There’s something kind of magic about this book.
“Maybe the first time you saw her you were ten. She was standing in the sun scratching her legs. Or tracing letters in the dirt with a stick. Her hair was being pulled. Or she was pulling someone’s hair. And a part of you was drawn to her, and a part of you resisted–wanting to ride off on your bicycle, kick a stone, remain uncomplicated. In the same breath you felt the strength of a man, and a self-pity that made you feel small and hurt. Part of you thought: Please don’t look at me. If you don’t, I can still turn away. And part of you thought: Look at me.”
“And if the man who once upon a time had been a boy who promised he’d never fall in love with another girl as long as he lived kept his promise, it wasn’t because he was stubborn or even loyal. He couldn’t help it.”
“Then he almost but didn’t say the two sentence he’d been meaning to say for years: part of me is made of glass, and also, I love you”
“Franz Kafka is Dead
He died in a tree from which he wouldn’t come down. “Come down!” they cried to him. “Come down! Come down!” Silence filled the night, and the night filled the silence, while they waited for Kafka to speak. “I can’t,” he finally said, with a note of wistfulness. “Why?” they cried. Stars spilled across the black sky. “Because then you’ll stop asking for me.” The people whispered and nodded among themselves. They put their arms around each other, and touched their children’s hair. They took off their hats and raised them to the small, sickly man with the ears of a strange animal, sitting in his black velvet suit in the dark tree. Then they turned and started for home under the canopy of leaves. Children were carried on their fathers’ shoulders, sleepy from having been taken to see who wrote his books on pieces of bark he tore off the tree from which he refused to come down. In his delicate, beautiful, illegible handwriting. And they admired those books, and they admired his will and stamina. After all: who doesn’t wish to make a spectacle of his loneliness? One by one families broke off with a good night and a squeeze of the hands, suddenly grateful for the company of neighbors. Doors closed to warm houses. Candles were lit in windows. Far off, in his perch in the trees , Kafka listened to it all: the rustle of the clothes being dropped to the floor, or lips fluttering along naked shoulders, beds creaking along the weight of tenderness. It all caught in the delicate pointed shells of his ears and rolled like pinballs through the great hall of his mind.
That night a freezing wind blew in. When the children wake up, they went to the window and found the world encased in ice. One child, the smallest, shrieked out in delight and her cry tore through the silence and exploded the ice of a giant oak tree. The world shone.
They found him frozen on the ground like a bird. It’s said that when they put their ears to the shell of his ears, they could hear themselves.”
“Wittgenstein once wrote that when the eye sees something beautiful, the hand wants to draw it. I wish I could draw you.”
“When you are young, you think it’s going to be solved by love. But it never is. Being close — as close as you can get — to another person only makes clear that impassable distance between you.
If being in love only made people more lonely, why would everyone want it so much?
Because of the illusion. You fall in love, it’s intoxicating, and for a little while you feel like you’ve actually become one with the other person. Merged souls and so on. You think you’ll never be lonely again.”
“The first language humans had was gestures. There was nothing primitive about this language that flowed from people’s hands, nothing we say now that could not be said in the endless array of movements possible with the fine bones of the fingers and wrists. The gestures were complex and subtle, involving a delicacy of motion that has since been lost completely.
During the Age of Silence, people communicated more, not less. Basic survival demanded that the hands were almost never still, and so it was only during sleep (and sometimes not even then) that people were not saying something or other. No distinction was made between the gestures of language and the gestures of life. The labor of building a house, say, or preparing a meal was no less an expression than making the sign for I love you or I feel serious. When a hand was used to shield one’s face when frightened by a loud noise something was being said, and when fingers were used to pick up what someone else had dropped something was being said; and even when the hands were at rest, that, too, was saying something. Naturally, there were misunderstandings. There were times when a finger might have been lifted to scratch a nose, and if casual eye contact was made with one’s lover just then, the lover might accidentally take it to be the gesture, not at all dissimilar, for Now I realize I was wrong to love you. These mistakes were heartbreaking. And yet, because people knew how easily they could happen, because they didn’t go round with the illusion that they understood perfectly the things other people said, they were used to interrupting each other to ask if they’d understood correctly. Sometimes these misunderstandings were even desirable, since they gave people a reason to say, Forgive me, I was only scratching my nose. Of course I know I’ve always been right to love you. Because of the frequency of these mistakes, over time the gesture for asking forgiveness evolved into the simplest form. Just to open your palm was to say: Forgive me.”
“Holding hands, for example, is a way to remember how it feels to say nothing together.”
“If at large gatherings or parties, or around people with whom you feel distant, your hands sometimes hang awkwardly at the ends of your arms – if you find yourself at a loss for what to do with them, overcome with sadness that comes when you recognize the foreignness of your own body – it’s because your hands remember a time when the division between mind and body, brain and heart, what’s inside and what’s outside, was so much less. It’s not that we’ve forgotten the language of gestures entirely. The habit of moving our hands while we speak is left over from it. Clapping, pointing, giving the thumbs-up, for example, is a way to remember how it feels to say nothing together. And at night, when it’s too dark to see, we find it necessary to gesture on each other’s bodies to make ourselves understood.”
“He spoke of human solitude, about the intrinsic loneliness of a sophisticated mind, one that is capable of reason and poetry but which grasps at straws when it comes to understanding another, a mind aware of the impossibility of absolute understanding. The difficulty of having a mind that understands that it will always be misunderstood.”