Wednesday December 2nd, 2009

“C acts under the greatest pressure, in a fearful sweat…”

kafka-portraitTo accompany this week’s review of Thomas Mallon’s book about letters, each day the blog will feature two letters. This one was written by Franz Kafka to Milena Jesenská in November 1920. It’s taken from Letters to Milena translated by Philip Boehm.

You say, Milena, you don’t understand it. Try to understand it by calling it a disease. It’s one of the many manifestations of disease which psychoanalysis claims to have discovered. I do not call it a disease and consider the therapeutic part of psychoanalysis is a helpless mistake. All these alleged diseases, sad as they may seem, are matters of faith, anchorages in some maternal ground for souls in distress. Consequently, psychoanalysis also maintains that religions have the same origin as “diseases” of the individual. Of course, today most of us don’t feel any sense of religious community; the sects are countless and limited to individuals, but perhaps it only seems that way from our present perspective.

On the other hand, those anchorages which are firmly fixed in real ground aren’t merely isolated, interchangeable possessions—they are performed in man’s being, and they continue to form and re-form his being (as well as his body) along the same lines. And this they hope to heal?

In my case one can imagine 3 circles: an innermost circle A, then B, then C. The center A explains to B why this man is bound to torment and mistrust himself, why he has to give up (it isn’t giving up, that would be very difficult—it’s merely a having-to-give-up), why he may not live. [. . .] Nothing more is explained to C, the active human being; he simply takes orders from B. C acts under the greatest pressure, in a fearful sweat (is there any other sweat that breaks out on the forehead, cheeks, temples, scalp—in short, around the entire skull? That’s what happens with C). Thus C acts more out of fear than understanding; he trusts, he believes that A has explained everything to B and that B has understood everything and passed it on correctly.