The obligation to remember is inscribed on every Holocaust memorial, but even the words ‘Never Forget’ become irksome eventually. We don’t like being reminded of our obligations, we don’t want to go on taking the medicine, especially when we don’t accept that we are sick.

– Howard Jacobson, from the introduction to If This Is A Man / The Truce by Primo Levi (London: Abacus, 2014)


One of Kafka’s aphorisms works as a definition of a distinction: “The world is only ever a constructed world.” […] One can find an analogy to this “constructed world” in Heraclitus’s phrase, ήθος ανθρώπωι, which is often translated as “human character,” but that phrase overlooks the original meaning of ήθος as haunt or abode, a place that, by our capacity to adapt, we transform into a habitable dwelling, a place to which we become accustomed. Heraclitus’s most famous aphorism, ήθος ανθρώπωι δαίμων, might be constructed as, “the human ability to adapt does not belong to us,” or “what allows us to be human is something daemonic.”

– Daniel Frank, from the foreword to Franz Kafka’s Aphorisms (New York: Schocken Books, 2015)

A young college‐educated bourgeois male of my generation who scoffed at the idea of marriage for himself, who would just as soon eat out of cans or in cafeterias, sweep his own floor, make his own bed, and come and go with no binding legal attachments, finding female friendship and sexual adventure where and when he could and for no longer than he liked, lay himself open to the charge of “immaturity,” if not “latent” or blatant “homosexuality.” Or he was just plain “selfish.” Or he was “frightened of responsibility.” Or he could not “commit himself” (nice enough institutional phrase, that) to “a permanent relationship.” Worst of all, most shameful of all, the chances were that this person who thought he was perfectly able to take care of himself on his own was in actuality “unable to love.” […]

Now I am sure that many of the young women of that period who set themselves up as specialists in loving hadn’t a very clear idea of how strong a charge their emotions got from the instinct for survival—or how much those emotions arose out of the yearning to own and be owned, rather than from a reservoir of pure and selfless love that was the special property of themselves and their gender. After all, how lovable are men? Particularly men “unable to love”? No, there was more to all that talk about “commitment” and “permanent relationships” than many young women (and their chosen mates) were able to talk about or able at that time fully to understand: the more was the fact of female dependence, defenselessness, and vulnerability.

– Philip Roth, My Life as a Man (1974)

There are some who assume that next to the great original deception, another, smaller deception was practiced specifically for them. It’s as if, when a romantic comedy is performed on stage, the actress, in addition to the lying smile for her beloved, keeps a further, particularly cunning smile for a certain spectator in Row Z. That is going too far.

– Franz Kafka, Aphorisms

Isn’t it well known that nothing shocks us? That the photographs of wretchedness that thirty years ago would have made us protest in the streets, now flicker by our eyes and we hardly see them? More vivid, more graphic, more pornographic even, is the newsman’s brief. He must make us feel, but like a body punched and punched again, we take the blows and do not even notice the damage they have done.

– Jeanette Winterson, Art and Lies (1994)