Dieter's Notes

"Gestus" vs "Gesture"

Use "Gestus" whenever possible. It emphasizes the singularity of the gesture and its status as a theoretical concept.

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Abbreviated thoughts

The difficulties Tiedemann ascribes to The Arcades Project seem to apply to N@aS as well.

The question of whether I plan to "retain them in the course of [my] work" is more difficult - these are meant to stay fragments, though there is a similar "end" narrative that I am writing. What is the status of a fragmentary work that knows it will be fragmentary from the first fragment? Kafka and Benjamin didn't finish their books but seemed to have at least, in the beginning, intended to.

[Fragments and Benjamin's Method]

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Allegory and Fetish

Yet another step in the progression from the Optical Flaneur to the tactile collector. Is the Allegorist between these two, associated with commodity somehow between optical and tactile? Or is the Allegorist further down the chain?

The commodity is "broken down matter." The collector's matter becomes broken down and commodified in the process of allegorization - it becomes simply a cog in a system of interpretative associations.

Allegory and the fetish character of the commodity

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An Early Draft

Kafka and Benjamin Presentation:

Dieter Bohn

Good Afternoon, everyone. Since my paper today will treat Kafka's parables, I think it is fitting that I begin with a couple as epigraphs:

What are you building?-I want to dig a subterranean passage. Some progress must be made. My station up there is much too high.
We are digging the pit of Babel. [K 464]

If it had been possible to build the Tower of Babel without ascending it, the work would have been permitted. [K 464]

(click "Full Fragment" for the full Draft)

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If this is the definition of "Parable," then Kafka writes "anti-Parables"

but that's not quite right - these parables are "organized around binary structures," but one of the binaries is missing. A sun circling around a black hole.

[the binary structures in which the particular discloses or illustrates the truth]

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Brecht kills Lao-Tse

Yet Another Parable on Parables. But this one is cut short by Brecht (or closer: by Brecht's influence on Benjamin, since Benjamin could have just as easily finished the parable then discussed how and where it was interrupted...).

At least Brecht is consistent: if there's nothing there, then it's worth nothing. There is no "more than parable" for Brecht.

Brecht would find this website "despicable"

[a conversation between Lao-Tse and his disciple Kafka]

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Citing without Quoting

This work, N@aS, seems fairly effective at quoting without quotation marks.

[the highest degree the art of citing without quotation marks]

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Collectors and Tactile Instincts

I'm not sure what to do with the opposition of the Flaneur to the Collector (optical vs tactile).

When one navigates these fragments online, they are optical, one is a flaneur. When they are printed or written out, they are physically arranged - the collector. A turning away from the tactile...

Parables are neither.

[Collectors are beings with tactile instincts]

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Aphorism is whole-r (hole-r?) than word. It is more complete-in-itself. A word is like a tool -- taken out of context there is no expectation for meaning. Aphorism has no context, it is always already taken out of context, yet there is the expectation of meaning. But there is not supposed to be any meaning.

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Containing its own exegesis - or not.

Not just "evasion" - Subversion. Elimination. Destruction.

Or if not "destruction," at least "decay"

[that exegesis is a stratagem for the evasion of exegesis]

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Dialectics and Narrativity

I associate the "progression" the Benjamin rejects in favor of the image/D@aS with traditional "narrative." But this is messy. Perhaps I only intend it to be an "allegorical association."

"What has been comes together in a flash with the now to form a contellation" - These do not "map" so nicely. But the central idea, the "flash" of a frozen image that would otherwise (but is never) be in movement - the standstill. The interpretive concept of N@aS is itself a gesture.

[image is dialectics at a standstill]

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Eternal Recurrence and Phantasmagoria.

This is a connection between phastasmagoria and D@aS. This is also tinted by Benjamin's understanding of Kafka's relation to Tradition.

What is the relation of Eternal Recurrence to D@aS?

Better: If Tradition becomes Phantasmagoria, and Phantasmagoria leads to mythic anguish, then Kafka's Parables show up Mythic Anguish Par Excellence.

[the idea of eternal recurrence]

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Examining the Rungs

But if "the panorama opening out to him" is never revealed - or cannot exist, we are left to examine the rungs. They do not climb up, but are scattered about. They can only be used to beat people with.

Dramatic, that. But the point: quotations are decontextualized. They can be used for whatever purposes I put them to. They are the words of others, but they cannot speak for themselves here.

Are Kafka's parables still parables when they are quoted? Are they always already being quoted - quotations in the service of another from the moment they are written down?

[rung by rung, according as chance would offer a narrow foothold]

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Failure seems to enhance the autonomy of the work, or its singularity, anyway. These parables seem to me to be at the very center of "modern aesthetics," not its opposite.

[Kafka's strategic use of failure]

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Flaneur and the Buyer

Benjamin's second Kafka fragment is a book pitch. He is responding to criticism from Brecht and from his potential publisher.

[Flaneur and the Marketplace]

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Foci of a Dialectic

The "modern big-city dweller" experiences phantasmagoria, a phantasmagoria Kafka creates by writing tradition ("mystical experience") into the modern experience. Kafka turns a weightless, ephemeral, arbitrary city experience into one that is heavy, deep, and teleological.

But the weight, depth, and telos are false, or rather: they are directed by nothing, not by God.

[an ellipse with foci that are far apart and are determined]

[Eternal Recurrence and Phantasmagoria]

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Function of the Parable

A issue to grapple with: "Aphorism" vs. "Parable." This may relate to "Collector" vs. "Allegorist"? It's too easy to simply lay similar structures on top of each other and say they work the same (the main weakness of "Narrativity/Dialectics").

To call them "parables" is to already set them up as lacking, since they're parables without "tradition" -- as Benjamin says. 'Parables' already have "something more." If they are called Parables, then perhaps their content doesn't even matter? Does the modifier "Kafka's" on "Parables" just mean "Devoid of theological or absolute reference?"

[The exemplary function of the traditional parable]

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Gave it up!

What if we take the policeman at his word?

D@aS: Give it up!

Differance: Give it up!

N@aS: Give it up!

Interpretation: Give it up!

Meaning: Give it up!

Just because nihilism is passe doesn't mean it is less consistent than postmodernism. It's no wonder the existential reading of Kafka held sway for so long.

Give it up! Give it up!

This parable too contains its own interpretation.

[Give it up!]

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The critics are the leopards. We experience the ceremony only after it has been calculated in advance - this parable has always already been calculated in advance.

[Leopards in the Temple]

[a performative power]

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Material Production of History

Kafka's parables are as aware of their engagement in the decay of meaning as they are in the decay of material. If Benjamin embraces this failure, then does it countenance postmodern play of interpretation?

If a single meaning decays into failure, then multiple meanings will also decay, each one being singular. And so this interpretation too decays. and so on. Too juvenile?

[Benjamin's interpretative text repeats Kafka's gesture]

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The method of this web page is constantly threatening to take over it's content, to become its sole content.

It is an Archive of quotations and commentaries - and Archive theory looms over all of it.

Its method is that of the Arcades Project. That is the main thing - it began with scraps of paper and categorizations of them. But the connections between them became convoluted (Convultes) too quickly.

The connections here are partially automated - the machine links the quotations as much as I do.

The singularity of the quotations is emphasized, they are not listed together on page after page, but each on its own electronic page.

Each quotation, commentary, source is on the same level as the others, none is especially foregrounded.

The narrativity of a paper, the narrativity of academic discourse, here is subjected to the same fragmentation that is subjected to language, tradition, meaning by the Parable and by the Arcades Project. Is such a fragmentary thing submissible for grading?

Would Benjamin have considered the Arcades Project finished if he had been able to put it online with this method? If I cannot finish this web page, is it nonetheless of value?

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Method of This Website: Not Quite Literary Montage

Method of this [website]: [not quite] literary montage. I [have to say something - academic discourse requires it].. Merely show. I shall purloin no valuables, appropriate no ingenious formulations.[except, of course, that it is unavoidable - that is the nature of quotation, Benjamin is fooling himself if he really thinks otherwise] But the rags, the refuse--these I will [have inventoried, yet] allow, in the only way possible, to come into their own: by making use of them.

[Method of this project: literary montage]

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Missing the Point

"Supernatural" means simply "beyond the natural," or, more pertinently, "not natural." So we could read Benjamin as saying:

Both the [Natural] and the [Not Natural] interpretations equally miss the point.

interpretations must have depth (they must "go beyond" the natural), but they may not be theological. Perhaps this is why people feel Benjamin gives them such license - a contradiction proves all propositions.

[two ways to miss the point of Kafka's works]

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Naming the Parable

The aphorism, the parable, the fragment, the ruin: the naming of these pieces is important insofar as it "defines" what they are... and that is the issue at hand, can they be essentialized or defined?

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On "Boredom is the threshold to great deeds"

The dialectical antithesis to boredom is frenetic activity - which cannot lead to "great deeds." Kafka was always bored - but it was impossible for him to leave the threshold

[Boredom is the threshold to great deeds]

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On "On Parables"

Parable and reality. Symbol and signified. Allegory and symbol. "only a parable" lets you live "daily life." But it is divorced entirely from parable. Also, self reference here, parables calling themselves parables referring outside themselves.

[On Parables]

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On "The Pit of Babel"

This parable seems to be the most potent for my purposes - but it seems as though it is because it is the most meaningless. The meanings of it are difficult to figure out. Any reading I make of it - such as the "postmodern" one of pursuing multiple meanings that seems to be the most obvious to me - seems to reduce it to less than it should be.

[The Pit of Babel]

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On The Tower of Babel

Divine prevention of Language connecting to Meaning.

This is the ideal symbol for my purposes - a tower that never was postulated as a tower that was destroyed, a tower that is the symbol for language, a doubly-negated phallologocentrism...

And it has movement/stasis - a simple idea that leads one to logical circlings (how could such a thing be possible? Why would it have been permitted? And so on..) that ultimately lead nowhere. This is very much like a paradox - but not quite. How to put a name on the difference between Kafkan Parable and Paradox?

[The Tower of Babel]

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Parable and Context

Can anything be always already taken out of context? Taken out of context at all? The answer should be no. But that is apparently the claim of the parable - that is can be taken out of context. Or is that just a left-over new critical stance? Kafka's parables should be a new critic's wet dream. They are. But they also reference an absent context - a reference that makes a straight "just the text" reading insufficient - an absence that makes it the only criticism that gives Kafka his due as trying to write something metaphysically important. Kafka's parable is a litmus test for the critic - are you a modernist or a postmodernist?

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Parable as Language

What is problematic is that I see them as stand-ins for language, for the problem of language. The Piece serves as substitute for the whole - the Parable is a Metonym.

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Picasso's "Don Quixote"

Picasso's sketch haunts and is, for me, the real (though surely not historical) referent to the parable.

[The Truth About Sancho Panza]

Click "Full Fragment" to see it.

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Quotation as Failure

"Kafka" can be understood as a preparatory document for what Benjamin considered his ideal book, namely one made up only of quotes.

Quotation is a gesture, a movement between texts that is nonetheless still.

The Arcades Project as a book of gestures.

[Benjamin (re)produces these gestures through the act of citation]

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Sancho Panza

Benjamin and I are in accord as regards this Parable, it is Kafka's most perfect.

(See the Full Fragment for more)

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Kafka's word presents a sickness of tradition.

An emptiness of tradition. Also, the "word" here is singular - like the biblical Word (LOGOS), or like a signifier.

[a sickness of tradition]

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Similarity between N@aS and The Arcades Project

The titles "Exposes" and "Convolutes" are obviously a nod to The Arcades Project. In creating this website, I followed Benjamin's method rather closely - compiling scraps of paper with quotations on them and arranging them into categories. It seemed natural to put these fragments online in this format because it allowed for linking and multiple categorizations. In this sense, then, I believe that the "Convolutes" are aptly named. The "Exposes" are more traditional academic narratives - and perhaps bear less resemblance to Benjamin's "Paris, Capital of the Nineteenth Century" than they might.

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Some notes on reading N@aS

Generally speaking, a reader will want to "read" this site by beginning with the "Exposes" - which are narrative (or more narrative than the rest) essays describing my arguments regarding Benjamin and Kafka. Otherwise, you might consider starting with one of the various Sources, leading you to a quotation, which should lead you to some commentary, and then either back to another quote, or to a "Convolute" containing similarly themed quotations and commentaries. Ultimately, these fragments may lead the reader to the "Exposes," though perhaps not necessarily.

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The Blotting Pad

This should be said of Kafka, as well.

[a blotting pad to ink]

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The Flash of the Image

The tension between movement and stillness in the D@aS and N@aS. Should the same dialectical process (and Image - resolution) be applied to this tension?

Also: Image vs. Parable. Is a parable just an mc-escher photo paradox? Bad line of thought, not useful.

The ephermeral nature of the image, it passes, it is immediately lost. This doesn't apply to N@aS. But it could - associate it with the "passing" interpretations.


...As for the method of that association, I need to finish thinking through the Allegorist and the Collector.

[An image that emerges suddenly, in a flash]

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The Forest

Another parable - but this one from Brecht!

"Depth is a dimension of its own, just depth" - the perfect explanation, the depth of the Pit of Babel! You build the tower up to a single meaning, you dig the pit down and down and down and you never stop digging and you never find the bottom. Just Depth.

See "The Burrow"

[In the forest]

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The Limits of N@aS

Theorizing this similarity is an exercise I leave to the reader or at least to a future time. Theories of the Archive, of Montage, of Mechanization, and of Hyptertextuality all would seem to apply -- and all threaten to overtake the fragmentary discourse of Benjamin and Kafka I am trying to engage in. For now, it is simply a matter of scope.

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The Starting Point

This must be my starting point, that the Parables--and Benjamin--participate in some sort of "pre-diffferance," where instead of constant deferrment, we get a stop, a singularity, a standstill, in the face of the lack of truth/signified.

[the metaphysical concept of truth separate from the mechanism of signification]

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Truth Separate from Signification

perpetuates both the notion of linguistic skepticism and the concept of truth distinct and separate from the process of signification.

[The concept of truth distinct and separate from the process of signification]

The "standard line" that I've been talking about isn't quite this. That "truth isn't separate from signification" is a standard post-modern line. It may not be entirely fair to say that Benjamin is truly pushing for this interpretation, but it's certainly fair to say that Benjamin at least points in this direction.

The question may be that I have to decide how much of this project will ride on what I consider a "proper" reading of Benjamin and how much of my own interpretation of Kafka and the Arcades Project I will allow through. I also need to watch my dependence on / interaction with Ziarek - I think she's more influential on my reading that I initially thought.

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First Observation: Benjamin uses parable to explicate interpretation of parable

The "unfolding" certainly does support the early thesis of the presentation that postmodern interpretative play is justified in reading Kafka's parables. Perhaps this actually is Benjamin's position?

Second Observation: Relics and Doctrine. Ruins and Empire? Tricky.

[The word "unfolding" has a double meaning]

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Wisdom connects language to meaning?

"Decay" - useful in this context: the presence of what is no longer present. Yet in this case, there never was anything. Only the hope that there would be.

[products of its decay]

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on Couriers

Fairly easy to read this into my (any??) thesis.

Can something be made of the "oaths of service"?


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presaging his own interpretation

It would be nice to have time to engage in this Holocaust Debate - but not that nice. The utility of this insight is the "super-addition." For my purposes, not the Holocaust, but later methods of interpretation, get super-added to the parables. Their "More than Parables" is partially a result of the knowledge of the "vast body of interpretation" out there.

[this substitution of effect for cause]

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purity and beauty of failure

This claim feels so much like a qualification designed for Brecht and Benjamin's potential publisher. "Don't get me wrong, it's definitely a failure."

How seriously do we take Benjamin's altered stance in the face of Brecht's criticism? I think very seriously - but I think also that it is not his most "natural" take on Kafka, it is not Benjamin's inclination to damn Kafka for mere obscurantism.

[purity and beauty of a failure]

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the Stakes

What are the stakes of the debate, as I was asked at the presentation?

Is this a direct assault on Postmodern Play?

Is this simply a call to re-examine Benjamin's commentary on Kafka?

Is this really a commentary on the Arcades Project?

Given its poor reception, the stakes must be higher than I had anticipated.

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the term "failure"

Benjamin's use of the term "failure" is motivated by his audience - who believes with Brecht that Kafka is indeed a failure. But perhaps that is not what Benjamin would like to say?

the "failure" here is a success - they fail to transmit what was never there.

[the deficiency of Kafka's parables explicity as their failure to transmit truth]

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