Franz Kafka – The Blue Octavo Notebooks


 

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« Among other things in Kafka’s posthumous papers there were eight little blue octavo notebooks of the kind we used to call ‘vocabulary notebooks’ at school … made up almost entirely of literary ideas, fragments and aphorisms. » Max Brod

The Blue Octavo Notebooks date from 1917 to 1919. The diversity and singularity of the entries lead us through the inner corridors and antechambers of this prodigious man’s mind. Here is a personal selection.

A little boy had a cat that was all he had inherited from his father and through it became Lord Mayor of London. What shall I become through my animal, my inheritance? Where does the huge city lie?
 
I digress.
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 along.
 
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 world…. The inner world can only be experienced, not described. 
 
Don Quixote’s misfortune is not his imagination, but Sancho Panza.
 
Beyond a certain point there is no return. This point has to be reached. 
 
From outside one will always triumphantly impress theories upon the world and then fall straight into the ditch one has dug, but only from inside will one keep oneself and the world quiet and true.
 
Differences in the view one can have of things, for instance of an apple: the view of a little boy who has to crane his neck in order even to glimpse the apple on the table, and the view of the master of the house, who takes the apple and freely hands it to the person sitting at table with him.
 
This is a place where I never was before: here breathing is different, and more dazzling than the sun is the radiance of a star beside it.
 
Evil is whatever distracts.
 
The crows maintain that a single crow could destroy the heavens. There is no doubt of that, but it proves nothing against the heavens, for heaven simply means the impossibility of crows.
 
Vanity makes ugly, ought therefore really to kill, instead however it merely injures itself, becoming “injured vanity”.
 
Idleness is the beginning of all vice, the crown of all virtues.
 
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 the hiddenness can express itself is through faith in a personal god.
 
Of his own volition, like a fist he turned and shunned the world.
 
The fact that our task is exactly commensurate with out life gives it the appearance of being infinite.
 
Art flies around truth, but with the definite intention of not getting burnt. Its capacity lies in finding in the dark void a place where the beam of light can be intensely caught, without this having been perceptible before.
 
The suicide is the prisoner who sees a gallows being erected in the prison yard, mistakenly thinks it is the one intended for him, breaks out of his cell in the night, and goes down and hangs himself.
 
Many people assume that besides the great primal deception there is also in every individual case a little special deception provided for their benefit, in other words that when a drama of love is performed on the stage, the actress has, apart from the hypocritical smile for her lover, also an especially insidious smile for the quite particular spectator in the top balcony. This is going too far.
 
Living means being in the midst of life, seeing life with the gaze in which I have created it.
 
The moonlight dazzled us. Birds shrieked from tree to tree. There was a buzzing and whizzing in the fields. We crawled through the dust, a pair of snakes.
 
After a person’s death, for a short span of time, even on earth, a special beneficial silence sets in with regard to the dead person; a terrestrial fever has ceased, a dying is no longer seen to be continuing, an errors seems to have been remedied; even for the living there is an opportunity to breathe freely, for which reason, too, the windows are opened in the room where the death took place – until then everything turns out to have been, after all, only a semblance, and the sorrow and the lamentations begin.
 
You raven, I said, you old bird of ill omen, what are you always doing on my path? Wherever I go, you perch there, ruffling your scanty plumage. Nuisance! Yes, it said, and paced up and down before me with its head lowered, like a schoolmaster talking to the class, that is true; it is becoming almost distressing, even to me.
 
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