KSRK: Guilty?/Not Guilty? March 20-27

The morning entry on March 20 repeats the “no new symptom” mantra and may finally provide the key to understanding it. Recall how in the morning entry of February 20 Quidam had concluded: “There is a yawning disproportion between us, she does not understand me, and I do not understand her, she cannot rejoice at that in which I rejoice, nor sorrow for that in which I sorrow.” But then the morning entry of February 28 makes an about face: “It only needs courage and endurance, and I shall reach the religious with her.” So this new mantra in the March morning entries seems to be seeking a symptom one way or another. Will the “yawning disproportion” have the last word or will a miracle occur by which they meet in the religious? So the conclusion of the March 20 entry holds out hope that no news is good news, that some sort of transformation may be occurring that will make the marriage possible, that “the fair blossom is burgeoning in secret.” But: “I dare not investigate, for fear of doing so too early and thereby interfering with the growth.”

Next we fly forward a year to the midnight entry of March 20, and this, it seems to me, is a key entry, maybe the key entry in the diary thus far. First Quidam asserts that he is not, strictly speaking, a religious individual. Rather he is “only a properly and completely formed possibility of such a thing.” He sees the religious clearly in the distance but doesn’t understand it in the sense of one who enters it in the “primitiveness of appropriating.”

I am good enough as a possibility, but in the catastrophe when I would appropriate to myself the religious patterns, I encounter a philosophic doubt which I will not pronounce as such to any man. It has to do with the factor of appropriation. Placed as I am in the religious catastrophe, I grasp after the paradigm. But, behold, I am not able to understand the paradigm, even though I venerate it with childlike piety which will not let it go.

So it seems that the chasm he senses between himself and her is complicated by his uncertainty regarding his own religious possibility. Had he been more secure in his own religious postulates, his own leap of faith, in other words, maybe his sense of her lack of religious postulates would not have been the crisis it was. Recall Kierkegaard’s statement somewhere that if he had had faith then he would have married Regine.

But now he is caught up in this high comedy (as Quintilian pointed out quite astutely — or is it tragicomedy?) of concern for her wellbeing. It is both a continuing distraction from his own pursuit of the religious (“if only I get through this year of mourning when I have to mourn for her … then I can throw myself into these conflicts, and then surely the thing will succeed”) as well as a catalyst for it (“with respect to what I have ventured, I have put myself deeply in debt to her”). So this March 20 Midnight entry balances these concerns and faces the reality of Quidam’s own religious uncertainty. In identifying the will as the key to belief, as opposed to the intellect, Quidam also puts his own spin on the fox and the hedgehog: “the superior talents will avail for understanding the many things, the superior will for understanding the one thing.” But the real power of the entry comes from the blows it levels at false religiosity, along with a discussion of the power of comedy in exposing it:

Let him contemplate if he will life and world history and behold that it is so wonderful — when I contemplate him I behold that he is an ass, just as he also beats a cancan on the pulpit for the honor of Christianity or becomes so serious that he tickles the people as the priest tickles himself with a pinch of snuff. Stupidity or getting into a sweat and becoming red in the face is no nearer to seriousness (because the perspirer is too stupid to be able to laugh) than the asinine stare is to religiousness. If I know nothing else, I know this, that the comic ought to be employed to police the religious field. One should not characterize delusion as hypocrisy but as stupidity. By calling a person a hypocrite he is put at an advantage inasmuch as this implies that he has a God-relationship. A pathetic anger and indignation at the malversations of speculation, at the systematic peculation which (like the Roman proconsuls who sucked the provinces dry and enriched themselves) makes the System rich and life poor, and a good comic sketch of a religious enthusiast — that most assuredly is what is needed.

There we go! A hearty blast from the whale’s blow hole. There’s still life left in the old boy after all. Then shift down a gear or two and return to the question at hand:

This too I perceive, that the unmarried man can make greater ventures in the world of spirit than the married man, he can stake everything, being concerned only about the idea, and he is far better prepared for the discrimen of decision where one has barely room to stand, let alone to establish an abode. But truly it was not for this reason I would not marry. I too desired quiet joy in life, and her prayer made my one wish my only wish; and even if I had not wished it, I should have done it, because I always believe that obedience is dearer to God than cosmopolitan, philanthropic, patriotic sacrifices upon the altar of humanity, that quietness in the fulfillment of a modest duty is infinitely more worthy and more becoming to every man than luxurious living in the world of intellect and prodigality in concerning oneself about the whole human race, as though one were almighty God.

What refreshingly non-manic musings these are. And fine-spun. There’s more fine stuff in this entry, too, more in the same vein. The bottom line regarding the engagement is that he believed he “had a divine counter order.”

The remaining two March entries, a morning and midnight, continue in the same vein, but the mood becomes more somber. He contrasts his native unhappiness with her native happiness. He recalls floating in a boat with her on the lake (the same lake, apparently, from which the diary was pulled). He considers the “dialectical complexity” of his suffering: “I have been in love, but my soul is fashioned of a substance too eternal to despair over an unhappy love; on the other hand I can despair over an unhappy responsibility, over being on unhappy terms with the eternal meaning of life.”


  1. Quin Finnegan says

    Yes, ‘tragicomedy’ fits in a new (Kierkegaardian) way of self-understanding and appropriating the religious for one’s life. I’m not sure I entirely understand how the tragic fits (apart from the suffering, which is again emphasized at the end of the March 27 entry), but I do think he emphasizes the importance of humility attained through an appreciation one’s own frailties and foibles. Perhaps what is tragic is what must (maybe inevitably) be paid in pursuit of this appropriation.

    Did Kierkegaard ever note that comedy (and Euripidean tragicomedy) evolved later (and to some degree out of) Greek tragedy?

    While he certainly mentions his suffering (which is what I take to be the tragic) He’s much more explicit about the comic:

    “If I know nothing else, I do know that the comic ought to be used to keep order in the sphere of the religious.”

    Occuring as it does in the midst of his attack on false religiosity and the misunderstood nature of hypocrisy, I think all this must still be understood as being directed inward. I think that is what he’s getting at with his invocation of duty and the difficulty it imposes.

    One thing that makes the March 20th entry so key to understanding Quidam is his explanation for the ‘divine counterorder’:

    “My counterorder I can understand, for it goes through repentance. A repentant individuality who is able to take a whole lifetime to recant cannot advance. This is a very simple protest against a marriage. I have neither visions nor dreams to guide me; my collision is quite simply the collision of repentance with existence, a collision of suspension with a present actuality. Until it is resolved, I am in suspense; as soon as it is resolved, I am free again.”

    The question that remains, I think, is about what he would accept as resolution.

Speak Your Mind