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Korrektiv Summer Reading Klub: Stages: "In Vino Veritas"

Is this SK’s little joke on the reading public that had, a few years earlier, gobbled up Either/Or? Where the esthetic was represented in the either of Either/Or by hundreds upon hundreds of pages of clever, witty, fascinatingly seductive stuff — and thus Either/Or became something of a bestseller in its day — here, in the sequel, the esthetic of “In Vino Veritas” is reduced to under a hundred pages, a sketchy “recollection” of drunken incomprehensible speeches that fail utterly in the task of comprehending “the relation between man and woman” (30-1).

The distinction between memory and recollection outlined in the Preface was a lot clearer:

To recollect [erindre] is by no means the same as to remember [huske]. For example, one can remember very well every single detail of an event without thereby recollecting it. Remembering is only a vanishing condition. Through memory, the experience presents itself to receive the consecration of recollection. The distinction is already discernible in the difference between generations. The old person loses memory, which as a rule is the first faculty to be lost. Yet the old person has something poetic about him; in the popular mind he is prophetic, inspired. But recollection is indeed his best power, his consolation, which consoles him with its poetic farsightedness. Childhood, on the other hand, has memory and quickness of apprehension to a high degree but does not have recollection at all. (9-10)

Here I felt like it was smooth swimming in the Kierkegaardian sea, my snorkel pointed up at the blue sky and my face pointed down at the bright, strange fish below. The distinction provides a mental background for the banquet scene that follows, i.e., that it will be recapitulated as a recollection, not a mere memory, by William Afham (i.e. “himself” = SK? But I get befuddled by the identity of the Judge who is presumably the author of the next section and also a William.)

The banquet is thrown together by Constantin Constantius (the author of Repetition). The details are scant and sketchy (as befits a recollection, I guess). The evening goes by in a blur of sumptuous feasting to the strains of Don Giovanni. So far so good. But then the speeches begin (the sky darkens, the sea murkens, the bright little fish skittle away below and I begin having trouble with my snorkel). Constantin assigns the topic: erotic love or the relation between man and woman (and really, it comes down to: the Woman question, somewhat like “the Jewish question” as it was pondered in Nazi Germany).

Without cracking open the book, I’ll try to recollect what I can of the speeches: 1. The Young Man: has never been “in love” and plans to steer* clear of women because from what he’s seen they cause rationality to fly out the windows of a man’s mind. (Constantin chides him for making his speech in bad faith and prevents Johannes the Seducer from going off on a rant until it is his turn to speak. Johannes agrees on the condition that he be the last to speak.) 2. Constantin talks about how Woman is really some sort of cosmic jest. 3. Victor Eremita — all I can recall is that at one point he says, “Maybe I truly am a hermit.” 4. The Fashion Designer: pokes fun at the brides and such that come to him for fashion advice, abuses his power, plays god to their need for a fashion authority — reminded me of something from Sex and the City or the Queer Eye thing. 5. Johannes the Seducer: the only speech of the lot that halfway made sense to me, although I can’t recall most of it. He begins by slamming his fellow drunken speechifiers. Woman is a wonderful creature, a more lofty creature than man … but a trap. The gods made Woman in order to distract man because man was getting a little too close to the gods. The seducer sees through this and enjoys Woman without falling prey to the trap the gods set for him. The seducer is scum to other men, but something unspeakable to Woman (because they share a secret).

(By the way, I’m reading the Hong translation. Anybody out there reading the Walter Lowrie translation? I have an irrational loyalty to Lowrie as the ur-translator of SK into english, and a nagging feeling that I should be reading his version and that if I were, SK’s genius would be shining through a lot more clearly. I feel the same way about Constance Garnett’s translations of Dostoevsky.)

Some consolation in spotting this entry from SK’s journals:

“In Vino Veritas” is not going well. I am constantly rewriting parts of it, but it does not satisfy me. On the whole I feel that I have given far too much thought to the matter and thereby have gotten into an unproductive mood. I cannot write it here in the city; so I must take a journey. But perhaps it is hardly worth finishing. The idea of the comic as the erotic is hinted at in The Concept of Anxiety. The Fashion Designer is a very good figure, but the problem is whether by writing such things I am not deferring more important writing.

Nice to know that even SK had trouble with his writing at times (or maybe it was only this one time). And, further, it reassures me in my sense that “In Vino Veritas” is a weak link in the chain of SK’s authorship.

Here’s one more bit to consider from the vast array of supplementary fragments included in the Hong volume:

The purpose of the five speakers in “In vino veritas” all of whom are Karikaturen des Heiligsten [Caricatures of the Most Holy], is to illuminate women essentially but nevertheless falsely. The Young Man understands women solely from the point of view of the sex; Constantine Constantius considers the psychic aspect: faithlessness — that is, of frivolousness; Victor Eremita conceives of the female sex psychically as sex, its significance for the male, i.e., that there is none; the Fashion Designer considers the sensuous aspect, outside the essentially erotic, of the vanity that is more pronounced in a woman’s relationship to women, for as an author has said, women do not adorn themselves for men but for each other; Johannes the Seducer considers the purely sensuous factor with respect to the erotic. (515)

The surprise ending, where the gents leave the banquet and stumble on the judge and his wife, is nothing short of goofy. It could be easily turned into a Monty Python sketch or a Woody Allen scene. But it creates an interesting segue, with the discovery and theft of the manuscript on marriage, as an emblem of the ethical, which we shall tackle next, dear readers.

Athenaeum Reading Room (Full Text in English)
D. Anthony Storm’s Commentary
Hans Aaen’s Kierkegaard Course
Love in Kierkegaard’s Symposia,” by William McDonald
Kierkegaard for Grownups” by Richard John Neuhaus”


  1. Quin Finnegan says

    To what extent In Vino Veritas was meant as a joke on his reading public then I don’t know, but it certainly makes for something like a joke for this reader today. I even downed a bottle of chianti to see if that would help. It didn’t. In short, I’m a little lost at sea here.

    Regarding the presentation of the aesthetic, I wonder if K. hadn’t felt he’d progressed far enough beyond it that he became a little more surreptitious in his dramatization.

    “Nothing,” said John, “because nothing is more unpleasant than a sentimental scene, and nothing more disgusting than the knowledge that somewhere or other there is an external setting which in a direct and impertinent fashion pretends to be a reality.”
    I take this to be Kierkegaard’s irony at work from the beginning. We are firmly fixed in the aesthetic sphere, where direct communication (which I believe K. elsewhere describes as belonging to the religious sphere) is impossible. But why?

    “Whatever is to be good must come at once; for ‘at once’ is the divinest of all categories and deserves to be honored as in the language of the Romans: ex templo, because it is the starting point for all that is divine in life, and so much so that what is not done at once is of evil.” (Victor Emerita)
    Does this concern for ‘at once’ mark Victor’s comment as wholly aesthetic in nature? It would seem so to me, and I would note then the ironic placement of the word ‘divinest’ near the beginning, as well as a certain breeziness, if not confusion, about the categories of good and evil. A banquet certainly can be ‘divine’ (indeed, even in the most attenuated Protestantism – certainly in Lutheranism – there is usually some kind of ritual for the Last Supper), but I think the use of the descriptor by Victor Emerita here is telling.

    I think the comparison with the “woman question” in these pages with the “Jewish question” in Nazi Germany is pretty astute; it all sort of reminded me of the Tom Cruise character in Magnolia. And didn’t Nietschze say something about a whip and a chair when it came to dealing with women? Hey, isn’t he an existentialist too?!

    The supplementary fragment from the Hong volume is helpful. I have that Lowrie translation, and will see if he supplies anything else along the same lines. I haven’t reached the ending – and may not have, if you hadn’t given me something to look forward to.

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