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Full text of "ModernGermanLiterature18801950"


that by the very nature of the universe we are punished innocently:
punishment as part of evil is in the nature of things. Can we change
this torture? If so, it must be by destroying the machine which -
incalculable and erratic but diabolically planned - brands us, prong
by prong, with sins of which we are unconscious, or for natural
impulses beyond our control but forbidden by the 'Law' which
sets the machine in motion. The laws of society and religion are
not ethical, but mechanical and out of date because transmitted
from a time when, if they were even then absurd, they may have
had more pictorial impressiveness because they were implicitly
believed in, whereas now they are valid to none save the auto-
matons who administer them.

In these sketches there are motifs of isolation (Verein^elmg) and
frustration (Vereitelung). There is a haunting presentation of these
themes and of the accompanying state of Angst in three tales of
the posthumously published collection J$eim Bau der chinesischen
Matter (1931). In Der Bau an animal bores deep down into the
earth to escape contact with the outside world; but however deep
it gets it never feels safe from attack; and its fear grows when it
hears the least sound from afar. Man is in a state of fear, the
meaning is, because he does not know why he fears and what he
fears. Man's incomprehension of life as a whole and of the purpose
of the Power behind life is vividly rendered in the titular story of
the collection. Every individual working on this vast undertaking
of the Chinese Wall sees only the stretch within the sweep of his
vision. And yet a message is on the way to every worker from the
Emperor in Peking; the perils of the journey are, however, such
that the messengers never arrive. The meaning seems to be that
we are not permitted to know the sense of existence in this world
of ours; and we are in any case so preoccupied with our individual
experiences that we have lost the chance of comprehending the
binding together of all we see and have no consciousness of a
composite whole. But the Power above knows and sends out his
rays of hope; since, however, these do not reach us we blunder on
in isolation, fear, and frustration. In Forschungen ernes Httndes a dog
engages in investigations into food and where it comes from; it
can only do so in isolation from the rest of dog-kind. Since dog is
to man as man is to God the problem is that of our relations to
the Higher Power. As so often in Kafka's work the high serious-
ness is lit by flashes of humour: dogs by instinct water what is