Josephine the Singer, or The Mouse Folk

Czech writer Franz Kafka, 1923

OUR SINGER’S NAME IS Josephine. Anyone who has not heard her does not know the power of song. There is not one among us who is not swept away by her singing, and this is indeed high praise—higher still as we are not generally a music-loving people. Peace and quiet is the music most dear to us; we have a hard life and even on the occasions when we have tried to shake free from the cares of our daily life we still cannot raise ourselves up to something so lofty and remote from our routine lives as music. But we don’t much mourn this, we never even get that far; we consider a certain pragmatic cunning, of which we are sorely in need, to be our greatest asset, and with a smile born of this cunning we are wont to console ourselves for all our woes even if—but it never happens—we were once to yearn for the kind of happiness such as music might provide. Josephine is the sole exception, she loves music and also knows how to give voice to it; she is the only one, and with her demise music will disappear—for who knows how long—from our lives.

I have often wondered what this music of hers truly means—after all, we are entirely unmusical, so how is it that we understand Josephine’s singing or, since Josephine denies that, at least believe we understand it? The simplest answer would be that the beauty of her song is so great that even the dullest ear cannot help being touched, but this is not a satisfying answer. If this were really so, her singing would necessarily give one the immediate and lasting impression of something extraordinary, the feeling that something is pouring forth from this throat that we had never heard before, something we did not even have the capacity to hear, something that this Josephine alone and no one else could enable us to hear. But this, in my opinion, is precisely what does not happen; I do not feel it, nor have I observed that others feel it. Among our circle we freely admit that Josephine’s song, as song, is nothing out of the ordinary.

Is this in fact singing at all? Despite our lack of musicality, we do have a tradition of singing, for our people sang in ancient times; this is spoken of in legends, and some songs have survived, although it is also true that now no one can sing them. So we do have some ideas about what singing is, and Josephine’s art does not correspond to these ideas. Then is it really singing? Isn’t it perhaps merely piping?16 Piping is something we all know about; it is the true artistic forte of our people or, rather than our forte, more a characteristic expression of life. We all pipe, but of course no one dreams of presenting this as an art form; we pay no attention to our piping or even notice it, and there are many among us who are quite unaware that piping is one of our characteristics. So if it were true that Josephine does not sing but only pipes and may not, as it seems to me at least, even rise above the level of our usual piping—and may not even have the stamina required for this usual piping, whereas a common fieldhand can effortlessly pipe all day long while hard at work—so if it were all true, Josephine’s supposed artistry would certainly be refuted, but that would open up the larger riddle of the enormous influence she has.

However, it is not just piping that she produces. If you position yourself quite far away from her or, better yet, put yourself through the following test—say, Josephine were singing along with others and you tried to pick out just her voice—you will undoubtedly identify nothing more than rather ordinary piping, distinguishing itself, if at all, by its fragility or weakness. Yet if you are directly before her, it is no mere piping. For a full understanding of her art it is necessary to see her as well as hear her. Even if this were only our everyday piping, a certain peculiarity must be considered: Here is someone creating a solemn spectacle of the everyday. It is truly no feat to crack a nut, and therefore no one would think to gather an audience for the purpose of entertaining them with nutcracking. But if he should do so, and if he should succeed in his aim, then it cannot be a matter of mere nutcracking. Or alternatively, it is a matter of nutcracking, but as it turns out we have overlooked the art of nutcracking because we were so proficient at it that it is this new nutcracker who is the first to demonstrate what it actually entails, whereby it could be even more effective if he were less expert in nutcracking than the majority of us.

Perhaps it is much the same with Josephine’s singing: We admire in her what in ourselves we do not admire in the least. In this last respect, I must say, she agrees with us wholeheartedly. I was once present when someone, as often happens of course, called attention to the ubiquitous folk piping; it was the most passing reference, but it was more than enough for Josephine. I have never seen a smile so sarcastic and so arrogant as the one she then displayed; she, who is the very embodiment of delicacy—uncommonly so among a people rich in such feminine ideals—seemed positively vulgar at that moment; she must have realized this at once, owing to her great sensitivity, and controlled herself. In any event, she denies any connection between her own art and piping. For anyone of the opposite opinion, she has only contempt and, most likely, unacknowledged hatred. Nor is this simple vanity; for the opposition, to which I myself partly subscribe, certainly admires her no less than the rest of the crowd, but Josephine does not desire mere admiration, she wants to be admired in precisely the manner she dictates; mere admiration is of no merit to her. And seated before her, one understands her: Opposition is only possible from a distance; seated before her one knows: This piping of hers is not piping.

Since piping is one of our unconscious habits, one might suppose that there would be some piping from Josephine’s audience as well. We are made happy by her art, and when we are happy we pipe. But her audience does not pipe, we are as quiet as mice, as if we were partaking of the peace we long for, and this somewhat restrains us from our own piping, we keep silent. Is it her singing that enchants us, or isn’t it rather the solemn stillness that envelops that tiny frail voice? Once while Josephine was singing, some foolish young thing also began, in all innocence, to pipe. Now it was just the same as what we were hearing from Josephine; out in front of us was this piping that was still tremulous despite all the practice, and here in the audience was this unselfconscious infantile piping. It would have been impossible to define the difference, but we at once hissed and whistled to quiet the troublemaker, although this wasn’t really necessary for she would surely have crept away in fear and shame; meanwhile Josephine, quite beside herself, sounded her most triumphal piping with her arms outflung and her neck thrown back as far as she could.

But she is always like that; every little thing, every chance incident, every nuisance—a floorboard creaking, teeth grinding, or a lamp flickering—she considers cause to heighten the effect of her song. In her opinion her singing falls on deaf ears anyway; there is no lack of enthusiasm and applause, but she has long since given up hope of genuine understanding as she conceives it. In this way every disturbance is more than welcome to her; any external influence conflicting with the purity of her song that can be defeated easily, or defeated without struggle but by confrontation alone, can help to raise the awareness of the crowd and teach it, if not understanding, at least awed respect.

And if small events serve her so well, great ones serve her even better. We lead very uneasy lives; each day brings its surprises, anxieties, hopes, and fears; it would be impossible for any individual to bear it all without the constant support of his comrades. But it often becomes difficult anyway; sometimes a thousand shoulders quake under a burden meant just for one. It is then that Josephine believes her moment has come. There she stands, the delicate creature, racked with frightful trembling especially beneath the breast; it is as though she has focused all her strength in her singing; as though everything in her that does not directly serve her song, every power, nearly every means of sustenance, has been stripped away; as though she were laid bare, abandoned, entrusted to the care of kind spirits; as though, while she is so absorbed and entirely given over to her song, a single cold breath passing over her might kill her. But it is precisely when she makes just such an appearance that we, her alleged detractors, tend to remark: “She can’t even pipe. See how she strains herself horribly to force out, not song—let’s not even speak about song—but a mere approximation of our customary piping.” So it seems to us; however, as I already mentioned, this impression is an inevitable yet fleeting one that quickly fades. Soon we too are submerged in the feeling of the audience, which listens, body pressed warmly to body, with reverently held breath.

And in order to gather a crowd of our people around her—a people almost constantly on the move, scurrying here and there for reasons that are frequently unclear—Josephine mostly needs to do no more than adopt her stance: head thrown back, mouth partially opened, and eyes turned heavenward, to indicate that she intends to sing. She can do this where she pleases; it need not be a place visible from very far away—any secluded corner chosen on the spur of the moment will serve just as well. The news that she is going to sing spreads immediately, and whole processions are soon on their way. Now sometimes obstacles do intervene. Josephine prefers to sing in turbulent times, and then a slew of anxieties and dangers force us to travel by devious routes, and even with the best intentions in the world we cannot assemble as quickly as Josephine would like; she occasionally stands there, striking her imperious pose, for quite some time without a sufficient audience—then she flies into a rage, stamps her feet, and swears in a most unmaidenly fashion; she actually even bites. But even this type of behavior cannot damage her reputation. Instead of trying to moderate her excessive demands, people go out of their way to meet them: Messengers are dispatched to gather new listeners but she is kept ignorant of this practice; along all the routes, sentries can be seen waving on the newcomers and urging them to hurry. This continues until enough of an audience is gathered.

What drives the people to exert themselves to such an extent on Josephine’s behalf? This question is no easier to answer than the one about her singing, with which it is closely connected. If it were possible to assert that the people are unconditionally devoted to Josephine on account of her singing, then one could cancel out the first question and combine it with the second. This, however, is emphatically not the case; unconditional devotion is rarely found among us; our people—who above all else love cunning, of a harmless nature of course, and who childishly whisper and idly chatter over innocent gossip—are a people who cannot buy into unconditional devotion. Josephine feels this as well, and it is against this that she fights with all the force in her feeble throat.

It would certainly be a mistake to take these broad generalizations too far, however; our people are indeed devoted to Josephine, just not unconditionally. We would never be capable, for example, of laughing at Josephine. It can be said that there are many things about Josephine that invite laughter, and we are always close to laughing for laughing’s sake. Despite the misery of our lives, a quiet laugh is always close at hand, as it were, but we do not laugh at Josephine. I am sometimes under the impression that our people see their relationship with Josephine this way: that this fragile creature in need of protection and somehow worthy of distinction (in her own opinion worthy of distinction because of her song) is entrusted to their care and must be looked after. The reason for this is not clear to anyone; it seems only to be an established fact. But one does not laugh at what is entrusted to one’s care; to laugh would be a breach of duty. The utmost spite that the most malicious of us is capable of directing at Josephine is to occasionally say: “We stop laughing when we see Josephine.”

So the people look after Josephine in the same way that a father assumes the care of a child whose hand—whether in appeal or command one cannot tell—is stretched out to him. One might not think that our people are equipped to fulfill these paternal duties, but in reality we do perform them, at least in this case, in an exemplary manner; no one individual could do what in this respect the people as a whole are able to do. To be sure, the disparity in strength between the people and any individual is so great that the charge need only be drawn into the warmth of their presence and he will be protected enough. Certainly no one dares to mention such things to Josephine. “I pipe at your protection,” she says then. “Yes, you pipe, don’t you,” we think. Besides, she is not seriously refuting us when she rebels like this—rather it is childish behavior and childish gratitude—and it is a father’s place to pay no attention.

And yet something more is going on here that is less easily explained by the relationship between the people and Josephine; namely, Josephine is of a different opinion: It is her belief that it is she who protects the people. When we are facing trouble, be it political or economic, it is her song that supposedly saves us, nothing short of that; and if it does not drive out the misfortune, it at least gives us the strength to bear it. She does not express it in these words or in any other words; as a matter of fact she never says much at all, she is silent amid the chatter-boxes, but it flashes from her eyes, and from her clamped mouth (there are not many among us who can keep their mouths closed—she can) it is clearly decipherable. Whenever we get bad news—and many days we get hit with it thick and fast, lies and half-truths included—she rises at once, whereas usually she’s sunk wearily on the floor, she rises and cranes her neck to look out over her flock like a shepherd before a storm. Of course children do make similar claims in their wild, impulsive fashion, but Josephine’s claim is not quite so groundless as theirs. She certainly does not save us, nor does she give us strength; it is easy to pose as the savior of a people who are inured to suffering, unsparing of themselves, swift in decisions, well acquainted with death, timid in appearance only as they must dwell in an atmosphere of constant and reckless danger, and who in any case are as prolific as they are brave; it is easy, as I say, to hold oneself up as the savior of this people who have somehow always saved themselves at the cost, however, of many sacrifices the likes of which strike historians—generally we ignore historical research completely—cold with horror. And yet it is true that during times of emergency we cling closer to Josephine’s voice than at any other time. The threats hanging over us make us quieter, more humble, more compliant to Josephine’s commands; we are happy to gather together, happy to huddle close to one another, especially because it is an occasion so far removed from the preoccupying torment; it is as if in all haste—yes, haste is necessary, as Josephine is all too likely to forget—we were drinking a communal cup of peace before battle. It is not so much a song recital as a public gathering, and moreover a gathering that is completely silent except for the faint piping up front; the hour is too serious for us to spend it chatting.

Josephine, of course, could never be content with a relationship of this kind. Despite all the nervous tension that overtakes her because her position has never been clearly defined, there is much that she does not see, blinded as she is by self-conceit, and she can be made to overlook a great deal more without much effort; a swarm of flatterers is always hovering about her working toward this end, in effect performing a public service—however, to be an incidental and unnoticed singer in the corner of a public gathering (although it would be no small thing in and of itself), for that she certainly would not sacrifice her song.

Nor is she obliged to do this, for her art does not go unnoticed. Even though we basically concern ourselves with quite other matters, and the silence that prevails is not due to her singing alone (some listeners do not look up at all but bury their faces in their neighbors’ fur, so Josephine seems to be exerting herself in vain out there in front), something from her piping—this cannot be denied—inevitably does come through to us. This piping, which rises up when silence is imposed on all others, emerges almost like a message from the people to each individual; Josephine’s thin piping amid grave decisions is almost like our meager existence amid the tumult of a hostile world. Josephine asserts herself; this mere nothing of a voice, this mere nothing of a performance, asserts itself and makes its way through to us; it does us good to think of that. At such moments we could never endure a true singer, should one ever be found among us, and we would unanimously reject any such performance as absurd. May Josephine be spared from perceiving that the very fact we listen to her is proof that she is no singer. She must have some suspicion of this—why else would she so passionately deny that we do listen to her—but she keeps singing and piping away her suspicion.

But she could draw comfort from other things: We really do listen to her to some extent, probably in much the same way one listens to a true singer; she manages to affect us in ways that a true singer would strive in vain to bring about, ways that produce their effect in us precisely because her means are so inadequate. The manner in which we lead our lives is no doubt responsible for this.

Youth does not exist among our people, and childhood only lasts a moment. Demands are regularly made to guarantee the children special freedom and protection, to grant them their right to be a little carefree, to engage in a little lighthearted foolishness, a little play, and to ensure that these rights be acknowledged and steps taken to secure them. Such demands are made and nearly everyone approves them; there is nothing one could approve of more, but there is also nothing less likely to be conceded given the reality of our daily lives; one approves of these demands and one attempts to implement them; but we soon lapse back into the old ways. To be frank, our life is such that as soon as a child can run around a bit and distinguish his surroundings a little, he must likewise look after himself like an adult. The regions over which we are dispersed and in which we are forced to live, for economic reasons, are too vast, our enemies too numerous, the dangers facing us everywhere too incalculable—we cannot shield the children from the struggle for existence; if we did, it would mean a premature end for them. These depressing facts are further reinforced by another more uplifting one: the fertility of our race. One generation—and each is numerous—comes on the heels of the preceding one; the children don’t have time to be children. Other peoples may raise their children with great care; they may erect schools for their little ones and from these schools the children, the future of the race, may come streaming out every day; but among those peoples, it is the same children who come pouring out like that day after day, over a long period of time. We have no schools, but bounding forth from our people are the continuous swarms of our children arriving at the briefest intervals, cheerfully peeping or chirping for as long as they can’t yet pipe, rolling along or forced forward in the tumult for as long as they can’t yet run, clumsily sweeping everything before them by their sheer mass for as long as they can’t yet see—our children! And not the same children as in those schools—no, always new ones, again and again, without end, without pause. Hardly does a child appear than it is no longer a child; new childish faces are already pressing through, so many and so fast that they are indistinguishable, all rosy with happiness. Truthfully, however delightful this may be and however much others may envy us for it, and rightly so, we simply cannot give our children a proper childhood. And that has its consequences. A certain deeply rooted and indelible childishness pervades our people; we sometimes behave with the utmost foolishness in direct opposition to our best quality, our infallible common sense; this brand of foolishness is the same as that of children—a senseless, extravagant, grandiose, frivolous foolishness, and often all for the sake of a little fun. And although our pleasure naturally cannot be the wholehearted pleasure of a child, without a doubt there is still something of this in it. Josephine has also profited from our people’s childishness since the beginning.

But our people are not only childish, we are also in a sense prematurely old; childhood and age come to us differently than to others. We have no youth, we are grown up all at once and then stay grown up for too long; a certain weariness and hopelessness marks the nature of our people, though we are fundamentally tough and confident. Our lack of musicality is probably connected to this—we’re too old for music; exultation does not suit our gravity, we wave it away wearily; we content ourselves with piping, a little piping here and there, that suits us fine. Who knows, there may be some musical talent among us; however, if there were, the character of our people would suppress it before it could develop. Josephine, on the other hand, can pipe to her heart’s delight or sing or whatever she wants to call it; that doesn’t bother us, that’s fine by us, that we can put up with; if there is anything musical contained within, it is so reduced as to be barely traceable; a certain musical tradition is preserved but without having to be the least burden to us.

But our people, given what they are, still get something more from Josephine. At her concerts, especially in troubled times, only the very young are interested in the singer as such, only they gaze in astonishment as she purses her lips, expels the air between her dainty front teeth, swoons in admiration and wonder for the sounds she herself is producing, and uses this lowered position to propel herself to fresh peaks of achievement that are continually incredible to her. Meanwhile, the majority of the audience—this is plain to see—has retreated into itself. Here in these brief gaps between their troubles our people dream; it is as if the limbs of each were loosened, as if every last uneasy individual were for once allowed to stretch out and relax freely in the great warm bed of the people. And into these dreams drops Josephine’s piping, bit by bit; she calls it purled,q we call it forced; but at any rate here it is in its rightful place, as nowhere else, finding just the moment that awaited it, as music hardly ever does otherwise. Something of our meager and foreshortened childhood is in it, something of a lost and irretrievable happiness, but also something of our active everyday life, these incomprehensible but actual moments of gaiety that cannot be suppressed. This is all expressed not in large and imposing tones, but softly, breathlessly, confidentially, and sometimes a little hoarsely. Of course it is piping. How could it not be? Piping is the vernacular of our people; only many pipe their whole lives long without knowing it, while here piping is free from the fetters of everyday life, and so it also sets us free for a short time. We would certainly not want to relinquish these performances.

But it is a very long way from there to Josephine’s assertion that she renews our strength during such times and so on and so forth; at least it is for ordinary people, even if it is not for Jose phine’s flatterers. “What other explanation could there be,” they say with rather shameless audacity. “How else could you explain the huge crowds, especially when there is imminent danger and when these crowds have sometimes even hindered our taking proper precautions to avert the danger in time.” Now this last point is unfortunately true but can hardly be counted among Josephine’s claims to fame, particularly if one adds that when such gatherings have been unexpectedly ambushed by the enemy and many of our people have lain dead as a result, Josephine, who is entirely to blame and most likely attracted the enemy by her piping, invariably occupies the safest position and is the first to be whisked quickly and quietly away under cover of her escort. Everyone is well aware of this, yet they come running to whatever spot Josephine arbitrarily decides upon to strike up her singing and whenever she so pleases. From this one might conclude that Josephine almost stands beyond the law, that she may do whatever she likes even if it endangers the community, and that she will be forgiven everything. If this were so, then even Josephine’s claims would be comprehensible; yes, in the freedom allowed to her, a privilege granted by the people to no one else and in actual contravention of our laws, one might detect an admission of the fact that our people—just as she alleges—do not understand Josephine, that they gape helplessly at her art, feel unworthy of it, and try to assuage the pain they must cause her by making a desperate sacrifice: to place her person and her wishes as far outside their jurisdiction as her art is beyond their comprehension. Well, this is just categorically untrue; perhaps the people individually capitulate to Josephine too readily, but collectively they capitulate unconditionally to no one, and so not to her either.

For a long time now, perhaps since the very start of her artistic career, Josephine has been fighting to be excused from all work on account of her singing; she should be relieved from the burden of earning her daily bread and anything else involved in the struggle for existence, and the slack should, presumably, be taken up by the people as a whole. A hasty enthusiast—and there have been some—might conclude that this demand is inherently justified, owing to its strangeness and the mental state needed to conceive it. But our people draw other conclusions and quietly refuse her. Nor do they bother much to refute the arguments on which it is based. Josephine argues, for example, that the strain of work is bad for her voice, that the strain of work cannot, needless to say, remotely compare to the strain of singing, but it does render it impossible to rest sufficiently after singing and recuperate for further singing, so she must exhaust herself entirely and within these confines never perform at her peak. The people listen to her arguments and pay no attention. This people, so easily moved, will sometimes not be moved at all. Their refusal is sometimes so severe that Josephine is taken aback; she appears to comply, does her proper share of work, and sings as well as she can, but this only lasts awhile. Then with renewed strength—her strength for this purpose seems inexhaustible—she takes up the fight again.

Now it is clear that what Josephine is really aiming for is not literally what she demands. She is reasonable, she does not shy from work—shirking is quite unknown among us anyway—and even if her petition were granted, her life would go on as before; her work would not impede her singing, nor would her singing improve; what she is aiming for is an unambiguous public recognition of her art that would last forever and far surpass any known precedent. But while everything else seems to be within her grasp, this persistently eludes her. Perhaps she should have taken a different tack from the beginning, perhaps she understands her mistake by now, but she cannot back down; any retreat would be tantamount to self-betrayal; now she must stand or fall by her demand.

If, as she contends, she truly had enemies, they could be greatly amused, without having to lift a finger, by the spectacle of this battle. But she has no enemies, and even if she does meet with criticism here and there, no one is amused by this battle of hers for the mere fact that in this circumstance the people exhibit a cold, judicial manner that is rarely seen otherwise. And even if one approves of it in this case, the mere thought that such an attitude might be adopted toward oneself dispels any pleasure. What is important here is not the people’s refusal of Josephine’s demand or the demand itself but the fact that the people are capable of presenting such a stony, impenetrable front to one of their own, and it is all the more impenetrable because this particular citizen is in every other sense treated with fatherly—actually more than fatherly—with deferential concern.

Imagine that instead of an entire people there were one individual: One might suppose that this man had been giving in to Josephine but at the same time desperately wishing to put an end to all this indulgence; that he had been superhuman in the concessions he granted, firm in the belief that there would be a natural limit to them; yes, that he had conceded more than was necessary for the sole purpose of hastening the process, to spoil Josephine and push her to ask for more and more until she did reach this ultimate demand, at which point he could, being prepared well in advance, reply with a final, curt refusal. Now this is absolutely not how things stand, the people have no need of such guile; besides, their admiration of Josephine is sincere and deeply rooted, and Josephine’s demand is so outrageous that any simple child could have told her the foreseeable outcome. However, it may be that considerations such as these do enter into Josephine’s thinking on the matter and so add a further sting of bitterness to the pain of refusal.

But even if she does entertain these ideas, she does not allow them to deter her from her campaign. Recently the campaign has even been intensified; where she once fought with words alone, she is resorting to other methods that she thinks will prove more effective but in our opinion will be more dangerous for her.

Some feel that Josephine is becoming so desperate because she feels she is growing old and her voice is weakening, and so it seems high time to wage the final battle for recognition. I don’t believe it. If it were true, Josephine would not be Josephine. For her, there is no getting old, no weakness in her voice. If she demands something, it is not due to outward forces but to an inner logic. She reaches for the highest laurels, not because they are hanging slightly lower for a moment but because they are the highest; if it were in her power she would hang them higher still.

This disregard of external difficulties certainly does not prevent her from employing the most unworthy methods. She feels her rights are beyond question, so that how she secures them does not matter, especially in this world where, as she sees it, it is the worthy methods that fail. Perhaps this is why she has transferred the fight for her rights from the arena of song to another that she cares very little about. Supporters have passed around statements of hers to the effect that she feels thoroughly capable of singing at such a level that every strata of the people, even the furthest reaches of the opposition, would find true pleasure in it—a true pleasure not by popular standards, for the people maintain they have always found pleasure in her singing, but a true pleasure by Josephine’s standards. But, she adds, since she can neither falsify higher standards nor pander to lower ones, her singing must stay as it is. Yet when it comes to the fight to be freed from work, that is another matter; it is also, of course, on behalf of her singing; however, in this case she is not using the precious weapon of song directly, therefore any means she employs is good enough.

So, for example, a rumor spread that if her petition were not granted, Josephine intended to shorten her trill notes. I know nothing of trill notes and have never noticed any sign of them in her singing, but Josephine is going to shorten her trill notes; for the time being she is not going to eliminate them, just shorten them. She has purportedly carried out her threat, although I, for one, have perceived no difference in her performance. The people as a whole listened as always without commenting on the trill notes and did not budge an inch in response to her demand. Incidentally, it is undeniable that Josephine’s thoughts can sometimes be as pleasing as her figure; for instance, after that performance, as if her decision with regard to the trill notes had been too harsh and too sudden a blow to the people, she announced that the next time she would again sing the trill notes in their complete form. But after the next concert she changed her tune once more: there was definitely to be an end to the elongated trills and they would not recur until a favorable decision on her petition was reached. Well, the people let all these announcements, decisions, and counterdecisions go in one ear and out the other, much like a preoccupied adult with the chattering of a child: well disposed at heart but unmoved.

But Josephine does not give up. She recently claimed, for example, that she injured her foot while working, so that it was difficult to stand and sing, and since she can only sing while standing, her songs would now have to be cut short. Although she limps and leans on her group of supporters, no one believes she is really injured. Even allowing for her exceptionally sensitive constitution, we are a working people and Josephine is one of us; if we were to start limping at every little scratch, the entire population would never stop limping. But although she may permit herself to be led around like a cripple, although she may display herself in this pathetic condition more often than usual, the people still listen gratefully and appreciatively to her singing just as before and don’t bother much about the abridgment of the songs.

Since she cannot continue limping forever, she invents something else: She pleads exhaustion, disaffection, faintness. And so now we get a theatrical performance as well as a concert. Behind Josephine we see her supporters entreating and imploring her to sing. She would be happy to oblige, but she cannot. They comfort her and caress her with flattery, they practically carry her to a previously chosen spot where she is supposed to sing. Finally, bursting inexplicably into tears, she relents, but when she prepares to sing, clearly at the end of her tether, drooping, her arms not outspread as usual but hanging limply at her sides, giving the impression that they are perhaps somewhat too short—as she prepares to strike a note, no, it’s no use after all; a reluctant shake of the head tells us as much and she swoons before our eyes. Then she does indeed rally again and sings, much the same as ever in my opinion; perhaps a more discerning ear might detect a slight increase in feeling that does, however, heighten the effect. And in the end she is actually less tired than before and departs with a firm tread, if such a term can be used to describe her rapid, mincing steps, refusing all assistance from her supporters, her cold eyes measuring the crowd, who respectfully make way for her.

That was just a few days ago. But the latest news is that she has disappeared, just at a time when she was expected to sing. It is not only her supporters who are looking for her, many others have devoted themselves to the search, but all in vain; Josephine has vanished, she does not wish to sing, she does not wish to be invited to sing; she has deserted us for good this time.

It is curious how seriously she miscalculates, the clever creature, so seriously that one must believe that she did not calculate at all but is only being driven onward by her fate, which can only be a sad one in our world. She abandons her singing of her own accord and of her own accord destroys the power she has gained over our hearts. How could she ever have acquired that power when she knows so little of our hearts? She hides herself away and does not sing. In the meantime our people—calmly, without visible disappointment, a proud, self-sufficient people, who in all truth and despite appearances can only bestow gifts, never receive them, even from Josephine—our people continue on their way.

But Josephine’s path can go nowhere except down. Soon the time will come when her last note sounds and fades into silence. She is a small episode in the eternal history of our people, and the people will overcome their loss. This will not be easy for us though; how can we gather together in utter silence? And yet, weren’t we silent even when Josephine was present? Was her actual piping significantly louder and more lively than the memory of it will be? Was it ever more than simply a memory, even during her lifetime? Had not the people rather, in their wisdom, so dearly cherished Josephine’s song precisely so that in this way it would not be lost?

So perhaps we shall not miss very much after all. While Josephine, delivered from earthly torment—in her opinion the privilege of chosen spirits—will happily lose herself in the countless number of our people’s heroes, and soon, since we are not students of history, will be even further delivered by being forgotten like all her brothers.

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