poetry, Prose Poem

Leave Request

Between a wrinkled cotton sheet and a lumpy coir mattress, I hide my unsaid
prayers, unfinished, unedited, not directed at anyone in particular, just angst
and offers of trade, a bribe or two, the distilled bitterness of failure, my
winding diatribes and discourses smudged by a river of incomprehensible
tears. I remember grandpa teaching me to write a letter to my teacher, a
recipient, a subject, a literary prostration, all for a day off from school. Which
benevolent creator would look at these jumbled supplications, smelling of left
over school lunches, later reeking of the stale emptiness of beer and smoke, of
the same song on a loop, of time that had passed as god after illusory god had
ignored the unaddressed tirades, not even returned them with loud red circles
and remarks that read, should be more polite, more contrite, or a slightly distended
oval that said complimentary close necessary before neat signature. I cried myself
to sleep on my neighbour’s sofa while my family went ahead. My leave
request wasn’t approved. It didn’t seem, the school said, that it was important.

Poem By: Rajani Radhakrsihnan

rajani-radhakrishnan

Rajani Radhakrishnan is a poet from Bangalore, India.

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interview

TQL Interviews: In Conversation with Pam Munter

Theme : Questionnaire Interview (Open / Closed Format)

Prelude
1. Hello Pam. How are you?
I’m fine, thanks. Hope you are, too.

2. How is the weather?
Beautiful – in the 80s here today.

3.What time is it?
It was early afternoon when I began but early
morning the next day as I’m finishing it.

4. Are you busy with something?
This, fully engaged in the process.

Lead

TQL: Pam, what colour is your mental shelf? (Influence of Books, Visuals, Music)

Pam Munter copy

Pam Munter: I’m not in an office, but in my home with filled floor-to-ceiling bookshelves adorning nearly every room. The titles are varied but almost all nonfiction. My favorites involve the lives of others, complex and layered, much the way I see myself.

TQL: What led you to arrive at a point to contribute now as a psychologist, Becoming a Legend while tracing your history in this memoir piece charting out personal dreams against the era of 1950s hollywood? What is with the title of the piece?

Pam Munter: After many years of writing biographical pieces about other people, I decided it was my turn. “Becoming A Legend” is one of 21 in a memoir (to be published, I hope) and one of my personal favorites. The title’s intention is to blend the young Pam with the more informed one, putting myself back into childhood while adding the perspective that only comes with age. Much of my work blends a seriousness of purpose with a tongue-in-cheek approach. I wanted to memorialize a bygone era, both in society and in my own history. It meant something different to be a child and a teenager then than it does now. I would like to think there’s a universality in memoir, which can apply to any life, any generation. We all have secret fantasies as children but not many write about them much less act upon them.

TQL: You live in New York, United States. How long have you been living here and how have you been able to adjust and experience different shades of America, from a coastal town of Los Angeles to several rural and urban counties as a performer and finally to a major cosmopolitan city as a clinical psychologist? Moving through colourful fabrics of America, how do you see America now?

Pam Munter: I have lived in many places but only in New York for months at a time, when I performed there. For nearly 30 years, I lived in Portland, Oregon before moving to my current home in Palm Desert, California in 2002, a return to my Southern California roots. Palm Desert is a suburban oasis, its beauty, peacefulness and contemporary architecture serving as a soporific alternative to the chaos that seems to be enveloping our national political landscape just now. I travel often to urban environs, though, – to New York but more frequently to Los Angeles, just a few hours away. You can’t take the girl out of the city for long.

TQL: Consider, America which was predominantly welcoming for many different migrants and which is closing its borders by creating different geopolitical stereotypes against few middle east nations, while also burning out an issue with its neighbor downwards in regard with boundaries? You have explored breadth and depth of America. Following your answers on the demographic make-up and its diverse experiences as the most modern democracy in the world, I would like to know more as I too arrive from an oldest democracy in the world that is India. Let us observe cinema, the show business around which you were brought up in a coastal town Pacific Palisades and which leads you and me here for this interview. In 2001, there arrived a movie Crazy / Beautiful shot in your hometown, starring Kirsten Dunst and Jay Hernandez. It showed dynamics of racial and dominant white experiences building up tragically triggered, romantic and realist frames with ambitions, aspritations, love of a mexican youth Carlos (Hernandez), sub-culture of drugs, alcoholism, and alienation of a white american youth Nicole (Dunst), political power and real societal battle of individualism of Nicole’s white father. Drawing back to a recent exposure of similar themes of racial tensions and sub-cultures of addiction leading to an investigative crime miniseries The Night Of in 2016 starring John Turturro, Riz Ahmed, Bill Camp, Michael K. Williams, we saw how the problems pertaining to racial discriminations in a dominant narrative leads us back to what America is as a super image in the world countries that is unable to deal with colour, even though it has better and advanced methodologies to embrace others in respect of other world countries like England, South Africa, and Australia while having an embracing attitude of plurality like India and Canada. In your immediate environment in New York, how do you see diversity moving in lanes and bends from your window office? How and what America is looking at you if you would press upon your diverse experiences through rural America which is now the heat of the contemporary politics that changed the narrative bringing Trump in White House while showing us how you grew up in your childhood years to become a legend in your own way later through failures, mistakes, and learning? This is a shade we haven’t read in your memoir piece, hence an elaboration would do justice to the later parts too.

Bay_Theater_1948
Bay Theatre, 1948

Pam Munter: You’ve set out a huge landscape to traverse here! First, the Pacific Palisades of my youth was much different that it seems to be today. In my public schools, it was unusual to find a person of color. I didn’t realize the inequity of this until I went away to college, fracturing the cocoon. I’ve long been a member of the ACLU, which advocates very strongly for inclusion, civil liberties and now against the provincial and cruel policies of the current administration in Washington. Immigrants have been responsible for the growth of America, allowing it to flourish providing progress and innovation. It both saddens and angers me that parts of our society live in fear and paranoia. In the Palm Desert area, there is more diversity and acceptance since a large percentage of our population is Hispanic and another large percentage are gay and lesbian. This brings a plethora of ideas, beliefs and cultures to the table, a feast, really. I haven’t seen the films to which you refer. The Palisades today is more diverse, as I understand it. I still read the hometown paper and even wrote an essay last year about visiting my childhood home. Some connections never die. My essays seldom deal with political issues, which is ironic given how involved I have been in politics and social justice since my teenage years. Perhaps I’ll write something at some point. It’s a crowded field in the literary world.

bob bailey
Bob Bailey

TQL: Do you think surrounded by people from different walks of show business somehow curtailed your dreams in-between like an over exposure to events and people related to it? Could it have thwarted your dreams indirectly if you were to remember your short and cold visit to CBS Studio with a radio actor, Bob Bailey as your neighbour where you performed off his traditional script to other actors present there?
PM: I opted to write about the show bizzy aspects of my childhood in this essay because that was the most magical part. But our neighborhood was populated mostly by blue collar families much like my own, completely outside the sphere of the entertainment industry. Few had education beyond high school, the women didn’t work, the men carried lunch pails every day. My dreams were fueled in part by the celebrities with whom I came in contact. As I said in the essay, I was surrounded by possibility even if one step removed. The Bob Bailey episode points out what I thought was true – that all I would have to do is read for a part and I’d be “discovered.” Of course, that didn’t happen but it didn’t stop me. It was exciting just to be in a radio studio.

TQL: In another incident later, a neighbour called Pete allowed your family to visit Oscar winner Edmond O’Brien’s dark woody home from where you found and copied Ida Lupino’s number off a Rolodex device when you could not find Doris Day’s number. You were young enough to have been exposed to such a larger-than-life setting. Is it around this time, the lifelong affectation for Doris Day started for you while your own dreams were moving in a backseat as a quirky adolescent teen?

Doris Day
Doris Day

PM: I still can’t believe I had the nerve to do all the things I wrote about in the essay. I became enamored with Doris Day very early, probably under the age of 8. She was a role model, for the career I envisioned, a way to escape my quotidian life. Of course, I had no idea who she was, only who she seemed to be. My own dreams were never far away. I imagined myself in her roles on the screen, singing the same songs. As a “quirky teen,” my dreams were often all I had to believe in. Adolescence is such a time of loneliness and alienation. I’m aware that my strong belief in myself, a conviction that I could accomplish most anything with hard work, was most unusual at that time of my life.
TQL: Consider if you were the Pam, dreaming about a career in movies living in a different neighbourhood without any people from show business, then it would have led you to see things from outside because here you were near to inside and yet remained on the fringe which is always the case that we see in different world industries of entertainment business, where such people who are surrounded by these industries, are subdued and their dreams thwarted while making them strugglers forever in their lives. It is true from Hollywood to Bollywood and other such industries. The opposite is also true considering your career. Your case is substantial enough for a teenager who would look for advice and run here to there with no ease. You made your own path through mistakes which many cannot do and it is great that you took a different turn after many stumbling blocks of career aspirations at such a perplexing age as a teenager, checking one thing out of another from the list of show business at a very early age. What would you tell them now, if you were to go back into your shoes and offer them light and perspective about making right and wrong choices while steering the wheel of life one one’s own?
PM: Life is one big, grand experiment. Following one’s dreams is one way to discover who we are. For me, the key to living a creative, productive life has been to develop a strong sense of myself, knowing what matters and what I’m willing to do (or not do) to get it. It’s my life and my responsibility. Sometimes the only way to learn about oneself is to risk making a mistake – learning from that mistake and moving on. My life has been diverse and multi-faceted and there’s little, if anything, I wanted to do that I haven’t been able to do through planning and perseverance. Living around show biz people played a minor but supporting role in my fantasy life. It would have happened anyway because it truly all came from the movies, where I spent so much time. It was a different life than I saw around me and I wanted to be a part of it. Today’s teens need to know it takes a long time to find the right place where they can be congruent and comfortable and to be patient with themselves during that quest.
TQL: In an earlier incident when you had crossed your fourteenth year in life, there arrived a small event which is an event of your look-alike photo arriving in an issue of Screen Stories matched with Doris Day. Does it effect you somehow when you think back on it? Do you think your friend Jacquie did the right thing by inflaming Doris Day affectation which was at its infancy like a crush and did the event really came on to your life “like a fireman shoveling coal in a speeding train?” at that moment? We would like you to answer this as a clinical psychologist, offering your thoughts to our new millenial readers while exploring themes of adolescent psychology and experiential learning mechanism.
PM: Jacquie and I shared an admiration for Doris Day and we encouraged each other, as friends do. An essential part of finding oneself is climbing on the backs of role models. As I said in the essay, there were few adults in my real world with whom I could identify. Movie stars gave me identity fragments I could try on, like a garment. Some of them fit, most did not. Developing an identity is a trial-and-error process but there have to be people present (even fictional ones) against which to measure oneself. One of the subtexts in the essay is the presence as well as the importance of having a passion, something that “inflames” one from within. It was a harmless passion, but one that made me feel truly alive, creating positive aspirations. Today, the mystery and ability to project ourselves upon celebrities is much more difficult. If we want to know something about a famous person, we can Google them. All we knew then was what we read in the movie magazines. It was a different world. And, by the way, I still have that magazine.johari-window.png

TQL: Pam, we would like you to explain a bit more about it, letting our readers know how Johari Window with its four quadrants are helpful for them to negotiate life choices through reflective learning practices. Offer us your experience and allow our readers to know how to deal with it so that they can know learning is an experience of three dimensional aspect where learning, unlearning, and relearning are intertwined together to make them whole from chunks and that they can and must learn to fail while exploring their career aspirations and dreams.
PM: When I was a practicing clinical psychologist, I did not use self-help mechanisms like the Johari Window, Myers-Briggs and such. I find them at best of transient value, merely scratching the surface. “Tests” that categorize personality into boxes tend to trivialize the complexity of the human personality, denying its fluidity, providing meaningless templates and false reassurances. There is no substitute for time alone, reflection and frequent journaling toward self-discovery. Throughout my life, I have also found it helpful to engage in honest, mutually disclosive conversations with a trusted friend. No outside pop-psych tests can truly tell you who you are.
TQL: Our millenial readers would surely imbibe the message you are sending when they are at crossroads to choose which career to follow while being hesitant to take a plunge in the unknown. Now coming back to your early adolescent life when, you wrote film reviews for school magazine and decided to major in music and later as the show business world rubbed itself against you like salt, you did theme-based jazz/cabaret performances with a jazz trio about which we would like to know more as you left us amazed just at the end of the memoir piece. How many years you did theatre performances and what influenced you back then?
PM: I’ve always had an indomitable creative drive. It has taken many paths, some of which I discussed in the essay. I’ve written elsewhere about the questions you raise – the how, why and where of performing. But the concept of performance can take many shapes, not merely the conventional ones. I was a university professor for almost 15 years (teaching political science and psychology), certainly a kind of performance. Readings from my essays in public are another form. And, of course, responding to your marvelously complicated interview questions is still another. It’s important to take an experimental view of life, especially in one’s 20s. Careers selected during that time of life are seldom a good fit because we don’t know ourselves very well yet. We’re still emerging. I would encourage people to lighten up, commit to the tasks in the moment but know when to let go and move on. My goal at this point is to use myself up, to tap every creative facet of myself that is available to me so that when I die, I won’t say, “I wish I had tried to…”
TQL: As we came to read your standalone piece of life experiences, we would like to know how you are working upon this whole memoir project and what a reader can further look towards, if you were to give a glimpse of performances you did and the cultural change that was going around you which later ended as you became a clinical psychologist? You surely have led an interesting life filled with uncertain road map and it would be a pleasure to know more about it.pam doris day

PM: Thank you. Over the past 18 months or so, more than 70 of my essays and short stories have been published., many internationally. I’ve completed a memoir—AS ALONE AS I WANT TO BE—containing 21 stand-alone essays, including “Becoming A Legend” that you were kind enough to publish. It’s possible to parcel out several dominant themes in the memoir, such as that creative drive, the persistent return to music, and a near compulsion to write. Yes, the “road map” has been an uncertain one but there are patterns that make sense and provide a unity of purpose, revealing resilience and calculated risk. Many of the essays are available on my website, www.pammunter.com. There you’ll find writing specific to some of the adventures—attending Doris Day’s 92nd birthday party, recording at Capitol Records using Frank Sinatra’s microphone and sitting in a crowded theatre watching the first movie in which I appeared. Looking back, I can say my intent has been to live a life that both interested and challenged me. As for becoming a clinical psychologist, that’s a whole other story! The decision was made in my mid 20s, a period in which I was surrounded by academics, a world where creativity was more elusive. Perhaps it was an awareness there was more out there, a restlessness that caused me to obtain the necessary university degrees to become a clinical psychologist. That profession was an ideal combination of intellect and emotion and required all of me to be fully present every single day, in many ways a perfect fit.
TQL: Now that you are retired, how do you spend your time?The Bees' Knees Dixieland Band, 2009

PM: The word “retired” always makes me laugh a little. In my parents’ generation, that meant playing golf, going fishing, traveling, doing…well, nothing. The big, energetic push in the show biz career came after I left the practice—the movies, the CDs, the live performances around the country. And all the writing, including obtaining my sixth college degree (an MFA granted just last year), came long after the “retirement” from clinical psychology. Now my days are full of writing along with the business tasks that requires. In fact, I just finished a play, four stories about women “of a certain age” in Hollywood. As with my other paths, I have no idea where this one will take me, but the journey has been a lot of fun. After all, it’s the process that matters more than the outcome.
TQL: We will take a different route to understand show business and we would like to know how you see things in present. Hollywood in contemporary period is dealing with a new digital media where artists have to be self promotional to gain a viewership before charting out to work with Hollywood and it is a platform of diverse cacophony and chaos. Times are changing but back then, Hollywood used to discover, discover in a sense Lana Turner, Clark Gable, Debbie Reynolds, and Janet Leigh among others as you describe early in your short memoir piece while pointing out your own sense of wonder as a plump kid with androgynous characteristics and a different eye sight to look at the world back then among your peers. These actors came from a poor background and were raised around the period of Great Depression and came of age with emergence of new media, do you think such a thing in our post-internet information world has blurred the real cost of struggle, privilege and misplaced identity which back then helped these actors in their popular careers to move away from their traditional familial background considering their parents usually came from working class background?
PM: That’s a great question. In the Hollywood of my day, everything was controlled by the four or five studios run by largely uneducated white men. Today, as you know, it’s no longer centralized. A kid can upload a two-minute spot on YouTube and be famous, at least for a while. Many of today’s actors have more education but less training. The nature of music has morphed into small niches as has entertainment in general, levelling the playing field to all comers. There was a time when we all listened to the same music, went to the same movies. Studios no longer concoct biographies or control the flow of publicity because everyone is on their own and there are few real studios left. The collective attention span is short; we seem to be living in an ADD society. If you’re not a hit right now, there are no second chances, no places to learn one’s craft. The danger is that with the massive corporate consolidation going on, the content will become more homogenized. It has certainly grown more polemical, fractionating the audiences even further. I’ve been told by agents that I need a “platform,” thousands of Twitter followers, to be commercially viable. I have to admit I long for those days when a studio executive could have done all that work for me!
TQL: In a similar vein, Netflix is taking over the traditional spaces of entertainment while also opening doors for new age people from millenial generation and older generation to work together on web based series and movies. It is moving with a global gaze like a multinational uber service or amazon for that matter to move into different cultural entertainment spaces. Would we see more of cross cultural experiences or would the mainstream essence of Hollywood still find an upper hand with closed cultural cues to enlarge and bet upon such a global audience which is primarily hooked on to Hollywood mainstream culture for long with its action-based, dystopian, and rom-com films or would they change the gaze and provide new air to breathe while allowing cross cultural references from one country to another thereby opening the subtle world of art and cinema to come out with new ideas?
PM: Hollywood will be open to new ideas if they bring financial reward. That’s a reality that hasn’t changed. I am encouraged by the fact there are more films starring and/or featuring people of color and more foreign language films reaching our shores. As society becomes more diverse, so will the nature of entertainment. I am also heartened by current social and political movements that cry out where there is injustice, whether it’s “OscarsSoWhite” or the recent controversy over men dominating the Grammys. While there is still a vocal, pathological part of society that wants to return to the “good old days” of white supremacy, it seems to me there’s a strong gravitational pull toward inclusiveness and justice.
TQL: What is Education?
PM: To begin with, it needs to be thought of as a verb, not a noun. To educate is to learn, in every sense of that word, an active process. While I’m very much a believer in formal education, I understand that much of what we learn is from experience and interactions with others. I would encourage anyone who can, however, to go as far as he/she can with formal education. It’s something no one can ever take away from you and it can help build a strong foundation for the rest of your life, both internally and externally.
TQL: What magical thing can you do for another person that would take no more than one minute of your life and which would change something in both for a lifetime to see?
PM: Ah, I wish such a thing were possible. Magic is no substitute for the hard work of developing one’s identity and the capacity for making good choices. Living life authentically takes time and effort.
TQL: Thank you for giving your time for the interview. Have a great day, Pam!
PM: It is my pleasure. Thank you. You too have a great day!Scan 1.jpeg
Pam Munter is a writer, dramatist, clinical psychologist, and former performer from New York, United States. Her memoir excerpt, Becoming a Legend was published in April Edition, 2017. You can know more about her books and her life over here: www.pammunter.com

This interview appears in our March 2018, Edition, TQL. Stay Tuned. For interviews, drop us an email at: editorialquietletter@gmail.com.

prose

Prose – Sanjana Kumari

Imagining Digital India in City

Essay

Abstract

The city is evolving every day. It is as new to the digital revolution as the revolution itself. Nevertheless, what used to be mere imagination in olden days has become the reality that creates the cushion for imaginations for the next step of evolution. The beauty of the city lies in its ability to manage both imagination and reality. It has adjusted itself to the ever-changing nuances of the digital realm. The massive organism that the city is, it makes it intriguing to observe the minute details of the digital revolution breathing inside its system. This paper is an effort to decode the processes that are operating in the city as a part of the digital realm and also making conspicuous changes to the cityscape and its working.

Key Words/Terms: City, Cityscape, digital revolution, digital realm, imagination, reality

 

  1. The Raw City

Urban Spaces have been the new cradles of economic growth and cultural intermixing for a considerably long time now. The cities across the globe have evolved through a variety of stages, although not necessarily the same ones. The first cities represented settlement units of hitherto unprecedented size (Childe, 1950). This, however, does not imply that they stood anywhere in comparison to the twenty first century cities in terms of population as well as complexity of processes at work.

The simultaneous processes of urbanisation, globalisation and industrialisation have reinvented the idea of a city in the contemporary times. However, it is widely understood that even though there has been a change in the character of the city, its raw nature remains the same. Cities are regarded as the powerhouses of economic growth, a melting pot for various cultures, the hubs of innovation and imagination, the carriers of a million dreams, and the leaders of the global settlements. Gordon Childe in The Urban Revolution pointed out ten characteristics that he deemed to be integral to almost all cities of the world. His paper included population, diversification of economic activities, standardisation of weights and measures, presence of infrastructure, trade and commerce as some of the ten characteristics. The contemporary city, however has grown beyond these basic ideas. However, it would be safe to assume that a huge number of the cities as they appear today do have the building blocks based on the ten characteristics referred to earlier.

  1. The Intercultural City

The city has become increasingly intercultural in nature owing to the fast paced churning of ideas and the availability of right tools to turn them into reality. The city in the contemporary world is a portal into ‘realised imaginations’. Everyday hundreds of thousands of people enter the city to make something out of themselves, to prove themselves and to create an association with the idea of the city. The city has come to be associated with success, growth, positivity, and opportunities, all of which are the attention-seekers for those deprived of them. It is also made apparent that the city hardly disallows entities to become a part of it. The intercultural city that lives with diversity is different from places that channel people into one worldview (Wood & Landry, 2008).

However, the image of the city as talked about above has also been emphatically pronounced due to a bigger reason. The advent of digital technology has secured a sure shot place in the life of the city. It can also be said that the intercultural city became so because of the digital revolution.

  1. Imagination in the City: The Digital Way

As said earlier, the city has long been the hotbed of imagination and hope. Imagination, however, has made a great deal of changes in the way the city functions and views the future. The digital technology has changed the face of the city. It has affected its daily life and also the way it carries itself. Over the last few years, we have seen a huge variety of familiar objects and surfaces – from televisions to bus shelters – transform into networked sensors that gather, process, store and display information (Anderson, 2012).

From dawn to dusk and from dusk to dawn the city makes its way through the mesh of digital technologies to make life easier for its inhabitants. There is an alarm on the smartphone to wake it up, milk delivered to the doorsteps through a digitally placed order, cab aggregator service to book a cab in a few moments, navigation to help it steer through the large network of roads and lanes, real time traffic information to keep it punctual, online music to listen to on a smartphone while travelling, social networks like Facebook and twitter to post about how the start of the day has been wonderful, pictures to take from a camera installed on the smartphone and so on. The city deals with its finances sitting on a laptop. The digital revolution has set in motion forces that have so much to do with bridging of distances, simplification of problems, and reduction in troubles.

Browsing one minute, searching the next, we move seamlessly from private to shared information environments, offering insight into packages of urban experience (Anderson, 2012). In order to understand the level of impact, one needs to consider an errand as small as ironing of clothes. With the digital prowess, it is perfectly possible to “get the inside track on where to get shirts ironed fast and cheaply” (Anderson, 2012). The growing dependence on digital media can be seen in the growth patterns of the city too. The coming decades are being called the decades of the ‘digital city’. There are townships being established that are integrated internally through networks of information which is available for all their residents to use. The hi-tech planned cities coming up across the globe are looking towards digital media to try and create a perfect example of place branding and city imaging. The concepts are not as new as the context. It is in context of the digital world growing together with the urban world that these concepts have broken their boundaries.

The city’s daily life is being constructed everyday with the help of the digital revolution. The kind of fairs it will attend, the concerts that are going to be a hit, the street food festivals consisting of cuisines from unknown lands are all the examples of the dynamic characters of the city. The fact that the city entertains this amount of information and action made available to it by the digital technologies is in itself enough to understand their impact on its daily life.

The question of inclusiveness is the next when it comes to creating a future of imagination for the city. Is the imagination class-sensitive? Does it take into account the gender gap which still exists in the city? Does the digital advancement decrease the stereotyping the city tolerates every day by the means of its constituents?

It will be difficult to assume that digital technology has brought about a massive change in the inclusiveness in the city. However, it is visible that the diversity of the city has been regarded much more because of digital technology on one hand and discarded on the other. The latter is so because of the exclusion of many of the city’s constituents in understanding the ‘digital’ side of the city. The digital itself is being made into an exclusive object for the use of a handful of people. If this is not looked into, the exclusiveness will increase thereby defeating the purpose of intermixing of cultures and people in the city.

The imagination of mankind is brought to match with the reality in the city. The reality, in turn, creates a platform for more imagination to crop up and help the city rediscover itself. Imagine an arrow that appears on the pavement or on your sunglasses to tell you which way to go, or even a docking station that unfolds as you approach to lock up your bike (Anderson, 2012). The cities are brimming with quests and explorations for the future. This is why this paper has been titled From Imagination to Reality to Imagination, because the cycle goes on and helps the city establish new landmarks.

From reality to imagination goes the path to the city’s conversation with digital technology. The speed with which the city has been accepting the conversion to the digital media is unprecedented. It is an indispensable part of the social as well as the economic fabric of the city today. The digital realm has brought the city together like never before. In creating realities out of imaginations, the city has done itself a tremendous service.

  1. Conclusions

The digital makeover of cities across the globe has resulted in a lasting impact on the daily life of the city. From running basic errands to getting factories set up, the tasks have been getting easier and the system more efficient. Not just this, the advent of social media has made the city more accessible and informative. Where there was nothing some years ago, the city finds information on its own history and geography today. From struggling to pay bills to booking travel plans on the internet, the city sure has come a long way in organising its everyday life.

References

  1. Digital media and urban spaces by Barbara Anderson on RSA, 2012 – https://www.thersa.org/discover/publications-and-articles/rsa-comment/2012/05/digital-media-and-urban-spaces
  2. The Intercultural City, by Phil Wood and Charles Landry, 2008 (Book)
  3. The Urban Revolution, by Gordon Childe, 1950 (Journal Article) – http://www.jstor.org/stable/40102108

Sanjana Kumari is a reader of Geography and writes from Delhi, India.

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prose

Prose – Swati Sarangi

The Day Off: College, Hostel, Observation and a Dream

 

Non-Fiction Diary

 

Observation is a unique act of looking at Nature’s creation. Our surrounding is stuffed with a variety of things. Sometimes few things present in our surrounding amaze us. We get awestruck by the fact of their presence, creation, look etc. No matter how simple or ordinary those things may appear, they are the powerhouses of uniqueness in the sense that nothing can replace another thing in any way. The same thought can be applied to each human being as one individual should not be compared with others which can lead to the destruction of mental peace. From observation comes motivation. Motivation is the driving factor behind any task.

Morning hour motivation comes to me through observing the components of nature. Nature has got vivid imageries and when you start to spend time with nature, you’ll certainly get mesmerized by the way things have been put in their places. Their places are too perfect in a broad sense. Likewise, we all have been assigned with a certain task to complete in our lives which we regard as the call of destiny and the set of challenges that obstruct our paths have been put according to our ability to overcome them.

It feels great in the act of chasing those white doves with the stealth footsteps, which seem to have descended down from heaven to quench their parched throats from a limited reservoir leaked from the water tank over the terrace. Now I realize why those birds have been tagged as the symbol of peace and serenity. It’s even their slight glimpse that brings peace. They are the vehicles of the air; flying high to touch the limitless sky. Then a flock of birds in the sky draws my attention. On close observation, that flock seems to have led by a bird-might be more experienced in comparison to the other in the group. There are several patterns that they create while traversing that azure land.

My day starts with taking a walk over the terrace. What can be a better idea to observe things in the vicinity of a higher place other than terrace? The terrace has always been among my favorite spots at the hostel to hang out with myself. I get to witness a hell lot amount of things from a different perspective which compels me to dress those experiences into words. Adding to this divine view is the prevalence peace and serenity! I observed something today which is worth mentioning. As I looked down from one side of the terrace, I found that a barren piece of land lying adjacent to the periphery of my hostel’s boundary had got beautifully transformed into a cultivated land, producing crops and cereals. The meticulous division of the land for the purpose of growing different crops looked no different from the political maps representing demarcations of different regions in geography books. The putting up of scarecrows (artificial human beings) dressed up in today’s fashionable attire (for protection of the crop from birds and animals) added an extra delight to the sight. I recalled those days I visited my village a few years back and such scenes were quite less in number, even though the frequency had reduced to a great extent due to the effect of urbanization and modernization. The architects of that field lived happily near it in a temporary settlement reminding me of another one which was once existent in another side of the hostel.

I reflected for a moment that whatever I was witnessing then, was the result of the relentless toil of those people. They took every care to convert a barren land into a productive one. I could relate that land to our minds and the crops to the countless thoughts which are required to be cultivated with utmost caution. Our thoughts make us who we are. In fact, we are the portraits of our own thoughts. All our emotions like pain, suffering, joy, sorrow are deeply connected with our thinking process. That’s why someone has very well remarked that “We suffer more in our thoughts than in reality”. We become happy or sad because we revise the thoughts of our past. Thoughts keep on creating utopian environments continuously in our minds. They have enormous power to transform us into anything.

You never can tell what a thought will do
In bringing you hate or love-
For thoughts are things and their airy wings
Are swifter than carrier doves.
They follow the law of the universe-
Each thing creates its kind,
And they speed O’er the track to bring you back
Whatever went out of your mind.
-Anonymous

Looking at the importance of thoughts, I remembered Napolean Hill had once advised everyone to devote some time for analyzing one’s own thought pattern because of our mental processes each destructive thought the same way as in case of a constructive one. Both problems and solutions are present in our mind according to a saying there are no limitations to the mind except those we acknowledge. Quoting the author’s statement from the novel ‘Think and grow rich’, “We are what we are because of the vibrations of the thought we pick up and register, through the stimuli of our daily environment.

“If you think you are beaten, you are,
If you think you dare not, you don’t
If you like to win, but you think you can’t
It is almost certain you won’t.

If you think you’ll lose, you are lost,
For out of the world we find,
Success begins with fellow’s will-
It’s all in the state of mind.

If you think you are outclassed, you are,
You’ve got to think high to rise,
You’ve got to be sure of yourself before
You can ever win a prize.

Life’s battle don’t always go
To the stronger or faster man
But soon or later the man who wins
Is the man who thinks he can.”

Taking care of your thoughts is as important as taking care of your body. Amidst these train of thoughts, I forget that the day has started to lose its brightness gradually.

Being a daydreamer, the terrace provides me enough elements to dream about. My restless mind would run in all directions just like my vision. The vision of mine which used to get confined within the four walls of the room has now been liberated, extending its reach to infinity, boundless possibilities. My mind picks up the subject of dream whenever my eyes get transfixed at any point. Then I would start to weave dreams about it and these hypothetical connections to the things present in my vicinity would break all differences between reality and imagination already existing inside my mind. I get amazed by the inflow of powerful thoughts and start to pen them down. Countless articles have got their birth from here only. Sometimes, I’m with academic study material other times I’m with a non-academic book. When there are no friends with me to accompany, those little birds start to play around me and I somehow start to enjoy their friendship. That’s when I realized friendship is not just an emotion bound to human beings, it’s something which can get developed as an intrinsic interest in non-living things. The surrounding is so lively that I get instant motivation from it. The courses which always appeared burden to me melt down into their easy form. I don’t know how. Is that the magnetic effect of the place?

The sunset view is breathtaking. The fierce hot burning yellow colored cosmic body, Sun turns orange, pink then gets absorbed amidst the vast stretch of clouds. The clouds, fundamentally, the agglomeration of numerous tiny water droplets, bear the shades of a color pallet at different instances. On closely observing, I find a resemblance of those yellow and peach colored clouds with those of the cream over an ice cream cone. The sky radiates the colors of a painter’s brush or I’m watching a creation of the greatest painter, the almighty, I just can’t differentiate. The commotion on the other side of the boundary of the hostel drags me close to the boundary of the terrace. When my steps take me there to have a glance, I find a bunch of toddlers playing with clay- in the lap of nature. Neither the darkness of the surrounding nor the responsibilities of the life scare them off. They are like free birds flying carelessly with the passage of time. The cold blowing breeze makes me light and I let myself get blown with watching the activities of those notorious kids. It makes me realized how quickly my childhood days have passed and the days of adulthood that I imagined as a child are not that amusing. The floating of cotton with the breeze in the atmosphere creates the scene picturesque. It seems as if there is a unique combination of summer and winter as the spread of cotton in ground resembles snow.

The darkness of the sky is now accompanied by a silver-colored celestial body shining prominently with other numerous tiny stars. On observing the moon closely, I find many unidentified scars over it which reminds me of a tale that my grandma used to narrate in my childhood days. The gist is- Once a hare visited the moon and it got lost there. That’s why the shape of that lost hare is still visible. There was no congruency of that tale with the reality but we as children were fascinated by it. As the night grows thick, the flickering radiance from the other side of the river resembles little candles spreading the light amidst the ever-growing darkness. A thick layer of grey colored fume ejected out from the chimneys of the industries diffuse in the tar-colored background in the backdrop of many colored lights of the structures turning on and off synchronously. Now, the tall structure of the transmission tower stands still in front of my eyes. I recognize it to be off suspension type with few discs hanging down. I wonder how it is different from the famous Eiffel tower! I mean, that ordinary tower can be analogous to the famous Eiffel tower. The road, on the other side of the view, seems to be invisible except the tiny moving vehicles. Their positions can be traced by the light emanating from them which looks like a video game being played in front of me and yes I’m the spectator and the player is omniscient, omnipotent and invisible, needless to say, that the world is the big screen of the video game, visualize the hugeness of this screen for once! My vision can chase few moving lights performing rectilinear motion and then disappear. Sometimes, it seems as if a competition is going on when a vehicle overtakes another. Everything seems magical and the air takes me to a completely different realm of imagination.

I’ve not been able to resist myself from spending my evening time over the terrace, gazing that distant view of mountains and river at my favorite spot over the terrace and simultaneously appreciating the splendor of each component that I visualize and perceive. The scene is breathtakingly beautiful as it reminds me of the paintings drawn in the fantasy story books of childhood days that my father purchased. As a child, my innocent mind would always question whether such places really existed or will it be ever possible for me to witness this sight in my lifetime. After so many years, I now have the answers to all those unanswered questions that once used to get built up inside my mind. It’s perhaps this place, the place where I’m right now present. The small lighted houses at the opposite bank of the river seem to be no different from the demonstration of any mysterious fairyland as if those have been constructed with the help of small and delicate matchsticks – a unique masterpiece!! Simply wonderful and amazing!! The glow of faint light resembles the ray of light emanating from burning candles spreading the light as far as possible and destroying the darkness. The red colored flag at the apex of the Lord Shiva’s temple shines in the dark background of the sky jeweled with tiny sparkling stars. And, now the atmospheric air transports the sound of evening prayer to my ears- so divine and peaceful, and few lines of songs of childhood days running inside my mind-

All things bright and beautiful
All creatures great and small
All things wise and wonderful
The Lord God made them all…
The Lord God made them all (Chorus).

Everything around us has got so much to give. It seems as if the inanimate things want to convey us a message of eternity and peace. What is required is to lend an ear to their unspoken or a keen observation.

 

 

Swati Sarangi is currently pursuing Masters Degree in Electrical Engineering. She completed B.Tech in Electrical Engineering from Indira Gandhi Institute of Technology, Sarang, Odisha. She writes on two blogs along with her sister Sweta, Creative Constellation and Words To World on different blogging platforms. Her poems have been published in The Stage, The Seasons, Bibliograph, Agnishatdal and Writer’s Ezine.

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prose

Prose – Michel Leiris

 

The Sacred in Everyday Life

Essay

[When this text appeared in “For a College of Sociology, ” it had already been read at the session of January 8, 1938. More information will be found under this same title in the lectures for 1937-38.]

What, for me, is the sacred? To be more exact: what does my sacred consist of? What objects, places, or occasions awake in me that mixture of fear and attachment, that ambiguous attitude caused by the approach of something simultaneously attractive and dangerous, prestigious and outcast—that combination of respect, desire, and terror that we take as the psychological sign of the sacred?

It is not a question of defining my scale of values—with whatever is of gravest importance to me, most sacred in the ordinary sense of the word, at its summit. Rather, it is a matter of searching through some of the humblest things, taken from everyday life and located outside of what today makes up the officially sacred (religion, fatherland, morals). It is the little things that are required to discover what features would allow me to characterize the nature of what is sacred for me, and help establish exactly the point at which I know I am no longer moving on the level of the ordinary (trivial or serious, pleasant or painful) but rather have entered a radically distinct world, as different from the profane world as fire from water.

It seems obvious that we should first examine everything that fascinated us in childhood and left the memory of that kind of strong emotion. For the material pulled out of the mists of childhood is what, out of all we have available, has some chance of representing the least adulterated.

Thinking back on my childhood, I remember first a few idols, temples and, in a more general way, sacred places. First there were several objects belonging to my father, symbols of his power and authority. His top hat with the flat brim that he hung on the coat rack at night when he came home from the office. His revolver, a Smith and Wesson with its small barrel, dangerous like all firearms and even more attractive for being nickelplated. This instrument he usually kept in a desk drawer or in his bedside table, and it was the attribute par excellence of the one who, among other jobs, had the responsibility of defending the home and protecting it from burglars. His money box where he put gold pieces, a sort of miniature safe that was for a long time the exclusive property of the provider, and that, until we each received one like it as a communion present, seemed to my brothers and me the mark of manhood.

Another idol was the salamander stove, ‘ ‘La Radieuse, ” adorned with the effigy of a woman resembling a bust of the Republic. A true spirit of the hearth, enthroned in the dining room: inviting with the warmth she gave out and her glowing coals, and formidable, for my brothers and I knew that if we touched her we would burn ourselves. At night when I would wake up with fits of nervous coughing, the spasms symptomatic of “false croup,” they would carry me next to her and there, besieged by some supernatural nighttime evil, ravaged by a cough that got into me like a foreign body, I felt myself all at once become someone of importance—like a tragic hero—surrounded as I was by my parents’ worry and loving care.

As for places, there was, first of all, the parents’ bedroom, which assumed its full meaning only at night when my father and mother were sleeping there—with the door open, so they could look after the children better and where, by the faint glow of the night-light, I could dimly make out the big bed, epitome of the nocturnal world of nightmares that make their way through sleep like dark simulacra of wet dreams.

The other sacred pole of the house—the left-hand pole, tending toward the illicit, in relation to the parental bedroom which was the right-hand pole, the one Of established authority, sanctuary of the clock and the grandparents’ portraits— was the bathroom. There every night one of my brothers and I would shut ourselves in, out of natural necessity, but also to tell each other animal stories that went on like serials from one day to the next and that we took turns making up. That was the place we felt most like accomplices, fomenting plots and developing a quasi-secret mythology that we picked up again every evening and sometimes copied out in notebooks, the nourishment of the most strictly imaginative Part Of our life: animals who were soldiers, jockeys, airline or military pilots, launched into contests of war or sports, or detective stories; murky political Schemings with attempted coups d’état, murders, kidnappings; drafts of a constitution that was to ensure an ideal government; the poorest of all sentimental affairs that were usually summed up in a happy marriage, followed by bringing a lot of children into the world, but not necessarily foregoing a final episode of widowhood. The invention of instruments of warfare, underground passages, snares, and traps (sometimes even a pit concealed with leaves, its sides provided with very sharp blades and spiked with stakes, to pierce whoever fell in and cut him to bits); many battles, fierce struggles (on battlefields or racecourses); after each battle, detailed statistics with the exact number of prisoners, wounded, and dead for each of the opposing sides, which were, for example, the Cats and the Dogs, the former royalists and the latter republicans. All that we duly recorded in our notebooks, in the form of accounts, pictures, maps, sketches, with tables summarizing it all and with family trees.

Of these long sessions in the bathroom, besides the series of legends we invented and our pantheon of heroes, it was the very secrecy of our meetings that was most clearly marked by the sacred. Granted that the rest of the family knew we were there, but behind the closed door they did not know what we were talking about. There was something more or less forbidden in what we were doing, which, moreover, brought us scoldings when we stayed shut up in there too long. As if in a “men’s house” of some island in Oceania—the place where the initiates gather and where from mouth to mouth and from generation to generation, secrets and myths are passed on, we endlessly elaborated our mythology in this room, our clubhouse, and never tired of seeking answers to the various sexual riddles that obsessed us. Seated on the throne like an initiate of higher rank was my brother; I, the youngest, sat on an ordinary chamber pot that served as the neophyte’s stool. The flushing mechanism and the hole were, in themselves, mysterious things, and even actually dangerous. (Once, when I ran around the opening pretending to be a circus horse, didn’t my foot get stuck in it, and then didn’t my parents, called to the rescue, have a terrible time getting it out?) Had we been older and more erudite, we doubtless would not have hesitated to consider these things directly in touch with the gods of the underworld.

Compared to the parlor—an Olympus closed to us on the days visitors were received—the bathroom can be looked on as a cavern, a cave where one comes to be inspired by contacting the deepest, darkest subterranean powers. There, opposite the right-hand sacred of parental majesty, the sinister magic of a left-hand sacred took shape. There it was, also, that we felt the most cut off, the most separate from everyone else, but also the closest to each other, the most shoulder to shoulder, the most in harmony, in this embryonic secret society that we two brothers formed. All in all, for us it was that something eminently sacred that any sort of pact is—like the conspiratorial bond uniting the pupils of the same class against their teachers, a bond so firm and compelling that very few, of all the moral imperatives commanding adult consciences, can be compared to the one with which children forbid themselves to ‘ ‘rat on” each other.

As far as outdoor places are concerned, I remember two that, with time’s passage and ideas since formed, seem to have been permeated for me, a religious child in other respects, with a sacred character: the sort of bush-country, a no man ‘s-land that extended between where the fortifications lay and the racecourse at Auteuil, and also that racecourse itself.

When our mother or older sister took us for a walk either in the Bois de Boulogne or the public gardens adjoining the Paris greenhouses, it often happened that we would cross this ill-defined space. Contrasted with the bourgeois world of houses, just as the village—for those belonging to so-called savage societies—can be contrasted to the bush, which is the hazy world specific to all the mythical adventures and strange encounters that begin as soon as the duly staked out world making up the village is left behind, this was a zone where the scarps were really haunting. We were told then, if we happened to stop and play, to beware of strangers (actually, I realize now: satyrs) who might, under false pretenses, try to take us off into the bushes. A place apart, extremely taboo, an area heavily marked by the supernatural and the sacred, so different from the parks, where everything was planned, organized, raked, and where the notices forbidding you to walk on the grass, though signs of taboo, could only endow them with a sacred grown cold.

The other outdoor place that fascinated my brother and me was the racecourse at Auteuil. From a bridle path that skirted it in part, my brother and I could watch the jockeys—in many-colored silks and on bright-coated horses—jump a hedge, then climb a grassy hill behind which they disappeared. We knew that it was there that people (the ones we saw gathered in the stands and whose noise we heard at the finish) made bets and ruined themselves for the sake of those riders in glittering finery; as had my father’s former colleague, who, having once been a man with ‘ ‘horses and carriage, ” had gambled away his entire fortune and now often touched my father for a dollar or so, when he met him at the stock exchange. Of all places the racetrack was most prestigious because of the spectacle that unfolded there, and the considerable sums of money won or lost there; of all places the most immoral, as everything there hangs on good luck or bad, and the place my father, disturbed by the idea that we might become gamblers when we were older, thunderously denounced.

One of our greatest joys was when the starting signal was given near the spot where we stood. The starter, in a redingote, on his horse muscled like a wrestler,a big brute next to the thoroughbreds in the race; the racers dancing in place like roosters, swaying like swans, gathering for the start; then the lineup finished at long last, the pack’s sudden gallop and the sound of horseshoes on the ground, whose deepest vibrations we seemed to feel. Though I have never had much taste for sports, from this period I have kept a sense of wonder that makes me look at any sports spectacle as a sort of ritual display. The paraphernalia of the jockeys’ tack, the white ropes of boxing rings, and all the preparations: the procession of those entered in the race, the presentation of the contenders, the function of the starter or of the referee; everything one senses of the background, as well, in the way of liniments, massages, dopings, special diets, meticulous regulations. You would say the protagonists act in a separate sphere, both closer to the public and more isolated from it than performers on a stage, for example. For here nothing is false: Whatever might be the importance of the staging, the sports spectacle whose ending is theoretically unforeseeable is a real act and not a sham, in which all events unwind according to what has been determined in advance. Whence, an infinitely greater participation at the same time as a much more intense consciousness of separation since the beings from whom we are here separated are not conventional mannequins—blurry reflections of ourselves, with nothing basically in common with us—but beings like us, at least as solid as ourselves and who might be us.

During this time when we were mad about races, my brother and I often used to imagine that when we were older we would become jockeys—the same way that so many boys from poor neighborhoods can dream of becoming racing cyclists or boxers. Like the maker of a religion, the great revolutionary or conqueror, it would seem that the champion has a destiny, and that the dizzying rise of one so often the product of the most deprived portions of the populace is a sign of unusual luck or magic force—of a mana—that in one leap lets him get to the top and reach a social rank that is, of course, somewhat marginal but out of proportion to anything that common persons have any right to reasonably expect, no matter what their birth. In certain respects, he reminds one of the shaman , who, originally, is very often only someone who is deprived, but who takes an astonishing revenge on destiny, as a result of his being absolutely the only one who is hand in glove with the spirits.

Doubtless, my brother and I guessed that vaguely, when we imagined ourselves arrayed in jockey silks as if they were coats of arms or liturgical vestments, that would have distinguished us from others, at the same time that we were joined to them as focal points and as the medium for the collective tumultuous excitement, as the places and receptacles for the convergence of their gazes, which were fixed on our persons like so many pins marking us with prestige. Better than the father’s top hat, his small-barreled revolver, and his money box, these thin silk tunics would be the sign of our power, the mana special to people who make every obstacle pass beneath their horse’s belly and who, victoriously, are exposed to all the dangers of the fall.

Alongside the objects, places, and spectacles that exerted such a special attraction for us (the attraction for everything that seemed separated from the ordinary world, a brothel for instance—full of nudity and foul, steamy odors—at such a remove from the clothed, fresh-air world of the street, though separated by only a threshold, the concrete form of the taboo condemning the den of iniquity), I discover circumstances, events that were imponderable, so to speak, that gave me a sharp perception of a distinct realm, set aside, with no possible comparison to anything else, and that stood out from the mass of the profane with the same strange, stunning garishness that powdered, shaved bodies have when they irrupt within an inch of the tables, showgirls, at nightclubs where dreary diners sit sweating. I want to speak of certain events of language, of words in themselves rich in repercussions, or words misheard or misread that abruptly trigger a sort of vertigo at the instant in which one perceives that they are not what one had thought before. Such words often acted, in my childhood, as keys, either because surprising perspectives were opened through their very resonance or because, discovering one had always mutilated them, suddenly grasping them in their integrity somehow seemed a revelation, like a veil suddenly torn open or some outburst of truth.

Some of these words, or expressions, are bound up in places, circumstances, images whose very nature explains the emotional power with which they were charged. I think of the “Empty Hall, ” for example, the name my brothers and I had given a group of rocks forming a sort of natural dolmen, in the vicinity of Nemours, not far from the house where our parents took us several years in a row to spend summer vacation. The “empty hall”: It sounds the way our voices sounded beneath the granite vault; it evokes the idea of a giant’s deserted home, or a temple whose impressive dimensions were hewn from stone of tremendous age.

A proper name, such as “Rebecca’ learned from biblical history, belongs to the strict realm of the sacred, evoking as it does an image that was typically biblical for me: a woman whose face and arms were bronzed, wearing a long tunic, with a full veil on her head, a pitcher on her shoulder and resting her elbow on the well’s coping. In this instance, the name itself played in a specific way, making one think, on the one hand, of something sweet and spicy, like raisins or muscat grapes; on the other hand of something hard and unyielding, because of the initial “R” and especially the “cca” that has some of the same effect today in words like “Mecca” or “impeccable.”

Finally, another vocable was at one time endowed with the magical merits of a password or abracadabra for me: the exclamation “Baoukta!” invented by my elder brother as a war cry when we played Indians and he was the great, brave, and dreaded chief. What struck me there, as in the name Rebecca, was especially the word’s exotic feel, the strangeness it harbored, like a word that might have belonged to the language of Martians or demons, or even had been wrested from a special vocabulary, heavy with hidden meaning, to which only my elder brother, the high priest, held the secret.

Besides these words that—if this can be said—spoke to me by themselves, there were other things in the language that contributed the vague perception of that sort of displacement or gap that still characterizes for me the passage from an ordinary condition to one more privileged, more crystalline, more singular, the shift from a profane to a sacred state. It is, in fact, a matter of very minor discoveries: corrections of what was heard or read that, by bringing two variants of the same word together, with their difference caused a particular distress. One would have said that language was suddenly twisted and that, in the very slight gap separating the two vocables—both of which had become full of strangeness when, now I compared them to each other (as if each of them was only the other one mutilated and contorted)—a breach opened that was able to let through a world of revelations.

I remember one day when, playing with lead soldiers, I dropped one, picked it up and, seeing it wasn’t broken, exclaimed: Reusement! ” Upon which, someone who was there—my mother, sister, or older brother—pointed out that you say not “reusement” but “heureusement,” which struck me as an astounding discovery. The same way, from the moment when I learned that the name “Moses,” Moise, was not pronounced “Moisse” (as I had always believed when, not knowing how to read very well, I was learning biblical history), these two words took on a resonance that was especially disturbing to me: ‘Morse,” “Moisse,” the very image of his cradle, perhaps because of the word ‘osier” (wicker) (which the first was similar to) or just because I had already, but without realizing it, heard certain cradles called “moises.” Later, learning the names of the departments, I never read the name “Seine-et-Oise” without emotion because the mistake I had made reading the name in the Bible had attached a certain unusual value in my mind to all words that somewhat resembled ‘Moise” or “Moisse.”

In a way that was analogous to the way the word “. . . reusement” contrasted with its corrected form “heureusement, ” in the country where we used to spend vacations with our parents, my brothers and I used to distinguish between the sand pit and the sand quarry, two sandy spots that were hardly different from each other except that the second was far larger. Later, we savored a pleasure like the one so-called byzantine discussions can provide, by baptizing two separate types of paper airplanes we used to make, one the rectilinear kind, the other the curvilinear. In doing this we were acting as ritualists, for whom the sacred resolves itself finally into a subtle system of nuances, minutiae, and details of etiquette.

If I compare these various things—top hat, as sign of the father’s authority; small-barreled Smith and Wesson, as sign of his courage and strength; money box, as sign of the wealth I attributed to him as financial support of the house; stove that can burn even though, in principle, it is the protective spirit of the hearth; the parents’ bedroom that is the epitome of the night; the bathroom, in whose secrecy we traded mythological accounts and hypotheses on the nature of sexual things; the dangerous area stretching out beyond the fortifications; the race course, where huge sums of money were staked on the luck or skill of important persons, prestigious through their costumes and deeds; the windows opened by certain elements of language, onto a world where one loses one’s footing—if I gather all these facts taken from what was my everyday life as a child, I see forming bit by bit an image of what, for me, is the sacred.

Something prestigious, like the paternal attributes or the great hall of rocks. Something unusual, like the jockey’s ceremonial raiment, or certain words with an exotic resonance. Something dangerous, like the coals glowing red or the bush-country bristling with prowlers. Something ambiguous, like the coughing fits that tear one to pieces but transform one into a tragic hero. Something forbidden, like the parlor where adults perform their rituals. Something secret like the consultations surrounded by bathroom stink. Something breathtaking, like the leap of galloping horses or language’s false-bottomed boxes. Something that, all in all, I scarcely conceive of except as marked by the supernatural in one way or another.

If one of the most “sacred” aims that man can set for himself is to acquire as exact and intense an understanding of himself as possible, it seems desirable that each one, scrutinizing his memories with the greatest possible honesty, examine whether he can discover there some sign permitting him to discern the color for him of the very notion of sacred.

Michel Leiris was a French surrealist writer and ethnographer.

prose

Prose – Jack Halberstam

An Introduction – The Undercommons Fugitive Planning & Black Study

Jack Halberstam

It ends with love, exchange, fellowship. It ends as it begins, in motion, in between various modes of being and belonging, and on the way to new economies of giving, taking, being with and for and it ends with a ride in a Buick Skylark on the way to another place altogether. Surprising, perhaps, after we have engaged dispossession, debt, dislocation and violence. But not surprising when you have understood that the projects of “fugitive planning and black study” are mostly about reaching out to find connection; they are about making common cause with the brokenness of being, a brokenness, I would venture to say, that is also blackness, that remains blackness, and will, despite all, remain broken because this book is not a prescription for repair.

If we do not seek to fix what has been broken, then what? How do we resolve to live with brokenness, with being broke, which is also what Moten and Harney call “debt.” Well, given that debt is sometimes a history of giving, at other times a history of taking, at all times a history of capitalism and given that debt also signifies a promise of ownership but never delivers on that promise, we have to understand that debt is something that cannot be paid off. Debt, as Harney puts it, presumes a kind of individualized relation to a naturalized economy that is predicated upon exploitation. Can we have, he asks, another sense of what is owed that does not presume a nexus of activities like recognition and acknowledgement, payment and gratitude. Can debt “become a principle of elaboration”?

Moten links economic debt to the brokenness of being in the interview with Stevphen Shukaitis; he acknowledges that some debts should be paid, and that much is owed especially to black people by white people, and yet, he says: “I also know that what it is that is supposed to be repaired is irreparable. It can’t be repaired. The only thing we can do is tear this shit down completely and build something new.” The undercommons do not come to pay their debts, to repair what has been broken, to fix what has come undone. If you want to know what the undercommons wants, what Moten and Harney want, what black people, indigenous peoples, queers and poor people want, what we (the “we” who cohabit in the space of the undercommons) want, it is this – we cannot be satisfied with the recognition and acknowledgement generated by the very system that denies a) that anything was ever broken and b) that we deserved to be the broken part; so we refuse to ask for recognition and instead we want to take apart, dismantle, tear down the structure that, right now, limits our ability to find each other, to see beyond it and to access the places that we know lie outside its walls. We cannot say what new structures will replace the ones we live with yet, because once we have torn shit down, we will inevitably see more and see differently and feel a new sense of wanting and being and becoming. What we want after “the break” will be different from what we think we want before the break and both are necessarily different from the desire that issues from being in the break.

Let’s come at this by another path. In the melancholic and visionary 2009 film version of Maurice Sandak’s Where The Wild Things Are (1963), Max, the small seeker who leaves his room, his home, his family to find the wild beyond, finds a world of lost and lonely beasts and they promptly make him their king. Max is the first king the wild things have had whom they did not eat and who did not, in turn, try to eat them; and the beasts are the first grown things that Max has met who want his opinion, his judgment, his rule. Max’s power is that he is small while they are big; he promises the beasts that he has no plans to eat them and this is more than anyone has ever promised them. He promises that he will find ways through and around and will “slip through cracks” and re-crack the cracks if they fill up. He promises to keep sadness at bay and to make a world with the wild creatures that “roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws.”

That Max fails to make the wild things happy or to save them or to make a world with them is less important than the fact that he found them and he recognized in them the end of something and potentially the path to an alternative to his world. The wild things were not the utopian creatures of fairy tales, they were the rejected and lost subjects of the world Max had left behind and, because he shuttles between the Oedipal land where his mother rules and the ruined world of the wild, he knows the parameters of the real – he sees what is included and what is left out and he is now able to set sail for another place, a place that is neither the home he left nor the home to which he wants to return.

Moten and Harney want to gesture to another place, a wild place that is not simply the left over space that limns real and regulated zones of polite society; rather, it is a wild place that continuously produces its own unregulated wildness. The zone we enter through Moten and Harney is ongoing and exists in the present and, as Harney puts it, “some kind of demand was already being enacted, fulfilled in the call itself.” While describing the London Riots of 2011, Harney suggests that the riots and insurrections do not separate out “the request, the demand and the call” – rather, they enact the one in the other: “I think the call, in the way I would understand it, the call, as in the call and response, the response is already there before the call goes out. You’re already in something.” You are already in it. For Moten too, you are always already in the thing that you call for and that calls you. What’s more, the call is always a call to dis-order and this disorder or wildness shows up in many places: in jazz, in improvisation, in noise. The disordered sounds that we refer to as cacophony will always be cast as “extra-musical,” as Moten puts it, precisely because we hear something in them that reminds us that our desire for harmony is arbitrary and in another world, harmony would sound incomprehensible. Listening to cacophony and noise tells us that there is a wild beyond to the structures we inhabit and that inhabit us.

And when we are called to this other place, the wild beyond, “beyond the beyond” in Moten and Harney’s apt terminology, we have to give ourselves over to a certain kind of craziness. Moten reminds us that even as Fanon took an anti-colonial stance, he knew that it “looks crazy” but, Fanon, as a psychiatrist, also knew not to accept this organic division between the rational and the crazy and he knew that it would be crazy for him not to take that stance in a world that had assigned to him the role of the unreal, the primitive and the wild. Fanon, according to Moten, wants not the end of colonialism but the end of the standpoint from which colonialism makes sense. In order to bring colonialism to an end then, one does not speak truth to power, one has to inhabit the crazy, nonsensical, ranting language of the other, the other who has been rendered a nonentity by colonialism. Indeed, blackness, for Moten and Harney by way of Fanon, is the willingness to be in the space that has been abandoned by colonialism, by rule, by order. Moten takes us there, saying of Fanon finally: “Eventually, I believe, he comes to believe in the world, which is to say the other world, where we inhabit and maybe even cultivate this absence, this place which shows up here and now, in the sovereign’s space and time, as absence, darkness, death, things which are not (as John Donne would say).”

The path to the wild beyond is paved with refusal. In The Undercommons if we begin anywhere, we begin with the right to refuse what has been refused to you. Citing Gayatri Spivak, Moten and Harney call this refusal the “first right” and it is a game-changing kind of refusal in that it signals the refusal of the choices as offered. We can understand this refusal in terms that Chandan Reddy lays out in Freedom With Violence (2011) – for Reddy, gay marriage is the option that cannot be opposed in the ballot box. While we can circulate multiple critiques of gay marriage in terms of its institutionalization of intimacy, when you arrive at the ballot box, pen in hand, you only get to check “yes” or “no” and the no, in this case, could be more damning than the yes. And so, you must refuse the choice as offered.

Moten and Harney also study what it would mean to refuse what they term “the call to order.” And what would it mean, furthermore, to refuse to call others to order, to refuse interpellation and the reinstantiation of the law. When we refuse, Moten and Harney suggest, we create dissonance and more importantly, we allow dissonance to continue – when we enter a classroom and we refuse to call it to order, we are allowing study to continue, dissonant study perhaps, disorganized study, but study that precedes our call and will continue after we have left the room. Or, when we listen to music, we must refuse the idea that music happens only when the musician enters and picks up an instrument; music is also the anticipation of the performance and the noises of appreciation it generates and the speaking that happens through and around it, making it and loving it, being in it while listening. And so, when we refuse the call to order – the teacher picking up the book, the conductor raising his baton, the speaker asking for silence, the torturer tightening the noose – we refuse order as the distinction between noise and music, chatter and knowledge, pain and truth.

These kinds of examples get to the heart of Moten and Harney’s world of the undercommons – the undercommons is not a realm where we rebel and we create critique; it is not a place where we “take arms against a sea of troubles/and by opposing end them.” The undercommons is a space and time which is always here. Our goal – and the “we” is always the right mode of address here – is not to end the troubles but to end the world that created those particular troubles as the ones that must be opposed. Moten and Harney refuse the logic that stages refusal as inactivity, as the absence of a plan and as a mode of stalling real politics. Moten and Harney tell us to listen to the noise we make and to refuse the offers we receive to shape that noise into “music.”

In the essay that many people already know best from this volume, “The University and the Undercommons,” Moten and Harney come closest to explaining their mission. Refusing to be for or against the university and in fact marking the critical academic as the player who holds the “for and against” logic in place, Moten and Harney lead us to the “Undercommons of the Enlightenment” where subversive intellectuals engage both the university and fugitivity: “where the work gets done, where the work gets subverted, where the revolution is still black, still strong.” The subversive intellectual, we learn, is unprofessional, uncollegial, passionate and disloyal. The subversive intellectual is neither trying to extend the university nor change the university, the subversive intellectual is not toiling in misery and from this place of misery articulating a “general antagonism.” In fact, the subversive intellectual enjoys the ride and wants it to be faster and wilder; she does not want a room of his or her own, she wants to be in the world, in the world with others and making the world anew. Moten insists: “Like Deleuze. I believe in the world and want to be in it. I want to be in it all the way to the end of it because I believe in another world in the world and I want to be in that. And I plan to stay a believer, like Curtis Mayfield. But that’s beyond me, and even beyond me and Stefano, and out into the world, the other thing, the other world, the joyful noise of the scattered, scatted eschaton, the undercommon refusal of the academy of misery.”

The mission then for the denizens of the undercommons is to recognize that when you seek to make things better, you are not just doing it for the Other, you must also be doing it for yourself. While men may think they are being “sensitive” by turning to feminism, while white people may think they are being right on by opposing racism, no one will really be able to embrace the mission of tearing “this shit down” until they realize that the structures they oppose are not only bad for some of us, they are bad for all of us. Gender hierarchies are bad for men as well as women and they are really bad for the rest of us. Racial hierarchies are not rational and ordered, they are chaotic and nonsensical and must be opposed by precisely all those who benefit in any way from them. Or, as Moten puts it: “The coalition emerges out of your recognition that it’s fucked up for you, in the same way that we’ve already recognized that it’s fucked up for us. I don’t need your help. I just need you to recognize that this shit is killing you, too, however much more softly, you stupid motherfucker, you know?”

The coalition unites us in the recognition that we must change things or die. All of us. We must all change the things that are fucked up and change cannot come in the form that we think of as “revolutionary”– not as a masculinist surge or an armed confrontation. Revolution will come in a form we cannot yet imagine. Moten and Harney propose that we prepare now for what will come by entering into study.

Study, a mode of thinking with others separate from the thinking that the institution requires of you, prepares us to be embedded in what Harney calls “the with and for” and allows you to spend less time antagonized and antagonizing. Like all world-making and all world-shattering encounters, when you enter this book and learn how to be with and for, in coalition, and on the way to the place we are already making, you will also feel fear, trepidation, concern, and disorientation. The disorientation, Moten and Harney will tell you is not just unfortunate, it is necessary because you will no longer be in one location moving forward to another, instead you will already be part of “the “movement of things” and on the way to this “outlawed social life of nothing.” The movement of things can be felt and touched and exists in language and in fantasy, it is flight, it is motion, it is fugitivity itself. Fugitivity is not only escape, “exit” as Paolo Virno might put it, or “exodus” in the terms offered by Hardt and Negri, fugitivity is being separate from settling. It is a being in motion that has learned that “organizations are obstacles to organising ourselves” (The Invisible Committee in The Coming Insurrection) and that there are spaces and modalities that exist separate from the logical, logistical, the housed and the positioned. Moten and Harney call this mode a “being together in homelessness” which does not idealize homelessness nor merely metaphorize it. Homelessness is the state of dispossession that we seek and that we embrace: “Can this being together in homelessness, this interplay of the refusal of what has been refused, this undercommon appositionality, be a place from which emerges neither self-consciousness nor knowledge of the other but an improvisation that proceeds from somewhere on the other side of an unasked question?” I think this is what Jay-Z and Kanye West (another collaborative unit of study) call “no church in the wild.”

For Fred Moten and Stefano Harney, we must make common cause with those desires and (non) positions that seem crazy and unimaginable: we must, on behalf of this alignment, refuse that which was first refused to us and in this refusal reshape desire, reorient hope, reimagine possibility and do so separate from the fantasies nestled into rights and respectability. Instead, our fantasies must come from what Moten and Harney citing Frank B. Wilderson III call “the hold”: “And so it is we remain in the hold, in the break, as if entering again and again the broken world, to trace the visionary company and join it.” The hold here is the hold in the slave ship but it is also the hold that we have on reality and fantasy, the hold they have on us and the hold we decide to forego on the other, preferring instead to touch, to be with, to love. If there is no church in the wild, if there is study rather than knowledge production, if there is a way of being together in brokenness, if there is an undercommons, then we must all find our way to it. And it will not be there where the wild things are, it will be a place where refuge is not necessary and you will find that you were already in it all along.

Love,
J

REFERENCES

The Invisible Committee, The Coming Insurrection (NY: Semiotexte, 2009).
Chandan Reddy, Freedom With Violence: Race, Sexuality and the US State
(Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2011).
Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are (NY: Harper Collins, 1988).

The Introduction Essay from Fred Moten and Stefano Harney’s book The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study was sourced with permission from their publisher, Minor Compositions in this April edition of The Quiet Letter. You can find the book at their store.

prose

Prose – Franz Kafka

 

Investigations of a Dog


Short Story

Translated by Willa and Edwin Muir

 

How MUCH my life has changed, and yet how unchanged it has remained at bottom! When I think back and recall the time when I was still a member of the canine community, sharing in all its preoccupations, a dog among dogs, I find on closer examination that from the very beginning I sensed some discrepancy, some little maladjustment, causing a slight feeling of discomfort which not even the most decorous public functions could eliminate; more, that sometimes, no, not sometimes, but very often, the mere look of some fellow dog of my own circle that I was fond of, the mere look of him, as if I had just caught it for the first time, would fill me with helpless embarrassment and fear, even with despair. I tried to quiet my apprehensions as best I could; friends, to whom I divulged them, helped me; more peaceful times came – times, it is true, in which these sudden surprises were not lacking, but in which they were accepted with more philosophy, fitted into my life with more philosophy, inducing a certain melancholy and lethargy, it may be, but nevertheless allowing me to carry on as a somewhat cold, reserved, shy, and calculating, but all things considered normal enough dog. How, indeed, without these breathing spells, could I have reached the age that I enjoy at present; how could I have fought my way through to the serenity with which I contemplate the terrors of youth and endure the terrors of age; how could I have come to the point where I am able to draw the consequences of my admittedly unhappy, or, to put it more moderately, not very happy disposition, and live almost entirely in accordance with them? Solitary and withdrawn, with nothing to occupy me save my hopeless but, as far as I am concerned, indispensable little investigations, that is how I live; yet in my distant isolation I have not lost sight of my people, news often penetrates to me, and now and then I even let news of myself reach them. The others treat me with respect but do not understand my way of life; yet they bear me no grudge, and even young dogs whom I sometimes see passing in the distance, a new generation of whose childhood I have only a vague memory, do not deny me a reverential greeting.

Translated by Willa and Edwin Muir

For it must not be assumed that, for all my peculiarities, which lie open to the day, I am so very different from the rest of my species. Indeed when I reflect on it – and I have time and disposition and capacity enough for that – I see that dogdom is in every way a marvelous institution. Apart from us dogs there are all sorts of creatures in the world, wretched, limited, dumb creatures who have no language but mechanical cries; many of us dogs study them, have given them names, try to help them, educate them, uplift them, and so on. For my part I am quite indifferent to them except when they try to disturb me, I confuse them with one another, I ignore them. But one thing is too obvious to have escaped me; namely how little inclined they are, compared with us dogs, to stick together, how silently and unfamiliarly and with what a curious hostility they pass each other by, how only the basest of interests can bind them together for a little in ostensible union, and how often these very interests give rise to hatred and conflict. Consider us dogs, on the other hand! One can safely say that we all live together in a literal heap, all of us, different as we are from one another on account of numberless and profound modifications which have arisen in the course of time. All in one heap! We are drawn to each other and nothing can prevent us from satisfying that communal impulse; all our laws and institutions, the few that I still know and the many that I have forgotten, go back to this longing for the greatest bliss we are capable of, the warm comfort of being together. But now consider the other side of the picture. No creatures to my knowledge live in such wide dispersion as we dogs, none have so many distinctions of class, of kind, of occupation, distinctions too numerous to review at a glance; we, whose one desire is to stick together – and again and again we succeed at transcendent moments in spite of everything – we above all others live so widely separated from one another, engaged in strange vocations that are often incomprehensible even to our canine neighbors, holding firmly to laws that are not those of the dog world, but are actually directed against it. How baffling these questions are, questions on which one would prefer not to touch – I understand that standpoint too, even better than my own – and yet questions to which I have completely capitulated. Why do I not do as the others: live in harmony with my people and accept in silence whatever disturbs the harmony, ignoring it as a small error in the great account, always keeping in mind the things that bind us happily together, not those that drive us again and again, as though by sheer force, out of our social circle?

Translated by Willa and Edwin Muir

I can recall an incident in my youth; I was at the time in one of those inexplicable blissful states of exaltation which everyone must have experienced as a child; I was still quite a puppy, everything pleased me, everything was my concern. I believed that great things were going on around me of which I was the leader and to which I must lend my voice, things which must be wretchedly thrown aside if I did not run for them and wag my tail for them – childish fantasies that faded with riper years. But at the time their power was very great, I was completely under their spell, and presently something actually did happen, something so extraordinary that it seemed to justify my wild expectations. In itself it was nothing very extraordinary, for I have seen many such things, and more remarkable things too, often enough since, but at the time it struck me with all the force of a first impression, one of those impressions which can never be erased and influence much of one’s later conduct. I encountered, in short, a little company of dogs, or rather I did not encounter them, they appeared before me. Before that I had been running along in darkness for some time, filled with a premonition of great things – a premonition that may well have been delusive, for I always had it. I had run in darkness for a long time, up and down, blind and deaf to everything, led on by nothing but a vague desire, and now I suddenly came to a stop with the feeling that I was in the right place, and looking up saw that it was bright day, only a little hazy, and everywhere a blending and confusion of the most intoxicating smells; I greeted the morning with an uncertain barking, when – as if I had conjured them up – out of some place of darkness, to the accompaniment of terrible sounds such as I had never heard before, seven dogs stepped into the light. Had I not distinctly seen that they were dogs and that they, themselves brought the sound with them – though I could not recognize how they produced it – I would have run away at once; but as it was I stayed. At that time I still knew hardly anything of the creative gift for music with which the canine race alone is endowed, it had naturally enough escaped my but slowly developing powers of observation; for though music had surrounded me as a perfectly natural and indispensable element of existence ever since I was a suckling, an element which nothing impelled me to distinguish from the rest of existence, my elders had drawn my attention to it only by such hints as were suitable for a childish understanding; all the more astonishing, then, indeed devastating, were these seven great musical artists to me. They did not speak, they did not sing, they remained generally silent, almost determinedly silent; but from the empty air they conjured music. Everything was music, the lifting and setting down of their feet, certain turns of the head, their running and their standing still, the positions they took up in relation to one another, the symmetrical patterns which they produced by one dog setting his front paws on the back of another and the rest following suit until the first bore the weight of the other six, or by all lying flat on the ground and going through complicated concerted evolutions; and none made a false move, not even the last dog, though he was a little unsure, did not always establish contact at once with the others, sometimes hesitated, as it were, on the stroke of the beat, but yet was unsure only by comparison with the superb sureness of the others, and even if he had been much more unsure, indeed quite unsure, would not have been able to do any harm, the others, great masters all of them, keeping the rhythm so unshakably. But it is too much to say that I even saw them, that I actually even saw them. They appeared from somewhere, I inwardly greeted them as dogs, and although I was profoundly confused by the sounds that accompanied them, yet they were dogs nevertheless, dogs like you and me; I regarded them by force of habit simply as dogs I had happened to meet on my road, and felt a wish to approach them and exchange greetings; they were quite near too, dogs much older than me, certainly, and not of my woolly, long-haired kind, but yet not so very alien in size and shape, indeed quite familiar to me, for I had already seen many such or similar dogs; but while I was still involved in these reflections the music gradually got the upper hand, literally knocked the breath out of me and swept me far away from those actual little dogs, and quite against my will, while I howled as if some pain were being inflicted upon me, my mind could attend to nothing but this blast of music which seemed to come from all sides, from the heights, from the deeps, from everywhere, surrounding the listener, overwhelming him, crushing him, and over his swooning body still blowing fanfares so near that they seemed far away and almost inaudible. And then a respite came, for one was already too exhausted, too annulled, too feeble to listen any longer; a respite came and I beheld again the seven little dogs carrying out their evolutions, making their leaps; I longed to shout to them in spite of their aloofness, to beg them to enlighten me, to ask them what they were doing – I was a child and believed I could ask anybody about anything – but hardly had I begun, hardly did I feel on good and familiar doggish terms with the seven, when the music started again, robbed me of my wits, whirled me around in its circles as if I myself were one of the musicians instead of being only their victim, cast me hither and thither, no matter how much I begged for mercy, and rescued me finally from its own violence by driving me into a labyrinth of wooden bars which rose around that place, though I had not noticed it before, but which now firmly caught me, kept my head pressed to the ground, and though the music still resounded in the open space behind me, gave me a little time to get my breath back. I must admit that I was less surprised by the artistry of the seven dogs – it was incomprehensible to me, and also quite definitely beyond my capacities – than by their courage in facing so openly the music of their own making, and their power to endure it calmly without collapsing. But now from my hiding hole I saw, on looking more closely, that it was not so much coolness as the most extreme tension that characterized their performance; these limbs apparently so sure in their movements quivered at every step with a perpetual apprehensive twitching; as if rigid with despair the dogs kept their eyes fixed on one another, and their tongues, whenever the tension weakened for a moment, hung wearily from their jowls. It could not be fear of failure that agitated them so deeply; dogs that could dare and achieve such things had no need to fear that.

Translated by Willa and Edwin Muir

Then why were they afraid? Who then forced them to do what they were doing? And I could no longer restrain myself, particularly as they now seemed in some incomprehensible way in need of help, and so through all the din of the music I shouted out my questions loudly and challengingly. But they – incredible! Incredible! – they never replied, behaved as if I were not there. Dogs who make no reply to the greeting of other dogs are guilty of an offense against good manners which the humblest dog would never pardon any more than the greatest. Perhaps they were not dogs at all? But how should they not be dogs? Could I not actually hear on listening more closely the subdued cries with which they encouraged each other, drew each other’s attention to difficulties, warned each other against errors; could I not see the last and youngest dog, to whom most of those cries were addressed, often stealing a glance at me as if he would have dearly wished to reply, but refrained because it was not allowed? But why should it not be allowed, why should the very thing which our laws unconditionally command not be allowed in this one case? I became indignant at the thought and almost forgot the music. Those dogs were violating the law. Great magicians they might be, but the law was valid for them too, I knew that quite well though I was a child. And having recognized that, I now noticed something else. They had good grounds for remaining silent, that is, assuming that they remained silent from a sense of shame. For how were they conducting themselves? Because of all the music I had not noticed it before, but they had flung away all shame, the wretched creatures were doing the very thing which is both most ridiculous and indecent in our eyes; they were walking on their hind legs. Fie on them! They were uncovering their nakedness, blatantly making a show of their nakedness: they were doing that as though it were a meritorious act, and when, obeying their better instincts for a moment, they happened to let their front paws fall, they were literally appalled as if at an error, as if Nature were an error, hastily raised their legs again, and their eyes seemed to be begging for forgiveness for having been forced to cease momentarily from their abomination. Was the world standing on its head? Where could I be? What could have happened? If only for my own sake I dared not hesitate any longer now, I dislodged myself from the tangle of bars, took one leap into the open and made toward the dogs – I, the young pupil, must be the teacher now, must make them understand what they were doing, must keep them from committing further sin. “And old dogs too! And old dogs too!” I kept on saying to myself. But scarcely was I free and only a leap or two away from the dogs, when the music again had me in its power. Perhaps in my eagerness I might even have managed to withstand it, for I knew it better now, if in the midst of all its majestic amplitude, which was terrifying, but still not inconquerable, a clear, piercing, continuous note which came without variation literally from the remotest distance – perhaps the real melody in the midst of the music – had not now rung out, forcing me to my knees. Oh, the music these dogs made almost drove me out of my senses! I could not move a step farther, I no longer wanted to instruct them; they could go on raising their front legs, committing sin and seducing others to the sin of silently regarding them; I was such a young dog – who could demand such a difficult task from me? I made myself still more insignificant than I was, I whimpered, and if the dogs had asked me now what I thought of their performance, probably I would have had not a word to say against it. Besides, it was not long before the dogs vanished with all their music and their radiance into the darkness from which they had emerged.

Translated by Willa and Edwin Muir

As I have already said, this whole episode contains nothing of much note; in the course of a long life one encounters all sorts of things which, taken from their context and seen through the eyes of a child, might well seem far more astonishing. Besides, one may, of course – in the pungent popular phrase – have “got it all wrong,” as well as everything connected with it; then it could be demonstrated that this was simply a case where seven musicians had assembled to practice their art in the morning stillness, that a very young dog had strayed to the place, a burdensome intruder whom they had tried to drive away by particularly terrifying or lofty music, unfortunately without success. He pestered them with his questions: Were they, already disturbed enough by the mere presence of the stranger, to be expected to attend to his distracting interruptions as well and make them worse by responding to them? Even if the law commands us to reply to everybody, was such a tiny stray dog in truth a somebody worthy of the name? And perhaps they did not even understand him, for he likely enough barked his questions very indistinctly. Or perhaps they did understand him and with great self-control answered his questions, but he, a mere puppy unaccustomed to music, could not distinguish the answer from the music. And as for walking on their hind legs, perhaps, unlike other dogs, they actually used only these for walking; if it was a sin, well, it was a sin. But they were alone, seven friends together, an intimate gathering within their own four walls so to speak, quite private so to speak; for one’s friends, after all, are not the public, and where the public is not present an inquisitive little street dog is certainly not capable of constituting it; but, granting this, is it not as if nothing at all had happened? It is not quite so, but very nearly so, and parents should not let their children run about so freely, and had much better teach them to hold their tongues and respect the aged.

Translated by Willa and Edwin Muir

If all this is admitted, then it disposes of the whole case. But many things that are disposed of in the minds of grownups are not yet settled in the minds of the young. I rushed about, told my story, asked questions, made accusations and investigations, tried to drag others to the place where all this had happened, and burned to show everybody where I had stood and where the seven had stood, and where and how they had danced and made their music; and if anyone had come with me, instead of shaking me off and laughing at me, I would probably have sacrificed my innocence and tried myself to stand on my hind legs so as to reconstruct the scene clearly. Now children are blamed for all they do, but also in the last resort forgiven for all they do. And I have preserved my childlike qualities, and in spite of that have grown to be an old dog. Well, just as at that time I kept on unceasingly discussing the foregoing incident – which today I must confess I lay far less importance upon – analyzing it into constituent parts, arguing it with my listeners without regard to the company I found myself in, devoting my whole time to the problem, which I found as wearisome as everybody else, but which – that was the difference – for that very reason I was resolved to pursue indefatigably until I solved it, so that I might be left free again to regard the ordinary, calm, happy life of every day. Just so have I, though with less childish means – yet the difference is not so very great – labored in the years since and go on laboring today.

Translated by Willa and Edwin Muir

But it began with that concert. I do not blame the concert; it is my innate disposition that has driven me on, and it would certainly have found some other opportunity of coming into action had the concert never taken place. Yet the fact that it happened so soon used to make me feel sorry for myself; it robbed me of a great part of my childhood; the blissful life of the young dog, which many can spin out for years, in my case lasted for only a few short months. So be it. There are more important things than childhood. And perhaps I have the prospect of far more childlike happiness, earned by a life of hard work, in my old age than any actual child would have the strength to bear, but which then I shall possess.

Translated by Willa and Edwin Muir

I began my inquiries with the simplest things; there was no lack of material; it is the actual superabundance, unfortunately, that casts me into despair in my darker hours. I began to inquire into the question what the canine race nourished itself upon. Now that is, if you like, by no means a simple question, of course; it has occupied us since the dawn of time, it is the chief object of all our meditation, countless observations and essays and views on this subject have been published, it has grown into a province of knowledge which in its prodigious compass is not only beyond the comprehension of any single scholar, but of all our scholars collectively, a burden which cannot be borne except by the whole of the dog community, and even then with difficulty and not quite in its totality; for it ever and again crumbles away like a neglected ancestral inheritance and must laboriously be rehabilitated anew – not to speak at all of the difficulties and almost unfulfillable conditions of my investigation. No one need point all this out to me, I know it all as well as any average dog; I have no ambition to meddle with real scientific matters, I have all the respect for knowledge that it deserves, but to increase knowledge I lack the equipment, the diligence, the leisure, and – not least, and particularly during the past few years – the desire as well. I swallow down my food, but the slightest preliminary methodical politico-economical observation of it does not seem to me worth while. In this connection the essence of all knowledge is enough for me, the simple rule with which the mother weans her young ones from her teats and sends them out into the world: “Water the ground as much as you can.” And in this sentence is not almost everything contained? What has scientific inquiry, ever since our first fathers inaugurated it, of decisive importance to add to this? Mere details, mere details, and how uncertain they are: but this rule will remain as long as we are dogs. It concerns our main staple of food: true, we have also other resources, but only at a pinch, and if the year is not too bad we could live on this main staple of our food; this food we find on the earth, but the earth needs our water to nourish it and only at that price provides us with our food, the emergence of which, however, and this should not be forgotten, can also be hastened by certain spells, songs, and ritual movements. But in my opinion that is all; there is nothing else that is fundamental to be said on the question. In this opinion, moreover, I am at one with the vast majority of the dog community, and must firmly dissociate myself from all heretical views on this point. Quite honestly I have no ambition to be peculiar, or to pose as being in the right against the majority; I am only too happy when I can agree with my comrades, as I do in this case. My own inquiries, however, are in another direction. My personal observation tells me that the earth, when it is watered and scratched according to the rules of science, extrudes nourishment, and moreover in such quality, in such abundance, in such ways, in such places, at such hours as the laws partially or completely established by science demand. I accept all this; my question, however, is the following: “Whence does the earth procure this food?” A question which people in general pretend not to understand, and to which the best answer they can give is: “If you haven’t enough to eat, we’ll give you some of ours.” Now consider this answer. I know that it is not one of the virtues of dogdom to share with others food that one has once gained possession of. Life is hard, the earth stubborn, science rich in knowledge but poor in practical results: anyone who has food keeps it to himself; that is not selfishness, but the opposite, dog law, the unanimous decision of the people, the outcome of their victory over egoism, for the possessors are always in a minority. And for that reason this answer: “If you haven’t enough to eat, we’ll give you some of ours” is merely a way of speaking, a jest, a form of raillery. I have not forgotten that. But all the more significant did it seem to me, when I was rushing about everywhere with my questions during those days, that they put mockery aside as far as I was concerned; true, they did not actually give me anything to eat – where could they have found it at a moment’s notice? – and even if anyone chanced to have some food, naturally he forgot everything else in the fury of his hunger; yet they all seriously meant what they said when they made the offer, and here and there, right enough, I was presently allowed some slight trifle if I was only smart enough to snatch it quickly. How came it that people treated me so strangely, pampered me, favored me? Because I was a lean dog, badly fed and neglectful of my needs? But there were countless badly fed dogs running about, and the others snatched even the wretchedest scrap from under their noses whenever they could, and often not from greed, but rather on principle. No, they treated me with special favor; I cannot give much detailed proof of this, but I have a firm conviction that it was so. Was it my questions, then, that pleased them, and that they regarded as so clever? No, my questions did not please them and were generally looked on as stupid. And yet it could only have been my questions that won me their attention. It was as if they would rather do the impossible, that is, stop my mouth with food – they did not do it, but they would have liked to do it – than endure my questions. But in that case they would have done better to drive me away and refuse to listen to my questions. No, they did not want to do that; they did not indeed want to listen to my questions, but it was because I asked these questions that they did not want to drive me away. That was the time – much as I was ridiculed and treated as a silly puppy, and pushed here and pushed there – the time when I actually enjoyed most public esteem; never again was I to enjoy anything like it; I had free entry everywhere, no obstacle was put in my way, I was actually flattered, though the flattery was disguised as rudeness. And all really because of my questions, my impatience, my thirst for knowledge. Did they want to lull me to sleep, to divert me, without violence, almost lovingly, from a false path, yet a path whose falseness was not so completely beyond all doubt that violence was permissible? Also a certain respect and fear kept them from employing violence. I divined even in those days something of this; today I know it quite well, far better than those who actually practiced it at the time: what they wanted to do was really to divert me from my path. They did not succeed; they achieved the opposite; my vigilance was sharpened. More, it became clear to me that it was I who was trying to seduce the others, and that I was actually successful up to a certain point. Only with the assistance of the whole dog world could I begin to understand my own questions. For instance when I asked: “Whence does the earth procure this food?” was I troubled, as appearances might quite well indicate, about the earth; was I troubled about the labors of the earth? Not in the least; that, as I very soon recognized, was far from my mind; all that I cared for was the race of dogs, that and nothing else. For what is there actually except our own species? To whom but it can one appeal in the wide and empty world? All knowledge, the totality of all questions and all answers, is contained in the dog. If one could but realize this knowledge, if one could but bring it into the light of day, if we dogs would but own that we know infinitely more than we admit to ourselves! Even the most loquacious dog is more secretive of his knowledge than the places where good food can be found. Trembling with desire, whipping yourself with your own tail, you steal cautiously upon you fellow dog, you ask, you beg, you howl, you bite, and achieve – and achieve what you could have achieved just as well without any effort: amiable attention, friendly contiguity, honest acceptance, ardent embraces, barks that mingle as one: everything is directed toward achieving an ecstasy, a forgetting and finding again; but the one thing that you long to win above all, the admission of knowledge, remains denied to you. To such prayers, whether silent or loud, the only answers you get, even after you have employed your powers of seduction to the utmost, are vacant stares, averted glances, troubled and veiled eyes. It is much the same as it was when, a mere puppy, I shouted to the dog musicians and they remained silent.

Translated by Willa and Edwin Muir

Now one might say: “You complain about your fellow dogs, about their silence on crucial questions; you assert that they know more than they admit, more than they will allow to be valid, and that this silence, the mysterious reason for which is also, of course, tacitly concealed, poisons existence and makes it unendurable for you, so that you must either alter it or have done with it; that may be; but you are yourself a dog, you have also the dog knowledge; well, bring it out, not merely in the form of a question, but as an answer. If you utter it, who will think of opposing you? The great choir of dogdom will join in as if it had been waiting for you. Then you will have clarity, truth, avowal, as much of them as you desire. The roof of this wretched life, of which you say so many hard things, will burst open, and all of us, shoulder to shoulder, will ascend into the lofty realm of freedom. And if we should not achieve that final consummation, if things should become worse than before, if the whole truth should be more insupportable than the half-truth, if it should be proved that the silent are in the right as the guardians of existence, if the faint hope that we still possess should give way to complete hopelessness, the attempt is still worth the trial, since you do not desire to live as you are compelled to live. Well, then, why do you make it a reproach against the others that they are silent, and remain silent yourself?” Easy to answer: Because I am a dog; in essentials just as locked in silence as the others, stubbornly resisting my own questions, dour out of fear. To be precise, is it in the hope that they might answer me that I have questioned my fellow dogs, at least since my adult years? Have I any such foolish hope? Can I contemplate the foundations of our existence, divine their profundity, watch the labor of their construction, that dark labor, and expect all this to be forsaken, neglected, undone, simply because I ask a question? No, that I truly expect no longer. I understand my fellow dogs, am flesh of their flesh, of their miserable, ever-renewed, ever-desirous flesh. But it is not merely flesh and blood that we have in common, but knowledge also, and not only knowledge, but the key to it as well. I do not possess that key except in common with all the others; I cannot grasp it without their help. The hardest bones, containing the richest marrow, can be conquered only by a united crunching of all the teeth of all dogs. That of course is only a figure of speech and exaggerated; if all teeth were but ready they would not need even to bite, the bones would crack themselves and the marrow would be freely accessible to the feeblest of dogs. If I remain faithful to this metaphor, then the goal of my aims, my questions, my inquiries, appears monstrous, it is true. For I want to compel all dogs thus to assemble together, I want the bones to crack open under the pressure of their collective preparedness, and then I want to dismiss them to the ordinary life that they love, while all by myself, quite alone, I lap up the marrow. That sounds monstrous, almost as if I wanted to feed on the marrow, not merely of a bone, but of the whole canine race itself. But it is only a metaphor. The marrow that I am discussing here is no food; on the contrary, it is a poison.

Translated by Willa and Edwin Muir

My questions only serve as a goad to myself; I only want to be stimulated by the silence which rises up around me as the ultimate answer. “How long will you be able to endure the fact that the world of dogs, as your researches make more and more evident, is pledged to silence and always will be? How long will you be able to endure it?” That is the real great question of my life, before which all smaller ones sink into insignificance; it is put to myself alone and concerns no one else. Unfortunately I can answer it more easily than the smaller, specific questions: I shall probably hold out till my natural end; the calm of old age will put up a greater and greater resistance to all disturbing questions. I shall very likely die in silence and surrounded by silence, indeed almost peacefully, and I look forward to that with composure. An admirably strong heart, lungs that it is impossible to use up before their time, have been given to us dogs as if in malice; we survive all questions, even our own, bulwarks of silence that we are. Recently I have taken more and more to casting up my life, looking for the decisive, the fundamental, error that I must surely have made; and I cannot find it. And yet I must have made it, for if I had not made it and yet were unable by the diligent labor of a long life to achieve my desire, that would prove that my desire is impossible, and complete hopelessness must follow. Behold, then, the work of a lifetime. First of all my inquiries into the question: Whence does the earth procure the food it gives us? A young dog, at bottom naturally greedy for life, I renounced all enjoyments, apprehensively avoided all pleasures, buried my head between my front paws when I was confronted by temptation, and addressed myself to my task. I was no scholar, neither in the information I acquired, nor in method, nor in intention. That was probably a defect, but it could not have been a decisive one. I had had little schooling, for I left my mother’s care at an early age, soon got used to independence, led a free life; and premature independence is inimical to systematic learning. But I have seen much, listened to much, spoken with dogs of all sorts and conditions, understood everything, I believe, fairly intelligently, and correlated my particular observations fairly intelligently; that has compensated somewhat for my lack of scholarship, not to mention that independence, if it is a disadvantage in learning things, is an actual advantage when one is making one’s own inquiries. In my case it was all the more necessary as I was not able to employ the real method of science, to avail myself, that is, of the labors of my predecessors, and establish contact with contemporary investigators. I was entirely cast on my own resources, began at the very beginning, and with the consciousness, inspiriting to youth, but utterly crushing to age, that the fortuitous point to which I carried my labors must also be the final one. Was I really so alone in my inquiries, at the beginning and up to now? Yes and no. It is inconceivable that there must not always have been and that there are not today individual dogs in the same case as myself. I cannot be so accursed as that. I do not deviate from the dog nature by a hairbreadth. Every dog has like me the impulse to question, and I have like every dog the impulse not to answer. Everyone has the impulse to question. How otherwise could my questions have affected my hearers in the slightest – and they were often affected, to my ecstatic delight, an exaggerated delight, I must confess – and how otherwise could I have been prevented from achieving much more than I have done? And that I have the compulsion to remain silent needs unfortunately no particular proof. I am at bottom, then, no different from any other dog; everybody, no matter how he may differ in opinion from me and reject my views, will gladly admit that, and I in turn will admit as much of any other dog. Only the mixture of the elements is different, a difference very important for the individual, insignificant for the race. And now can one credit that the composition of these available elements has never chanced through all the past and present to result in a mixture similar to mine, one, moreover, if mine be regarded as unfortunate, more unfortunate still? To think so would be contrary to all experience. We dogs are all engaged in the strangest occupations, occupations in which one would refuse to believe if one had not the most reliable information concerning them. The best example that I can quote is that of the soaring dog. The first time I heard of one I laughed and simply refused to believe it. What? One was asked to believe that there was a very tiny species of dog, not much bigger than my head even when it was full grown, and this dog, who must of course be a feeble creature, an artificial, weedy, brushed and curled fop by all accounts, incapable of making an honest jump, this dog was supposed, according to people’s stories, to remain for the most part high up in the air, apparently doing nothing at all but simply resting there? No, to try to make me swallow such things was exploiting the simplicity of a young dog too outrageously, I told myself. But shortly afterwards I heard from another source an account of another soaring dog. Could there be a conspiracy to fool me? But after that I saw the dog musicians with my own eyes, and from that day I considered everything possible, no prejudices fettered my powers of apprehension, I investigated the most senseless rumors, following them as far as they could take me, and the most senseless seemed to me in this senseless world more probable than the sensible, and moreover particularly fertile for investigation. So it was too with the soaring dogs. I discovered a great many things about them; true, I have succeeded to this day in seeing none of them, but of their existence I have been firmly convinced for a long time, and they occupy an important place in my picture of the world. As usual, it is not, of course, their technique that chiefly gives me to think. It is wonderful – who can gainsay it? – that these dogs should be able to float in the air: in my amazed admiration for that I am at one with my fellow dogs. But far more strange to my mind is the senselessness, the dumb senselessness of these existences. They have no relation whatever to the general life of the community, they hover in the air, and that is all, and life goes on its usual way; someone now and then refers to art and artists, but there it ends. But why, my good dogs, why on earth do these dogs float in the air? What sense is there in their occupation? Why can one get no word of explanation regarding them? Why do they hover up there, letting their legs, the pride of dogs, fall into desuetude, preserving a detachment from the nourishing earth, reaping without having sowed, being particularly well provided for, as I hear, and at the cost of the dog community too. I can flatter myself that my inquiries into these matters made some stir. People began to investigate after a fashion, to collect data; they made a beginning, at least, although they are never likely to go farther. But after all that is sornething. And though the truth will not be discovered by such means – never can that stage be reached – yet they throw light on some of the profounder ramifications of falsehood. For all the senseless phenomena of our existence, and the most senseless most of all, are susceptible to investigation. Not completely, of course – that is the diabolical jest – but sufficiently to spare one painful questions. Take the soaring dogs once more as an example; they are not haughty as one might imagine at first, but rather particularly dependent upon their fellow dogs; if one tries to put oneself in their place one will see that. For they must do what they can to obtain pardon, and not openly – that would be a violation of the obligation to keep silence – they must do what they can to obtain pardon for their way of life, or else divert attention from it so that it may be forgotten – and they do this, I have been told, by means of an almost unendurable volubility. They are perpetually talking, partly of their philosophical reflections, with which, seeing that they have completely renounced bodily exertion, they can continuously occupy themselves, partly of the observations which they have made from their exalted stations; and although, as is very understandable considering their lazy existence, they are not much distinguished for intellectual power, and their philosophy is as worthless as their observations, and science can make hardly any use of their utterances, and besides is not reduced to draw assistance from such wretched sources, nevertheless if one asks what the soaring dogs are really doing one will invariably receive the reply that they contribute a great deal to knowledge. “That is true,” remarks someone, “but their contributions are worthless and wearisome.” The reply to that is a shrug, or a change of the subject, or annoyance, or laughter, and in a little while, when you ask again, you learn once more that they contribute to knowledge, and finally when you are asked the question you yourself will reply – if you are not careful – to the same effect. And perhaps indeed it is well not to be too obstinate, but to yield to public sentiment, to accept the extant soaring dogs, and without recognizing their right to existence, which cannot be done, yet to tolerate them. But more than this must not be required; that would be going too far, and yet the demand is made. We are perpetually being asked to put up with new soaring dogs who are always appearing. One does not even know where they come from. Do these dogs multiply by propagation? Have they actually the strength for that? – for they are nothing much more than a beautiful coat of hair, and what is there in that to propagate? But even if that improbable contingency were possible, when could it take place? For they are invariably seen alone, self-complacently floating high up in the air, and if once in a while they descend to take a run, it lasts only for a minute or two, a few mincing struts and also always in strict solitude, absorbed in what is supposed to be profound thought, from which, even when they exert themselves to the utmost, they cannot tear themselves free, or at least so they say. But if they do not propagate their kind, is it credible that there can be dogs who voluntarily give up life on the solid ground, voluntarily become soaring dogs, and merely for the sake of the comfort and a certain technical accomplishment choose that empty life on cushions up there? It is unthinkable; neither propagation nor voluntary transition is thinkable. The facts, however, show that there are always new soaring dogs in evidence; from which one must conclude that, in spite of obstacles which appear insurmountable to our understanding, no dog species, however curious, ever dies out, once it exists, or, at least, not without a tough struggle, not without being capable of putting up a successful defense for a long time. But if that is valid for such an out-of-the-way, externally odd, inefficient species as the soaring dog, must I not also accept it as valid for mine? Besides, I am not in the least queer outwardly; an ordinary middle-class dog such as is very prevalent, in this neighborhood, at least, I am neither particularly exceptional in any way, nor particularly repellent in any way; and in nay youth and to some extent also in maturity, so long as I attended to my appearance and had lots of exercise, I was actually considered a very handsome dog. My front view was particularly admired, my slim legs, the fine set of my head; but my silvery white and yellow coat, which curled only at the hair tips, was very pleasing too; in all that there was nothing strange; the only strange thing about me is my nature, yet even that, as I am always careful to remember, has its foundation in universal dog nature. Now if not even the soaring dogs live in isolation, but invariably manage to encounter their fellows somewhere or other in the great dog world, and even to conjure new generations of themselves out of nothingness, then I too can live in the confidence that I am not quite forlorn. Certainly the fate of types like mine must be a strange one, and the existence of my colleagues can never be of visible help to me, if for no other reason than that I should scarcely ever be able to recognize them. We are the dogs who are crushed by the silence, who long to break through it, literally to get a breath of fresh air; the others seem to thrive on silence: true, that is only so in appearance, as in the case of the musical dogs, who ostensibly were quite calm when they played, but in reality were in a state of intense excitement; nevertheless the illusion is very strong, one tries to make a breach in it, but it mocks every attempt. What help, then, do my colleagues find? What kind of attempts do they make to manage to go on living in spite of everything? These attempts may be of various kinds. My own bout of questioning while I was young was one. So I thought that perhaps if I associated with those who asked many questions I might find my real comrades. Well, I did so for some time, with great self-control, a self-control made necessary by the annoyance I felt when I was interrupted by perpetual questions that I mostly could not answer myself: for the only thing that concerns me is to obtain answers. Moreover, who but is eager to ask questions when he is young, and how, when so many questions are going about, are you to pick out the right questions? One question sounds like another; it is the intention that counts, but that is often hidden even from the questioner. And besides, it is a peculiarity of dogs to be always asking questions, they ask them confusedly all together; it is as if in doing that they were trying to obliterate every trace of the genuine questions. No, my real colleagues are not to be found among the youthful questioners, and just as little among the old and silent, to whom I now belong. But what good are all these questions, for they have failed me completely; apparently my colleagues are cleverer dogs than I, and have recourse to other excellent methods that enable them to bear this life, methods which, nevertheless, as I can tell from my own experience, though they may perhaps help at a pinch, though they may calm, lull to rest, distract, are yet on the whole as impotent as my own, for, no matter where I look, I can see no sign of their success. I am afraid that the last thing by which I can hope to recognize my real colleagues is their success. But where, then, are my real colleagues? Yes, that is the burden of my complaint; that is the kernel of it. Where are they? Everywhere and nowhere. Perhaps my next-door neighbor, only three jumps away, is one of them; we often bark across to each other, he calls on me sometimes too, though I do not call on him. Is he my real colleague? I do not know, I certainly see no sign of it in him, but it is possible. It is possible, but all the same nothing is more improbable. When he is away I can amuse myself, drawing on my fancy, by discovering in him many things that have a suspicious resemblance to myself; but once he stands before me all my fancies become ridiculous. An old dog, a little smaller even than myself – and I am hardly medium size – brown, short-haired, with a tired hang of the head and a shuffling gait; on top of all this he trails his left hind leg behind him a little because of some disease. For a long time now I have been more intimate with him than with anybody else; I am glad to say that I can still get on tolerably well with him, and when he goes away I shout the most friendly greetings after him, though not out of affection, but in anger at myself; for if I follow him I find him just as disgusting again, slinking along there with his trailing leg and his much too low hindquarters. Sometimes it seems to me as if I were trying to humiliate myself by thinking of him as my colleague. Nor in our talks does he betray any trace of similarity of thought; true, he is clever and cultured enough as these things go here, and I could learn much from him; but is it for cleverness and culture that I am looking? We converse usually about local questions, and I am astonished – my isolation has made me more clear-sighted in such matters – how much intelligence is needed even by an ordinary dog even in average and not unfavorable circumstances, if he is to live out his life and defend himself against the greater of life’s customary dangers. True, knowledge provides the rules one must follow, but even to grasp them imperfectly and in rough outline is by no means easy, and when one has actually grasped them the real difficulty still remains, namely to apply them to local conditions – here almost nobody can help, almost every hour brings new tasks, and every new patch of earth its specific problems; no one can maintain that he has settled everything for good and that henceforth his life will go on, so to speak, of itself, not even I myself, though my needs shrink literally from day to day. And all this ceaseless labor – to what end? Merely to entomb oneself deeper and deeper in silence, it seems, so deep that one can never be dragged out of it again by anybody.

Translated by Willa and Edwin Muir

People often praise the universal progress made by the dog community throughout the ages, and probably mean by that more particularly the progress in knowledge. Certainly knowledge is progressing, its advance is irresistible, it actually progresses at an accelerating speed, always faster, but what is there to praise in that? It is as if one were to praise someone because with the years he grows older, and in consequence comes nearer and nearer to death with increasing speed. That is a natural and moreover an ugly process, in which I find nothing to praise. I can only see decline everywhere, in saying which, however, I do not mean that earlier generations were essentially better than ours, but only younger; that was their great advantage, their memory was not so overburdened as ours today, it was easier to get them to speak out, and even if nobody actually succeeded in doing that, the possibility of it was greater, and it is indeed this greater sense of possibility that moves us so deeply when we listen to those old and strangely simple stories. Here and there we catch a curiously significant phrase and we would almost like to leap to our feet, if we did not feel the weight of centuries upon us. No, whatever objection I may have to my age, former generations were not better, indeed in a sense they were far worse, far weaker. Even in those days wonders did not openly walk the streets for anyone to seize; but all the same, dogs – I cannot put it in any other way – had not yet become so doggish as today, the edifice of dogdom was still loosely put together, the true Word could still have intervened, planning or replanning the structure, changing it at will, transforming it into its opposite; and the Word was there, was very near at least, on the tip of everybody’s tongue, anyone might have hit upon it. And what has become of it today? Today one may pluck out one’s very heart and not find it. Our generation is lost, it may be, but it is more blameless than those earlier ones. I can understand the hesitation of my generation, indeed it is no longer mere hesitation; it is the thousandth forgetting of a dream dreamt a thousand times and forgotten a thousand times; and who can damn us merely for forgetting for the thousandth time? But I fancy I understand the hesitation of our forefathers too, we would probably have acted just as they did; indeed I could almost say: well for us that it was not we who had to take the guilt upon us, that instead we can hasten in almost guiltless silence toward death in a world darkened by others. When our first fathers strayed they had doubtless scarcely any notion that their aberration was to be an endless one, they could still literally see the crossroads, it seemed an easy matter to turn back whenever they pleased, and if they hesitated to turn back it was merely because they wanted to enjoy a dog’s life for a little while longer; it was not yet a genuine dog’s life, and already it seemed intoxicatingly beautiful to them, so what must it become in a little while, a very little while, and so they strayed farther. They did not know what we can now guess at, contemplating the course of history: that change begins in the soul before it appears in ordinary existence, and that, when they began to enjoy a dog’s life, they must already have possessed real old dogs’ souls, and were by no means so near their starting point as they thought, or as their eyes feasting on all doggish joys tried to persuade them. But who can still speak of youth today? These were the really young dogs, but their sole ambition unfortunately was to become old dogs, truly a thing which they could not fail to achieve, as all succeeding generations show, and ours, the last, most clearly of all.

Translated by Willa and Edwin Muir

Naturally I do not talk to my neighbor of these things, but often I cannot but think of them when I am sitting opposite him – that typical old dog – or bury my nose in his coat, which already has a whiff of the smell of cast-off hides. To talk to him, or even to any of the others, about such things would be pointless. I know what course the conversation would take. He would urge a slight objection now and then, but finally he would agree – agreement is the best weapon of defense – and the matter would be buried: why indeed trouble to exhume it at all? And in spite of this there is a profounder understanding between my neighbor and me, going deeper than mere words. I shall never cease to maintain that, though I have no proof of it and perhaps am merely suffering from an ordinary delusion, caused by the fact that for a long time this dog has been the only one with whom I have held any communication, and so I am bound to cling to him. “Are you after all my colleague in your own fashion? And ashamed because everything has miscarried with you? Look, the same fate has been mine. When I am alone I weep over it; come, it is sweeter to weep in company.” I often have such thoughts as these and then I give him a prolonged look. He does not lower his glance, but neither can one read anything from it; he gazes at me dully, wondering why I am silent and why I have broken off the conversation. But perhaps that very glance is his way of questioning me, and I disappoint him just as he disappoints me. In my youth, if other problems had not been more important to me then, and I had not been perfectly satisfied with my own company, I would probably have asked him straight out and received an answer flatly agreeing with me, and that would have been worse even than today’s silence. But is not everybody silent exactly in the same way? What is there to prevent me from believing that everyone is my colleague, instead of thinking that I have only one or two fellow inquirers – lost and forgotten along with their petty achievements, so that I can never reach them by any road through the darkness of ages or the confused throng of the present: why not believe that all dogs from the beginning of time have been my colleagues, all diligent in their own way, all unsuccessful in their own way, all silent or falsely garrulous in their own way, as hopeless research is apt to make one? But in that case I need not have severed myself from my fellows at all, I could have remained quietly among the others, I had no need to fight my way out like a stubborn child through the closed ranks of the grownups, who indeed wanted as much as I to find a way out, and who seemed incomprehensible to me simply because of their knowledge, which told them that nobody could ever escape and that it was stupid to use force.

Translated by Willa and Edwin Muir

Such ideas, however, are definitely due to the influence of my neighbor; he confuses me, he fills me with dejection; and yet in himself he is happy enough, at least when he is in his own quarters I often hear him shouting and singing; it is really unbearable. It would be a good thing to renounce this last tie also, to cease giving way to the vague dreams which all contact with dogs unavoidably provokes, no matter how hardened one may consider oneself, and to employ the short time that still remains for me exclusively in prosecuting my researches. The next time he comes I shall slip away, or pretend I am asleep, and keep up the pretense until he stops visiting me.

Translated by Willa and Edwin Muir

Also my researches have fallen into desuetude, I relax, I grow weary, I trot mechanically where once I raced enthusiastically. I think of the time when I began to inquire into the question: “Whence does the earth procure this food?” Then indeed I really lived among the people, I pushed my way where the crowd was thickest, wanted everybody to know my work and be my audience, and my audience was even more essential to me than my work; I still expected to produce some effect or other, and that naturally gave me a great impetus, which now that I am solitary is gone. But in those days I was so full of strength that I achieved something unprecedented, something at variance with all our principles, and that every contemporary eyewitness assuredly recalls now as an uncanny feat. Our scientific knowledge, which generally makes for an extreme specialization, is remarkably simple in one province. I mean where it teaches that the earth engenders our food, and then, after having laid down this hypothesis, gives the methods by which the different foods may be achieved in their best kinds and greatest abundance. Now it is of course true that the earth brings forth all food, of that there can be no doubt; but as simple as people generally imagine it to be the matter is not; and their belief that it is simple prevents further inquiry. Take an ordinary occurrence that happens every day. If we were to be quite inactive, as I am almost completely now, and after a perfunctory scratching and watering of the soil lay down and waited for what was to come, then we should find the food on the ground, assuming, that is, that a result of some kind is inevitable. Nevertheless that is not what usually happens. Those who have preserved even a little freedom of judgment on scientific matters – and their numbers are truly small, for science draws a wider and wider circle around itself – will easily see, without having to make any specific experiment, that the main part of the food that is discovered on the ground in such cases comes from above; indeed customarily we snap up most of our food, according to our dexterity and greed, before it has reached the ground at all. In saying that, however, I am saying nothing against science; the earth, of course, brings forth this kind of food too. Whether the earth draws one kind of food out of itself and calls down another kind from the skies perhaps makes no essential difference, and science, which has established that in both cases it is necessary to prepare the ground, need not perhaps concern itself with such distinctions, for does it not say: “If you have food in your jaws you have solved all questions for the time being.” But it seems to me that science nevertheless takes a veiled interest, at least to some extent, in these matters, inasmuch as it recognizes two chief methods of procuring food; namely the actual preparation of the ground, and secondly the auxiliary perfecting processes of incantation, dance, and song. I find here a distinction in accordance with the one I have myself made; not a definitive distinction, perhaps, but yet clear enough. The scratching and watering of the ground, in my opinion, serves to produce both kinds of food, and remains indispensable; incantation, dance, and song, however, are concerned less with the ground food in the narrower sense, and serve principally to attract the food from above. Tradition fortifies me in this interpretation. The ordinary dogs themselves set science right here without knowing it, and without science being able to venture a word in reply. If, as science claims, these ceremonies minister only to the soil, giving it the potency, let us say, to attract food from the air, then logically they should be directed exclusively to the soil; it is the soil that the incantations must be whispered to, the soil that must be danced to. And to the best of my knowledge science ordains nothing else than this. But now comes the remarkable thing; the people in all their ceremonies gaze upwards. This is no insult to science, since science does not forbid it, but leaves the husbandman complete freedom in this respect; in its teaching it takes only the soil into account, and if the husbandman carries out its instructions concerning the preparation of the ground it is content; yet, in my opinion, it should really demand more than this if it is logical. And, though I have never been deeply initiated into science, I simply cannot conceive how the learned can bear to let our people, unruly and passionate as they are, chant their incantations with their faces turned upwards, wail our ancient folk songs into the air, and spring high in their dances as though, forgetting the ground, they wished to take flight from it forever. I took this contradiction as my starting point, and whenever, according to the teachings of science, the harvest time was approaching, I restricted my attention to the ground, it was the ground that I scratched in the dance, and I almost gave myself a crick in the neck keeping my head as close to the ground as I could. Later I dug a hole for my nose, and sang and declaimed into it so that only the ground might hear, and nobody else beside or above me.

Translated by Willa and Edwin Muir

The results of my experiment were meager. Sometimes the food did not appear, and I was already preparing to rejoice at this proof, but then the food would appear; it was exactly as if my strange performance had caused some confusion at first, but had shown itself later to possess advantages, so that in my case the usual barking and leaping could be dispensed with. Often, indeed, the food appeared in greater abundance than formerly, but then again it would stay away altogether. With a diligence hitherto unknown in a young dog I drew up exact reports of all my experiments, fancied that here and there I was on a scent that might lead me further, but then it lost itself again in obscurity. My inadequate grounding in science also undoubtedly held me up here. What guarantee had I, for instance, that the absence of the food was not caused by unscientific preparation of the ground rather than by my experiments, and if that should be so, then all my conclusions were invalid. In certain circumstances I might have been able to achieve an almost scrupulously exact experiment; namely, if I had succeeded only once in bringing down food by an upward incantation without preparing the ground at all, and then had failed to extract food by an incantation directed exclusively to the ground. I attempted indeed something of this kind, but without any real belief in it and without the conditions being quite perfect; for it is my fixed opinion that a certain amount of ground-preparation is always necessary, and even if the heretics who deny this are right, their theory can never be proved in any case, seeing that the watering of the ground is done under a kind of compulsion, and within certain limits simply cannot be avoided. Another and somewhat tangential experiment succeeded better and aroused some public attention. Arguing from the customary method of snatching food while still in the air, I decided to allow the food to fall to the ground, but to make no effort to snatch it. Accordingly I always made a small jump in the air when the food appeared, but timed it so that it might always fail of its object; in the majority of instances the food fell dully and indifferently to the ground in spite of this, and I flung myself furiously upon it, with the fury both of hunger and of disappointment. But in isolated cases something else happened, something really strange; the food did not fall but followed me through the air; the food pursued the hungry. That never went on for long, always for only a short stretch, then the food fell after all, or vanished completely, or – the most common case – my greed put a premature end to the experiment and I swallowed down the tempting food. All the same I was happy at that time, a stir of curiosity ran through my neighborhood, I attracted uneasy attention, I found my acquaintances more accessible to my questions, I could see in their eyes a gleam that seemed like an appeal for help; and even if it was only the reflection of my own glance I asked for nothing more. I was satisfied. Until at last I discovered – and the others discovered it simultaneously – that this experiment of mine was a commonplace of science, had already succeeded with others far more brilliantly than with me, and though it had not been attempted for a long time on account of the extreme self-control it required, had also no need to be repeated, for scientifically it had no value at all. It only proved what was already known, that the ground not only attracts food vertically from above, but also at a slant, indeed sometimes in spirals. So there I was left with my experiment, but I was not discouraged, I was too young for that; on the contrary, this disappointment braced me to attempt perhaps the greatest achievement of my life. I did not believe the scientists’ depreciations of my experiment, yet belief was of no avail here, but only proof, and I resolved to set about establishing that and thus raise my experiment from its original irrelevance and set it in the very center of the field of research. I wished to prove that when I retreated before the food it was not the ground that attracted it at a slant, but I who drew it after me. This first experiment, it is true, I could not carry any farther; to see the food before one and experiment in a scientific spirit at the same time – one cannot keep that up indefinitely. But I decided to do something else; I resolved to fast completely as long as I could stand it, and at the same time avoid all sight of food, all temptation. If I were to withdraw myself in this manner, remain lying day and night with closed eyes, trouble myself neither to snatch food from the air nor to lift it from the ground, and if, as I dared not expect, yet faintly hoped, without taking any of the customary measures, and merely in response to the unavoidable irrational watering of the ground and the quiet recitation of the incantations and songs (the dance I wished to omit, so as not to weaken my powers) the food were to come of itself from above, and without going near the ground were to knock at my teeth for admittance – if that were to happen, then, even if science was not confuted, for it has enough elasticity to admit exceptions and isolated cases – I asked myself what would the other dogs say, who fortunately do not possess such extreme elasticity? For this would be no exceptional case like those handed down by history, such as the incident, let us say, of the dog who refuses, because of bodily illness or trouble of mind, to prepare the ground, to track down and seize his food, upon which the whole dog community recite magical formulae and by this means succeed in making the food deviate from its customary route into the jaws of the invalid. I, on the contrary, was perfectly sound and at the height of my powers, my appetite so splendid that it prevented me all day from thinking of anything but itself; I submitted, moreover, whether it be credited or not, voluntarily to my period of fasting, was myself quite able to conjure down my own supply of food and wished also to do so, and so I asked no assistance from the dog community, and indeed rejected it in the most determined manner.

Translated by Willa and Edwin Muir

I sought a suitable place for myself in an outlying clump of bushes, where I would have to listen to no talk of food, no sound of munching jaws and bones being gnawed; I ate my fill for the last time and laid me down. As far as possible I wanted to pass my whole time with closed eyes; until the food came it would be perpetual night for me, even though my vigil might last for days or weeks. During that time, however, I dared not sleep much, better indeed if I did not sleep at all – and that made everything much harder – for I must not only conjure the food down from the air, but also be on my guard lest I should be asleep when it arrived; yet on the other hand sleep would be very welcome to me, for I would manage to fast much longer asleep than awake. For those reasons I decided to arrange my time prudently and sleep a great deal, but always in short snatches. I achieved this by always resting my head while I slept on some frail twig, which soon snapped and so awoke me. So there I lay, sleeping or keeping watch, dreaming or singing quietly to myself. My first vigils passed uneventfully; perhaps in the place whence the food came no one had yet noticed that I was lying there in resistance to the normal course of things, and so there was no sign. I was a little disturbed in my concentration by the fear that the other dogs might miss me, presently find me, and attempt something or other against me. A second fear was that at the mere wetting of the ground, though it was unfruitful ground according to the findings of science, some chance nourishment might appear and seduce me by its smell. But for a time nothing of that kind happened and I could go on fasting. Apart from such fears I was more calm during this first stage than I could remember ever having been before. Although in reality I was laboring to annul the findings of science, I felt within me a deep reassurance, indeed almost the proverbial serenity of the scientific worker. In my thoughts I begged forgiveness of science; there must be room in it for my researches too; consolingly in my ears rang the assurance that no matter how great the effect of my inquiries might be, and indeed the greater the better, I would not be lost to ordinary dog life; science regarded my attempts with benevolence, it itself would undertake the interpretation of my discoveries, and that promise already meant fulfillment; while until now I had felt outlawed in my innermost heart and had run my head against the traditional walls of my species like a savage, I would now be accepted with great honor, the long-yearned-for warmth of assembled canine bodies would lap around me, I would ride uplifted high on the shoulders of my fellows. Remarkable effects of my first hunger. My achievement seemed so great to me that I began to weep with emotion and self-pity there among the quiet bushes, which it must be confessed was not very understandable, for when I was looking forward to my well-earned reward why should I weep? Probably out of pure happiness. It is always when I am happy, and that is seldom enough, that I weep. After that, however, these feelings soon passed. My beautiful fancies fled one by one before the increasing urgency of my hunger; a little longer and I was, after an abrupt farewell to all my imaginations and my sublime feelings, totally alone with the hunger burning in my entrails. “That is my hunger,” I told myself countless times during this stage, as if I wanted to convince myself that my hunger and I were still two things and I could shake it off like a burdensome lover; but in reality we were very painfully one, and when I explained to myself: “That is my hunger,” it was really my hunger that was speaking and having its joke at my expense. A bad, bad time! I still shudder to think of it, and not merely on account of the suffering I endured then, but mainly because I was unable to finish it then and consequently shall have to live through that suffering once more if I am ever to achieve anything; for today I still hold fasting to be the final and most potent means of my research. The way goes through fasting; the highest, if it is attainable, is attainable only by the highest effort, and the highest effort among us is voluntary fasting. So when I think of those times – and I would gladly pass my life in brooding over them – I cannot help thinking also of the time that still threatens me. It seems to me that it takes almost a lifetime to recuperate from such an attempt; my whole life as an adult lies between me and that fast, and I have not recovered yet. When I begin upon my next fast I shall perhaps have more resolution than the first time, because of my greater experience and deeper insight into the need for the attempt, but my powers are still enfeebled by that first essay, and so I shall probably begin to fail at the mere approach of these familiar horrors. My weaker appetite will not help me; it will only reduce the value of the attempt a little, and will, indeed, probably force me to fast longer than would have been necessary the first time. I think I am clear on these and many other matters, the long interval has not been wanting in trial attempts, often enough I have literally got my teeth into hunger; but I was still not strong enough for the ultimate effort, and now the unspoiled ardor of youth is of course gone forever. It vanished in the great privations of that first fast. All sorts of thoughts tormented me. Our forefathers appeared threateningly before me. True, I held them responsible for everything, even if I dared not say so openly; it was they who involved our dog life in guilt, and so I could easily have responded to their menaces with countermenaces; but I bow before their knowledge, it came from sources of which we know no longer, and for that reason, much as I may feel compelled to oppose them, I shall never actually overstep their laws, but content myself with wriggling out through the gaps, for which I have a particularly good nose. On the question of fasting I appealed to the well-known dialogue in the course of which one of our sages once expressed the intention of forbidding fasting, but was dissuaded by a second with the words: “But who would ever think of fasting?” whereupon the first sage allowed himself to be persuaded and withdrew the prohibition. But now arises the question: “Is not fasting really forbidden after all?” The great majority of commentators deny this and regard fasting as freely permitted, and holding as they think with the second sage do not worry in the least about the evil consequences that may result from erroneous interpretations. I had naturally assured myself on this point before I began my fast. But now that I was twisted with the pangs of hunger, and in my distress of mind sought relief in my own hind legs, despairingly licking and gnawing at them up to the very buttocks, the universal interpretation of this dialogue seemed to me entirely and completely false, I cursed the commentators’ science, I cursed myself for having been led astray by it; for the dialogue contained, as any child could see, more than merely one prohibition of fasting; the first sage wished to forbid fasting; what a sage wishes is already done, so fasting was forbidden; as for the second sage, he not only agreed with the first, but actually considered fasting impossible, piled therefore on the first prohibition a second, that of dog nature itself; the first sage saw this and thereupon withdrew the explicit prohibition, that was to say, he imposed upon all dogs, the matter being now settled, the obligation to know themselves and to make their own prohibitions regarding fasting. So here was a threefold prohibition instead of merely one, and I had violated it. Now I could at least have obeyed at this point, though tardily, but in the midst of my pain I felt a longing to go on fasting, and I followed it as greedily as if it were a strange dog. I could not stop; perhaps too I was already too weak to get up and seek safety for myself in familiar scenes. I tossed about on the fallen forest leaves, I could no longer sleep, I heard noises on every side; the world, which had been asleep during my life hitherto, seemed to have been awakened by my fasting, I was tortured by the fancy that I would never be able to eat again, and I must eat so as to reduce to silence this world rioting so noisily around me, and I would never be able to do so; but the greatest noise of all came from my own belly, I often laid my ear against it with startled eyes, for I could hardly believe what I heard. And now that things were becoming unendurable my very nature seemed to be seized by the general frenzy, and made senseless attempts to save itself; the smell of food began to assail me, delicious dainties that I had long since forgotten, delights of my childhood; yes, I could smell the very fragrance of my mother’s teats; I forgot my resolution to resist all smells, or rather I did not forget it; I dragged myself to and fro, never for more than a few yards, and sniffed as if that were in accordance with my resolution, as if I were looking for food simply to be on my guard against it. The fact that I found nothing did not disappoint me; the food must be there, only it was always a few steps away, my legs failed me before I could reach it. But simultaneously I knew that nothing was there, and that I made those feeble movements simply out of fear lest I might collapse in this place and never be able to leave it. My last hopes, my last dreams vanished; I would perish here miserably; of what use were my researches? – childish attempts undertaken in childish and far happier days; here and now was the hour of deadly earnest, here my inquiries should have shown their value, but where had they vanished? Only a dog lay here helplessly snapping at the empty air, a dog who, though he still watered the ground with convulsive haste at short intervals and without being aware of it, could not remember even the shortest of the countless incantations stored in his memory, not even the little rhyme which the newly born puppy says when it snuggles under its mother. It seemed to me as if I were separated from all my fellows, not by a quite short stretch, but by an infinite distance, and as if I would die less of hunger than of neglect. For it was clear that nobody troubled about me, nobody beneath the earth, on it, or above it; I was dying of their indifference; they said indifferently. “He is dying,” and it would actually come to pass. And did I not myself assent? Did I not say the same thing? Had I not wanted to be forsaken like this? Yes, brothers, but not so as to perish in that place, but to achieve truth and escape from this world of falsehood, where there is no one from whom you can learn the truth, not even from me, born as I am a citizen of falsehood. Perhaps the truth was not so very far off, and I not so forsaken, therefore, as I thought; or I may have been forsaken less by my fellows than by myself, in yielding and consenting to die.

Translated by Willa and Edwin Muir

But one does not die so easily as a nervous dog imagines. I merely fainted, and when I came to and raised my eyes a strange hound was standing before me. I did not feel hungry, but rather filled with strength, and my limbs, it seemed to me, were light and agile, though I made no attempt to prove this by getting to my feet. My visual faculties in themselves were no keener than usual; a beautiful but not at all extraordinary hound stood before me; I could see that, and that was all, and yet it seemed to me that I saw something more in him. There was blood under me, at first I took it for food; but I recognized it immediately as blood that I had vomited. I turned my eyes from it to the strange hound. He was lean, long-legged, brown with a patch of white here and there, and had a fine, strong, piercing glance. “What are you doing here?” he asked. “You must leave this place.” “I can’t leave it just now,” I said, without trying to explain, for how could I explain everything to him; besides, he seemed to be in a hurry. “Please go away,” he said, impatiently lifting his feet and setting them down again. “Let me be,” I said, “leave me to myself and don’t worry about me; the others don’t.” “I ask you to go for your own sake,” he said. “You can ask for any reason you like,” I replied. “I can’t go even if I wanted to.” “You need have no fear of that,” he said, smiling. “You can go all right. It’s because you seem to be feeble that I ask you to go now, and you can go slowly if you like; if you linger now you’ll have to race off later on.” “That’s my affair,” I replied. “It’s mine too,” he said, saddened by my stubbornness, yet obviously resolved to let me lie for the time being, but at the same time to seize the opportunity of paying court to me. At any other time I would gladly have submitted to the blandishments of such a beautiful creature, but at that moment, why, I cannot tell, the thought filled me with terror. “Get out!” I screamed, and all the louder as I had no other means of protecting myself. “All right, I’ll leave you then,” he said, slowly retreating. “You’re wonderful. Don’t I please you?” “You’ll please me by going away and leaving me in peace,” I said, but I was no longer so sure of myself as I tried to make him think. My senses, sharpened by fasting, suddenly seemed to see or hear something about him; it was just beginning, it was growing, it came nearer, and I knew that this hound had the power to drive me away, even if I could not imagine to myself at the moment how I was ever to get to my feet. And I gazed at him – he had merely shaken his head sadly at my rough answer – with ever mounting desire. “Who are you?” I asked. “I’m a hunter,” he replied. “And why won’t you let me lie here?” I asked. “You disturb me,” he said. “I can’t hunt while you’re here.” “Try,” I said, “perhaps you’ll be able to hunt after all.” “No,” he said, “I’m sorry, but you must go.” “Don’t hunt for this one day!” I implored him. “No,” he said, “I must hunt.” “I must go; you must hunt,” I said, “nothing but musts. Can you explain to me why we must?” “No,” he replied, “but there’s nothing that needs to be explained, these are natural, self-evident things.” “Not quite so self-evident as all that,” I said, “you’re sorry that you must drive me away, and yet you do it.” “That’s so,” he replied. “That’s so,” I echoed him crossly, “that isn’t an answer. Which sacrifice would you rather make: to give up your hunting, or give up driving me away?” “To give up my hunting,” he said without hesitation. “There!” said I, “don’t you see that you’re contradicting yourself?” “How am I contradicting myself?” he replied. “My dear little dog, can it be that you really don’t understand that I must? Don’t you understand the most self-evident fact?” I made no answer, for I noticed – and new life ran through me, life such as terror gives – I noticed from almost invisible indications, which perhaps nobody but myself could have noticed, that in the depths of his chest the hound was preparing to upraise a song. “You’re going to sing,” I said. “Yes,” he replied gravely, “I’m going to sing, soon, but not yet.” “You’re beginning already,” I said. “No,” he said, “not yet. But be prepared.” “I can hear it already, though you deny it,” I said, trembling. He was silent, and then I thought I saw something such as no dog before me had ever seen, at least there is no slightest hint of it in our tradition, and I hastily bowed my head in infinite fear and shame in the pool of blood lying before me. I thought I saw that the hound was already singing without knowing it, nay, more, that the melody, separated from him, was floating on the air in accordance with its own laws, and, as though he had no part in it, was moving toward me, toward me alone. Today, of course, I deny the validity of all such perceptions and ascribe them to my overexcitation at that time, but even if it was an error it had nevertheless a sort of grandeur, and is the sole, even if delusive, reality that I have carried over into this world from my period of fasting, and shows at least how far we can go when we are beyond ourselves. And I was actually quite beyond myself. In ordinary circumstances I would have been very ill, incapable of moving; but the melody, which the hound soon seemed to acknowledge as his, was quite irresistible. It grew stronger and stronger; its waxing power seemed to have no limits, and already almost burst my eardrums. But the worst was that it seemed to exist solely for my sake, this voice before whose sublimity the woods fell silent, to exist solely for my sake; who was I, that I could dare to remain here, lying brazenly before it in my pool of blood and filth. I tottered to my feet and looked down at myself; this wretched body can never run, I still had time to think, but already, spurred on by the melody, I was careering from the spot in splendid style. I said nothing to my friends; probably I could have told them all when I first arrived, but I was too feeble, and later it seemed to me that such things could not be told. Hints which I could not refrain from occasionally dropping were quite lost in the general conversation. For the rest I recovered physically in a few hours, but spiritually I still suffer from the effects of that experiment.

Translated by Willa and Edwin Muir

Nevertheless, I next carried my researches into music. True, science had not been idle in this sphere either; the science of music, if I am correctly informed, is perhaps still more comprehensive than that of nurture, and in any case established on a firmer basis. That may be explained by the fact that this province admits of more objective inquiry than the other, and its knowledge is more a matter of pure observation and systematization, while in the province of food the main object is to achieve practical results. That is the reason why the science of music is accorded greater esteem than that of nurture, but also why the former has never penetrated so deeply into the life of the people. I myself felt less attracted to the science of music than to any other until I heard that voice in the forest. My experience with the musical dogs had indeed drawn my attention to music, but I was still too young at that time. Nor is it by any means easy even to come to grips with that science; it is regarded as very esoteric and politely excludes the crowd. Besides, although what struck me most deeply at first about these dogs was their music, their silence seemed to me still more significant; as for their affrighting music, probably it was quite unique, so that I could leave it out of account; but thenceforth their silence confronted me everywhere and in all the dogs I met. So for penetrating into real dog nature, research into food seemed to me the best method, calculated to lead me to my goal by the straightest path. Perhaps I was mistaken. A border region between these two sciences, however, had already attracted my attention. I mean the theory of incantation, by which food is called down. Here again it is very much against me that I have never seriously tackled the science of music and in this sphere cannot even count myself among the half-educated, the class on whom science looks down most of all. This fact I cannot get away from. I could not – I have proof of that, unfortunately – I could not pass even the most elementary scientific examination set by an authority on the subject. Of course, quite apart from the circumstances already mentioned, the reason for that can be found in my incapacity for scientific investigation, my limited powers of thought, my bad memory, but above all in my inability to keep my scientific aim continuously before my eyes. All this I frankly admit, even with a certain degree of pleasure. For the more profound cause of my scientific incapacity seems to me to be an instinct, and indeed by no means a bad one. If I wanted to brag I might say that it was this very instinct that invalidated my scientific capacities, for it would surely be a very extraordinary thing if one who shows a tolerable degree of intelligence in dealing with the ordinary daily business of life, which certainly cannot be called simple, and moreover one whose findings have been checked and verified, where that was possible, by individual scientists if not by science itself, should a priori be incapable of planting his paw even on the first rung of the ladder of science. It was this instinct that made me – and perhaps for the sake of science itself, but a different science from that of today, an ultimate science – prize freedom higher than everything else. Freedom! Certainly such freedom as is possible today is a wretched business. But nevertheless
freedom, nevertheless a possession.

Franz Kafka was a German-speaking Bohemian Jewish novelist and short story writer.