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A text is read by an absent addressee, by, as it were, a ghost.

Interpretation of the archive can occur after the fact and in spite of the archivist. Reading is, in a sense, a ghost-movement that tortures the text as it pleases. Derrida writes, in a somewhat different context, that, “The structure of the archive is spectral. It is spectral a priori: neither present nor absent ‘in the flesh,’ neither visible nor invisible, a trace always referring to another whose eyes can never be met” (Archive Fever, page 84). The archive, the impression, writing, always read as if by a ghost, or read by what may as well be a ghost. And is it, then, any surprise that not only Derrida and Freud, but Kafka too, introduces the ghost as a linguistic figure through which the written must pass in order to become itself, inaugurate the words and discourses that sit within it? Kafka writes to Milena:

Writing letters is actually an intercourse with ghosts and by no means just with the ghost of the addressee, but also with one’s own ghost, which secretly evolves inside the letter one is writing or even in a whole series of letters, where one letter corroborates another and can refer to it as witness. How did people ever get the idea they could communicate with one another by letter! One can think about someone far away and one can hold on to someone nearby; everything else is beyond human power. Writing letters, on the other hand, means exposing oneself to the ghosts, who are greedily waiting precisely for that. Written kisses never arrive at their destination; the ghosts drink them up along the way. It is this ample nourishment which enables them to multiple so enormously. In order to eliminate as much of the ghosts’ power as possible and to attain a natural intercourse, a tranquility of the soul, (people) have invented trains, cars, aeroplanes—but nothing helps anymore: These are evidently inventions devised at the moment of crashing. The opposing side is so much calmer and strong; after the postal system, the ghosts invented the telegraph, the telephone, the wireless. They will not starve, but we will perish.

Franz Kafka, Letters to Milena, Schocken Books, 1990 page 223.

The correspondence with Milena is actually finished, and the final difference I wrote of above is set in motion, when Kafka breaks it off due to his inability to fight against “the evil sorcerer of letter-writing” (“Der böse Zauber des Brefischreibens”) (Letters to Milena, page 234). “Zauber” most commonly means “spell” as in a “magic spell” (and in the English we also have the obvious connection to words and writing via another meaning of “spell”). The correspondence is finished because the evil spells of letter-writing are destroying Kafka’s nights. The spells, issuing from his magic letters, come back to haunt him. They are his own weapons turned on him. Six months later he will write the following in his diary, and it will be the last time he places an inscription in that book:

More and more fearful as I write. It is understandable. Every word, twisted in the hands of the ghosts—-this twist of the hand is their characteristic gesture-—becomes a spear turned against the writer. Most especially a remark like this. And so ad infinitum.

(Franz Kakfka, Diaries, 12 June 1923, page 423).

Kafka is finished. The words are turning against him, the spells he writes are sent back to him from the future and they are destroying him. It is all very tragic, because Kafka had placed so much hope in writing, he had hoped to escape his linguistic isolation and found a new literature, find a new Kafka. He did all of this, but at the greatest expense. More and more fearful of the play between presence and absence that writing requires of him, Kafka quits writing, and he quits living almost exactly one year later, buried in Prague on the 11th of June 1924. Now he is absent, here as a ghost, calmly watching our hands.

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