Sunday, July 5, 2009

Readings: On Cosmic Distance

Having previously conjoined the names of Franz Kafka and Simone Weil here, I was struck—when reading the essay on Kafka in the Joyce Carol Oates book, New Heaven, New Earth—by the similarity of the following passage excerpted from Kafka’s "A Message from the Emperor," to the passage below it, from Simone Weil’s Gravity and Grace.

First, Kafka:

The emperor…has sent a message to you, the humble subject, the insignificant shadow cowering in the remotest distance before the imperial sun…The messenger immediately sets out on his journey; a powerful, an indefatigable man; now pushing with his right arm, now with his left, he cleaves a way for himself through the throng… But the multitudes are so vast; their numbers have no end. …how vainly does he wear out his strength… Nobody could fight his way through here, least of all one with a message from a dead man. But you sit at your window when evening falls and dream it to yourself.

Now, Weil:

God wears himself out through the infinite thickness of time and space in order to reach the soul and to captivate it. If it allows a pure and utter consent (though brief as a lightening flash) to be torn from it, then God conquers that soul. And when it has come entirely his he abandons it. He leaves it completely alone and it has in its turn, but gropingly, to cross the infinite thickness of time and space in search of him whom it loves. It is thus that the soul, starting from the opposite end, makes the same journey that God made towards it. And that is the cross.

…the sense of distance; the sense of cosmic loneliness; the sense, nonetheless, of the urgency of the journey that each passage evokes…