das Du vermeiden könntest.
    • You can hold yourself back from the sufferings of the world, that is something you are free to do and it accords with your nature, but perhaps this very holding back is the one suffering you could avoid.
    • 104
  • Humility provides everyone, even him who despairs in solitude, with the strongest relationship to his fellow man, and this immediately, though, of course, only in the case of complete and permanent humility. It can do this because it is the true language of prayer, at once adoration and the firmest of unions. The relationship to one’s fellow man is the relationship of prayer, the relationship to oneself is the relationship of striving; it is from prayer that one draws the strength for one’s striving.
    • 106
  • "It cannot be said that we are lacking in faith. Even the simple fact of our life is of a faith-value that can never be exhausted.” “You suggest there is some faith-value in this? One cannot not-live, after all.” “It is precisely in this ‘Cannot, after all’ that the mad strength of faith lies; it is in this negation that it takes on form.”
    There is no need for you to leave the house. Stay at your table and listen. Don’t even listen, just wait. Don’t even wait, be completely quiet and alone. The world will offer itself to you to be unmasked; it can’t do otherwise; in raptures it will writhe before you.
    • 109
    • Variant translations:
    • It is not necessary that you leave the house. Remain at your table and listen. Do not even listen, only wait. Do not even wait, be wholly still and alone. The world will present itself to you for its unmasking, it can do no other, in ecstasy it will writhe at your feet.
    • You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.
    • You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait. Do not even wait, be quiet still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.

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