Up in the Gallery - Was aus meinen Träumen wurde

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[Im Folgenden sind alle Bezüge auf das Thema Kreativität ausgelassen, soweit sie sich nicht für die Analyse von Auf der Galerie wichtig sind.]

—with an analysis of Kafka's Up in the Gallery—
in: Humanities 16, 1982, pp. 105-124
Gerhard Schepers


The terms 'feminine' and 'masculine' as they are used here, do not refer to specific qualities or possibilities of the sexes. Whether such differences do exist at all has been discussed very much in recent years. The traditional stereotypes of the sexes seem to be no longer acceptable [...]. In any case, in this paper 'masculine' and 'feminine' are used with reference to two basic possibilities of human beings that exist irrespective of differences of the sexes. They are related to Jung's distinction between animus and anima, the masculine and the feminine soul-images. Since both are not only possibilities of the human mind and soul, but have to be realized in specific ways in actual life, one can also speak of two different modes of existence. The 'masculine' mode of existence could be characterized in terms of detachment, tension, reason, action, achievement, striving, responsibility, determination, will, duty, and the 'feminine' mode of existence in terms of receptivity, flexibility, feeling, conservation, mutual giving and receiving, enabracing, oneness, being-with-others.

The Circus (Georges Seurat, 1891)

3. Kafka's Up in the Gallery [deutsch]
This short piece of prose, consisting of only two long periodic sentences, has been analyzed at length in numerous interpretations. Many of these are unconvincing and even the best analysis up to now, in my view, by Jörgen Kobs,27) still does not seem to fully exhaust the text. Every interpretation of a literary work of art has, of course, its limits and in the end can only refer back to the text, whose complexity and depth it can never attain. But the problem with interpretations of Kafka's texts is that they often seem to offer and even stimulate an apparently clear and definite interpretation which is later proven inadequate by a closer analysis and deeper understanding. Frequently interpretations are rejected, at least implicitly, in the text itself since Kafka has obviously considered the various possible interpretations and misinterpretations of his works in his extremely careful composition.
According to Claus Reschke,28) Up in the Gallery may, at first reading, seem as problematic and paradoxical in meaning as so many of his (i.e. Kafka's) other sketches and parables. A second look however, reveals unusual clarity." This statement seems hardly tenable. Reschke is obviously not fully aware of the complexity of the text and overlooks decisive elements in it, as his interpretation shows.29)
Similar objections have to be raised against several earlier interpretations. Hermann Glaser,30) for instance, regards the narrative as a symbolic presentation, interpreting the ringmaster allegorically as "ruler of the world" and the possible attempt by the young visitor to the gallery to stop the performance in the arena as, in the final analysis, the rebellion of man against Jehova, the God of the Old Testament. Werner Zimmermanns31) finds in the text an image of the world as such and particularly of the senselessness of existence in our modern age. Blake L. Spahr32) describes the dynamics of the form and language in musical terminology and then concludes by saying that in Up in the Gallery we see the hesitation, . . . the remaining on the sidelines which characterize our lives. Here in a short sketch is all the pathos of ineffectuality, of inability to communicate, to assert oneself which are the core of Kafka's message for our times.33) Heinz Politzer regards the visitor to the gallery as "the lone human being in a universal puppet show, a show given by puppet riders and puppet horses for the benefit of the puppets in the audience."34)
Against Politzer35) and others it has to be emphasized that every interpretation has to take into account the obvious difference between the two paragraphs or sentences of which the text consists. The first paragraph is an unreal condition and its conclusion is written entirely in the subjunctive. It states the conditions under which a certain action would be possible. The second paragraph is a description of reality written in the indicative. However, as has often been pointed out, this description obviously shows only the beautiful surface of reality, the world of appearance, of illusion and falsehood, whereas the first paragraph presents, it seems, the truth beyond the reality of actual life, which can be grasped only in imagination. This interpretation has been widely accepted.36) It can, however, be maintained only if a number of decisive elements in the text are overlooked.
Kafka's own interpretation of Up in the Gallery points to a different direction. As Malcolm Pasley has shown,37) this is contained in the sketch Eleven Sons [Elf Söhne], where the sons characterized obviously correspond to eleven works of Kafka. The seventh refers to Up in the Gallery:

The seventh son belongs to me perhaps more than all the others. The world would not know how to appreciate him; it does not understand his peculiar brand of wit. I do not overvalue him;
I know he is of little enough importance . . . But within the family circle I should not care to be without this son of mine. He contributes a certain restlessness as well as a reverence for tradition, and combines them both, at least that is how I feel it, into an incontestable whole. True, he knows less than anyone what to do with this achievement; the wheel of the future will never be started rolling by him; but his disposition is so stimulating, so rich in hope . . . 38)

The characterization of the two paragraphs ("a certain restlessness as well as a reverence for tradition") shows that both are equivalent and that only together they form what Kafka calls "an incontestable whole."39) Furthermore, the title Up in the Gallery indicates that what happens up there, in the observer is more important than the events down in the ring. The text does not present two different realities but a double perspective, two different ways of relating to reality.40)

4. 'Masculine' and 'feminine' aspects [...] in Up in the Gallery
The following is an attempt to interpret the two paragraphs of Up in the Gallery with regard to the different ways in which 'feminine' and 'masculine' elements are emphasized in them [...].
The first paragraph of the text presents a hypothetical case, reflecting on the problem of what conditions must be fulfilled in order to make human actions possible.43) It takes up a specific case, that of an equestrienne in a circus, to establish a universal principle concerning the preconditions of human action. It is not interested in concrete persons and, therefore, speaks of "some (irgendeine) equestrienne" and "a young visitor".44) What matters is a clear analysis and presentation of the case and all its circumstances. The whole structure of the sentence is lucid; the attributes, participles, and other specifications concerning time, space, and mode of action are clearly arranged: the whole leads naturally to the action of the young visitor as its logical conclusion.45) The contrast between the "frail, consumptive equestrienne" and the "ruthless, whip-flourishing ringmaster" or the "insatiable public" whose hands when they applaud "are really steam hammers", is clear and unequivocal.
There is constant repetition of the same movement in expressions like "around and around", "for months on end without respite", "continue in the infinite perspective of a drab future", "unceasing". This points to a condition of human intellectual understanding: only if an object or action can be observed for a longer period of time, if it does not change but is repeated always in the same way, only then can we hope to grasp its essence and make this the basis for a corresponding action.46) In Up in the Gallery it means the realization that a human being is treated in a cruel, inhuman way.
The only appropriate reaction then would be to "race down" the stairs, "rush into the ring and yell: Stop! against the fanfares of the orchestra".
The hypothetical character of the whole, the detachment from concrete reality, the observation and exact analysis of one specific phenomenon, the clear and logical connection of the facts that lead to a conclusion and possible action, the social-critical engagement, the revolt against an inhuman system, all of these are typical 'masculine' elements [...]. We can also detect these elements in works and particularly in theories of art.
A good example of this is Bert Brecht's "epic theater". In the notes to Mahagonny47) Brecht compares the traditional, "dramatic" form of theater with the epic theater, using key words which he lists in a schematic table:48) Whereas the former "involves the member of the audience in an action" (on stage) and "consumes his activity", the latter "makes him an observer" and "awakens his activity". The dramatic theater is characterized by "emotions", "experiences", and "suggestions", the epic theater by "decisions", "knowledge", and "arguments". In the former man appears as a "fixed entity", as "unalterable", in the latter he is an "object of investigation", "alterable and changing".
This definition of the epic theater corresponds largely to the structure and contents of the first paragraph of Kafka's work (as the characterization of the dramatic theater does to the second). But Kafka presents almost a caricature of Brecht's theory.49) This is indicated in Up in the Gallery by the conditions of intellectual understanding and ensuing action which seem impossible to meet ("for months on end without respite", "continue in the infinite perspective of a drab future"). Furthermore, Kafka demonstrates the impossibility of completely excluding 'feminine' elements from man's perception of or relationship to reality, including the creative process. Because of the emphasis on the 'masculine' aspects in the first paragraph, many 'feminine' elements appear in a distorted form. Up to now I have disregarded them in the analysis of the text.
The contrast between the "frail, consumptive equestrienne" and the "ruthless, whip-flourishing ringmaster" clearly reveals a sentimental involvement which Kafka usually tries to avoid by all means.50) The circular movement, a central element in this text, appears as a distorted form of feminine wholeness, as senseless repetition of the same, combined with the irrational, vague "infinite perspective (immerfort weiter sich öffnende) of a drab future", the "unceasing roar of the orchestra", the "hum of the ventilators", and the "ebbing and renewed swelling bursts of applause". At this point, the one who conceives the whole scene seems to be carried away by the intensity of his own images so that he forgets their hypothetical character, gives up his critical detachment, and suddenly states in the indicative that the hands "are really steam hammers (Hände, die eigentlich Dampfhämmer sind)".51)
After the long conditional clause the action should follow without further conditions or modifications as a logical conclusion. Yet this action is preceded by a "perhaps (vielleicht)" which actually means, as Kobs rightly emphasizes,52) an expression of deepest despair breaking into the world of supposedly pure reflection. If even in the extreme case conceived here the action of protest occurs only "perhaps", then in reality such action seems to be next to impossible. And even if it perhaps occurs, the young man has to run down "the long stairs" and "through all the circles" until he can finally yell his: Stop!  which, however, is obviously drowned by the fanfares of the orchestra. The vague expression of despair in all this about the possibility of human action can obviously no longer be regarded as pure, detached reflection.53) This is even more evident when we realize that the "perhaps" can also be interpreted in a different sense, as Kobs rightly points out:

If, however, one gives oneself up to the twice rising impetus of the protasis, if one lets oneself be borne and carried away by the onrush of images, then this "perhaps" suddenly takes an a different meaning. In it, one senses, against all reason an immense hope breaks through, a hope which is able to cover up the logical value of the term "perhaps" (yet without cancelling it) and which strives towards a liberating reality, towards the absolute beyond all limitations.54)

Similarly, in Brecht's plays, especially in his best, we can find corresponding elements of emotional involvement, and also irrational, symbolic, and poetical elements that point to a reality beyond the realm of argument and reason.55)
Furthermore, Kobs' expressions "to give oneself up" and "to let oneself be carried away by the onrush of images" indicate that in order to understand and appreciate the 'feminine' elements in the text the interpretation should also occur, at least to some extent, in the 'feminine' mode of existence and can no longer be exclusively a detached, rational, critical analysis. This also applies to the interpretation of the second paragraph where 'feminine' elements prevail.56)
At the beginning of the second sentence the hypothesis of the first paragraph is clearly rejected: "But since that is not so". We then expect a following "since"  at the beginning of a sequence of causal clauses, in the sense of "since in reality it is so and so", which is then taken up near the end of the sentence by "since that is so". But this "since" and others at the beginning of the following clauses are left out, despite the break in the structure of the whole sentence this omission causes. This shows that this sentence, in contrast to the first, is not clearly and logically arranged. What follows is a sequence of largely disconnected single observations which progressively seem to become independent of the frame of the causal construction. This is also indicated by the fact that Kafka uses thirteen semicolons (besides sixteen commas) in the second paragraph, whereas he uses only a few commas (seven) in the first.57)
No less irrefutable is the continuous impression, as Kobs points out,58) that the clauses are in no way independent sentences: eleven finite verbs all refer to the same subject, "the ringmaster", which is mentioned only once at the beginning and not even once taken up by a pronoun. Besides, in German, the verbs are all at the end of the clauses which shows that these are subordinate clauses. In this way a sense of extreme dependence, of subordination persists. The effect of these two antagonistic forces of dependence and independence is an extreme vagueness and ambiguity; everything is in suspense.
After the statement "But since that is not so" at the beginning of the second paragraph, the text continues : "a lovely lady, pink and white, floats in between the curtains, which proud lackeys open before her (eine schöne Dame, weiß und rot, hereinfliegt, zwischen den Vorhängen, welche die stolzen Livrierten vor ihr öffnen)". The first thing that catches the observers eye is "a lovely lady", then, almost independent of the preceding noun, follows an attribute, "pink and white", which could also refer to the following verb. This verb ("floats in") is very vague and is followed by a specification of the place where this occurs ("between the curtains"), which then makes us aware of the lackeys who hold the curtains. "Enraptured the eye follows the fleeting succession of details flashing up momentarily; a systematic overview proves to be impossible."59) Then, near the end, after a long temporal clause, this succession is abruptly stopped by the attempt to take up again the "since" at the beginning: "while she herself, supported by him, right up on the tips of her toes, in a cloud of dust, with outstretched arms and small head thrown back, invites the whole circus to share her triumph — since that is so . . .". But this attempt fails in several respects: it is not clear what the pronoun "that" refers to nor what could be meant by "so" since it is preceded by a variety of vague, undetermined, often ambiguous impressions. The sentence is almost tautological: "since this is as it is". We have to accept it as it is, as we observe it, experience it; there is nothing more to be said about it.60)
But why then does the visitor to the gallery weep in the end? What could this mean? If we analyse the second paragraph critically, with more emphasis on the masculine mode of existence, we discover a variety of discrepancies, contrasts, ambiguities which make us doubt whether this world of the circus is really as beautiful and happy as it seems.61)
This could be an explanation for the weeping but it is only a possibility. Weeping is not necessarily an expression of sadness, it could also express happiness or a mixture of both; it is ambiguous, and since the observations that cause the visitor to weep are also ambiguous we have to leave it as it is without trying to give it an unequivocal mean-ing.62) The visitor himself does not even know ("ohne es zu wissen") that he weeps sinking into something similar to a dream. He no longer acts consciously, as an independent subject; subject and object have become one. We may even say that he is one with the whole, with the heart of reality.63) But he no longer is an independent individual, he has lost his subjectivity, the possibility of knowledge and responsible action, of critical distance [...]. This is the negative aspect of a one-sided emphasis on the 'feminine' mode of existence, whereas the inherent danger of the 'masculine' mode of existence lies in the fact that it may lose all contact with reality, moving around in circles in its own systems of thought, as we saw in the first paragraph of the text.64) The latter is, ironically, indicated by Kafka when, in the passage from Eleven Sons quoted above,65) he says: "the wheel of the future will never be started rolling by him". But this must surely also be said about the visitor in the second paragraph.
So is there no hope, no way out of this dilemma? Kafka, in Eleven Sons, continues: "but his disposition is so stimulating, so rich in hope". What is this hope based on? Does a deeper understanding of the two possibilities of human existence presented in Up in the Gallery, of their positive and negative aspects, of the need to realize both, open up the possibility of a new mode of existence in which both are integrated ?
A possible answer could not be given by a theoretical reflection alone since this again would emphasize only the 'masculine' elements. Symbolically an answer seems to be indicated by the title itself, by the place up in the gallery which, on the one hand, means distance and detachment. At the same time the concentric circle of the gallery has its center in the ring and the events there; it involves the visitor and makes him part of the whole.66)
Finally, Up in the Gallery, forces the interpreter to realize that for his own attempt at creative understanding a balance or, if possible, integration of both 'feminine' and 'masculine' elements in his method of analysis and his intuitional grasp of the text is necessary.  [...]

  1. [...]
  2. [...]
  3. J. Kobs, Kafka. Untersuchungen zu Bewußtsein und Sprache seiner Gestalten, ed. by U. Brech, (Bad Homburg, 1970), pp. 79-97
  4. Reschke, The Problem of Reality in Kafka's "Auf der Galerie", in: Germanic Review 59, (1967), p. 4
  1. Reschke seems not to know, or disregards, the important interpretations by Philippi, Beicken, and especially Kobs (see footnotes 40, 43, 27). His characterization of the first paragraph as "eternal level of reality" (ibid., pp. 50 f.) and the way he has the visitor in the second paragraph draw logical conclusions (pp. 49, 51) inspite of the latter's completely different state of mind seern to be particularly inadequate as will be shown below.
  2. H. Glaser, Franz Kafka "Auf der Galerie", in: Interpretationen moderner Prosa, (Frankfurt a.M.-Berlin-Bonn, 31957), pp. 40-48.
  3. W. Zimmermann, Franz Kafka, Auf der Galerie, in: Deutsche Prosadichtungen der Gegenwart. Interpretationen für Lehrende und Lernende, part II, (Düsseldorf, 31956), pp. 165-170.
  4. B. L. Spahr, Kafka's "Auf der Galerie". A S tylistic Analysis, in: German Quarterly 33, (1960), pp. 211-215.
  5. Ibid., p. 214.
  6. H. Politzer, Franz Kafka. Parable and Paradox, (Ithaca-London, 21966), pp. 92 f.
  7. Cf. Kobs, op. cit., p. 79.
  8. Cf. H. Binder, Motiv und Gestaltung bei Franz Kafka, (Bonn, 1966), pp. 193 f.; Kafka Kommentar zu sämtlichen Erzählungen, (München, 21975), p. 212; W. Emrich, Franz Kafka, (Frankfurt a.M.-Bonn, 51965), pp. 35 f.; G. Mast, Ein Beispiel moderner Erzählkunst in Mißdeutung und Erhellung, in: Neue Sammlung, Göttinger Blätter für Kultur und Erziehung 2, (1962), pp. 241-247; Zimmermann, op. cit., pp. 169 f. H. Kraft, Kafka. Wirklichkeit und Perspektive, (Bebenhausen, 1972), p. 49 speaks, more cautiously but rather obscurely, of the contrast between "non-actual reality (unwirkliche Realität)" and "actuality of appearance (W'irklichkeit des Scheins)".
  9. M. Pasley, Drei literarische Mystifikationen Kafkas, in: Kafka-Symposion. Datierung, Funde, Materialien, (Berlin, 1965), pp. 21-26.
  1. F. Kafka, The Complete Stories, ed. by N. N. Glatzer, (New York, 1971), p. 422.
  2. Cf. Kobs, op. cit., p. 81.
  3. Cf. K.-P. Philippi, Reflexion und Wirklichkeit. Untersuchungen zu Kafkas Roman "Das Schloß", Studien zur deutschen Literatur, vol. 5, (Tübingen, 1966), pp. 52-57.
  4. Cf. above, pp. 109 f.
  5. Cf. above, pp. 110 f.
  6. For the following cf. Kobs, op. cit., pp. 85 f.; P. U. Beicken, Franz Kafka. Eine kritische Einführung in die Forschung, (Frankfurt a.M., 1974), p. 304.
  7. Up in the Gallery is quoted here and in the following from F. Kafka, The Complete Stories, ed. by N. N. Glatzer, (New York, 1971), pp. 401 f.; F. Kafka, Sämtliche Erzählungen, ed. by P. Raabe, (Frankfurt a.M., 1970), p. 129.
  8. Cf. Philippi, op. cit., pp. 53 f.
  9. Cf. Binder, Motiv und Gestaltung bei Franz Kafka, (Bonn, 1966), p. 193; Kobs, op. cit., p. 86.
  1. Anmerkungen zur Oper "Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny", in: Schriften zum Theater 2, (Frankfurt a.M., 1963), pp. 109-126.
  2. Ibid., pp. 116 f. In a footnote (p. 116) Brecht emphasizes that this scheme does not show absolute antitheses but only shifts of accent.
  3. In his later theoretical writings, Brecht no longer formulated the antithesis between the epic theater and the dramatic theater so radically. Rather, he emphasized that the former, too, includes emotion, empathy, and entertainment, which in many of his plays, especially the later ones, had always played an important role anyway. Cf. Über eine nichtaristotelische Dramatik, in: Schriften zum Theater 3, (Frankfurt a.M., 1963), pp. 25-27, 30 f., 58, 70; Kleines Organon für das Theater, in: Schriften zum Theater 7, (Frankfurt a.M., 1964), pp. 10-15, 22 f., 28 f., 60.
  4. Cf. his criticism of Dickens, The Diaries of Franz Kafka 1910-1923, ed. by M. Brod, trans. by J. Kresh (1910-1913) and M. Greenberg with the cooperation of H. Arendt, (1914-1923), (Harmondsworth, 1972), p. 388; Tagebücher 1910-1923, ed. by M. Brod, (Frankfurt a.M., 1973), p. 334.
  5. Cf. Kobs, op. cit., pp. 87 f.
  1. Op. cit., pp. 87 f.
  2. This Kobs, who characterizes the first paragraph as "pure reflection" (op. cit., p. 85), seems not to take sufficiently into account.
  3. Op. cit., p. 88 (my translation).
  4. Cf. footnote 49 above.
  1. For the following cf. Kobs, op. cit., pp. 83 f.
  2. Cf. Philippi, op. cit., p. 55.
  3. Kobs, op. cit., p. 83.
  1. Kobs, op. cit., 86: "Hingerissen folgt das Auge der flüchtigen Sukzession momentan aufblitzender Details; ein ordnender Überblick erweist sich als unmöglich."
  2. Cf. Kobs, op. cit., p. 84. It is interesting to note here the correspondence with the Japanese terms sono mama, ari no mama ("as it is") which play such an important role in Japanese culture and are a typical expression of the feminine mode of existence.
  3. Kobs, op. cit., pp. 89-92 has shown this exhaustively.
  4. Cf. Kobs, op. cit., p. 94.
  5. Kobs distinguishes in the second paragraph between the weeping as "pure expression" and the preceding "pure observation", but this distinction seems not very convincing. It not only destroys the symmetry of the two sentences (the entire first one Kobs defines as "pure reflectio"), but also, in my view, does not take sufficiently into acount the emphasis on the lack of critical distance, on emotion, empathy, receptivity, and on the oneness of subject and object (that means on the feminine elements) in the second paragraph. The characterization in terms of the feminine mode of existence seems to be more appropriate here.
  6. Ironically something similar could be said about various interpretations of Up in the Gallery that construct their own systems of thought without regard to the text, e.g. Glaser, Zimmermann, Emrich, Politzer, Mast (cf. above, pp. 114 f).
  7. After footnote 37.
  8. Cf. Philippi, op. cit., pp. 52 f.
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