Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Sickness Unto Death

Anti-Climacus, 1848*

Christian heroism is to become wholly oneself. Christian knowledge ought to always be engaged, concerned knowledge. In this, it is higher than detached philosophical knowledge. The Christian should always be oriented toward the world - something here like Heideggerian Sorge. Despair is the sickness unto death; dying to the world is the cure.

Humanly speaking, death is the end. Christianly speaking, death and human suffering matters less than the real suffering: the sickness unto death. Thus, the Christian has a tremendous amount of courage compared to the pagan because, just as an adult considers childish fears nothing, so too does the Christian consider earthly suffering to pale next to the suffering of despair.

A - Despair is the sickness unto death
“The self is a relation which relates itself to itself.” The human is the synthesis of the infinite and the finite, the temporal and the eternal, the free and the necessary. The synthesis is the relation between these binaries. However, the human is not a self. The self is an activity, not the relation, but the relation’s relating itself to itself. The self is always given, it’s always founded on the other (God). The only way to have a self is to establish a relation with the thing which made the synthesis/relation possible - God. Despair is the misrelation “in a relation that relates itself to itself and has been established by another” (14).

A - the possibility and actuality of despair
Despair is both an excellence and a defect. It separates us from animals, by relating us, however convolutedly, to the eternal, but it is also a suffering worse than death. Not to be in despair is not something passive, in the way being healthy means the absence of illness; rather, not to be in despair requires actively destroying despair at every moment.

Despair does not lie in the synthesis of infinite/finite, eternal/temporal, freedom/necessity. If the misrelation were in those binaries, then despair would be intrinsic to the human and nothing could be done. The misrelation is in our relation to that relation. Despair is not like an illness we catch; rather, we bring it upon ourselves at every moment. To despair is to be perpetually dying and never dead. Despair wants to consume self, but cannot, which deepens despair.

To despair over something is not yet to truly despair. It is a preface to declared despair, where I despair over myself. Pretty much everything is despair. The lover who seeks self loss in the union of love despairs as much as the disappointed lover. Despair can either be the will to lose oneself or the will to become oneself. either way, it was a mark of eternity, a testimony to the possibility of a self, which makes it an excellence.

B - universality of sickness
Despair is the norm. This is not depressing, but rather elevating. Not being in despair is a form of despair, in the way imaginary health is sickness. Symptoms of despair are dialectical and related to the eternal. So to be unaware of despair is to be unaware of our relation to the eternal and status as spirit. The sickness itself is dialectical; it’s a godsend to get it because it gives a self, which is to say, a sense of self existing before God. Yet it is mortally dangerous to suffer despair if one does not want to be cured of it, because, ultimately, eternity will ask if you lived in despair, and if the answer is yes, then it will bind you to your despair forever.

*I have a suspicion Kierkegaard’s dialects are not Hegel’s, but I’ll confess to not really understanding the difference.

C - forms of sickness
The relating of the self to itself is freedom, which is to say the self is freedom. The task is to become a self, which can only be done through relation to God. The self is always in a state of becoming when it is not in despair (which is to say it is almost never becoming).

a - Infinitude’s despair is to lack finitude
This seems aimed at romanticism. To lose yourself in the fantastic, to feel an intoxicated merging with an abstraction, like humanity, is a form of despair.

b - finitude’s despair is to lack infinitude
This is aimed at secularists, who strip the self of its singularity, defining it, instead, as part of the crowd. The secularists lack imagination, suffering from narrowness of spirit. In essence, Kierkegaard develops here a notion of “the crowd” that Heidegger will later lift and turn into das Man. To be das Man is to be in despair.

Despair defined by possibility/necessity
Need both possibility and necessity to make a self, and to be without either is to be in despair. In order to become itself, a self needs to reflect itself in the medium of the imagination, thereby making infinite possibility manifest. So the self is necessary insofar as it is a self, but possible insofar as it is becoming a self. It’s a form of despair to get lost in infinite possibility, to refuse to submit to limitations. The self becomes unmoored then and never commits to anything.

Despair of lacking possibility
Likewise, it’s a form of despair to lack possibility. There are two forms of this. First, for the person who knows that humanly speaking, collapse is inevitable. If this person does not commit to the fact that for God everything is possible and that God may save, then he is in despair. Likewise, though, the bourgeois who tried to master possibility by dealing only in probabilities is in despair. The possibility of the new is exiled, and the bourgeois, though feeling himself to be a master, lives enclosed in his own, narrow world.

Despair as Defined by Consciousness
The most common form of despair is to be ignorant of it. Pagans are ignorant of despair, because they do not understand existing as a singularity before God. Usually these people are happy in their ignorance and greatly resent being jerked out of despair. This person is furthest from truth.

consciousness of despair as self which does not will to be itself.
Again, there are gradations of this. On one extreme, there is the “immediate man,” who never concerns himself with questions of God and self. Sometimes an external circumstance impinges on his life - or, perhaps I should say her, as this sort of despair is gendered feminine - which makes it seem unbearable to be oneself. This person thinks the self is defined by externalities and thus desires to have another self. This despair is essentially a form of weakness, and though the sufferer may correctly diagnose himself as despairing, he lacks an adequate conception of despair. Anti-Climacus dismisses this as comical.

A slightly more advanced version of despair strikes a person who has some grasp of interiority. this person experiences despair as caused by some internal limitation or necessity, and thus is closer to the truth. He or she is not so naive to believe anything would be solved by being another, but, rather, experiences himself as nailed to himself. He is like the tenant who has suffered damage from a fire and leaves his home, without ever coming to think of another address as home. Usually, this person turns to the world, absorbing himself in society, and thus turning away from the most promising moment in his life. He is mostly immediacy with a dash of reflection.

While there is a tendency to ascribe despair to youth, the truth is everyone is always in despair, as it is common to abandon inwardness for trivialities. The youth despairs most often over the future, and the adult over the past. One cannot repent without despair. These people usually despair over the earthly (the total of the earthly) or a particularity, which is magnified to represent the earthly.

Despair of eternal/oneself
Though often unaware of this, when people despair over the earthly, they despair over themselves. To despair over oneself is a significant advance to despairing over something earthly. It’s the difference between despairing from weakness to despairing over one’s weakness. Yet it’s a form of self-absorption. This person refuses to turn away from his or her despair, instead becoming fixated on the way in which he overestimated the value of the earthly. He feels as if he has lost the eternal, which at least means he has a sense of the eternal. Nonetheless, he passes as normal, because he believes that only the shallow, those living in immediacy, lack discretion. Sometimes he longs for solitude. He is often a superlatively gentle husband because he acknowledges his own weakness. And yet, this fixation on weakness is really a form of pride. Falling is most painful for those most invested in their own virtue. The greatest danger for this person is suicide; his ideal mate is a Taurus.

Despair in Willing to be oneself
This almost parallels Sartre. This person has consciousness of an infinite self, but the infinitude is severed from God. He wants to create his own self, without reference to God. This self is incredibly abstract; the self is a project of sorts created by reference to imaginary constructs.

However, this person usually runs into some sort of finite limitation on the self he wants to construct. However much he may initially wants to overcome this, he eventually becomes fixated on this flaw, making it central to his or her identity, to the degree that he would rather remain nailed to this flawed self than accept relation to God.

Part II: Despair is Sin
Sin is to despairingly will to be oneself or to despairingly will not to be oneself before God. The presence of God magnifies the transgression, in the way assaulting a public official constitutes aggravated assault. There is a certain sort of poetic despair, which poeticizes God, longs for God, without being able to feel certain that God has really called.

Chapter I: gradations of consciousness
The quality of a self is determined by the thing it establishes itself in reference to. The master in front of his slaves has almost no self; the man in front of God has the highest self. The greater the conception of God, the greater sin. Since the pagan lacked a conception of the single individual before God, in a certain sense he didn’t sin. Sin is basically disobedience. the opposite of sin is faith, not virtue.

Speculative philosophy cannot think sin or the single individual before God (which amounts to the same thing). It whitewashes the individual to be merely a member of a race. But why do people refuse to engage in Christianity? Because it offends. Offense is unhappy admiration, envy turned against the self. The greater the offense, the greater the admiration and the closer to belief an individual is. In this case, people are offended in the way a peasant would be if the emperor sent for him and asked him to be his son-in-law. The honor is too great. He disbelieves. So too with Christ.

Chapter II: socratic sin as ignorance
According to the socratic definition sin is ignorance, specifically the effort to obscure knowledge. That, however, raises the question of whether a person is aware of what he is doing when he obscures his knowledge. If no, then his knowledge was already obscure and the question begins again. If yes, then sin is really the act of will, not of knowledge. Yet paganism has no room for disobedience, defiance. It assumes one cannot do wrong knowingly.

Christianity understands that sin lies in the will, in disobedience. Good must be done the instant it is known, for the lower nature will try and stretch out the period before action, allowing knowledge to become obscure and action endlessly deferred. Christianity teaches sin through revelation. It can’t be understood through reason, only believed.

Chapter V
The strength of orthodoxy is its knowledge that sin can’t be defined as a lack without weakening it. Sin must be a position. This cannot be proved; at best, one can show that attempts to comprehend/rationalize this are contradictory, and this must be left to faith.

Appendix A: is sin a rarity?
If this heightened form of despair is rare, doesn’t that mean that sin is rare? Doesn’t that mean most of the world never sins? In one sense, yes. But in another, the sinner is not innocent, because it is his fault that he lacks spirit. All people are born with a primitive sense of the self, after all. Anti-Climacus blames Christendom for this, arguing that pastors are now the equivalent to lovers who try to produce logical formulas to justify love. To defend is always to disparage.

The Continuance of Sin
It’s a mistake to think of sin as primarily an act. Everything which does not come from faith is a sin; every unrepented sin is a new sin and every moment in which one does not repent is a new sin. Specific sins are symptomatic of the state of sin; they’re epiphenomenal.

The sin of despairing over one’s sin
This is fairly self explanatory. It’s higher than the previous states, but still not ideal. The sinner here becomes self-enclosed, fixated on his sin. His break is twofold; first, he breaks with the good in despairing/sinning, second he breaks with repentance by despairing over his despair. And yet, this is often lauded in the world as the sign of a deep soul.

The sin of despairing over forgiveness
There is a qualitative abyss separating man and God. And while in some sense this person is infinitely close to God, in that he relates his self to God, understands that he stands and despairs in front of God, he is infinitely far in his sense of offense at the idea of his sins being forgiven. ‘

sin of dismissing christianity as false
This can take three forms. First, neutrality. Christianity requires commitment and to remain an agnostic is to sin. Second, refusal to accept the paradox (this bleeds into the previous section). Finally, simple unwillingness to accept Christianity as true.

*the introduction says that anti-Climacus actually means "prior to Climacus" - anti as in ante.

No comments:

Post a Comment