A large chunk of my hikes are spent in some sort of unconscious haze. Today I passed away the time thinking about Peter Halasz, the boundary between life and art, and the parable An Imperial Message from Kafka’s The Great Wall of China.
I found my first reference to the famous, last line of the parable while searching the web for more information about Halasz. Don Shewey wrote that the Squat Theater, Halasz’s company, operated "on the belief that, to make sense of the world, the artist’s task – in the words of Franz Kafka, who has been called "the guiding spirit of Squat’s art" – is "to sit at your window when evening falls and dream it to yourself!"
I was skeptical of the exclamation point at the end of the line and decided to do some more research. I found a few versions of the line, none with an exclamation point, but was led in some interesting directions…
I found what seems to be a pretty authoritative translation of the last line: "But you sit at your window and dream of that message when evening comes."
I found a Catholic priest’s take on the story, including his own translation of the last line into:
"sitting by the window in his faraway cottage, dreaming of the message as evening falls."
I found the version that Shewey used: "But you sit at your window when evening falls and dream it to yourself."
In the end, I came full circle when I found this paper from the Ludwig Museum in Budapest. I found myself back where I began, with Peter Halasz. Turns out Halasz used the text from An Imperial Message in his theater piece, Andy Warhol’s Last Love.
Kafka’s parable is about a messenger who can never deliver his message. The intended recipient never gets his message from the emperor. In the end, Kafka writes: "No one pushes his way through here, certainly not someone with a message from a dead man. But you sit at your window and dream of that message when evening comes."
I wonder what, exactly, is the message I should be dreaming from the not-yet-dead Peter Halasz?