Kafka's Great Wall

Last Train to Kafka, in progress. Porcelain, wood, mortar. 40x40cm

Last Train to Kafka presents a quote from The Great Wall in which the narrator discusses the relationship of the High Command, remote and unknowable, to the people who actually built the wall. Although the reasoning behind the orders issued by the High Command was difficult to understand, the narrator explains that it was common practice to think about the orders, but only up to a point, after which it was considered wiser (safer) to simply stop thinking. To ask too many questions was to risk shaking the foundations on which the world rests. Thus the narrator, too, on arriving in his story at this potentially subversive point, simply stops, as if to demonstrate that he, too, knows when to stop thinking.

Kafka Remix. Porcelain, wood. 28x32cm

In Kafka Remix the words from the story have been rearranged into an alternative text in which a different narrator suggests that writing is like bricklaying, and that the Great Wall itself is built of words/language.

The German remix and my English translation can be found below.

Kafka Remix - German textMaurer sein: Zeichen suchen, und keine Führung oder gar Fesselung; die Anordnungen der Führerschaft sind, wenn nicht ohne menschlichen Grund, doch gegensätzliche Seitengassen, Grenzen, die uns seit Menschengedenken so wahnsinnig werden lassen, daß wir nicht kämpfen; doch ich muß an den Fesseln rütteln. Damals war die Verwirrung der Schrift die Kernfrage meiner Untersuchungen und ich war durchaus nicht der Frage nach gewesen nur auf Grund der Zeit in der ich meine Auffassung und Gedanken vermitteln musste. Wenn das Buch sich nicht von selbst geschrieben hätte, wäre ich keineswegs noch am Leben. Das Buch ist, das will ich glauben, mächtiger, und menschlicher als die Führerschaft, begreiflich und untrüglich. Das sei unser Gebet, daß der Menschenverstand Fundament werde, ruhig und unsterblich, nutzlos nicht. Es ist der Turmbau selbst ein Widerstand, Klarheit und Sonne der Babelturm und darum denke ich ihm nach. Meine Schriften, Gedanken und Erwägungen Mauerbau und Turmbau sind. Will man doch schon aus dem Grund nicht scheitern - und stürzte doch die Mauer, so wären Wir vom Mauerbau abzuschießen. Aber wozu das Ende von Hunderttausenden? Die Mauer, und nicht die Gegenwärtigkeit und Meinung der Führerschaft-, die Mauer ist doch das große Werk Chinas. English translation To be a mason is to search for signs and significant marks, not guidance from others, or what is worse, binding rules and regulations. The orders of the High Command, although not without a basis in human reason, are in fact contradictory side streets, borders which since the dawn of history have driven us so crazy that we do not fight; nevertheless I must rattle the chains. At the time, the confusion of writing was the principal question behind my research, and I had not gone off in pursuit of that question simply because of the times in which I was compelled to explain my view and thoughts. If the book had not written itself I would surely be dead. The book, or so I choose to believe, is more powerful and more human than the High Command, comprehensible and without deception. May that be our prayer, that human reason become the foundation, calm and immortal, not simply useless. The building of the Tower is itself a form of resistance; clarity and the sun are the Tower of Babel, and that is why I continue to think about it. My writings, thoughts and considerations are one with the building of the Wall and the Tower. For that reason alone one desires not to fail, and were the Wall to collapse, we who built it would have to be shot. But what would be the point of killing hundreds of thousands? The Wall, and not the presence and views of the High Command — the Wall is China’s great achievement.