Tag Archives: amateur philosophy

From one of my favorite Kafka Stories


A Report to an Academy

“You have done me the honor of inviting me to give your Academy an account of the life I formerly led as an ape.

I regret that I cannot comply with your request to the extent you desire. It is now nearly five years since I was an ape, a short space of time, perhaps, according to the calendar, but an infinitely long time to gallop through at full speed, as I have done, more or less accompanied by excellent mentors, good advice, applause, and orchestral music, and yet essentially alone, since all my escorters, to keep the image, kept well off the course. I could never have achieved what I have done had I been stubbornly set on clinging to my origins, to the remembrances of my youth. In fact, to give up being stubborn was the supreme commandment I laid upon myself; free ape as I was, I submitted myself to that yoke. In revenge, however, my memory of the past has closed the door against me more and more. I could have returned at first, had human beings allowed it, through an archway as wide as the span of heaven over the earth, but as I spurred myself on in my forced career, the opening narrowed and shrank behind me; I felt more comfortable in the world of men and fitted it better; the strong wind that blew after me out of my past began to slacken; today it is only a gentle puff of air that plays around my heels; and the opening in the distance, through which it comes and through which I once came myself, has grown so small that, even if my strength and my willpower sufficed to get me back to it, I should have to scrape the very skin from my body to crawl through. To put it plainly, much as I like expressing myself in images, to put it plainly: your life as apes, gentlemen, insofar as something of that kind lies behind you, cannot be farther removed from you than mine is from me. Yet everyone on earth feels a tickling at the heels; the small chimpanzee and the great Achilles alike.”

“I repeat: there was no attraction for me in imitating human beings; I imitated them because I needed a way out, and for no other reason. And even that triumph of mine did not achieve much. I lost my human voice again at once; it did not come back for months; my aversion for the schnapps bottle returned again with even greater force. But the line I was to follow had in any case been decided, once for all.”


Tolstoy on Art as infection

“The activity of art is based on the fact that a man, receiving through his sense of hearing or sight another man s expression of feeling, is capable of experiencing the emotion which moved the man who expressed it. To take the simplest example : one man laughs, and another, who hears, becomes merry; or a man weeps, and another, who hears, feels sorrow. A man is excited or irritated, and
another man, seeing him, comes to a similar state of mind. By his movements, or by the sounds of his voice, a man expresses courage and determination, or sadness and calmness, and this state of mind passes on to others. A man
suffers, expressing his sufferings by groans and spasms,  and this suffering transmits itself to other people ; a man expresses his feeling of admiration, devotion, fear, respect, or love to certain objects, persons, or phenomena, and others are infected by the same feelings of admiration, devotion, fear, respect, or love to the same objects, persons, and phenomena.

And it is on this capacity of man to receive another man’s expression of feeling, and experience those feelings himself, that the activity of art is based.

If a man infects another or others, directly, immediately, by  his appearance, or by the sounds he gives vent to at the very time he experiences the feeling ; if he causes another man to yawn when he himself cannot help yawning, or to laugh
or cry when he himself is obliged to laugh or cry, or to suffer when he himself is suffering that does not amount to art.

Art begins when one person, with the object of joining another or others to himself in one and the same feeling,  expresses that feeling by certain external indications.”

From What is Art

On Flow: The mind is a garden hose

6a01157055c190970c01901c06a6d1970b-250wiPhilosophy takes the tone of the art that inspires it.   The turn of a sound or a line or a phrase gives the trajectory for our minds, the flow of our thoughts as well as our desires.  The analogy or allegory is often the first move in philosophy.  The garden hose analogy is an attempt to give context to the question: what do you think, and why?

The mind is a garden hose in our hand. For some, life demands (or comes with) a one of those pistol-gripped regulators. But others just have our fingers to shove clumsily over the spout.  We can’t stop or hone the flow–whatever we direct our eyes on to drench, water will invariably squeeze out the sides.

All moisture is equal to life.

Fanned out from our thumb–as if in fairness–the flow is not enough to grow fruit–but things close will live. Wild flowers grow fine under clumsy hand. Weeds are as green as grass. 

When the stream shoots strong and far, only the mist feeds the lawn we stand on—sometimes only with sliding drops. The flowers and fruit we aim must remain at arm’s length—when close, the strong stream bites, bores, and tears.

Without manipulation, the stream feeds only what we stand on. Stopping the flow ends our dream of flowers, as well as the mud swelling up beneath our toes.

Drinking from the hose is generally safe, but thought to be toxic.  We may need other flows to sustain the hand.