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74 translated by catharine diehl Werner Hamacher Uncalled: A Commentary on Kafka‘s“The Test” The philosophical and religious texts of the European tradition know only a world that follows a call, a world called forth and called on to do something, in which everything has a vocation and everything is addressed as that which it is. They declare, either explicitly or implicitly, every other to be impossible. A short text by Franz Kafka from “Convolute 1920” with notes from the fall of that year, published by Max Brod under the title “The Test,” can be read as an investigation of a world without call—without determination or function, without profession or vocation and without work; without goal and without guiding, claiming, or approval-granting authority. This text, in which nothing indicates that it reaches a “conclusion,” and nothing that it is a “fragment,” begins with the sentence: “I am a servant, but there is no work for me.” It ends with the lines: “That was only a test. He who does not answer the questions, has passed the test.”1 The I, who introduces himself as a servant in Kafka’s study, suggests many “causes” for there being no work for him. “I am anxious and don’t push myself forward, indeed I don’t even push myself into a line with the others, but that is only one reason for my inoccupation, it’s also possible that it has nothing at all to do with my inoccupation, the main cause in any case is that I am not called upon to serve . . .” As the first cause for his inoccupation, the servant names his anxiousness, which prevents him from competing with the others, but he immediately concedes: “it is also possible i-viii_1-256_Davi.indd 74 4/10/09 3:14:28 PM 75 Uncalled: A Commentary on Kafka’s “The Test” that it has nothing at all to do with my inoccupation.” Thus, not only is the servant without work, without employment, and inactive, also the cause that he names for this possibly has “nothing at all to do” with his inactivity. A cause that—if only possibly—does nothing, has nothing to do, does not affect the “effect” it should ground; such a cause does not only not have the explanatory function, it also does not have the foundational meaning of a cause. It is, of course, still called “cause,” “but there is no work for it.” A cause without foundational force, it is merely a possibility that is possibly none at all and therefore ceases to be in force as a possibility. A cause, which might not be one; a possibility, which perhaps does not offer the possibility of a foundation of reality; a vocation, which is not linked to any activity, occupation, or function—Kafka’s text speaks of a de-causalized world by speaking a de-causalized language. This language seems to withdraw the ground tendentially from all its statements and attests that it perhaps “has nothing at all to do” with that which it says and nothing to do with the fact that it says it. Benjamin remarked that the law in Kafka’s writings is a mere decoy [Attrappe], but each individual word in these writings is used as a trap for an attention that can find no support in the word.2 None of these words designates a “thing,” a “cause,” or an object, and none presents itself as an objectively justified statement. If it is a vacancy of causality that speaks in Kafka’s text, then the I with which it begins also cannot be the subject that grounds the construction of a secure linguistic world. The I does not speak as the representative of an authority that this I would help to express; the I is a helper who helps no one, a servant without work, without its own voice and without the voice of an other, for whom it could serve as a mediator. Neither master over itself nor servant of a master, the I is the figure of a speaking without task and thus not a figure of something that could claim, either behind or above it, a secured authority, be it of sense or of function. I is a word without the call, without the capacity, and without the work, to speak in the name of an other, a personal pronoun, but only as the pro- of a persona without noun and without a tone that...


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