Kafka’s sirens

The siren speaks to Odysseus:

It hasn’t occurred to you that the reason why you haven’t drowned or crashed into rocks isn’t because you are immune to my song, but because, like Kafka’s sirens, I have not been singing to you.

My mouth was open, but I watched you sail past in silence; not because I don’t, in the silent inlet of my ribcage, carry unspoken words that chain together to express an excess of affection towards you, but because reaching out to you in song would cause a crash neither of us wants for you.

Like Kafka’s sirens, it could be enough to watch you sail past in blissful illusion of your own shrewdness, the conviction that you are stronger than most, with better self-control, and to witness, as your chained-up body passes by, the candle-light of your eyes pierced by the arrows of the sun.

Yes, sometimes it is enough to know how beautiful you are, to know you were once close, and that, by its absence, my song let your ship sail away from the jagged edges I serve.

***

Franz Kafka, Das Schweigen der Sirenen

I love this retelling of Odysseus sailing past the sirens. Kafka seems to make it about our capacity for delusion, the hardest thing to resist being the idea of one’s own resilience when facing temptation. However, this doesn’t apply to Odysseus alone, but also in part to the sirens themselves, perhaps even the Gods. It is possible, says Kafka, that Odysseus didn’t realise the sirens were silent, or maybe he did know and simply went through the motions his myth required of him. The siren is deluded into thinking she isn’t singing, and Odysseus is deluded into believing he hears a song when in reality all he hears is the rush of the sea around him, and the excitement of resisting temptation flowing through his skull. The Gods are deluded simply by virtue of being Gods.

Max Beckmann, Odysseus und Sirene, 1933
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