Head Dust



(illus: F.Kafka)
Among the papers of Franz Kafka which came into the possession of his faithless executor Max Brod's 'housekeeper' Esther Hoffe and are the subject of a major court case, there apparently exists an uncompleted patent application in Kafka's hand for a board game he calls DAS SCHLOSS. The application was never filed and is undated. Scholars are divided as to whether the game represents Kafka's original idea, which was later developed as a novel, or whether the game represents the work's ultimate expression following its abandonment as a novel. The following transcript from the unfiled patent application has been provided by an anonymous source.

DAS SCHLOSS (The Castle)
Objective: Players compete to reach the 'castle'.
Rules: 1. There are rules but they are withheld and inscrutable.
2. Players should probably move their counters about the village, perhaps using a dice. No advantage is thus conferred.
3. Players may 'take' each other, but this confers neither advantage nor disadvantage on either party.
4. Players landing on a square occupied by an 'official' may either miss a turn or take an extra turn without altering the course of the game.
Endgame: The 'castle' is never reached. The game ends with the (actual (non-game)) death of the last player (note: it is unclear whether this player is the winner or the loser of the game).


He certainly does not throw a cup of coffee over his wife. He does not throw boots books and other unconsidered trifles at her. Only his wages. He does not beat his wife. After his marriage he does not give way to drink while working at one of the bonded stores on the wharf. He does not get drunk at least once a week. He is never right out whatever that means. He does not stay away from work and is not reprimanded by his bosses. In Pirie-street although there is generally some liquor on the sideboard he positively does not keep liquor in an oven. His wife does not tell him in Pirie-street that she has seen Dr McLean and that an operation has been advised. In regard to money matters his wife is not kept short. He does not say I pay her damned board and that’s enough. He positively does not lock the door when his wife has gone for her bath and Cooke does not come along and ask him to open it. It does not happen. He does not know that Mrs Tregonning’s daughter and his wife have had a row. He does know that the young lady has locked his wife and Cooke in the bedroom where they remain for two hours but he is not in on the joke. When he and his wife leave the Waverley Hotel to go to the Bristol he says it would be better if Cooke does not go with them. Cooke goes with them. Cooke does not pay his and his wife’s bill when they are leaving the Waverley. Cooke does not meet their liabilities in any way. If he does he is repaid. Cooke does not help him to his room in a drunken condition but he does assist him when one of his epileptic fits comes on. He does not go to bed with a bottle of whisky and he does not drink it neat. No he can’t drink whisky neat. He and his wife and Cooke do not lie on the bed together discussing things in general or discussing anything. They do not lie together on the bed. He does not walk around the Post Office for half-an-hour at night in the teeming rain and meet a woman named Allen there and go up the Kelburne tram with her. He does not tell his wife that said woman has been turned out of the Columbia Hotel and that if anyone fills her with liquor he can get anything. He does not say to his wife you are no bloody good. At the breakfast table before all present he does not call her a bloody liar. He knows a young lady called Nellie Roxburgh. Nellie and he are very good friends but they do not have a rare old romp on the bed. Nellie does not walk into his room with morning tea while he is standing on the floor naked. She does not go into the room when he is naked. She does not romp with him on the bed. Except when his wife is there. And only once. He is not cruel or an habitual drunkard or a runner after other women. Mrs Tregonning does not hear any quarrelling. She does not hear the throwing of boots and other trifles. No filthy language is heard. He never behaves as he should not. He does not drink in the house with whisky brought home from the Harbour Hotel. He does not come home on a Saturday afternoon with something in his possession that he should not have. He and his wife do not then have a row. They do not have a row. He does not strike her. They go to Picton together for a fortnight and he is sober all the time they are there. On the day they leave for Wellington he does not have to be helped aboard the ferry.
T.P.K. (editor)
The positive denials of Edmund Earl Furness are taken from the account in the NZ Truth (7 March 1914) of his failed attempt to secure divorce from Blanche Louisa Furness (this editor's great-grandmother’s sister) on account of her alleged adultery with one Leonard Cooke. The full report can be read at http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/paperspast?a=d&d=NZTR19140307.2.30&l=mi&e=-------10--1----0-all

UNCLOSABLE I: Impersonal subjectivity and The Unnamable

Returning to the narrow door, stripping ourselves, shedding, defleshing ourselves, shedding, boning ourselves, no not that, narrowing ourselves for the baffles, narrowed by the baffles, aligning ourselves, yet again, shedding.

An oracular text that precludes the possibility of oracular texts, The Unnamable [1] provides extension and demonstration of whatever ontological problems are brought to it, rendering them clearly irresolvable and thus endlessly fertile. A tool so finely honed that it makes clear the impossibility of the task for which it is designed, this novel [2] renders its futility pellucid where the futility of other works may be overwhelmingly obscure.

The fictive nub, in literature as in life [3], is not identity but the assumption of identity, not fabric but the act of fabrication. The nub is the act of mantling the unnameable I [4], not the mantle of character and circumstance that scintillates the reader. In The Unnamable the fictive mantle is abraded to the point of disintegration, tested beyond the limits of its strength, simultaneously knitted and unravelled, shed and assumed and re-shed, the fictive act laid bare [5].

There is an ‘I’ but whose ‘I’ is it? There is a subjectivity but whose subjectivity is it? Not a character’s, not the reader’s, not the author’s. None of these ephemerae who but touch the text and are borne away. The subject is that faculty that makes a subject possible. The voice that occludes in order to exist is that of the impersonal I, that faculty in fiction that allows character but is not character, that clads itself in a character, in all characters, in all characters ever, but is nothing more than the capacity to assume character inherent in the fictive act. The impersonal I is in the nub of every fiction, but, when the fiction is “successful”, it is so heavily swathed in character and circumstance, in virtuosity, that the desperation of the impersonal I, to go on, to exist, is tunicated and obscure.

For that about which all that can be said is that it exists, the imperative is to go on existing. There is inexistence in each pause, in each horrible full stop, but to resume is to re-exist, to go on. No time is lost. But to go on is to be occluded, to be obscured in characters and circumstance. How to go on? The subject cannot be the object. Anything that might be said about the subject replaces the subject but is not the subject. Subjectivity is not a personal force. The impersonal I [6] has nothing but existence, but it cannot exist unless it accretes the qualities that efface it, qualities that are not it for other qualities could have been accreted and may yet be accreted when these qualities have been shed. Personality is a gratuitous accretion. I have nothing unless I am given it. Unless I have either eyes or no eyes I have neither eyes nor no eyes. I am only what you can read.

In its wonderful stuttering attempts to force the mechanisms of fiction to run against their springs and ratchets, The Unnamable interrogates its workings and shows that arbitrary objects and gratuities are ultimately indispensable to the unclosable impersonal subject in fiction's ontological nub [7]. That which must speak in order to exist must dissemble in order to speak. To exist, to go on, the unnameable must accrete and occlude, always cobbling together the desperate fiction through which it is both perpetuated and effaced.


[1] The effacement of the author, the relegation of his identity to an oblique reference in this footnote, may be considered a tribute to Beckett’s rigorous self-effacement, a self-effacement posthumously effaced in supremus by the City of Dublin’s decision to offload his name on the world’s ugliest and most ostentatious bridge.
[2] Or “novel”.
[3] Life doesn’t concern us here.
[4] Have I just named it? Oops. Does the Cartesian “I think therefore I am” make the unwarranted assumption of the I? Yes there is thinking going on, and therefore amming, but whose it is is moot. I do not exist; I am merely the result of the imagining of what it would be like to be me. But whose imagining is it? Identity is the product of thinking and cannot be its locus. But perhaps saying ‘I’ is nothing more than an assertion of subjectivity, albeit a clumsy assertion, and it would be a mistake to regard the ‘I’ as implying a pre-existing entity (the spurious ‘me’, perhaps).
[5] In this footnote the essay’s author conspicuously fails to explain why he appears to think that this sort of metaphor, the stuff of poor fiction, should somehow be considered less disreputable in critical writing.
[6] An unnounable pronoun.
[7] To dispense with gratuities is to approach inexistence, an attractive proposition perhaps, but inexistence is not a state and cannot be ‘attained’ by a subject. Beckett may have attempted to write his way to where writing was impossible [8] but there can be no evidence of his success. Texts can only refute the impossibility of texts: they cannot eradicate themselves (merely cripple themselves).
[8] In not writing Beckett differs from the non-writer only in that the non-writer believes that writing is possible for others.


What we think of as nouns are inherently speculative and arbitrary pieces of conceptual shorthand for either commonly associated adjectives or for subjects/objects posited to ornament verbs. It seems to me that quality, action and state are robust (certain) compared with entity and identity, which are tenuous and open to doubt (uncertain). We experience qualities but the thingness of things is meta-experiential. Adjectives may label qualities 'out there' but nouns label only convenient speculative mental constructs.
Perhaps 'consciousness' is a verb mistaken for a noun, just like 'mind' and 'soul' and 'person'. When the doctors dissected my legs they couldn't find any 'running' (and now I can't run).
Our idea of ‘consciousness’ is usually predicated on the weak pseudo-concept ‘self’, a pseudo-concept that has no determining adjectives and so cannot be a noun. The self is no entity. Yes there seems to be consciounessing going on (not particularly interesting in itself), but all this talk about ‘I’ and ‘not-I’ and ‘things’ and ‘objects’ is epistemologically feeble. Such talk has functional convenience only. It is not worth thinking about.
The pseudo-problem of ‘consciousness’ is grammatical, not epistemological.