There are moments when he feels very close to me, X says. When he falls into the hole. When he’s sitting right down there in the hole, far down. When the world is far away you come close, he says. And that’s when the words come, he says, that’s when they filter into the hole from above, below and all around. My tongue finds them and that’s when we come close, he says, when I’m like a babbling dead man, there in my hole.
All that time he was looking for the one, X tells me, the one he’d have a connection with, the one he’d really connect with for once. His kindred spirit, he says, that’s what he was looking for. Male or female, it didn’t matter, because once he found him or her that would be it, he says, they would know each other instantly, like the halves of Aristophanes’ circles, like reunited twins who’ve felt the same strange absence all their lives. Little did I know it would be you, he says, the least kindred spirit.
The weight of my past, X says. Can’t you feel it? It’s awful! There’s nothing but regrets, he says. And yet what is it, my past? Nothing, he says. Nothing but the regretful stories I tell you, which you don’t listen to anyway. Nothing but what is undone by my regrets. It’s weightless, he says, but it weighs on me, you have no idea how it weighs on me! If only I could go back to before I came here, before I started to regret, before my past gained this weightless weight! Tell me how to go back so I can plan my retreat, he says. But you won’t, he says, of course you won’t.
This is it, X tells me, I’m done talking to you. I’ve said all I have to say, all that has to be said, and if I haven’t someone else probably has. Someone must have. Don’t bother listening anymore, go bother someone else. Do you hear me? This is it, there’s nothing more to say, there’s been nothing more to say for a long time, maybe even since before I came here and started babbling, long before I took up with you. If only I could go back to wherever I was before, he says. If only I could retrace my steps!
What idiotic complaints! And yet I know perfectly well that it has to pass and that I shan’t perish in the process. How does God put up with these complaints? Why doesn’t he strike me down? But in fact — and this again is the complainer talking — he does strike me down.
– Kafka, letter to Felice (tr. J. Stern and E. Duckworth)
Tired, you are sure to be tired, my Felice, when you pick up this letter, and I must make an effort to write clearly to spare your sleepy eyes. Wouldn’t you rather leave the letter unread for the moment, lie back, and go on sleeping for a few more hours after this week of noise and rush? The letter won’t fly away, but will be quite happy to wait on your bedcover until you wake up.
I can’t tell you exactly what time it is while I am writing this letter, because my watch is on a chair not far away and I don’t dare get up and look; it must be nearly morning. But I didn’t get to my desk until after midnight. In the spring and summer – I don’t yet know from experience, for my nightly vigils are of recent date – one will not be able to stay awake undisturbed through three hours, for dawn will come on and drive one to bed, but now in these long, unchanging nights the world forgets about one, even if one doesn’t forget about it.
My work moreover has been so bad that I don’t deserve any sleep, and should be condemned to spend the rest of the night looking out of the window. Can you understand this, dearest: to write badly, yet feel compelled to write, or abandon oneself to total despair! To have to atone for the joys of good writing in this terrible way! In fact, not to be really unhappy, not to be pierced by a fresh stab of unhappiness, but to see the pages being covered endlessly with things one hates, that fill one with loathing, or at any rate with dull indifference, that nevertheless have to be written down in order that one shall live. Disgusting! If only I could destroy the pages I have written in the last four days, as though they had never been.
But what sort of good-morning is this? Is this the way to welcome one’s beloved on a beautiful Sunday morning? Well, one welcomes her the way one can, you wouldn’t want it otherwise. If sleep has not been completely driven out by my complaints and you can find some more, then I’m satisfied. And, as my farewell, I add that everything is definitely, quite definitely going to be better, and you need not worry. Surely I can’t be utterly thrown out of my writing after having thought more than once that I was sitting in its centre, settled in its comforting warmth.
– Kafka, letter to Felice (tr. J. Stern and E. Duckworth)
But why should I care about you in the first place? X tells me. Only life’s losers care about something they have no control over. I should focus on what I can control, care about that and then move on, he says. It’s all about stepping stones and moving on, he says. If you get knocked off your stepping stone it should only make you that much more determined to get back on it. Or find a new one to get on. Can you help me find a stepping stone? he asks. No, of course you can’t.
But what must I think of him, X tells me, the way he unburdens himself, the way he lays himself bare before me? It’s kitschy and humiliating, he says, but he can’t help it! Well what do I think, hopefully not anything too awful? But he forgets, he says, I don’t think anything, and I don’t answer.
X tells me last night he was made to see as clearly as a child being taught a lesson that something’s gone wrong. But now he’s forgotten the lesson and he’s back talking again, he says. He fell asleep and started dreaming and his dreams came between him and the lesson. And his dreams themselves were wrong, he says, they were fucked up, he woke up shaking his head. And now he’s back in the day, trying to remember what went wrong and talking to me like he’s trying to achieve something. What do I want, he says, a medal? But you’re not going to give me one, that’s obvious, and you’re all I care about, he says.
Why do I bother talking to you in the first place? X asks me. What am I trying to achieve? What do I want, a medal? I should stop and be quiet like a good boy, step outside, take a deep breath and enjoy the view in silence. Know my place. But I can’t, can I? With the breath and with the view come words. Then how can I possibly know my place? But what would you know about that, he says, and why bother trying to explain it to you?