Monday, April 20, 2020

Kafka's "Old Manuscript" and political failure

At the end of Franz Kafka's "An Old Manuscript", the Emperor leaves it "to us artisans and tradesmen to save our country" after an invasion by "nomads", even though "we are not equal to such a task" – "a misunderstanding" that "will be the ruin of us." When politics fails, solutions are sought elsewhere: in technology and in the economy. In Kafka's story, the Emperor doesn't address the crisis problems; in contemporary democracies, the political system fails when it seeks technological or economic fixes: carbon sequestering or carbon taxes to address climate catastrophe; a vaccine or an economic stimulus to end the coronavirus pandemic when a President "takes no responsibility at all." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 20 April)

Uns Handwerkern und Geschäftsleuten ist die Rettung des Vaterlandes anvertraut; wir sind aber einer solchen Aufgabe nicht gewachsen; haben uns doch auch nie gerühmt, dessen fähig zu sein. Ein Mißverständnis ist es, und wir gehen daran zugrunde. (Franz Kafka, "Ein altes Blatt")

It is left to us artisans and tradesmen to save our country; but we are not equal to such a task; nor have we ever claimed to be capable of it. This is a misunderstanding of some kind; and it will be the ruin of us. (Franz Kafka, "An Old Manuscript", tr. Willa and Edwin Muir)

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