August 1, 1911
What am I? An egocentrist? I am obsessed with myself, again with myself. I spin endlessly in circles. Around my--fear, anguish, the heavy boredom of needless life. That doesn’t concern me, to me it’s all an abstraction, just a story. Is my heart covered in grease, as the prophets say,* with sounds from outside sinking and dying in the grease--a child’s cry, shrieks of despair, prayers and curses? Nothing means anything to me in itself,** my categories are: me and the world. Threads are drawn from soul to soul--wonderful and melodic. Why do I choke myself in emptiness?
Someone is trembling in a net--thrashing, tangling himself all the more, thrashing and tangling and flapping like a bird--terrified and bloodied. I see this, but what do I feel? A cold, disinterested curiosity, while I stand off to the side. And I am angry, that his fear is not my poem.
And yet. I hoped, prayed, terrified myself--for him. My soul tore out of its cold, flat hiding place, where no sound reaches, and naked, trembling she [his soul] was suspended between heaven and earth, like the heart of the world, bleeding and dancing with everyone, for everyone. Maybe not with everyone, but with someone--yes. So it was for a moment. Ought I live in honor of that moment? Is that moment with her pale reflection destined to illuminate and warm that cold, flat hiding place?
And again me and the world--this circle I can’t get out of. And yet: in the face of the great, wonderful world I am without sense and worth, a passing shadow, a soap bubble, an illusion. And the world was a reality, a reality was my heart; that withered heart of mine became--the heart of the world, and me, my flesh--a worthless vessel for impurity.
Did everything change? Do I not still live only for myself, only in myself? And what is my “I”? Sick nerves, worn organs, ugly habits, rotten thoughts. Who knows what binds them together? Perhaps sheer inertia? And I don’t move, for no matter the place from which I try to meet with the world, I cannot enter her [the world],*** I cannot get past mental constructions, and again--me and my rotten thoughts.
Where is the way out?**** How does one escape the devil’s enchanted circle? How does one become a soul--every soul is a heart of the world--and not a blind, deaf creature?
By Moyshe Varshe
Translated by Corbin Allardice
* - Reference to Psalm 119:70: “Their heart is as fat as grease,/ But I delight in Your law" (KJV).
** - Or “for myself,” in either gloss he’s underscoring a disjuncture between self and the world.
*** - Literally, “I cannot merge with her” but the verb can also mean “to copulate.” I opted both to maintain “her” instead of “it” and to use “enter” to preserve the sexual nature of this union.
**** - Oysveg/אױסװעג, an exact cognate of Kafka’s Ausweg.