Four Stories: A Little Woman

The third sex.-  “A small man is a paradox but still a man but small females seem to me to belong to another sex than tall women,” said an old dancing master.  A small woman is never beautiful – said old Aristotle.                     Mr Nietzsche

 “It is a little woman that I now speak of… she is always hatless.”  She wears no hat, nothing to cover her head in humility as women do in the Christian church.  In the Church, it is a sign of humility, that her head should not be exposed in the house of G_d, in keeping with the belief that women brought sin into the world by tempting Adam with the “apple” (the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil).  Her fingers are distinct.  She is exceedingly mobile and apt to twist her body around at a moment’s notice.  She is an excellent – but indifferent – dancer. 

But to sit in judgement… even the judges in the law courts cover their heads.

That this woman is highly dissatisfied with the writer for no discernible reason is a source of anxiety for him.  As a stranger to the woman, it should be easy to enjoy that anonymity which modern living brings but it is in a desocialised space such as public transport where she is offended by him the most.

The writer’s offence is nothing she can put her finger on – even with fingers as fine as hers.  She therefore has recourse only to the audience of public opinion, there being no crime or offence under any law being committed here.  Unable to articulate the writer’s offensiveness and point the finger, she takes a middle course between ignoring him and brining him to account – she exhibits a secret sorrow to discredit him.  She is reported to be afflicted by the writer’s very presence – even in his absence.  Even if he were to take the ultimate decision to rid himself by suicide, she would be enraged. 

These reports are gaining notoriety and it should only be a matter of time before the writer feels the weight of public opinion set against him.  The narrator takes it upon himself to make changes to his life then.  Over time, he will exercise those technologies of the self which would improve his character, alter his habits to minimise the offence.  Getting rid of it completely is unthinkable.  Her sorrow is fundamental.  That nothing can ultimately be done about his unhappy disposition – born into language as he is for he has always been in the public eye – she forgets that in the heat of the moment, being the warrior that she is.  No action by the writer can ultimately mollify the little woman.  It is in their respective natures to be antagonistic: the “I” (“Incorporated”) of the artist and the “ME” (“Moral Entrepreneur”) of the little woman.

Having put the matter to a friend – just in passing, not crediting the matter with any seriousness – his companion leapt to the absurd proposition the writer should go away for a while.  His underestimation of the situation – as if merely going away would solve the matter – made the narrator secretive.  Not that it was a dangerous secret but the matter belonged to no one but himself: “it is a minor, purely personal thing, and as such a light burden to bear despite everything, and because that is how it should stay.”

The idea that someone should dislike one even for no fathomable reason, will upset one’s faith in oneself.  He is damned if he leaves and he cannot approach her for she gets hysterical when he does so and , besides, the subject-matter of their relationship is so light, its virtually negligent.

The public would think there was a love affair and that he would be the one leading the affair.  If they should ever become involved and already now, there were people whose faces he was starting to recognise and distinguish, folk who have nothing better to do than to mind other people’s business, their noses always occupied with scenting out a scandal; if they became involved in the exchange between himself and the moral entrepreneur, then he should not know how to rightly make an account of himself without being ungentlemanly about it, accusing her of faking her illness, her “secret sorrow.”  If he was not the subject of her disaffections, he would even admire her tenacity, “the trenchancy of her judgments and her tirelessness in pursuing her arguments.”

So what, then, has really happenned in all these years?  Simply that such episodes have recurred, sometimes with greater, sometimes lesser severity, so that now their sum total is greater.                                                                                   Kafka

As time went by and the years rolled under the pages of his book, the narrator grew more uneasy, not because the matter has grown any heavier but in his youth, he had enough energy in reserve to discount the importance of this little woman.  Now in his advanced years, his energy is a little depleted.  He remembers a little more and keeps a greater account.  His reserve is not what it used to be.

It has become apparent the changes have not been made in the matter itself, but in the attitude of the narrator to himself.  Writing as a technique of the self in the practical ethos of the arts.  Not that it is a completely individual affair.  Making oneself absent would only make matters worse.  Naturally, the public suspect a love affair.  But the public cannot exactly see the signs of an issue.  They can smell bad blood in their vicinity and that is enough to occupy their minds, operating largely on scent as they do, “these useless loiterers standing about, using up the atmosphere and excusing their presence in some crafty manner, preferably by claiming relationship.” 

No, it was not enough for the writer to maintain himself upright in the eyes of the Moral Entrepreneurship (M.E.).  One had to consider the matter with both hands. 

On the one hand, he has grown calmer about the little woman, resigned as he is to never really changing her mind about him.  If it had even been about a spurned love affair, it would be a matter to address properly but, alas, it wasn’t even as involved as all that.  He was a complete stranger to her.  He was however, becoming more of a man about the matter and it might be pointed out that while other men may have merely taken the little woman aside and crushed her beneath his heel, the writer did not.

On the other hand, he was becoming uptight, jumpy.  The “constant series of shocks” were taking their toll upon his mental stability.  He was beginning to doubt himself.  With resignation, comes repression.  Death is at the heart of repetition.  The episodes and charges of her “secret sorrow” repeat to build up to an apparently imminent and weighted decision where he should be called to account by the public. 

But the little woman could only add an “ugly flourish” to the diploma of his existence, his credentials, what he’s worth on paper, in the public eye.  Ultimately, she could not censor the writer but her role was still a necessary one.  As much as his.  The silent exchange was laid to rest in writing, in forgetting about the matter and concentrating his energies upon the task at hand: literature.

So from whichever angle I consider it, it always becomes apparent – and from this I will not budge – that if I only keep this little matter just lightly concealed with my hand I shall remain free for a long time to go on living my life as hitherto, untroubled by the world, despite all the raging of this woman.                                Kafka

 

 

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2 thoughts on “Four Stories: A Little Woman

  1. Born into a specific context my intuitive reading of the story is different, for sure simplistic (I re-read Kafka today, so I could come back here to this place). The Little Woman is no innocent reader, the narrator – not a writer. In my simplistic, intuitive reading, the little woman is anti-Semitism – this primordial desire to hate, always existing in small quantities, sometimes growing to monstrous [ridiculous] size (Josefine?). And the narrator is simply jew – a creature that no matter what it will say, do or not do – will always be used as a scapegoat. No surrenders, no give ups, no gifts – this system is as strong as capitalism, as religion.
    Minor, political philosophy, is this story.

    Interesting parallelism, now that I read it again, between the male types and the female types: trapeze artist, fasting artist vis-a-vis little woman and Josefine.

    But you see other things, if my understanding is not that off-track: you see some imminent combat between the writer and his reader (any reader?). The reader wishing to eradicate the writer (any writer?), a wish that can never be realized and yet its existence in this specific ecosystem is utterly important, as much as the writer’s role (I’m rephrasing your last paragraph here). But why is it so? Is it so that we can forget the writer and remember him again in the future? Is it so we can liberate his texts and make them independent, master-free public domain ideas? Why is this kind of hatred towards the Author so important, as much as the Author himself? all this remains under the question mark.

  2. “People are very timid because critics frighten them… I know what criticism is. Criticism is death.” Nijinksy

    The little woman is not just any reader but a critic. The critic serves a necessary role, there is economic justification for the existence of the little woman. She is the third sex – such that Nietzsche is implying the critic is never beautiful and plots a politics of revenge (which also fits with the Semitic dimension as anti-Semitism arose in part from a resentment of the economic class of Jews, going right back to the Merchant of venice). The State apparatus can only appropriate a war machine. She cannot write aesthetic(k)ally (the meaning of beauty as a doing word, or a becoming rather than a being, a state) so makes a living out of criticism, serving an x-Fn.

    Which is not to say ALL critics fulfill this role but there are many who do. Burroughs also has a dig at a critic in the novel, “The Western Lands,” a counter-attack. And the critic is not to be wished out of existence but serves a useful function, that of conflict, a “perpetual field of interaction” between a State apparatus and a war machine. A reading pretty consistent with your own take in terms of anti-semitism and fascism.

    I used to have this idea of multi-disciplinary categories equating with a kind of hyper-sexuality, to produce hybrids and monsters, a neo-evolution proceeding by mutation, not succeeding types in a plan(e) of development. The masculine sciences conjugated with the feminine human sciences, Deleuze’s sodomisation of past writers – an overtly simplistic notion of identity that doesn’t really work (it just makes things confusing!). So I’m trying to read things as simply as possible in terms of writing. But of course, these disseminations don’t escape the model of sexuality either so its interesting that you note a parallelism between the male types and female types. An immanent conflict in the politics of difference – sexual or otherwise – is quintessential to a neo-evolution. Marx is right when he says conflict is the motor of history, right down to the levels of a fasting artist, a little woman, a trapeze artist and even a mouse people. Antiproduction is injected into the primary process. From the start, death is there, we have to face it even if, we “keep this little matter just lightly concealed with [our] hand” that is to say, in writing as fiction, metaphor, writers as sorcerers, a universal history of becoming.

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