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Kierkegaard Bit

Existential Comics: Kierkegaard Relates to the Common Man

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From the YouTube Music Video Archives: Frank Zappa on the Steve Allen show March 4, 1963

The most abstract idea conceivable is the sensuous in its elemental originality. But through which medium can it be presented? Only through music. Kierkegaard, Either/Or

Here Zappa enlists Allen’s help to play a piece of music featuring two bicycles. Hilarious!

This one is for JOB, of course.

It’s Walker Percy’s Hundredth Birthday and We Suck

… but here’s the beginning of an epic poem about the time a young man met the man himself:

November 22, 1989

The day I met Walker, the rain had fallen
in Louisiana sheets, and I’d left
my tent illicitly pitched in the Bogue Falaya
State Park, along with a bookish bottle
of Early Times I’d taken a few swigs off of
in the dark the night before as pine cones pitched
and fell outside as if in triadic morse code
from Flannery in heaven telling me grace was in
the river. And alligators, too, I reckoned.
I walked the cracked sidewalks of Covington, aimlessly,
dazed by the wonder of seeing vines sprouting
through the cracks in a sacramental vision,
a concelebration of the namer and the named,
and lept across the flashflood puddles
as I made my way towards no destination
but found myself in The Kumquat bookstore
to oggle shelves bursting with signed copies
of The Moviegoer, The Last Gentleman, Love in the Ruins, Lancelot,
The Second Coming, The Thanatos Syndrome, Lost
in the Cosmos, The Message in the Bottle, books
that had changed (and continue to change) my life.
Oh Walker (Oh Rory) I was twenty-four
and pining for a woman I was also
on the run from in triangular
despair (yet thanks in part to you I also
was aware, at least a little — a foothold —
of the despair, contrary to that Kierkegaardian
epigraph, precisely pitched though it is).
Oh Walker: so I bought a stack of books,
some for me and some for those I loved,
and left instructions with the keeper of
the store to have you encode, in your
physician’s scrawl, your cracked prescriptions
where the vines of love and truth might grow from bourbon
and ink, the cumulative bliss of limitation,
where you and I might clear a space for being.

Claire Carlisle on the Paradoxes and Perplexities of Kierkegaard

In fishing about for a topic for this upcoming Percy conference, I’ve been reading some Kierkegaard again, or rather one of Kierkegaard’s very best commentators, Claire Carlisle. Here’s a great passage from her Guide for the Perplexed, which I think is just excellent as a précis of Kierkegaard’s entire work.

One of the interesting—and also potentially confusing—features of Kierkegaard’s interpretation of truth is the way it encompasses both a philosophical notion of knowledge and a theological notion of salvation. In the context of Christianity, the correspondence between truth and salvation can be summed up by Jesus’s words, “I am the way, the truth and the life”, which suggest that truth and the way to salvation (or eternal life) are one and the same thing. This is the kind of truth that Kierkegaard is interested in: not just the truth that Jesus embodies, but that which is required of all those who, in following Jesus, have embarked on the task of becoming Christians and are seeking salvation. As a philosopher, Kierkegaard wants to present an accurate expression of this truth of Christianity. This is very much what Hegel had already tried to do, but Kierkegaard felt that Hegel had falsified Christianity by attempting to incorporate it into a philosophical system.

Kierkegaard highlights an opposition between the truth of Christianity and the truth of philosophy, and this means that in order to say what it means to be a Christian he creates, rather paradoxically, and anti-philosophical philosophy. To put it another way—which seems a little less paradoxical—Kierkegaard offers a philosophy of a way of life that cannot, he argues, be rationalized.

Claire Carlisle, Kierkegaard: A Guide for the Perplexed

Rain and Fog and Straw and Man

Morning Fog

Like hushed antiquities ensconced in crates,
Excelsior, and mummy’s cotton gauze,
This roadside farmland holds no common cause
With time or place. A breeze investigates
The dialogue of rain and fog, yet yields
No evidence of crows nor their scarecrow,
But only emptiness in open fields
That proves a second harvest – stubbled straw.

So modern man, a target on the move,
Will enter such a landscape in his mind.
His feet will neither sound nor mark. The mist
Envelopes them, and rain is quick to drive
The point – the past erased or redefined,
Mere straw to scare the crowing nihilist.

Photosource(no relation)

The many selves of Krista – or, things to discuss with ourselves over drinks as we watch a sunset/sunrise on Guemes Island

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I thought this an interesting read, worth some discussion, especially since Walker Percy haunts the margins of the piece but never quite makes an appearance:

The Romantic conception of self-knowledge as a quest for “authenticity,” to some extent a revolt against the rigidity of the Enlightenment model, is still very much with us, particularly in the argot of the New Age and self-help movements. More importantly, one must point to the rich tradition of Christian thought and praxis, which assumes that each person is the unique creation and image of a loving God, a duality of body and soul destined for immortality. There are many variants of the Christian discourse on the self, but none of them has ever posited a purely autonomous paradigm of selfhood. Indeed, one might suggest that the postmodern, decentered self is simply the all but inevitable outcome of a process of secularization that began in the 17th century. Robbed of its metaphysical foundation, the Enlightenment or, later, the Romantic self has grown increasingly attenuated and subject to disintegration.

Illiberal Catholics revisited


Back a bit ago, Quin exchanged his transit authority for another sort of moving target.

After some digging around, I found that Zmirak’s original piece was followed up by another more recent.

Then I found that there were a number of responses, hither and yon.

Then, if you start following the links flourishing from Zmirak’s follow-up, that there are plenty of responses to the responses.

BONUS: We were mentioned as part of the conversation here (although the author misses the fact that Kiercegaard is spelled with two K’s…)

Coming Soon

Marvel’s Kierkegaardians of the Galaxy: Lost in the Cosmos:


Words of a Dying Man for Lent

A great personal reflection on Mr. Bones from the late Mario Palmaro, Italian author and journalist and, yes, Triddywacker:

The first thing that shakes you up about sickness is that it hits us without any warning and at a time we do not decide. We are at the mercy of events, and we can do nothing but accept them. Grave illness obliges one to become aware that we are truly mortal; even if death is the most certain thing in the world, modern man tends to live as if he should never die.

 In sickness you understand for the first time that life on earth is but a breath, you recognize with bitterness that you have not made it that masterpiece of holiness God had wanted. You experience a profound nostalgia for the good that you could have done and for the bad that you could have avoided. You look at the Crucifix and you understand that this is the heart of the Faith; without sacrifice Catholicism wouldn’t exist. Then you thank God for having made you a Catholic, a “little ” Catholic, a sinner, but who has an attentive Mother in the Church. So, grave sickness is a time of grace, but often the vices and miseries that have accompanied us in life remain, or even increase [during it]. It is as if the agony has already begun, and there is a battle going on for the destiny of my soul, because nobody can be sure of their own salvation.

Søren Says

… the torment of despair is precisely the inability to die. In this it has much in common with the condition of the mortally ill person who is in the throes of death but cannot die. Thus to be sick unto death is to be unable to die, yet not as though there were hope of life. No, the hopelessness is that even the last hope, death, is gone. When death is the greatest danger, one hopes for life. But when one learns to know the even more horrifying danger, one hopes for death. When danger is so great that death has become the hope, then despair is the hopelessness of not even being able to die.

~ The Sickness Unto Death p48

Søren Says

Where then does despair come from? From the relation to which the synthesis relates to itself, from the fact that God, who made man this relation, as it were lets go of it; that is, from the relation’s relating to itself. And in the fact that the relation is spirit, is the self, lies the accountability under which all despair is, every moment, what it is, however much and however ingeniously the despairer, deceiving both himself and others, speaks of his despair as a misfortune — through a confusion as in the afore-mentioned case of vertigo, with which despair, though different in kind, has much in common, vertigo being under the aspect of soul what despair is under the aspect of spirit, and pregnant with analogies to despair.

~ The Sickness Unto Death p44

A couple of Twitter mashups to note

The philosophy of Søren Kierkegaard mashed with the tweets and observations of Kim Kardashian.

Combining the pop stylings of Justin Bieber with the existential wisdom of philosopher Martin Buber.

From the YouTube Music Video Archives: Sull’ aria from Le Nozze di Figaro

The most abstract idea conceivable is the sensuous in its elemental originality. But through which medium can it be presented? Only through music. Kierkegaard, Either/Or

More music by Mozart on gentle breezes and desire as a force for good. The version above features Lucia Popp and Gundula Janowitz, two favorites of mine. You might remember this scene from The Shawshank Redemption, when the Tim Robbins character plays it all over the prison loudspeakers. While listening to this version just now, I noticed how the echo towards the end weirdly adds something to the scene. I think it’s the emptiness of the sound and the way it effectively evokes the loneliness of life in prison. As if to say, “yes, such beauty does exist, but it’s a long, long ways off.”

I’ve always thought it telling that Kierkegaard chose Don Giovanni as the work best exemplifying his “Musical Erotic”. It certainly is great music, and there’s no denying its concern with matters erotic (unlike, say, Telemann). But why not take Figaro as your model? Great as Don Giovanni is, Marriage of Figaro is the absolute pinnacle. It, too, reveals the devastation that can be wrought by desire, but at the end of Act Four, forgiveness is asked, and granted.

Sull’aria …
Che soave zeffiretto
Questa sera spirerà
Sotto i pini del boschetto
Ei già il resto capirà

On a breeze …
What a gentle little Zephyr
This evening will sigh
Under the pines in the little grove
And the rest he’ll understand

Søren Says

“Is despair a merit or a defect? Purely dialectically it is both. If one were to think of despair only in the abstract, without reference to some particular despairer, one would have to say it is an enormous merit. The possibility of this sickness is man’s advantage over the beast, and it is an advantage which characterizes him quite otherwise than the upright posture, for it bespeaks the infinite erectness or loftiness of his being spirit. The possibility of this sickness is man’s advantage over the beast; to be aware of this sickness is the Christian’s blessedness.

Consequently, it is an infinite merit to be able to despair. and yet not only is it the greatest misfortune and misery actually to be in despair; no, it is ruin.”

~ The Sickness Unto Death p44, 45

From the YouTube Music Video Archives: Soave sia il vento from Così fan tutte

The most abstract idea conceivable is the sensuous in its elemental originality. But through which medium can it be presented? Only through music. Kierkegaard, Either/Or

We had some fairly stormy weather today in Seattle—one of those wind storms that turns your umbrella inside out. Pretty funny when it’s somebody else’s, not so funny when it’s your own. I was going to try to find some sturm und drang to mark the occasion, but then I realized that what I really wanted was an antidote rather than more of the same. So today’s diapsalmata features one of the highlights from Così fan tutte. Mozart was of course Kierkegaard’s exemplary composer of sensuous in its elemental originality, and the exemplary work is of course Don Giovanni. To my knowledge, Kierkegaard doesn’t refer to Cosi anywhere in his writing, but others certainly have. I was reading Slavoj Žižek the other day, and came across this, from Opera’s Second Death:

“In all three of these stages [aesthetic, ethical, and religious], the same sacrificial gesture is at work, each time in a different power/potential (in Schelling’s sense of the term). The religious sacrifice is a matter of course (suffice it to recall Abraham’s readiness to sacrifice Isaac, Kierkegaard’s supreme example), so we should concentrate on the renunciation that pertains to the ethical and the aesthetic:

The ethical stage is defined by the sacrifice of the immediate consumption of life, of our yielding to the fleeting moment, in the name of some higher universal norm. In the erotic domain, one of the most refined examples of this renunciation is provided by Mozart’s Così fan tutte. If his Don Giovanni embodies the aesthetic (as was developed by Kierkegaard himself in his detailed analysis of the opera in Either/Or), the lesson of Così fan tutte is ethical—why? The point of Cosi is that the love that unites the two couples at the beginning of the opera is no less artificial, mechanically brought about, than the love of the two sisters for the exchanged partners dressed up as Albanian officers that results from the manipulations of the philosopher Alfonso—in both cases, we are dealing with a mechanism that the subjects follow in a blind, puppetlike way. Therein consists the Hegelian “negation of negation”: First, we perceive the artificial love, the product of Alfonso’s manipulations, as opposed to the initial, authentic love, and then we suddenly become aware that there is actually no difference between the two. So because one love counts as much as the other, the couples can return to their initial marital arrangement. This is what Hegel has in mind when he claims that in the course of a dialectical process, the immediate starting point proves itself to be something already mediated, that is, its own self-negation; in the end, we ascertain that we always and already were what we wanted to become, the only difference being that this always-already state changes its modality from in-itself into for-itself. The ethical is in this sense the domain of repetition qua symbolic; if, in the aesthetic, one endeavors to capture the moment in its uniqueness, in the ethical a thing becomes what it is only through its repetition.”

Soave sia il vento
Tranquilla sia l’onda
Ed ogni elemento
Benigno risponda
Ai nostri desir

May the wind be gentle,
may the waves be calm,
and may every element
respond kindly
to our desire

Søren Says

Last week we read that, according to SK, “The self is not the relation but the relation’s relating to itself,” a sentence whose somewhat torturous logic was noted by Potter (in other words, “lost in the cosmos”), analogized by Nguyen (“trinitarian implications!”), and clarified by IC (“meant to be a satirical take on Hegel’s castles unfit for human habitation”). This week we’ll continue with this first section of Sickness Unto Death:

Such a derived, established relation is the human self, a relation which relates to itself, and relating to itself relates to something else. That is why there can be two forms of authentic despair. If the human self were self-established, there would only be a question of one form: not wanting to be itself, wanting to be rid of itself. There could be no question of wanting in despair to be oneself. For this latter formula is the expression of the relation’s (the self’s) total dependence, the expression of the fact that the self cannot by itself arrive at or remain in equilibrium and rest, but only, in relating to itself, by relating to that which has established the whole relation.

I like this paragraph in particular because it brings to mind St Augustine: Fecisti nos ad te et inquietum est cor nostrum donec requiescat in te, “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” (Confessions, Book I) I’m not suggesting that Kierkegaard derived this from Augustine (Hannay says nothing about SK and Augustine in his bio, and I don’t know the scholarship very well), and of course it would be just grand if Kierkegaard and Augustine arrived at such similar conclusions independently.

And since many of us have recently read Lost in the Cosmos, I like the way these passages shed light on the problem of trying to recognize oneself in the self-analysis of all twelve astrological signs or in sixteen schools of psychotherapy with sixteen theories of the personality and its disorders. Although it is true that both the twelve astrological signs and the sixteen schools of psychotherapy are others—entities separate from the self (obviously, they are not the self), it does seem to me that (at the very least) both the signs and the schools have catered for so long to various needs and desires that they have, in effect, been appropriated by the self. What is needed is a truly radical Other that we can trust to comprehend our selves …

This then is the formula which describes the state of the self when despair is completely eradicated: in relating to itself and in wanting to be itself, the self is grounded transparently in the power that established it.

Søren Says

The Human being is spirit. But what is spirit? Spirit is the self. But what is the self? The self is a relation which relates to itself, or that in the relation which is its relating to itself. The self is not the relation but the relation’s relating to itself. A human being is a synthesis of the infinite and the finite, of the temporal and the eternal, of freedom and necessity. In short a synthesis. A synthesis is a relating between two terms. Looked at in this way a human being is not yet a self.

~ The Sickness Unto Death

Food for Thought