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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Reviews by Hubie Goode: National Dissipation and Soren Kierkegaard Part 2

National Dissipation

and Søren Kierkegaard

Part 2

As the then intellectual world staggered on the brink at the end of World War II, it was then about that time that Kierkegaard was discovered by the English speaking world almost 100 years after his death. Leaders in religion and philosophy found his ideas extraordinary. He is often hard to understand, but even so, his writings have provided a set of influences that transformed the way in which reality was understood and also fixed new parameters on the concepts of faith and rationality.

The magic word here is existentialism. For the church he gave them something called neo-orthodoxy. It was as though these new views rushed around the corner from an unseen direction and captured the hearts and minds of men so quickly that few had the ability to resist. Kierkegaard became “cool” and the subject of intellectual debate among those who found that sort of thing a welcome distraction and interesting balm from the failures of the first half of the century.

Few theologians truly understood neo-orthodoxy, but it became insinuated within a new set of assumptions contained within the current national pulpit preaching. Existentialism, which no one really had a handle on, became a new way to understand, or perhaps, misunderstand life, depending of course on what end result you wanted.

What Can I DO Today? ..... or ANY day?

Born in Copenhagen in 1813, he lived a quiet and uneventful life, as far as he was publicly known. But his writings, for which by many he is known as the father of existentialism, often revealed him to be darkly conflicted inwardly, clinically depressed perhaps and also a bit tortured. But Kierkegaard never had an honest days work in his life. His father was so wealthy that when he died, he left his son an estate that survived his own life.

If there had been a Starbucks in his day, he would have been their greatest customer. Anyone who has hung out in one long enough knows that they are full of the unemployed during weekday business hours, and in Los Angeles, they are also full of screen writers and actors. Yes, more unemployed. He was often interested in becoming a teacher or even a preacher, but the draw of the latte proved to be too much for “Richie Rich”.

It was his voluminous writings on a myriad of subjects which have left their mark on the world and at least revealed to the world that perhaps his existence produced ...something, if anything. As a writer, as writers know, he was involved in a reclusive, solitary life. He hated crowds, but once he gained fame from his writings he didn’t have much argument with the accolades they lavished upon him. He was, of course, writing for a part of the world that had already lost its soul, so he was a bit of a local hero for his literary prowess. It took him 100 years to become internationally famous.

If you can't convince them with the facts....

One noteworthy event in his life was his engagement to Regine Olsen in 1840. The story of this romance illustrated the constant equivocation that came forth from Kierkegaard on a daily basis. For those not in the know about equivocation, it works something like this:

Equivocation is the use in a syllogism (a logical chain of reasoning) of a term several times, but giving the term a different meaning each time. For example:

A feather is light.
What is light cannot be dark.
Therefore, a feather cannot be dark.

Unable to withstand the constant waffling of reason and reality, (much to her credit) his fiance broke off the engagement . This started the first of three trips to Berlin that Soren would make soon after. In 1841 he took a Master of Arts where he presented his dissertation, The Concept of Irony, with Constant Reference to Socrates.

Three years later he would dive head first into writing and in this period he turned out no less that six books. His writing is both a call to stolid, logical thinking and also at the same time a jumbled mess of conflict. In much the same way as an eighties rock band might write lyrics, his writing could mean different things to as many different people as had read his writings. If someone had revealed that they understood him, then Kierkegaard most certainly would correct him.

This wasn’t anything really new to the educational world, as they had already had much involvement with the morass created in education by John Dewey and his inability to be penned down to any one truth or opinion, an affection that the world seemed to also love.

Kierkegaard’s translators understood that when his dark book, Either/Or was published, it created a sensation in Copenhagen. It couldn’t be adequately reviewed however, due to the fact that it’s subtle purposes could be hardly defined in clarity. This tome was written under one of Soren’s dozen or so pen names under which he wrote. A practice which seemed to spring forth from the naturally vacillating mind of the singular author. When the writings are delved into on a deeper scale, there emerges for the reader a calculated pre-meditation toward confusion.

Here is a quote from his writings in “On His Mission”:

"I was seated as usual, out of doors at the cafe in the Frederiksberg garden.... I had been a student for a half score of years. Although never lazy (wink), all my activity was like a glittering inactivity, a kind of occupation for which I still have a great partiality, and for which perhaps I have even more genius. I read much, spent the remainder of the day idling and thinking, or thinking and idling, but that was all it came to... (no kidding)

So there I sat and smoked my cigar until I lapsed into thought. Among other thoughts I remember these: “You are going on,” I said to myself, “to become an old man, without being anything, and without really undertaking to do anything. On the other hand, wherever you look about you, in literature and in life, you see the celebrated names and figures, the precious and the much heralded men who are coming into prominence and are much talked about, the many benefactors of the age who know how to benefit mankind by making life easier and easier, some by railroads, others by omnibuses and steamboats, others by telegraph, others by easily apprehended compendiums and short recitals of everything worth knowing, and finally the true benefactors of the age who make spiritual existence and virtue of thought easier and easier, yet more and more significant. And what are you doing?” (another grande latte and a biscotti, perhaps?) Here my soliloquy was interrupted, for my cigar was smoked out and a new one had to be lit. (And this meant he now had to get up from the couch, oh the horror!) So I smoked again, and suddenly this thought flashed through my mind: “You must do something, but inasmuch as with your limited capacities it will be impossible to make anything easier than it has become, you must, with the same humanitarian enthusiasm as the others, undertake to make something harder. This notion pleased me immensely, (although getting a job escaped him completely) and at the same time it flattered me to think that I, like the rest of them, would be loved and esteemed by the whole community.

For when all combine to make everything easier, there remains one possible danger, namely that the ease becomes so great that it becomes too great; then there is only one want left, though it is not yet a felt want, when people will want difficulty. Out of love for mankind, and out of despair for my embarrassing situation, seeing that I had accomplished nothing and was unable to make anything easier than it had already been, and moved by a genuine interest in those who make everything easy, I conceived it as my task to create difficulties everywhere.”

*wise guy parenthesis are mine

One need only read through his text to see the extent to which he was successful in creating confusion everywhere. The difference between Kierkegaard and others of his day and the following century who can be considered as the birthers of great intellectual confusion still felt today, is that he was an indolent Christian.

He writes also:

“Sad as I was, ..... I found a sort of satisfaction in this life I had chosen, in the inverse deception, and its incredible success, to the point that I was the darling of the public eye. I was quite in fashion as a preacher of a gospel of worldliness, that though I was not in possession of a legitimate life that would bring legitimate rewards, I was regarded as witty and interesting by a (bamboozled) public.”

Kierkegaard knew he was a fraud and felt secret satisfaction that the public had bought his "snake oil". One might touch upon the brief summary of Kierkegaard’s reputation as Truth by Subjectivity. Like a funny Woody Allen movie, he often spoke of the difference between subjectivity and objectivity. Not surprisingly, in keeping in step with the bottom line intent of most of his day, such as Freud, Wellhausen, Darwin and Marx, his attempt was to deal with the influence of Christianity.

“The objective problem consists of an inquiry into the truth of Christianity. The subjective problem concerns the relationship of the individual to Christianity.”

He announced in many ways that the problem with the Christian was a lack of passion, and not information. This may indeed be true, and no wholly unexpected considering mankind’s recorded history, but Kierkegaard seemed to believe that everything is about passion.

As a result of Kierkegaard’s philosophy and “coffee shop” ruminations on all things deeper and meaningful, society now has something called dissipation. Often sounding like an agnostic, he railed against the organized church. As he was, he believed solely in the individual, treating the crowd as anathema. “The crowd is the untruth.” He was known to say time and again. He also attacked the traditions of theology, ethics, and metaphysics, saying that all were self-deceptions.

Baffle 'em with bull....

He was a renowned smoke screener. Having gone too far in his revolt against real or imagined restraints placed on the individual by organized society, he proposed an all out assault on clear and distinct thinking all together. Much like Dewey, he confirmed and denied many of the same things. If there was ever a time to point out the adage that a multiplicity of words is the sign of a fool, it was in the writings of Kierkegaard. And yet, the public loved the wall of literary confusion which brought them a quasi intellectualism that could fit anyone, anywhere at anytime.

More on this next time.

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