Loser's Guide Loser's Guide

 Loser's Guide to Life

Thursday, February 08, 2007

A Puzzle 

Here is an interesting short story by Franz Kafka:

Once there was a puzzle, a cheap, simple game, not much bigger than a pocket watch and without any clever mechanisms. Cut into the reddish-brown wooden surface there were several blue paths which led to a small pit. There was also a ball of the same blue which, through tilting and shaking, had to be positioned on one of the paths and then into the pit. When the ball was in the pit, the game was over. If you wanted to start again, you had to shake the ball out of its pit. The whole thing had a tough curved glass covering, so you could put it in your pocket and take it out and play with it wherever you were.

When not in use, the ball mostly wandered around the level part with its hands behind its back, avoiding the paths. It felt that it was tormented enough with the paths during play and that it had a reasonable claim to get up on the open plain when the game was not being played. It had a rolling gait and maintained that it was not made for these tiny paths. This was partly true, since the paths could barely contain the ball; but it was also not true, since the ball had been carefully fitted for the paths' width, and they could hardly be comfortable, because otherwise there would be no puzzle.

— Franz Kafka, “Es war einmal ein Geduldspiel”, [Fragment]

This is an extraordinary little story, almost as engaging as “Odradek”, but it echoes the legend “Before the Law”, which appears in The Trial: the individual is locked into a situation that seems impossible, yet turns out to have been specifically designed for him. There is a similar passage in the aphorisms about the True Way, which I can't find online without being nagged to buy the whole thing, but it's something to do with the True Way being like a rope suspended just above the ground, seemingly designed not for walking on, as a tightrope, but for tripping over.

The interesting thing about this little ball is that it has been designed to do something rather pointless. “Odradek”, it will be recalled, was a ridiculous little spool that kept turning up unbidden in people's rooms, defying explanation—the other side of the relationship. A tenant expects things to be in his room for a purpose; the little ball expects to roll around just anywhere, as balls seem to be designed to.

People call this state of affairs absurd, but that's only meaningful if you accept that the tiny part of the universe that we know about ought to make sense. And why would you think that?

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

Watching TV is a good way to tear yourself away from the computer.