Thursday, 21 March 2013

Either/Or (Part I)

Here are some of my reading notes on the first part of Kierkegaard’s Either/Or.

‘that eternity which lies not outside time but in the midst of it’ [51. Compare, regarding actualizing the eternal in the temporal (Bergman), the reference on 37 to ‘an idea that joined the finite and the infinite’. Cf. also 54, for instance the remark that ‘Only where the idea is brought to rest and transparency in a definite form can there be any question of a classic work’ (compare 103: ‘the stillness of the moment’). These references to rest and stillness are themselves worth comparing with Kierkegaard’s (hereafter SK’s) notion of ‘suspension’: ‘The art of recollecting and forgetting will also prevent a person from foundering in any particular relationship in life – and assures him complete suspension.’ (295) This effect of an ‘artistically [vs. ethically] achieved identity’ of forgetting and recollecting seems to me to correspond to the Buddhist meditative condition of detachment or acceptance; for me mindfulness can be what SK, on the same page, calls ‘the Archimedean point with which one lifts the whole world’. Suspension - also because it is an aesthetic position - is of course a relativistic state: one ‘does not hoist full sail for any decision’ (293).] 

‘When was it that the hetairias became common in Greece except at the time when the state was in the process of disintegration? And does not our age have a striking likeness to that age, which not even Aristophanes could make more ludicrous than it actually was? Has not the bond that in the political sense held the states together, invisibly and spiritually, dissolved; has not the power in religion that insisted upon the invisible been weakened and destroyed […]’ [141. These statements, like the similar ones in Irony, seem to evoke the conditions of Weimar era Germany – as well as the conditions of our time.]

‘Our age has lost all the substantial categories of family, state, kindred; it must turn the single individual over to himself completely in such a way that, strictly speaking, he becomes his own creator.’ [149. Cf. the ‘subjectivity reflected in itself’ on 143, and the quotation from Hegel’s Philosophy of Right regarding ‘the right of subjective freedom’ on 626 n. 13.]
‘since we […] acknowledge as characteristic of all human endeavour in its truth that it is fragmentary, that it is precisely this which distinguishes it from nature’s infinite coherence, that an individual’s wealth consists specifically in his capacity for fragmentary prodigality […]’ [151. Cf. the advocacy of concise communication – ‘simple statements’, ‘time-and-talk-saving pithy aphorisms’, ‘economizing’ – on 465. Cf. too the recommended ‘venture in fragmentary endeavour’ in line with ‘the disjointed and desultory character of unfinished papers’, and a vocation of obscurity, on 152 (& 137).]    

[quotation above from 151 regarding ‘fragmentary prodigality’ continues with:] ‘what is the producing individual’s enjoyment is the receiving individual’s also, not the laborious and careful accomplishment or the tedious interpretation of this accomplishment but the production and the pleasure of the glinting transiency, which for the producer holds much more than the consummated accomplishment, since it is a glimpse of the idea and holds a bonus for the recipient, since its fulguration [Fulguration] stimulates his own productivity […]’ [152. 629 n. 36 glosses ‘Fulguration’ as a loan word in Danish, meaning ‘a sudden flashing (for example, the flashing of molten gold or silver)’. Compare, therefore, 129: ‘Then in the most distant heavens, far off on the horizon, one sees a flash; it speeds away swiftly along the earth, is gone in an instant. […] it seems as if the darkness itself has lost its composure and is starting to move. […] There is an anxiety in that flash; it is as if in that deep darkness it were born in anxiety – just so is Don Giovanni’s life. There is an anxiety in him, but this anxiety is his energy. […] Don Giovanni’s life is not despair; it is, however, the full force of the sensuous, which is born in anxiety; and Don Giovanni himself is this anxiety, but this anxiety is precisely the demonic zest for life.’ In this relation, compare too SK’s constellation of aesthetic-intellectual love, risk and a Nietzsche-like terror of natural contingency (contingent even in its ‘infinite coherence’). ‘With what kind of love do we embrace nature? Is there not a secretive anxiety and horror in it, because its beautiful harmony works its way out of lawlessness and wild confusion, its security out of perfidy? But precisely this anxiety captivates the most. So also with love, if it is to be interesting. Behind it ought to brood the deep, anxious night from which springs the flower of love. Thus the nymphaea alba [white water lily] rests with its calyx on the surface of the water, while thought is anxious about plunging down into the deep darkness where it has its root.’ (424; cf. 294) On 102 Don Giovanni is posited as ‘absolutely musical’ because, unreflective and nonverbal, he ‘does not have that kind of [intellectual] continuance at all but hurries on in an eternal vanishing, just like the music’.]

‘love is always present tense’ [226]

‘the repelling force always required in the negative, which is actually the principle of motion. It is not merely repelling but infinitely repulsive, and whoever has the basic principle behind him must necessarily have infinite momentum for making discoveries.’ [285. Cf. Hegel’s infinite absolute negativity adopted in Irony, and Hegel’s definition of negativity as ‘the turning point of the movement of the Notion […] the innermost source of all activity’ quoted in 641 n. 3. Cf. with this principle of motion the ‘movement of thought […] in the service of reflection’ discussed on 188, where, for the will (mediation, and the ethical) to begin, or to free itself from serving reflection, it ‘must be altogether impartial, must begin in the power of its own willing; only then can there be any question of a beginning’. The logic of this replacement of the principle of (aesthetic-)intellectual motion by the free exercise of the will (the decision, ethics), seems to me to be analogous to the meditative logic wherein mindfulness emerges from (within, ‘in the power of’) the body’s own wisdom: the breath. Cf. also, however, SK’s opposition of spirit-motion to the perpetual motion imposed by the capitalist work ethic. He writes of the ‘businesslike zeal with which they work at the office’ on 289: ‘There is an indefatigable activity that shuts a person out of the world of spirit and places him in a class with the animals, which instinctively must always be in motion.’ (Cf. SK on ‘busy bustlers’ on 25, and critiquing working for a living on 31).]    

‘There is so much talk about man’s being a social animal, but basically he is a beast of prey, something that can be ascertained not only by looking at his teeth. Therefore, all this chatter about sociality and community is partly inherited hypocrisy and partly studied perfidy.’ [288. Cf. the quotation from Aristotle’s Politics in 642-43 n.12: ‘man is by nature a political [social] animal. […] the natural outcast is forthwith a lover of war; he may be compared to an isolated piece at draughts’. Cf. 22, and also Hobbes?]

‘Every erotic relationship must always be lived through in such a way that it is easy for one to produce an image that conveys all the beauty of it.’ [390. Cf. 418: ‘For love, everything is a symbol […]’; ‘Erotic love is much too substantial to be satisfied with chatter, the erotic situations much too significant to be filled with chatter. They are silent, still, definitely outlined, and yet eloquent, like the music of Memnon’s statue. Eros gesticulates, does not speak; or if he does, it is an enigmatic intimation, symbolic music.’]     

‘To have an understanding of the moment is not such an easy matter, and the one who misunderstands it is doomed to boredom for life. The moment is everything, and in the moment woman is everything; the consequences I do not understand.’ [433. Cf. the seducer’s statements with the references to the moment on 90 and (as 658 n. 209 points out) The Concept of Anxiety, 82-91.]

As in my previous post on The Concept of Irony, the page numbering here refers to the relevant volume of the Princeton edition of Kierkegaard’s Writings. 

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