I want to look at Kafka’s The Burrow in terms of Maurice Blanchot’s The Most Profound Question, which I wrote about last month:

“The interrogative form is charged with qualities that mean the form [the sky is blue] is very different from the form [is the sky blue? – yes]. Rather than simply affirming the truth conditions in the question, the answer ‘yes’ truncates the richness at large in the question and turns it into a singular matter of fact. Rather than meeting the various calls of the question and drawing them to richly sympathetic conclusions, it just cuts them all off short. ‘The answer is the question’s misfortune, its adversity'”. (I’ve written more here.)

I wonder whether the burrowing animal is like the verb of a sentence, raised to the beginning in a question. Of the verb Blanchot writes:

“It is as though being, in questioning itself – the ‘is’ of the questioning – had abandoned its part of resounding affirmation, its decisive, negating part, and had freed itself, even where it emerges foremost, from itself: opening itself, and opening the sentence in such a way that, in this opening, the sentence seems no longer to have its center in itself but outside of itself – in the neutral.” (p. 13)

Last month I wrote:

“The animal in Kafka’s The Burrow occasionally exits his burrow (his place of safety), only to find he feels safest from outside it, watching potential predators fail to notice its entrance. That way he can imagine how safe he would be inside it. There’s a feeling that when the animal is outside the burrow he isn’t really outside it at all – if he were wholly outside his burrow then he should be anxious about potential dangers to his present self. It’s as though when the animal hides outside and watches, he’s actually an impalpable projection of himself, projected by his burrow-dwelling self out into the world to survey his safety.” (here)

The animal says: “Yet I am not really out in the open […] I am too deeply occupied with my burrow. […] It feels to me, then, not as if I were standing outside my house but outside myself while I am asleep and know the joy of sleeping deeply and at the same time of being able to keep a close watch on myself. In a certain sense I am privileged, not only to see the ghosts of the night in the helplessness and blissful trust of sleep, but also to encounter them in reality with the full strength of wakefulness and the calm capacity to form judgements.” (pp. 169-170)

I want to think about the animal’s focus here on the helplessness and bliss of sleeping as an analogy for his life underground. My feeling is that the necessarily self-contained nature of these things relates to the work I’ve been making this year, and particularly what I might call their elusive ‘cores’.

In the burrow there is a sleeping thing that must be protected at all costs. The sleeper is blissful but unselfconscious, and so to ensure its safety it needs something outside of itself to care for its interests. The trouble is that if something outside is to support the bliss of the sleeper inside it must be absolutely trusted, even as the sleeper sleeps. But because of the breach between the burrow and the outside world; between sleep and wakefulness; between the artwork and what there is around it, there cannot be trust:

“Can someone I trust when we are face to face still be trusted just as much when he is out of sight, when the moss cover separates us? It is relatively easy to trust someone when you are keeping him under surveillance or at least can keep him under surveillance, it might even be possible to trust someone at a distance; but to trust completely from a point inside the burrow – hence inside another world – someone who is outside, is, I think, impossible.” (p. 173)

If the thing inside is to trust the thing outside, they need to be made of the same stuff.

Hence the feeling that the animal’s visits outside the burrow are almost unreal projections of itself from the safety of the burrow’s interior. Indeed the animal considers digging a second opening to the burrow: little more than a peephole, which it could rush to as soon as it had crept back underground, and from there oversee its own safety by surveying the entrance.

The only safety, the only trust, is for a thing to keep watch of itself. The watched part is the thing concealed – the blissful, brilliant, living, necessarily unselfconscious thing that sleeps; the watching part is the thing revealed, out in the world, but only ever a projection, a subsidiary thing that exists only in the service of the sleeper.

The sleep of the thing inside must never be answered by wakefulness. Asleep, inside, it remains at large: loose, unknown, rich with potential. If this sleeping part were included in the watching activity, and began to understand that it was asleep, that knowledge would truncate it, cut it off short, and all would be lost. If the activity of watching is to take place, the sleeping animal has to be disengaged from it. And then there is this:

“One of my favourite plans had been to disengage the castle court from the earth surrounding it, that is, keep its walls to a thickness more or less equal to my height but over and beyond this, to create all around the castle court a hollow space the width of the wall, leaving intact a small foundation that, unfortunately, could not be detached from the ground. I had always imagined this hollow space, probably not without some justice, as the most wonderful abode I could ever have. To hang from this dome, to pull yourself up, to slide down, to turn a somersault, and once again to feel the ground under your feet, and to play all these games literally on the body of the castle court and yet not in its own true chamber; to be able to avoid the castle court, to give your eyes a rest from it, to postpone until later the joy of seeing it and yet not to have to do without it but instead literally hold it tight between your claws, something impossible to do if you have only the one ordinary open access to it; but above all to be able to watch over it, to be so richly compensated for being deprived of the sight of it that if you had to choose between staying in the castle court or in the hollow space, you would certainly choose the hollow space for all the days of your life so as always to roam up and down there forever and protect the castle court. Then there would be no noises in the walls, no insolent excavations right up to the court itself; then peace would be guaranteed there, and I would be its guardian, I would have to listen, not with revulsion to the excavations of the little creatures but with delight to something that fully eludes me now: the rustle of silence in the castle court.” (pp. 179-180)

The castle court is still there, and it still richly contains the promise of its sleeping potential, but now the burrow sleeps with open eyes. Sliding and somersaulting inside the hollow space, the animal is separated from the castle court while gripping it with its claws. There is a rustle – and the rustle is of silence.

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