(Translated by James Naughton)
The beast sets me riddles every evening, and when I fail to guess them, it kicks and bites me. It is like a small leopard and in other circumstances I should say it looked quite charming. So far I haven't solved a single one of these riddles.
It always finds me, wherever I am. Sometimes hanging around late at night with people, even if I'm not enjoying it at all, hoping that the beast won't dare to pester me in front of others. Indeed, it never shows itself in front of anyone except me, but it always catches me in some way or other whatever the circumstances if I go to the lavatory, I hear a clattering above me, the lid on the cistern starts jumping up, and a moment later a little hairy head leans out, nods at me and says: "What is it that hides inside a large purple-and-white-striped sphere, slowly rolling in summer at crack of dawn along the wet tarmac of a parking area in a still sleeping housing estate?" All the riddles are silly like that.
Or I'm lying in bed in my girlfriend's flat; she's asleep and I'm falling asleep too, I tell myself, maybe there isn't going to be a riddle today, when the beast's head peeps out from behind the pillow, tickles my whiskers and whispers in my ear: "In the morning it has four legs, at noon two, and in the evening seventeen, it sits on a cold stove in a dark, damp-smelling waiting-room at the railway-station in Tynec nad Labem, singing in a deep voice a musical setting of Jan Mukarovsky's article "Aesthetic Function, Norm and Value as Social Facts." Another time I'm sitting with friends in the Café Slavia, when suddenly I feel a gentle scratching at my knee. I bend under the table-top, and collide with a wet muzzle, the beast hooks a paw round my neck, hauls me further below the table, shoves its mouth practically into my ear, and whispers: "An easy one for you today: it's squashed flat sitting on a plate lying on the counter of the café Les Deux Magots on the boulevard Saint-Germain in Paris, and it yells so loud you can hear it right on the beach at Beaulieu-sur-Mer." When I emerge pale in the face from the nether regions, stammering something about dropping my ballpoint pen on the floor, I feel another tug at my trousers. Quickly I dive back down, to hear: "I'll give you a hint: it's brown (on weekdays at least), and it never read Siger de Brabant's commentaries on Aristotle."
As I said, I've never managed to solve any of these riddles; yet I think about them all the time - partly it's because I'm afraid of the beast, not only of its kicking and biting, but also its unpleasant ironic remarks (such as: "well now, take this acme of creation here, this homo sapiens" - here it makes some grotesque faces - "but what it is that's angular in summer and flashes light, is elongated and jelly-like in winter and runs up and down the motorway, it just doesn't know, it can't recall"), but it's not simply that, the answers to the puzzles would interest me anyway, regardless of the rewards and punishments. Whenever I give up, I ask it to tell me the answer, but the beast never gives anything away, it only mutters: "It's not my job to give you lessons, you're the lord of creation, the culmination of life on earth, I'm a mere stupid best etc." I love animals, I even love this insufferable beast, obsessed as it is with its crazy riddles, but there are moments - especially when it strikes the resentful and whining pose of a creature undeservedly wronged by the evolution of the species - when I feel like giving it a real thumping. Maybe that would solve the whole problem of the riddles, but I've never tried it.
So I walk along contemplating the beast's riddles. Everybody I know thinks I'm a great philosopher, as I'm always deep in thought, and they are expecting me to produce an important masterpiece of meditation, a summa philosophiae. In actual fact it's all due to this beast. Everything's due to some overlooked beast, hunched in the corner.
I don't have much faith in the possibility that the riddles make many sense and that there is an answer to them. In spite of that I can't help thinking about them all the time, even though I know I shall be scratched and bitten, whether I meditate about them or not. Yet it has long been evident to me, that the chief evil is not this beast's teeth and claws, but this perpetual cogitation about the riddles, which has constantly occupied me to such an extent, that I have omitted to hear the quiet hesitant instigations wafting from dark entries and mouths of neighbouring streets. I have lost a tryst with forest maidens, I have allowed the makings of fantastic adventures to wither on the branch, I have neglected the opening up beside me of a voyage to Asia, to golden temples in the jungle, I have passed the half-ajar garden gate, the goblin treasure glittering amidst the moss of night, I have omitted to hear the Siren's song, which brought such magnificent shipwreck to others.
If you think these years of unsuccessful riddle solving were at least a kind of training and experience which furnish hope for the future, I am afraid you are quite mistaken: long experience and practice may familiarise us with the inner order of some object, but these riddles have no inner order, at least not that I have been able to detect in any way. I am just exactly where I was years ago. However, there are moments, when I feel quite distinctly that I am close to solving the riddles, close to the answer, which is to solve them all at once, and this will likewise be the key to unlock all the future riddles. These are times of spiritual exertion taken to the limits of tolerance, the light is within grasp, my whole body trembles in its vibrations, which run right through me… but in the end it always comes to naught, the light eludes me. It's hopeless; if I try to co-operate with revelation by meeting it halfway through ratiocination, my rational constructs only cloud the light of revelation and lead me away from its path, if I turn off reason and wait passively for the light to be shaped into knowledge itself, revelation vanishes, for it encounters nothing upon which it may seize a hold. I writhe in helplessness and anger. Yet at such moments I know for certain that the solution will be simple, and if I ever manage to find it, I will probably have to laugh at my previous incapacity to light upon it.
Whenever the moment of getting close to the light coincides - as it sometimes does - with a time when the beast is present, it falls silent and grows solemn, looking at me with deep feline eyes. It says nothing, its lithe body twitches with bouts of tension. We look at each other in silence for a long while, I gaze at the beast, and in my eyes there is a desperate appeal for help, for it to give me a clue, but the beast remains silent, I know it cannot help, it gazes at me, and in its eyes there is a desperate appeal for me to remember. When it finally sees I have lost yet again, it thumps me with its paws, bites my calves and goes off down its odd paths meandering in the furniture.