Through their desperate pursuit of Father and Family, Kafka's fictions trace an insistent, but finally, elusive search for authoritative sites of generative power and universal commensurability. It is not surprising, therefore, that readers in search of embracing contexts for Kafka's texts have pursued a similarly elusive goal. Like the novel generated by K.'s famous Castle, the formidable edifice of Kafka-commentary stands as testimony to a writing that obstinately refuses to be firmly situated-either philosophically, within a discourse of some first principle, or historically, within a recognized and verifiable tradition that Kafka's singular voice draws upon to enrich. Both structures, that is, expose an unfulfillable hermeneutic desire for coherence, and both therefore warn against staking out irrevocable boundaries within which to place Kafka, either by surveying his personal or spiritual biography, or by fixing in normative terms the essence of thought or form underlying his strangeness. Because Kafka's fictions articulate the crisis of every reader's desire for interpretive closure, moreover, they also compel the critic, as self-reflexive reader, to re-examine the assumptions of his critical analysis. If writing about Kafka is to respect the intractable texts that inspire it, it must also reflect a continual rethinking of the questions of cultural history, influence, origin, tradition, reception, etc.
Kafka and Kierkegaard offer one crucial case in point. The documentation of this formative encounter, which is compelling, though by no means extensive, has challenged readers since Brod to re-trace the path sketched out in Kafka's diaries and letters in order to portray Kierkegaard as one of his privileged origins. Yet these accounts rarely move beyond relatively straightforward thematic discussions of fathers, fiancées, solitude, anxiety, faith, authorship, and existentialism. Whether incidental points of congruency are stressed or, more typically, basic philosophical divergences, the question of ancestry has not been viewed through Kafka's characteristic angle of vision, and it has, therefore, resisted theoretical complication.
A now famous comment by Borges appears to offer an attractive alternative for assessing the copula that joins the Jewish writer and the Protestant theologian. Borges assigns Kafka to a special class of writer "who creates his own precursors" and suggests that Kafka's "voice, or his practices" often assert themselves "in texts from diverse literatures and periods." As readers of such distant works, but conditioned by our prior reading of Kafka, we find ourselves both temporally and geographically dislocated: "A poem by Browning, a paradox of Zeno, an apologue of Han Yu, or a religious parable from Kierkegaard," we hear, often strikes us with an uncanny "quality of resemblance" that owes its existence to "Kafka's idiosyncrasy." Accordingly, Borges concludes, "our reading of Kafka perceptibly sharpens and deflects" our readings of the earlier writers. Clearly Borges' remark means to unsettle the project of literary history by undermining the chronological convention of origins on which its discourse of influence traditionally depends. Yet one alternative reading that he implicates would base the truth of some new species of critical discourse on the equally compelling, but no less authoritative, convention of originality. If assimilated too easily, therefore, and without careful specification, the Borges' model can no more contain Kafka's textuality, which fundamentally resists securing any governing vantage point, than the normative models it presumes to displace. The numerous "Sons" tracking through Kafka's world, after all, are far too disconnected from their imputed sources and far too dispersed by their quests to become the stable and worthy heirs to any "Father's" mythical power to found. When, in apparent agreement with Borges, a critic instantiates Kafka as an omnipotent "successor" who compels us to re-orient cultural history toward the future, and when he then paradoxically drives the tradition through his maneuver, he still leaves us, as Kafka's readers, with the impossible need to occupy firm interpretive ground. Yet the precursor's text realizes its meaning, according to this new and supposedly more radical paradigm, almost teleologically, only after a strong and singular successor has been recognized and asserted. Here a new angle of vision comes into view to reveal a new horizon of understanding, and we find ourselves positioned in a superior vantage point where everything past and future conforms to the "Kafkaesque." As Richard Gray, following Borges' lead, concludes, "a dialectic of mutual determination" evolves, and a tradition is constituted.
The following reflections concern just one brief fiction from Kafka that only possibly has a "source" in Kierkegaard. Through them I hope to demonstrate how a chance encounter between texts might be productively re-constructed in terms of a meaningful affiliation rather than as some objectively verifiable transmission or essential mediation, which even in the Borges-paradigm of reverse influence constitutes a tradition by privileging an inescapable point of determination. Underlying my account is a critical imperative to suspend our conventional "disbelief" in the accidental, or contingent nature of literary history. That is, we should, as critics, be prepared to re-articulate literary history as a hermeneutic construction that keeps open the conversation of texts rather than exhausts it with spurious claims to either objectivity or truth. To read fully or completely requires the hypothetical connecting of even highly disparate texts in meaningful series, whether traditional links can be authoritatively documented or not. This kind of experimental reading then further enables us to view conventional literary history suspiciously: as a willful attempt to normalize the meaning of texts by absorbing them into only one of any number of interpretive paradigms that has been (subjectively) defined as the dominant, or governing tradition. Alternative paradigms, which have not been empowered by the authority of a documented encounter, are thereby dismissed as baseless speculation, and any future reading is effectively cut off.
At least since "Das Urteil" (1912; 1913) Kafka's writing persistently recorded the Son and heir's struggle to escape the all-embracing and murderous grasp of his authoritative Father. This struggle, in turn, paradoxically reinstates, or redeems the Father as his own narrative complication. Accordingly, I want here to examine the proposition that, when viewed as Kierkegaard's heir, Kafka similarly frees himself from the theological interests of his ancestor, while at the same time reinscribing and renewing Kierkegaardian religion in the nearly unrecognizable form of his arduous composition. To stage one small scene of this encounter I am suggesting that we imagine Kierkegaard's well-known diagnosis of bourgeois decline, his Kritik der Gegenwart (1914), as the authorizing text for Kafka's concise prose sketch "Auf der Galerie" (1917; 1919-20). What would happen, I am asking, if we were to affiliate these two texts by supposing that with his, Kafka meant to insinuate himself into Kierkegaard as an ideal reader? Can we establish the later composition as a hypothetical reading and re-writing of the earlier one? And, if this is arguable, what exactly does the fictional re-inscription make explicit that remained unsaid in the original exposition?
To begin addressing these issues I shall not just emphasize the motivational and thematic links that obviously connect the two texts. Nor shall I simply argue, in the spirit of Borges, that "Auf der Galerie" requires us to "sharpen and deflect our understanding" of Kritik der Gegenwart as something more than just a pathology of nineteenth-century bourgeois culture Rather, I shall present the Kafka text as a fundamental demonstration both in and about the kind of writing that Kierkegaardian faith wants to compel. "Auf der Galerie," I shall argue, formally as well as thematically re-situates Kierkegaard's redemptive interest in "inwardness," which stands as his final call to the faithful in Kritik der Gegenwart. Kierkegaardian devotion reappears in Kafka's sketch as a silent intimation of "writing," the kind of painful and prayerful writing that, according to Kafka, can redeem us in our fallen linguistic world. As such, the sketch also stands as a hypothetical reading and re-writing of Kierkegaard that, like Kafka's fictional readings of the Father, requires us to assume a powerful source (Kritik der Gegenwart), if only to put a special interpretive world into play for which positions of absolute dependency and control can no longer be clearly decided ("Auf der Galerie").
Let me start, then, with Kafka in 1914, the year when I imagine him reading Theodor Haecker's translation in Der Brenner of Kritik der Gegenwart, itself the last section of Kierkegaard's lengthy social commentary and review, En literair Anmeldelse. The biographical background to this period in Kafka's life is well-known: a first official engagement to Felice Bauer in the spring, its collapse in July, the declaration of war and general mobilization by the end of the summer, and the initial work on Der Prozeß. During these months of indecision, personal crisis, and ideological fervor in the declining empire, it is not difficult to picture an author acutely aware of his own dis-engagement on all fronts. Certainly, if Kafka knew the Kierkegaard essay and its opening lines, as Wagenbach's listing of nine issues from the relevant Der Brenner volume in Kafka's personal library suggests, then he would also have found there an uncanny diagnosis of his own personal and historical predicament: "Unsere Zeit ist wesentlich die verständige, die reflektierende, die leidenschaftslose, die flüchtig in Begeisterung aufbrausende und klug in Indolenz ausruhende." From the start, Kierkegaard puts the age of bourgeois supremacy "on trial"-for its clever indecisiveness, its empty enthusiasms, its enervation, and its indifference. The passionate commitment to fundamental upheaval that characterizes all authentically revolutionary ages now belongs to the past, and "reflection" stands condemned as the culprit:
Aber daß es ein Gefängnis ist, in dem die Reflexion das Individuum und die Zeit hält, daß es die Reflexion ist, die es tut, und nicht Tyrannen und Geheimpolizei, nicht Priester und Aristokraten: das zu verstehen verhindert die Reflexion aus aller Macht und hält die schmeichelnde Einbildung aufrecht, daß die Reflexionsmöglichkeit etwas ganz anders Großartiges sei als die armselige Entscheidung.
Over the next five years or so, Kafka would intermittently study Kierkegaard and repeatedly test through his fictions his own capacity to bear the burden of inescapable reflection. Already in 1914 he portrayed himself in his diary as a mere spectator to his engagement with Felice: "6. Juni. Aus Berlin zurück. War gebunden wie ein Verbrecher. Hätte man mich mit wirklichen Ketten in einen Winkel gesetzt und Gendarmen vor mich gestellt und mich nur auf diese Weise zuschauen lassen, es wäre nicht ärger gewesen. Und das war meine Verlobung [....]" And again, in July 1916, he struggled with the challenge of marriage, only to abandon the idea once and for all by the end of 1917, following the first tubercular episode. But Kafka also continued, during this period that began with the general mobilization of troops to mobilize his own resources as a writer-"Der Sinn für die Darstellung meines traumhaften innern Lebens hat alles andere ins Nebensächliche gerückt [...]"-and to move toward his later definition of writing as a second degree of reflection:
Merkwürdiger, geheimnisvoller, vielleicht gefährlicher, vielleicht erlösender Trost des Schreibens: Das Hinausspringen aus der Totschlägerreihe, Tat-Beobachtung. Tatbeobachtung, indem eine höhere Art der Beobachtung geschaffen wird, eine höhere, keine schärfere, und je höher sie ist, je unerreichbarer von der "Reihe" aus, desto unabhängiger wird sie, desto mehr eigenen Gesetzen der Bewegung folgend, desto unberechenbarer, freudiger, steigender ihr Weg.
In Kierkegaardian language this alternative and purified awareness, which can rescue the individual from the illusion and complacency of reflection by investing him with new powers of subversion, is called the "religious." "Auf der Galerie," I contend, which Kafka drafted toward the end of this transitional period, during the early part of 1917, and first published in 1919, offers the sum of his reflections on Kierkegaard's strategy of redemption. By redeploying a number of central motifs from Kritik der Gegenwart, which Kafka might have encountered in Der Brenner translation just before the outbreak of the First World War, his short piece enables us to understand the theology of inwardness as a particular kind of writing and so opens a new horizon through which the earlier essay can be re-read.
The most obvious and challenging of the numerous motivational links that are suggestive of a meaningful affiliation between the Kafka and Kierkegaard texts is the unusual "gallery" motif, which in Kritik der Gegenwart typifies the bourgeois subject as mere onlooker at life's spectacle. According to Kierkegaard, the modern malaise "reflection" involves an excess, which he calls "Überlegung." In their need to circumvent decisive action, reflective individuals first cleverly weigh all options and then resolve all oppositions in an idealist sleight of hand that claims to establish their own positions of indifference as objective. By finally occupying standpoints beyond the fray, these individuals remain superior to the material struggles that otherwise engage men and challenge their passionate participation. Kierkegaard dramatically satirizes this kind of dangerous posturing in the figure of the scholarly virtuoso: "Ein wissenschaftlicher Virtuos [...]," he offers,
würde imstande sein in einem Subskriptionsplan einige Linien hinzuwerfen zu einem allumfassenden System, und es so machen, daß er in dem Leser (des Subskriptionsplanes) den Eindruck hervorbrächte, daß er schon das System gelesen habe. Denn die Zeit der Enzyklopädisten is vorbei, derer nämlich, die mit eisernem Fleiß Folianten schrieben, jetzt ist die Reihe an die leichtbewaffneten Enzyklopädisten gekommen, die mit dem ganzen Dasein und allen Wissenschaften en passant fertig werden.
Like Kafka in numerous self-configurations (including yet another diary entry from 1914, where a bridegroom's indecision is captured in his gravitation away from his fiancée and their companions in a festive dining room and toward a lonely balcony), Kierkegaard's Hegelian play actors also remain the superior observers of their own lives. Fulfillment for them is solely guaranteed by the comprehensive prospects, or "täuschende Aussichten" that they themselves can safely entertain. That is, they presume to control the world hypothetically, as Raban would do from his bed in Hochzeitsvorbereitungen auf dem Lande, or as Georg does in "Das Urteil" when he pauses after writing a letter to his friend to gaze from his desk "aus dem Fenster auf den Fluß, die Brücke und die Anhöhen am anderen Ufer mit ihrem schwachen Grün."
After identifying reflection as a menace-first to passionate individualism and next to philosophy-Kierkegaard goes on to describe the collective instantiation of its metaphysical sorcery as a social arbiter of last resort. This rising collectivity, he charges, would obliterate all individuality in the monstrous grip of its totalizing abstraction: "Damit die Nivellierung eigentlich zustande kommen soll, muß erst ein Phantom zuwege gebracht werden, ihr Geist eine ungeheure Abstraktion, ein allumfassendes Etwas, das Nichts ist, eine Lufterscheinung-dieses Phantom heißt Publikum." Rather than revere the world by acknowledging the unique and discrete things that constitute it, Kierkegaard's "public" prefers to play out its role as a casual, third-party observer:
Mehr und mehr Einzelne werden in der Weichlichkeit der Indolenz darnach trachten, zu nichts zu werden-um Publikum zu werden, dieses abstrakte Ganze, das gebildet ist auf die lächerliche Weise, daß der Teilnehmer den dritten Mann spielt. Diese indolente Menge, die selber nichts versteht und selber nichts tun will, dieses Galeriepublikum sucht nun einen Zeitvertreib, und gibt sich der Einbildung hin, daß alles, was einer tut, geschehe, damit es etwas zum Schwätzen bekomme."
What Kierkegaard's characterization intends, both for his own social commentary, as well as for Kafka's subsequent analysis of writing, is "vantage point." As architectural feature the "gallery" circumscribes, contains, and controls from a distance, so that a spectator "up in the gallery" might expect to find there a discrete and summarizing view of things. Through his location of superiority, or "Überlegung," he entertains the world below both confident in his comprehension and comfortable in his advantageous detachment. He can, in his surveying posture, presume to grasp those hidden connections that make "sense" of the world's confusion and, ultimately, like the "Landvermesser" K., hope to find metaphysical comfort in the prospect, or "Aussicht," of measuring things from their governing center. From "up in the gallery" the self, paradoxically, contemplates the inside from without and understands its own role, in fundamental terms, as the foundation and guarantor of all order. However, subject to no action or control beyond his own masterful gaze, the gallery spectator, like the age he typifies for Kierkegaard, ultimately domesticates the subversive force within authentic contradiction and exemplifies the presumptive mediating power of the self-satisfied mind:
Eine leidenschaftlich tumultuarische Zeit wird alles über den Haufen werfen; alles umstoßen; eine revolutionäre, aber leidenschaftslose und reflektierende verwandelt die Kraftäußerung in ein dialektisches Kunststück: Alles bestehen zu lassen, aber ihm heimtückisch die Bedeutung abzulisten; statt in einem Aufruhr kulminiert sie darin, daß sie die innerliche Wirklichkeit der Verhältnisse in einer Reflexionsspannung abmattet, die alles bestehen läßt, aber das ganze Dasein in eine Zweideutigkeit verwandelt hat: so daß alles in seiner Faktizität besteht, während dialektischer Betrug privatissime eine heimliche Lesart unterschiebt-daß es nicht bestehe."
Whereas an authentically revolutionary age acts to preserve the unique character of individual experiences by refusing to absorb them into any totalizing abstraction, the present, reflective age purchases its presumed comprehension at the price of an interior truth about things that can never really be contained. The connections of simple commensurability that are forged by the indolent minds of the idealist tricksters are in truth highly ambivalent. They are epistemological indiscretions that ignore the textual constitution of the world as an unresolvable play of differences.
Yet the "gallery" vantage point, qua metaphor of reflection, does not simply culminate for Kierkegaard in a state of illusory resolution. Rather a second degree of reflection leads his observer to new and disturbing insights that can recapture for an enervated age the passion of true revolution. Through such concepts as "Religiösität," "Innerlichkeit," and a society of "unrecognizables," or "Unkenntliche," Kritik der Gegenwart in fact rescues reflection for salvation: "Die Reflexion ist eine Schlinge, in der man sich fängt, aber durch der Religiösität begeisterten Sprung wird das Verhältnis ein anderes und sie wird zur Schlinge, die einen in der Ewigkeit Arme wirft." In a movement of metaphorical slippage that is worthy of Kafka, Kierkegaardian reflection, at first a trap, becomes a sling. As such, it can also catapult the mind to freedom, which Kierkegaard associates with the isolated inwardness of the "religious." However, because the basis and mechanism of this redemptive transformation is not made explicit here, we are, in a sense, challenged to move beyond Kierkegaard's inscription of reflection as a social malaise and its final theological articulation as a "leap of faith." It is with this in mind that I choose to affiliate Kritik der Gegenwart and "Auf der Galerie"-as Kafka's alternative reading and re-inscription of the Kierkegaardian "gallery" motif.
The unusual governing figure that Kierkegaard uses to anchor his pathology of bourgeois culture appears as stable as it is pernicious. After all, his "Galeriepublikum," the social consequence of an all-pervasive reflection, stands firmly reified in his exposition as the source of society's illness. Consequently, it does not itself become the focus of his second degree of reflection. When Kafka reinscribed this figure in "Auf der Galerie," however, he supplemented Kierkegaard's deployment by examining the "gallery" position, from the standpoint of the metaphoric process, as inherently unstable. For him the view from "up in the gallery," implies an unreliable linguistic position that mendaciously promises to resolve differences into identity. But it cannot keep this promise and finally fails when analyzed as a vehicle of metaphoric transfer. Consequently, like Kafka's man-bridge ("Die Brücke"), which collapses in its presumptive effort to link a "Diesseits" with a "Jenseits" in some "unwegsamer Höhe," the "gallery" cannot maintain itself as a privileged site of linguistic mediation.
Kafka constitutes his two-sentence sketch as two opposing and irreconcilable views; he also insistently makes use of contrastive grammatical features to highlight the important connection between language and the "gallery" site from the start:
Wenn irgendeine hinfällige, lungensüchtige Kunstreiterin in der Manege auf schwankendem Pferd vor einem unermüdlichen Publikum vom peitschenschwingenden erbarmunglosen Chef monatelang ohne Unterbrechung im Kreise rundum getrieben würde, auf dem Pferde schwirrend, Küsse werfend, in der Taille sich wiegend, und wenn dieses Spiel unter dem nicht aussetzenden Brausen des Orchesters und der Ventilatoren in die immerfort weiter sich öffnende graue Zukunft sich fortsetzte, begleitet vom vergehenden und neu anschwellenden Beifallsklatchen der Hände, die eigentlich Dampfhämmer sind, - vielleicht eilte dann ein junger Galeriebesucher die lange Treppe durch alle Ränge hinab, stürtzte in die Manege, riefe das: Halt! durch die Fanfaren des immer sich anpassenden Orchesters.
Da es aber nicht so ist; eine schöne Dame, weiß und rot, hereinfliegt, zwischen den Vorhängen, welche die stolzen Livrierten vor ihr öffnen; der Direktor, hingebungsvoll ihre Augen suchend, in Tierhaltung ihr entgegenatmet; vorsorglich sie auf den Apfelschimmel hebt, als wäre sie seine über alles geliebte Enkelin, die sich auf gefährliche Fahrt begibt; sich nicht entschließen kann, das Peitschenzeichen zu geben; schließlich in Selbstüberwindung es knallend gibt; neben dem Pferde mit offenem Munde einherläuft; die Sprünge der Reiterin scharfen Blickes verfolgt; ihre Kunstfertigkeit kaum begreifen kann; mit englischen Rufen zu warnen versucht; die reifenhaltenden Reitknechte wütend zu peinlichster Achtsamkeit ermahnt; vor dem großen Saltomortale das Orchester mit aufgehobenen Händen beschwört, es möge schweigen; schließlich die Kleine vom zitternden Pferde hebt, auf beiden Backen küßt und keine Huldigung des Publikums für genügend erachtet; während sie selbst, von ihm gestützt, hoch auf den Fußspitzen, vom Staub umweht, mit ausgebreiteten Armen, zurückgelehntem Köpfchen ihr Glück mit dem ganzen Zirkus teilen will - da dies so ist, legt der Galeriebesucher das Gesicht auf die Brüstung und, im Schlußmarsch wie in einem schweren Traum versinkend, weint er, ohne es zu wissen.
As numerous critics have pointed out, Kafka's sketch forces an unsettling interpretation on the reader by refusing to resolve the terrifying view of its first sentence into the view of consummate performance in sentence two. Ultimately, however, a hidden relationship emerges between the opposing parts that exposes objectivity as an ambivalent mental trick and thereby undermines the "gallery's" implicit claim of providing a unique and secure position from which to comprehend the world. Brief consideration of each of the parts, as well as the coda to the sketch, will make clear how such a relationship refuses to privilege just one of the terms in the sketch without already including its opposite. Kafka's analysis of the "gallery" finally forces us to continue our hermeneutic struggle by remaining within his entire text, which will not permit a superior vantage point to absorb and cancel its alternatives.
From the standpoint of sentence one, the young visitor to Kafka's "gallery," like Kierkegaard's "Galeriepublikum," gradually moves toward performing a "dialektisches Kunststück" that would secure for him the prospect of control. The prominent use of a conditional wenn-clause to open the sketch suggests a future-oriented subject that feels itself empowered to take autonomous action by dint of its calculating intelligence. Moreover, the spectator's presumption of mastery, which has been predicated on his placement "up in the gallery," appears to be guaranteed by the compelling grammatical logic of the the sentence. However, this initial positioning is also forcefully challenged by the content that the sentence conveys. After all, as we first encounter Kafka's youth, he feels drawn into a dizzying circle of relentless subjugation. Looking down into the arena below, he imagines a scene in which an equestrian performance is being exacted by a pitiless and punishing ringmaster. Accordingly, the control first indicated by the youth's superior vantage point and then further reflected in the grammar of the sketch culminates in his desire to undertake a mission of rescue that is performed in his thoughts alone. The mind's capacity to comprehend and contain whatever occupies its field of vision remains virtual here, and all intimations of autonomy appear undermined and overwhelmed by the dark picture of tyrannical confinement to which they have been thematically linked. Escape from the arena seems impossible, exhaustion inevitable. The screaming ventilators, the roar of the orchestra, even the din of the crowd are all complicit in a frantic, mechanical journey that exclusively aims to prohibit autonomous control. If reason has any power in this world, it is exclusively as an "instrument" of subjugation and torture, in the manner of Adorno/Horkheimer's "Dialektik der Aufklärung." Human intelligence, according to this view, actually enslaves the subject with the elemental force of "myth" by falsely promising liberation. Hence Kafka's use of the passive voice in the opening clause to reinforce a sense of unmitigated suffering and his insistent reliance on the present participle to suggest an intractable world that will not be contained by the finite forms of individual perception. Even the object of contemplation, "irgendeine hinfällige, lungensüchtige Kunstreiterin" lacks specific content, and the "Galeriebesucher" is himself first described, appropriately, with the indefinite article "ein." Reality, thus, brutally condemns us to anonymity in this scene with the meaningless repetition of its punishing strokes.
Yet the relentless picture of anonymous suffering and subjugation that Kafka's language and imagery emphasize so dramatically on one level in the first sentence of his sketch, they undercut on another After all, the inescapable confinement (which the conditional wenn-dann clause highlights in its necessity as linguistic) also stubbornly includes-in its subjunctive formulation-the affirmative possibility of the imagination to transform life by transforming the visions about life that the mind projects. A subjugating language can also be turned against itself in the form of a powerful interpretive will that exposes evil as the arbitrary imposition of punishing forms. Accordingly, Kafka goes on in sentence two to explore the thought of rescue, which we perhaps prematurely dismissed in reading the conclusion to sentence one as just a mental trick.
Here the youth's hypothetical challenge to act, in which the opening view culminates, lays the ground for his escape into the fiction of a perfectly disciplined performance. Cognizant of his power to project a liberating act of mind through which he can enter the arena and rescue the distressed rider, the "Galeriebesucher" entertains the full consequences of his thought as the dream-vision of sentence two. In marked contrast to the picture of entrapment that is initially featured in the vicious circle of the opening scene as an irreal conditional, we now find a detailed presentation of an implicit countertext. Reality is basically re-defined in terms of what the first view is not. Hence, the indicative mood supplants the subjunctive, and the syntax is controlled in manageable units-demarcated by semicolons, the punctuation of measured halts. Thematically, a beautiful lady, guided by a concerned ringmaster in a virtuoso performance, erases any hint that the imaginary rescue of the first scene is, in fact, still required. Self-mastery, and not subjugation or exposure, is the order of the day. Unlike the blurred image of the first scene, moreover, the world is now clearly specified through colors and contours. Similarly, commitment and contact are not just some irreal imperative, but figure visibly as a public display-in the solidarity of the uniformed men and their pride, in the ringmaster's devotion, and in the approval of the crowd. Even "der Galeriebesucher" enjoys the precise definition of a secure and finite world through his designation with the definite article.
Yet we must finally ask if this culminating scene of precious domesticity, in which the once punishing ringmaster now carefully helps the "schöne Dame" onto her mount, "als wäre sie seine über alles geliebte Enkelin," does not also contain its irrevocable contradictions. After all, are feats of skill, like the suspenseful "Saltomortale," authentically dangerous acts? Is the disciplined precision, with its uniform gestures and ritual, really contact and communication? Or perhaps, like Kierkegaard's "Galeriepublikum," which turns its back on true danger and transforms "das Wagestück der Begeisterung in eine Kunstpraestation," the visitor to Kafka's circus gallery feels encouraged to embrace its games of illusion and empty effects. When reflection wins the upper hand, as Kierkegaard explains, the public is content with mere fanfares and applause:
Ganz wie im Theater würde die Menge bravo rufen und akklamieren, heimkehren mit dem Heldenkünstler in ihrer Mitte, und ihn mit einem wohlschmeckenden Festmahl ehren. Die Verständigkeit hätte in dem Grad überhand genommen, daß sie die Aufgabe selbst in eine unwirkliche Kunstaufgabe verwandelt hätte und die Wirklichkeit in ein Theater."
If the mind can satisfy its need to act just by contemplating virtuosity, it can also safely disengage itself from the contradictions of life with the illusory promise of their resolution.
Significantly, however, the passage from sentence one to sentence two does not end the spiritual movement of Kafka's young "Galeriebesucher." The crowd's ringing affirmation of the theatrical scene finally remains an empty expression in which he fails to participate. He has visited the "gallery" and tested its efficacy as a "superior" vantage point, but spiritually, he does not remain there to share with the others its comfortable "overview." His own more painful reality, he discovers, refuses to accept the ground upon which the public has achieved its accord. He cannot resolve through some superior position the principle of contradiction, which discovers all meaning in difference. Levelling, or "Nivellierung"-for Kierkegaard the consequence of an envious reflection that cleverly supports the ascendancy of the phantom public, must be replaced by a reflection of the second degree. And so the final march is no culmination in conformity for the youth, but an intensely private opening into his own uncertain interiority. In fact, we are explicitly reminded here of Kafka's 1914 description of literature as "die Darstellung meines traumhaften innern Lebens." "Der Schriftsteller," he would note in a letter to Max Brod, "hat keinen Boden, hat keinen Bestand." Because the youth cannot permanently realize the facile "Halt" of his own hypothetical mission of rescue in sentence one, he must begin his passage again-as an unwitting writer, perhaps-and return to the disconcerting world of the earlier scene of punishing discipline: "Da dies so ist, legt der Galeriebesucher das Gesicht auf die Brüstung und, im Schlußmarsch wie in einem schweren Traum versinkend, weint er, ohne es zu wissen." No sooner does the musical finale of sentence two fade into the distance of its precious view of the real, then the "Galeriebesucher" withdraws into an interior space that, for Kafka and Kierkegaard alike, marks the site of authentic art.
Along these lines, the coda to Kafka's sketch suggests that something significant transpires within the youth in the space of the dash that separates it from the rest of sentence two. He discovers, at least intuitively, that the view from above does not offer any "Halt." The truth of reality is commensurate with the truth of a mind freed from all mediating abstractions. "Der Geist wird erst frei, wenn er aufhört, Halt zu sein," Kafka asserts in "Bertrachtungen." Accordingly, the youth's challenge must lie in the subversive experience of his own interiority as a place without foundation. He cannot look down upon things to summarize what he sees in universals. The "gallery" has forced a revolt that finally opens the stage of the mind. And the mind can only entertain a text that already contains its opposite. That is what is so. And that is why the youth cries. Unlike the other spectators, he no longer knows with any authority. He can still turn inward, though and, away from the haughty world of measured performance, repeat and translate there the struggles of the first scene into the depiction of a vertiginous world that accepts unresolved difference as its basis. That is, he can reinscribe himself into the text of "Auf der Galerie," where his only certainty will be the paradoxical link between the punishing discipline of the writer's futile search for grounds and the redemptive promise that his engaged struggle articulates.
One critic, who has termed this kind of writing "an order of the abyss," remarks that it denies us an ideal "site somewhere in or over the work." I would like, in conclusion, to return briefly to Kierkegaard in order to affiliate the mode of Kafka's writerly existence as it is constituted in "Auf der Galerie" with the "religious" mode as it is adumbrated in Kritik der Gegenwart. I have already indicated that Kierkegaard's exposition describes a second, or homeopathic, level of reflection. A new community of select individuals, whom he calls "Unkenntliche," will work through reflection to renew the subversive spirit of the earlier revolutionary age: "Man muß wieder daran erinnern, daß nicht die Reflexion selbst oder in sich selbst etwas Verderbliches ist, das im Gegenteil das Sichhindurcharbeiten durch sie die Bedingung für ein intensiveres Handeln ist." The law of existence for these secret "warriors" will be to serve through their suffering, and their leap of faith will transport them over the abyss of infinitude into the essence of the "religious":
Nur durch die leidende Handlung wird der Unkenntliche der Nivellierung hervorhelfen dürfen, und wird durch dieselbe leidende Handlung das Werkzeug richten. Er darf nicht die Nivellierung geradeswegs überwinden, denn das bedeutete seine Entlassung, da dies in Richtung auf Autorität handeln hieße, sondern er wird sie leidend überwinden, und deshalb wieder das Gesetz seiner Existenz ausdrücken, das nicht herrschen, lenken, leiten ist, sondern leidend dienen und indirekt helfen.
The conditions of passage into the "Wesentlichkeit der Religiösität," like the quality of existential "inwardness" that accompanies it, are given by Kierkegaard largely through a series of contrasts-in terms of what his own age lacks. His authentically religious individual, therefore, in marked contrast to the "Galeriepublikum," refuses to absorb diversity into a totalizing abstraction. Indeed, his new faith now promises to overcome this malaise of the times by attacking five major symptoms of bourgeois indifference. The first of these, which Kierkegaard calls "Schwätzen," implies "die Aufhebung der leidenschaftlichen Disjunktion zwischen Schweigen und Reden." We speak authentically, according to Kierkegaard, only when our speech retains an intimate contact with pure silence and recognizes "daß die Idealität die qualitativ entgegengesetzte Möglichkeit enthält." We are reminded here of the compelling structure of "Auf der Galerie," as well as the youth's culminating turn toward an interior space of struggle and suffering where he silently acknowledges his eternal conjunction with both utterances and their opposing views. Similarly, the mechanical applause of the audience in Kafka's sketch, and its uniformed liveries, recall Kierkegaard's second symptom, called "Formlosigkeit." According to this part of his analyis, once we annul the distinction between form and content, we risk defining ourselves slavishly through an ideologically uniform disposition of categorical judgments that fail to consider individual circumstance or chance variation. Or, when Kierkegaard describes "Oberflächlichkeit," the third of his symptoms, as "die aufgehobene Disjunktion der Leidenschaft zwischen Verschlossenheit und Offenbarung," we can see the consummate performance in sentence two as the seductive "Vorteil blendender Vorspiegelungen" that often accompanies virtuosity. Along similar lines, Kierkegaard's fourth symptom, "Liebelei," fails to distinguish between "wesentlich lieben und wesentlich ausschweifend sein." Hence, like the youth's imaginary rescue of the rider, it avoids authentic commitment by merely flirting with possibility. And "Räsonnieren," his fifth, conflates subjectivity and objectivity to transform individuals into abstract and anonymous beings. When people are metonymically reduced-to the din of the jackhammer in the case of Kafka's cheering audience, or to the alien noise of unintelligibility in Kierkegaard's exposition-words become no more than "ein abstraktes Tönen, das die menschliche Rede überflüssig macht."
Kierkegaard opposes to all this his concept of the
"religious," which embraces the principle of
die Idealität ist Gleichgewicht des Einen mit seinem Gegensatz."
Moreover, he further links this principle with the writer's self,
to which any direct or immediate access has been barred: "[...]
und wie man den Eingang in ein Haus vesperrt, indem man zwei Soldaten
mit gekreutzten Gewehren davor stellt: so bildet das dialektische
Kreuz der qualitativen Gegensätze im Gleichgewicht der Idealität
die Sperre, die jeden Zugang unmöglich macht." Kierkegaard's
astonishing figure of the crossed firearms that block entrance
to the sacred ideal of the writing subject establishes the self,
in terms apt for Kafka's auto-biographical fictions as well, as
an unresolvable paradox. Accordingly, his religion of inwardness,
like Kafka's writing, interminably seeks access to the truth of
the author's self. However, it also always finds itself stopped
at the threshold, because such truth is finally available only
as failure. Clever reflection remains envious of what is active
and strong and would rather obliterate the difficult oppositions
at the core the enigmatic self and the "religious" than
preserve them in a text of differences. But Kierkegaard's community
of "unrecognizables," he claims, will not gossip, for
"Verschwiegenheit ist Innerlichkeit." Similarly, it
will not, in an attitude of "Formlosigkeit," resolve
content into form, in order to assert the empty truths of ideological
formulae. Nor will it allow "Verschlossenheit" to be
absorbed into "Offenbarung" in order to produce the
seductive illusions of "Oberflächlichkeit." As
already noted in my attempt to affiliate the writerly mode of
"Auf der Galerie" with the religious mode of Kritik
der Gegenwart, we can see in these strategies as much a description
of Kafka's difficult hermeneutic as a critique of bourgeois enervation.
For in both instances the writer erects edifices of language
in order to produce a subversive form of communication that refuses
to resolve differences in facile solutions. "Wir graben
den Schacht von Babel," Kafka once claimed in describing
his own project as an author. His aphoristic echo of Pascal,
we might add, aptly fits a Borges or a Kierkegaard as well.