Josef Kafka, Various Quotations

[On language & the impossibility of writing:] ‘They [i.e. Jewish German-language writers] existed among three impossibilities, which I just happen to call linguistic impossibilities ... these are: the impossibility of not writing, the impossibility of writing German, the impossibility of writing differently. One might also add a fourth impossibility, the impossibility of writing …’ (Letter to Max Brod, 1921; quoted in Basic Kafka, [q.d.] 292.)

See also Hannah Arendt, Intro., Walter Benjamin, Illuminations (1968), quoting the above with additions, incl.: ‘[...] the impossibility of writing in German’ [since he considered it as] ‘an overt or covert, or possibly self-tormenting usurpation of an alien property, which has not been acquired but stolen, (relatively) quickly picked up, and which remains someone else’s possession even if not a single linguistic mistake can be pointed out’, and finally ‘the impossibility of writing differently’ since no other language was available.’ Further: ‘One could almost add a fourth impossibility, the impossibility of writing, for this despair was not something tha could be mitigated through writing [where despair becomes] an enemy of life and of writing; writing was here [31] only a moratorium, as it is for someone who writes his last will and testament just before he hangs himself.’ Arendt, op. cit., pp.30-31.)

‘Anyone who cannot cope with life while he is living needs one hand to ward off a little his despair over his fate ... but with his other hand he can jot down what he sees among the ruins, for he sees different and more thing than the others; after all, he is dead in his own lifetime and the real survivor.’ (Diaries, 19 Oct. 1921; quoted in Hannah Arendt, Introduction to Walter Benjamin, Illuminations, NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich 1968, p.19.)

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