Part of the delicious frustration of aphorisms, I suppose, is that, when done well, just one of those philosophical one-(or two-)liners can stay with you for days. Yes– it’s wonderful to have a rich, long-lasting, often coy, kernel to chew on. But sometimes, the presence keeping you company proves unyielding, not very helpful in its attempt to make you use your brain in unconventional ways, to get you to stretch your imaginative power into new territories.
One of these little morsels that’s been repeatedly popping up to say hi over the last couple of days comes from Kafka’s (Zürau) Aphorisms, namely, #101:
Sin always comes openly, and in a form apprehensible to the senses. It walks on its roots and doesn’t need to be plucked out of the ground.*
It’s the latter part of that assertion– that “Sin… walks on its roots”– that I find so layered and imagistic and interesting, only partially due to the vision of sin as some variety of flora (in my mind, a very thin sort of plant, daintily holding up its lower leaves like a skirt as its roots take it zipping off over the horizon). Might Kafka be saying that, as opposed to the mysterious, rococo trappings we always give it, with sin, what we see is, instead, what we get– only that, and nothing more? The first sentence seems to hold that sin has no need to dissemble about its own appearance– and so, do we have any excuse, other than our own will not to see it, for not recognizing it?
Additionally, because, thanks to its roots, sin is apparently ambulant, it may therefore have a sort of built-in defense mechanism to use against those who would seek to deny it sustenance and life, to remove it completely from the realm of the living. I like the image, period, of sin scuttling away on its roots- but then again, these are strange roots of which it’s making use; because they aren’t grounded,** aren’t dependent on a fixed location, can they really be said to be roots, as in those that fix us within an origin or foundation, or to any particular source of being and formation? Perhaps it is because sin is so locationally freewheeling that it’s able to morph into accord with so many different (local) situations and appear so “openly… to the senses;” perhaps its very homelessness– its rootlessness– makes it at home everywhere, and therefore, frees it from the need of the in-depth geographical knowledge needed to obtain scarce nutrients required for the more place-bound.
Yeah. And that was only one of just over a hundred little gems that sucked me in. I don’t think I’ll have to be worried for a long while about not having anything to think about.
* Franz Kafka, Aphorisms, transl. Willa and Edwin Muir and Michael Hoffmann (New York: Schocken Books, 2015), 100.
** I do realize certain plants have roots that go anywhere but in the ground– but existential rootedness, as I’m talking about here, would seem to require some sort of connection, even commitment, to a particular origin.