March 8: paper-clips or stapels?

There is a fragment from Kafka’s diaries that has been made into a short parable for collections of Kafka short narratives. It concerns metaphors. It says that a man spent hours every day observing the spinning of a children’s top, believing that if he could understand this one motion he would understand so much more about life. This is an idea that I too have a fondness for. If you are able to tell one story in, say, a foreign language, then you are able to tell any story. The differences between stories are just detail. Everything we do is a cypher for everything else we do. I remember my history teacher when I was twelve saying that the way we organsied our essay showed how we orgnised our life. I wonder. The alternative view is that people with an untidy desk or an untidy flat do their organising in their head in a more creative way than those who keep everything neat. I have an idea that achild sharing space with a sibling, a room or a bed, will be forced to find mental space in a more creative way than a child with a bedroom to him or herself. Which brings me to paper-clips (trombone being the cute word for them in French and German). I fear that in offices up and down the land paper-clips are losing their age-old battle against staples. Staples fix. With staples there can be no mistake. But with paper-clips you can change your mind, stay open to rearrangement. They are also more elegant, less totalitarian, accept the agency of randomness. Paper-clips give me a moment of pleasure; staples an instant of irritation. To what extent does the affiliation with paper-clip or staples say something about us as people? Kafka’s spinning top man would surely find a deep metaphor for life in the choice. It may of course be that it is only that the paper-clip man likes to see himself as a paper-clip man. It may be that deeply he is a staple man. In the same way as people often try to work in fields to which they are least suited because they aspire to do what they find difficult (look at psychoanalysts or nutritionists, almost invariably the least appropriate to their particular field). So I could well be a staple-man who aspires to the condition of a paper-clip man. And, when I think about it, I do have some staple man instincts, but please let us not linger on such things.

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