Continuing our reading of Kierkegaard’s Stages on Life’s Way:

…. It is an insult to love to be unwilling to have marriage intervene, as if love were something so spontaneous and immediate that it cannot be harnessed with a resolution. On the contrary, it is no insult to a genius to say of him that his power of resolution is just as highborn as his inborn immediacy, that as a guarantor he takes charge of his genius. It is insulting to him to say that he lacks resolution or that his resolution is not in proportion to his genius. This does not mean that the resolution would gradually take over as the genius subsides, so that finally he is attired in the resolution and has become another person than when attired in his genius. The beautiful meaning, however, is that the resolution is contemporary with the genius, and in its own way is just as great; thus the person who received the gracious gift of immediacy lets himself be married to it in the resolution — and this is indeed the beautiful meaning of marriage.

It is even easier to show this in marriage than in genius, because by this time love is already a subsequent immediacy, a heat lightning that commences at a time when the will may be sufficiently developed to comprehend a resolution just as crucial as falling in love, taken in its immediacy, is crucial. Understood in this way, marriage is the deepest, highest, and most beautiful expression of love…. (p. 147-8)


  1. Jonathan Webb says

    That’s really beautiful.

  2. Jonathan Potter says

    Following this passage, Goethe’s Aus meinem Leben gets dressed down for a few pages, as the counterexample of the misuse of the poetic to distance oneself from an overwhelming human relationship that would call for resolution. “This talent to poetize, that is, to distance the actual life relationship in more poetic contours, is often found among criminals …” (155). Ouch. I imagine Goethe crawling under a rock.

    But then the author — and now it seems like the mask slips and it is more Soren speaking than Judge William — picks up the thread again on the theme of resolution. It’s astonishing. I’m tempted to quote the next ten pages or so in their entirety.

    “It has been observed that reflection cannot be exhausted, that it is infinite. Quite right — it can be exhausted in reflection no more than someone, be he ever so hungry, can eat his own stomach …. On the other hand, reflection is discharged into faith, which is precisely the anticipation of the ideal infinity as resolution.” 161-2

    “The resolution is not the man’s power, the man’s courage, and the man’s ingenuity (these are only immediate categories that do not correspond uniformly to the immediacy of falling in love, since they belong to the same sphere and are not a new immediacy), but it is a religious point of departure. If it is not this, the person making the resolution has only been finitized in his reflection; he has not taken the shortcut with the speed of falling in love but has remained en route, and such a resolution is too shabby for love not to disregard it and rely upon itself rather than to entrust itself to the guidance of such a smatterer.

    “The immediacy of falling in love recognizes but one immediacy that is of equal standing, and that is a religious immediacy; falling in love is too virginal to recognize any other confidant than God. But the religious is a new immediacy, has reflection in between — otherwise paganism would actually be religious and Christianity not.” (162)

    “Thus that happy young man (that a young man in love is happy goes without saying) has found what he was looking for. Like the man in the Gospel story, he has purchased the field in which the pearl lay, but he is different from that man inasmuch as he in a way owned the field before he sold everything in order to buy it, for in the field of love he also found the pearl of resolution.” (164-5)

    For me these few pages are one of those places in SK’s work where the clouds part and suddenly you are flying in a crystal clear sky with everything in sharp relief and drenched in color.

  3. I’ll crawl out from underneath my own rock to agree with Mr. Webb, that, yes, this is beautiful, and for some reason it’s easier to understand when I read it on your blog than I do when perusing my musty old copy of Lowrie’s translation. I’ll try to read more attentively.

    That being said, I’m not sure I entirely understand the delineation being made between marriage and genius (if in fact a delineation is being made). Can a genius be married? Will he be married because he had enough resolution? If he does so, will he then necessarily do so in full religious freedom? What is full religious freedom?

    And what exactly is meant by ‘immediacy’? Sometimes when reading SK for the first time it all seems so transparent – the clouds are parted, as you say – but then when I get down to reflecting on what SK really means (terms, concepts, vertiginous abstractions), I find that I’m more lost than I first realized.

    Do I understand the question, or is it hopeless and forlorn?

  4. Jonathan Potter says

    I think he’s bringing in genius only as an analogy to show how a genius must *resolve* to nurture his genius just as one who has fallen in love must *resolve* to maintain the relationship.

    As for immediacy, you’re right it’s obviously a key term in the Kierkegaardian lexicon — and a slippery one. I think it can mean what is inherent or natural, but it seems to shift to other meanings as well. Maybe a look at the D. Anthony Storm site would be helpful.

  5. Jonathan Potter says

    Quin: Your assignment is to read this book and report back to the reading group by next Thursday.

  6. Jonathan Potter says

    Here’s a passage from Storm’s Commentary: “Immediacy, which he later defines as “reality”, is that which the thing is in and of itself without the mediation of language, which he calls ideality (see Johannes Climacus). Utter reality cannot be absolutely determined in itself. Language’s description of it is ideal, and not the thing itself. Moreover, to finite consciousness all immediacy (reality) is true or untrue equally until it is mediated. In other words, unmediated reality is opaque to us.”

  7. Yup, I’m all over that book, no problem. Regarding ‘immediacy’, yes, that’s helpful. I’ve sometimes wondered whether we should just understand it as ‘boner’. But that would be crude. The comment about the idealization by language is helpful; Wallace Stevens would probably add ‘ideas’ to that, as in ‘not ideas about the thing, but the thing itself’ (I forget which poem).

    All this frustration (and a little insomnia) has led to a few random fragments on reflection in general over at qq. Reads a bit like a midnight rave, which in part it is, so it ought to be good for a laugh or two… some of it almost weirdly jibes with your comments (mediated by language, etc. – must be a phrase from K?)

    Thanks for the help.

  8. Jonathan Webb says

    Maybe one of you can explain the paganism part to me.

  9. Jonathan Potter says

    I’m not totally clear on the paganism reference, but I’ll take a stab at it. Christianity is the *new* immediacy, the new reality, the new creation, the resurrection. The slate is wiped clean, in a way, and we have this new, purified, immediacy. But you have to go through the suffering and the reflection and the resignation to get there. Whereas paganism just stays put in the first immediacy. Therefore, it is not religious according to SK’s understanding of the term. It is a natural phenomenon.

  10. Jonathan Webb says

    That makes it a little clearer; more of the same.

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