Era,Age

청경수려淸勁秀麗 2012. 7. 8. 13:15

 

 http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2010/apr/26/kierkegaard-philosophy-christianity

<li id="crumb1">Comment is free </li> <li id="crumb2">Cif belief </li>

Kierkegaard's world, part 7: Spiritlessness

Not to recognise yourself as a spiritual being is the greatest danger and the greatest loss of all

As we saw last week, Kierkegaard identifies a certain mode of suffering as fundamental to human life: despair. We fall into despair when we lose ourselves – when we overlook the spiritual aspect of our being that is, according to Kierkegaard, the most essential aspect of human existence. However, Kierkegaard's analysis of despair arose not simply from his interest in the human condition, but from his concern to respond to problems that he regarded as specific to the modern age.

In The Sickness Unto Death, Kierkegaard describes various forms of despair. He suggests that in the modern age, the most common kind of despair is that which is in ignorance of itself. A person who despairs in this way not only fails to notice that she has lost herself, but also overlooks the fact that she has a self to lose in the first place. In other words, she does not recognise herself as a spiritual being – and Kierkegaard calls this form of despair "spiritlessness". According to Kierkegaard, in modern times

"most men live without ever becoming conscious of being destined as spirit … There is so much talk about wasting a life, but only that person's life was wasted who went on living so deceived by life's joys or its sorrows that he never became decisively and eternally conscious as spirit, as self."

Kierkegaard insists that this lack of awareness of one's true nature always involves the will: it is not, in fact, simply a matter of ignorance, for it involves self-deception. Moreover, this is not just an individual tendency, but one that is embedded within modern society. As he writes in The Sickness Unto Death,

"A self is the last thing the world cares about and the most dangerous thing of all for a person to show signs of having. The greatest hazard of all, losing the self, can occur very quietly in the world, as if it were nothing at all. No other loss can occur so quietly; any other loss – an arm, a leg, five dollars, a wife, etc. – is sure to be noticed."

Of course, there is a great irony here, given that modern culture is widely held to be characterised by individualistic, self-serving attitudes, and by a cult of personality and celebrity. For all our talk of self-fulfilment and self-realisation, the "selves" we seek to preserve and promote are often not spiritual beings, but "consumers" whose desires need to be satisfied, or even commodities to be consumed. According to Kierkegaard's criteria, these are not genuine selves at all.

Kierkegaard suggests that the distinctive feature of modern life is "abstraction", which in this instance means a mode of relationship that is emptied of personal feeling and significance. As we have seen over the last few weeks, the idea of relationship is central to Kierkegaard's conception of human life: he emphasises not only the individual's relationship to God, but also her relationships to herself, to others, and to the things she cares about. But these relationships are undermined by the structure of modern society, in which the individual

"no longer belongs to God, to himself, to his beloved, to his art or to his science, he is conscious of belonging in all things to an abstraction, just as a serf belongs to an estate."

This abstraction, by impoverishing human relationships, "leaves everything standing but cunningly empties it of significance." Kierkegaard predicted that "finally, money will be the one thing people will desire, and it is moreover only an abstraction."

This, of course, has profound consequences for society. Indeed, it seems that if we go along with Kierkegaard's diagnosis of the modern age, we have to admit that there is no such thing as society. He argued that in his own time the traditional idea of a community united by shared needs and values was being replaced by that of 'the public', a mass of people who are numerically "added" rather than meaningfully "joined" together, and who are therefore related to one another only abstractly. If such a "society" does have a common goal, it is an ignoble one: diversion from the ethical and religious dimensions of existence, and from a despair that is only obscurely perceived. "The public is on the look-out for distraction", wrote Kierkegaard.

He suggested that one symptom of this mass evasiveness is "idle chatter" – a phenomenon that he thought was institutionalised in the press. Whether frivolous or pretentious, tabloid or broadsheet, idle chatter is fuelled by "curiosity" and a nihilistic thirst for novelty. This superficial kind of interest can be contrasted with the existential passion that Kierkegaard identified with our spiritual life. one can only wonder what he would have made of the media in the 21st century, where "news", "opinion" and "comment" proliferate more than ever before. Should we regard this as a sign of flourishing culture, or of spiritlessness?

<iframe marginwidth="0" marginheight="0" src="http://optimized-by.rubiconproject.com/a/7845/12580/25501-15.html?" frameborder="0" width="300" scrolling="no" height="250"></iframe>
<script type="text/javascript"> google_ad_client = 'ca-guardian_js'; google_ad_channel = 'commentisfree'; </script> <script> google_max_num_ads = '3'; </script> <script type="text/javascript"> //<![CDATA[ if (true) { writeScript("http://pagead2.googlesyndication.com/pagead/show_ads.js", false, function(){}); } // ]]> </script> <script src="http://pagead2.googlesyndication.com/pagead/show_ads.js" type="text/javascript"></script> <script src="http://pagead2.googlesyndication.com/pagead/js/r20120627/r20120410/show_ads_impl.js"></script> <script src="http://pagead2.googlesyndication.com/pagead/render_ads.js"></script> <script>google_protectAndRun("render_ads.js::google_render_ad", google_handleError, google_render_ad);</script> <script language="JavaScript1.1" src="http://googleads.g.doubleclick.net/pagead/ads?client=ca-guardian_js&output=js&lmt=1341715030&num_ads=3&channel=commentisfree&ad_type=text&ea=0&oe=utf8&feedback_link=on&flash=11.3.300.257&hl=en&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.guardian.co.uk%2Fcommentisfree%2Fbelief%2F2010%2Fapr%2F26%2Fkierkegaard-philosophy-christianity&adsafe=high&dt=1341715030718&shv=r20120627&jsv=r20110914&saldr=1&correlator=1341715030796&frm=20&adk=4085609819&ga_vid=1017111338.1341715031&ga_sid=1341715031&ga_hid=584319638&ga_fc=0&u_tz=540&u_his=0&u_java=1&u_h=768&u_w=1024&u_ah=738&u_aw=1024&u_cd=32&u_nplug=0&u_nmime=0&dff=arial&dfs=12&biw=819&bih=331&oid=3&ref=http%3A%2F%2Fblog.daum.net%2F_blog%2Fhdn%2FArticleContentsView.do%3Fblogid%3D0NBE1%26articleno%3D625%26looping%3D0%26longOpen%3D&fu=0&ifi=1&dtd=407"></script>
<script> var cookie_domain = "www.guardian.co.uk"; var discussion = discussion || {}; discussion.tracking = {}; discussion.tracking.comment_type = 'Comment'; </script>

Comments

<form id="sort-comments" action="http://www.guardian.co.uk/discussion/handlers/sortComments" method="post" sizset="2" sizcache="29" autocomplete="false">

40 comments, displaying

<fieldset class="" sizset="2" sizcache="29"><input type="hidden" value="http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2010/apr/26/kierkegaard-philosophy-christianity" name="page_url" /> <input type="hidden" value="1" name="page" /> <input type="hidden" value="eyJ0aW1lc3RhbXAiOjEzNDE3MTUwMTUuNzI4MDYxLCJyYW5kb20iOiJhNjhjN2ZjNGMyMTM2ZTA3MDZkOTFhZGNhZDAwMWE2YiIsImNvbW1lbnRpbmdfZW5kcG9pbnRzX3R5cGUiOiJHdWFyZGlhbiIsInJlZGlyZWN0X3VybCI6Imh0dHA6Ly93d3cuZ3VhcmRpYW4uY28udWsvY29tbWVudGlzZnJlZS9iZWxpZWYvMjAxMC9hcHIvMjYva2llcmtlZ2FhcmQtcGhpbG9zb3BoeS1jaHJpc3RpYW5pdHkiLCJrZXkiOiIvcC8yZ2dnbSJ9.mD2fJ1FbKcRjFm4ib-aZy8XeWY0" name="verify" /> </fieldset>first

 

</form>
<script>jQ('#sort-comments fieldset').addClass('hidden');</script>
  • Staff
  • Contributor
Comments on this page are now closed.
Comments on this page are now closed.
  • redmullet

    26 April 2010 10:02AM

    In Sickness unto Death K uses uses the word so often that it becomes a form of mantra by which he not only wishes to describe the condition in which man lives but to bludgeon him it to accepting that this is so. K. wills his reader to despair and suffering in much the same way as the inquisitor wields the instruments of torture to inflict pain and extract penance for imagined sins, and for much the same purpose, to make the victim submit to the absolute and tyrannical authority of God.
    It is a deeply unpleasant book in which K. displays all his neurosis only to displace them onto his poor reader.

    At times it is difficult not to think that he is not being satirical. There is for instance a wonderful and lengthy foot note which attempts to define the difference between men and women of which I quote a small part:

    Woman has neither the selfishly developed conception of the self nor the intellectuality of man, for all that she is his superior in tenderness and fineness of feeling. on the other hand, woman s nature is devotion (Hengivenhed), submission (Hengivelse), and it is unwomanly if it is not so. Strangely enough, no one can be so pert (a word which language has expressly coined for woman), so almost cruelly particular as a woman -- and yet her nature is devotion, and yet (here is the marvel) all this is really the expression for the fact that her nature is devotion. For just because in her nature she carries the whole womanly devotion, nature has lovingly equipped her with an instinct, in comparison with which in point of delicacy the most eminently developed male reflection is as nothing. This devotion of woman, this (to speak as a Greek) divine dowry and riches, is too great a good to be thrown away blindly; and yet no clear-sighted manly reflection is capable of seeing sharply enough to be able to dispose of it rightly. Hence nature has taken care of her: instinctively she sees blindly with greater clarity than the most sharp-sighted reflection, instinctively she sees where it is she is to admire, what it is she ought to devote herself to. Devotion is the only thing woman has, therefore nature undertook to be her guardian. Hence it is too that womanliness first comes into existence through a metamorphosis; it comes into existence when the infinite pertness is transfigured in womanly devotion. But the fact that devotion is woman?s nature comes again to evidence in despair. By devotion (the word literally means giving away) she has lost herself, and only thus is she happy, only thus is she herself; a woman who is happy without devotion, that is, without giving herself away (to whatever it may be she gives herself) is unwomanly.

    In my penguin edition of The sickness Unto Death the word used in this translation to describe the essential quality of women "pert" is translated as "prude". What a monstrous tribe women must seemed to K to be both prudish and pert and what extraordinary perspicacity he demonstrates in plummeting the depth of the female psyche

  • redmullet

    26 April 2010 10:36AM

    In "The Sickness unto Death" K uses the word "despair" so often that it becomes a form of mantra by which he not only wishes to describe the condition in which man lives but to bludgeon him it to accepting that this is indeed so. K. wills his reader to despair in much the same way as the inquisitor wields the instruments of torture to inflict pain and extract penance for imagined sins, and for much the same purpose, to make the victim submit to the absolute and tyrannical authority of God. It is a deeply unpleasant book in which K. displays all his neurosis, only to displace them onto his poor reader.

    At times it is difficult not to think that he is not being satirical. There is for instance a wonderful and lengthy foot note which attempts to define the difference between men and women of which I quote a small part:

    Woman has neither the selfishly developed conception of the self nor the intellectuality of man, for all that she is his superior in tenderness and fineness of feeling. on the other hand, woman s nature is devotion (Hengivenhed), submission (Hengivelse), and it is unwomanly if it is not so. Strangely enough, no one can be so pert (a word which language has expressly coined for woman), so almost cruelly particular as a woman -- and yet her nature is devotion, and yet (here is the marvel) all this is really the expression for the fact that her nature is devotion. For just because in her nature she carries the whole womanly devotion, nature has lovingly equipped her with an instinct, in comparison with which in point of delicacy the most eminently developed male reflection is as nothing. This devotion of woman, this (to speak as a Greek) divine dowry and riches, is too great a good to be thrown away blindly; and yet no clear-sighted manly reflection is capable of seeing sharply enough to be able to dispose of it rightly. Hence nature has taken care of her: instinctively she sees blindly with greater clarity than the most sharp-sighted reflection, instinctively she sees where it is she is to admire, what it is she ought to devote herself to. Devotion is the only thing woman has, therefore nature undertook to be her guardian. Hence it is too that womanliness first comes into existence through a metamorphosis; it comes into existence when the infinite pertness is transfigured in womanly devotion. But the fact that devotion is woman?s nature comes again to evidence in despair. By devotion (the word literally means giving away) she has lost herself, and only thus is she happy, only thus is she herself; a woman who is happy without devotion, that is, without giving herself away (to whatever it may be she gives herself) is unwomanly.

    In my Penguin edition of "The Sickness Unto Death" the word used in this internet translation to describe the essential quality of women, "pert", is translated as "prude". What a monstrous tribe women must have seemed to K, to be both prudish and pert, and what extraordinary perspicacity he demonstrates in plummeting the depth of the female psyche. So now we know what it means to be a women, the essential "self" of womanliness. A women to know herself must know where she stands in the scheme of things, she must know her place, and her place is devotion, presumably to the male ego, to K's extended self. Just as man to know himself, to be truly authentic, must abandon himself to Faith and submit to the absolute authority of God the Father that art in Heaven , the father "against which we are always in the wrong".

  • PlasticGypsies

    26 April 2010 11:01AM

    ClareCarlisle:

    Should we regard this as a sign of flourishing culture, or of spiritlessness?

    Very good question. It reminds me a bit of Terrence McKenna's views on culture.. Mckenna is famous for his experiments with enthogenic drugs such as LSD or DMT. He recknons that these drugs are simply meant as cultural deconditioning, that help you seing beyond your own cultural trappings.

    What McKenna reckons is that the spiritual nature of man is crushed by the insiduous influence of culture which programs people into suscribing to external pressures so that these external factors end up thinking for the person. There will always be the clothes you need to wear to look cool, the music which is cool to listen, the body you need to have to look cool, the attitude and beliefs you need to have to be recognised as cool.
    None of these are determined by yourself and instead you surrender your own will to the pressure of the kitsch peddlers and other meme magicians that impose their will into culture. This becomes an idle chatter because as McKenna puts eloquently: Culture is not your friend.

    What sort of friend needs slaves?

    Maybe the florishing of culture is just the florishing of spiritlessness and enslavement from culture vultures to fashion victims.

  • PatDavers

    26 April 2010 12:15PM

    PlasticGypsies:

    He recknons that these drugs are simply meant as cultural deconditioning, that help you seing beyond your own cultural trappings.
    This was Huxley's main thesis in "The Doors of Perception", wasn't it? I wondered if it wasn't simply an attempt to provide an intellectual justification for a sensual habit that he enjoyed.

    In general, I don't buy any of this "noble savage" stuff and, from what I can gather from the article above, nor did K, seeing "spiritlessness" as part of a drift away from culture and a unitary conception of the good life, toward an anomic, atomised conception of humanity as "a mass of people who are numerically "added" rather than meaningfully "joined" " which dominates political and cultural discourse today.

  • sebheid

    26 April 2010 12:34PM

    @redmullet

    I agree that what you describe is a possible reading of Sickness unto Death. Especially K's oppinions about women seem to be clearly neurotic. Most of all they are of his time though (like those bizarre female characters in Dickens easily show). I guess that we find passages like the one you quoted highly cringeworthy is a good reflection that 100 years of woman's lib haven't been entirely wasted.

    So one could say that K is clearly neurotic and must definitely be regarded as a bit old fashioned, and then there is the twisted Mock-Hegel way of arguing his case, but nevertheless discarding the book based on those superficial flaws would mean to miss the brilliant lesson one can actually learn from that. A lesson which Clare has outlined quite nicely I think.

    All those fanciful things that modern life has brought us seem to still have done little to answer the basic question "Who am I", "What am I to do with my life". Rather ironic I think is that we don't seem to be actually unaware of those questions, on the contrary (as a glance on the television programs or the self-help area in any bookshop will prove). The problem seems to be rather that there are so many answers designed to tell us who we are, and what we should do that the view on the original question is entirely blocked out.
    I guess it also doesn't help that the whole self-help industry is well aware that the key to selling self-help books is to never actually answer the question. Instead they produce the idle chatter, which distracts people from really addressing their issues and thus just feeds the emptiness inside, which then creates the desire for more answers. And this is how people are led by their need for the spiritual into an ever more spiritless existience

  • sebheid

    26 April 2010 12:43PM

    @PlasticGypsies & @PatDavers

    I kind of agree with both of you. I think culture can be something that traps people but it is also important to see that the solution is not to get rid of culture, but to chose wisely which aspects one supports and that means to become a conscious active and creative part of culture, rather than let it assign you a place as consuming slave.

  • redmullet

    26 April 2010 1:06PM

    PlasticGypsies

    What sort of friend needs slaves?

    God need slaves, a fact that K well understood.

    At least in modern Western society we do have a degree of choice, much more so than in a traditional God fearing society. Modern society may well be fragmented and apparently lack " spirituality", whatever that may mean, but it does allow for a great deal more choice in which we may construct our lives, and if some people decide to express themselves by wearing the latest fashion so be it. Before such a choice had been the prerogative of the wealthy elite, that it is now something that "the mass" can enjoy is no bad thing.

    The fear of the essentially new urban "masses" that so preoccupied and disgusted the intellectual elite of Europe in the 19th and early 20th century is really very unattractive and shows a deep lack of empathy among a class of people towards their fellow men, who, on the whole, lived much less privileged lives than they did themselves. That such a sentiment should still persist I think is regrettable. We have the potential to "belong to ourselves" much more so now than we have ever done before. That this has involved a braking away from "God", and the stifling confines that such a condition normally entails, is to be welcome. Often "the traditional idea of a community united by shared needs and values " was simply a ruse by which the powerful exerted power over the less powerful, a means of social control.

  • chenier1

    26 April 2010 1:12PM

    Sebheid

    So one could say that K is clearly neurotic and must definitely be regarded as a bit old fashioned,

    Or, alternatively, had such a profound ignorance of 50% of his fellow human beings that his analysisof the human condition was inevitably skewed beyond salvage...

  • PlasticGypsies

    26 April 2010 1:38PM

    Redmullet:

    At least in modern Western society we do have a degree of choice, much more so than in a traditional God fearing society. Modern society may well be fragmented and apparently lack " spirituality", whatever that may mean, but it does allow for a great deal more choice in which we may construct our lives, and if some people decide to express themselves by wearing the latest fashion so be it. Before such a choice had been the prerogative of the wealthy elite, that it is now something that "the mass" can enjoy is no bad thing.

    I think you mistake choice for illusion of choice.

    Let's take fashion as an example. It doesn't propose a choice. It shows the masses what is fashionable. The only choice they are left with is follow the fashion trend or not, knowing that if they don't, they are not fashionable.

    so if someone has a choice in this particular scenario, it is just the choice of being enslaved by fashion. To follow where fashion leads them. That's what you see as the freedom to construct your life. The freedom to be enslaved by cultural norms. No one constructs anything, unless of course you happen to be a fashion designer, that makes his own clothes for other people to wear. If people made their own clothes for themselves, you could argue that they are free to dress like they want but instead, people buy clothes that have been endorsed by the gatekeepers of fashion. They can only be enslaved.

    The wealthy elite are still the ones that can truly have choice, for they are the gatekeepers of a culture to enslave people.

    Keeping up with the Jones is not a trademark of free choice, it's a mark of enslavement where people are competing against each other to climb the same cultural ladder. There is not any real choice here, it's just an illusion of choice; it's all about getting at the top of the pyramid and how you're gonna get there. If people really had choice, then game theory would be meaningless, yet it's not but that is simply because choice is an illusion. The modern society doesn't offer you a choice, it offers you a game that those at the top of the pyramid have already won.

  • PlasticGypsies

    26 April 2010 3:05PM

    PatDavers:

    This was Huxley's main thesis in "The Doors of Perception", wasn't it? I wondered if it wasn't simply an attempt to provide an intellectual justification for a sensual habit that he enjoyed.

    Good point although Huxley was pretty aware of the issue of drug induced sensual experience instead of the spiritual experience (shamanic experience ) of enthogens.

    I guess it's pretty clear with Brave New World and its drug of choice: Soma.

  • sebheid

    26 April 2010 3:45PM

    @Chenier1

    Or, alternatively, had such a profound ignorance of 50% of his fellow human beings that his analysisof the human condition was inevitably skewed beyond salvage

    If we assume he had some insight into the male psyche, your argument would suggest that female spirituality is essentially different from male spirituality, and I thought that would be exactly what we find nowadays amusingly old fashioned.

  • savvymum

    26 April 2010 4:14PM

    @ Plastic Gypsies

    There's a lot you have said that I am in deep agreement with. Indeed, if we buy clothes from shops, we get fashion.

    The real question I find I ask myself is: does choice over buying things represent the sort of freedom I want?

    I answer no! but then I'm not a shopping, buying sort of person. That bit of cultural brainwashing seems to have missed me. Perhaps it's not having a T.V. that has caused these anti - social attitudes?

    I'm crap at competing against other people, to climb the social ladder. Maybe when the competitive, capitalist, materialist, consumerist genes were being doled out, I was too busy daydreaming and missed the queue.

    If there is a spiritless society, or a strong element of spriritlessness, I think the first thing we would have to do is ask what this might look like, and then go on to decide if our society has some or all of the features of spiritlessness.In other words, we would need to understand and have a go at defining what we think this sprititlessness is. K might not be right about it.

  • PlasticGypsies

    26 April 2010 5:08PM

    Savvymum:

    If there is a spiritless society, or a strong element of spriritlessness, I think the first thing we would have to do is ask what this might look like, and then go on to decide if our society has some or all of the features of spiritlessness.In other words, we would need to understand and have a go at defining what we think this sprititlessness is. K might not be right about it.

    This is a good question but to get back to the drawing board, in order to have a spirit-less society we ought to agree on the metaphysical definition of what is spirit first so that we can know that we live a spirit-less life.
    I do agree with Kierkegaard on the point that Clare explained in the article. I see the spirit as existence so I can't really imagine a life where there is no spirituality at all, unless of course we became robots entirely mechanised with little issues regarding the anxiety of existence. For me ( and that again is just my opinion ) life is spirtual, whether we like it or not, it's like what atheist existentialists like Sartre recognise when he says, we're condemned to freedom, we're thrown into life and that's the spirit of it. It is a spirit because it is metaphysical, it's the projection of beings which comes to existence with what they do. All our acts are spiritual, there is no spiritless act.

    These acts which we could confuse as spiritless ( such as trappings of consumerism for instance ) are not really spiritless, they are slavish and a product of some form of idolatry. It is spiritual albeit maybe not the sort of spirituality we'd like to imagine.

    Arguably, I would say that materialism is as well spiritual. It sounds like a contradiction but beyond the stereotype, the very fact of believing that there is nothing more than what you can see or touch is in itself a spiritual concept with its own idols to worship whether the idols are money, aesthetism or technology. Materialists are not free spirits, they are bowing to the spiritual authority of the idols of their choice, but they are not spiritless, they worship at these various altars solely in the hope that one day, they might become high priests of money, fashion, rock music or whatever....

  • savvymum

    26 April 2010 6:58PM

    Ah, I see where you're coming from now. So you are looking at our "idols of choice". I like that, and Kierkegaard was big on choice too. I see how we do in fact worship at various altars in the hope of gaining whatever it is we are worshipping/idolising.

    However, I wonder if some things are more worthwhile idolising than other things? Or do you think perhaps they are incommensurable? Or they are just different?

    You see I think a good deal of modern 'entertainment, busy-ness, distraction' and behaviour is designed to avoid existing or ever thinking about existing and the challenge that life itself throws up.

  • ballymichael

    26 April 2010 10:24PM

    an enjoyable series, Clare. As usual, it makes me want to read the subject in the original. Regrettably, reading philosophers as a primary source brings on my migraine, so this resolution will not be fulfilled.

    But I can see, dimly and imperfectly, how such thought strikes a chord. It isn't that it's necessarily right, it's that he got there first.

  • Quesalid

    26 April 2010 11:29PM

    I notice that comments are a bit thin on the ground this week, so can I just say that I find this series fantastic. It's a hard task to condense these ideas into bitesize weekly instalments but in general I think this series pulls it off quite admirably. It really makes my week to read the latest How To Believe entry (albeit perhaps less so for some of the ill-informed comments I've been seeing) and I hope the series goes from strength to strength. P.S. Let's have some Freud.

  • PlasticGypsies

    27 April 2010 12:09AM

    Savymum:

    However, I wonder if some things are more worthwhile idolising than other things? Or do you think perhaps they are incommensurable? Or they are just different?

    Nothing is worth idolising because idolising is nothing more than objectification. and since they are objectified, they become very measurable and different within their own norms...like every 'object'. What is incommensurable is the subjective relationships between humans, from families to friends and others, that's incommensurable. Rituals and idols are bound to become the relics of an ever-evolving incommensurable relationship between humanity and the universe, as pictures of consciousness, they are useful as symbols and signs that you can existentially hang on to... but if you hang on too much to the signs, you end up like a puppet on strings... although we're always free to drop the rope or swing from one to another.

    You see I think a good deal of modern 'entertainment, busy-ness, distraction' and behaviour is designed to avoid existing or ever thinking about existing and the challenge that life itself throws up.

    I'm not sure if I understand 'avoid existing', I don't think you can avoid existing but maybe you mean the promotion via 'entertainment' of mechanical, material, narcissic or nihilist modes of existence without the implied challenges or burden they are tied to... Or some sort of sleep-walking existence.

  • dirkbruere

    27 April 2010 4:03AM

     

    A person who despairs in this way not only fails to notice that she has lost herself, but also overlooks the fact that she has a self to lose in the first place.

    Buddhists would say that there is no self to lose in the first place. What is lost never existed. However, the root of the problem is not that the self is "lost" but that it isn't yet thinks it is. It is suffering caused by a paradoxical illusion.

  • redmullet

    27 April 2010 4:51AM

    Plastic Gypsies

    Let's take fashion as an example. It doesn't propose a choice. It shows the masses what is fashionable. The only choice they are left with is follow the fashion trend or not, knowing that if they don't, they are not fashionable.

    Let's take fashion as an example. I used to work for a woman's fashion magazine, laying out pages, many years ago, so I know a bit about it.

    I think fashion is interesting for it allows people to say things about themselves within the public space in an often highly personal and idiosyncratic way and in a way that language in itself cannot do. The way we dress can and does tell us a great deal about who we are and how we wish to portray ourselves. This has always been the case ever since men have found it necessary to dress themselves, for dress has probable never been purely functional but has always involved an element of display--- a mark of status and an aesthetic statement. The Pope does not ware all his finery simply to protect him from the elements nor does the Queen ware a crown to keep her head warm.

    And why do you think that fashion provides no choice? Now more than ever does it seem to me to provide choice, if only because the social restraints that often used to apply to how we dressed no longer hold and we can, more or less, dress as we like. I live in a large city and when I go out into the street the last thing that I see is uniformity of dress. Fashion, at least in the West, is not tyrannical though it can be in certain highly religious societies--- the burka is after all a sign of spiritual purity . In fact rigid, religiously highly structured societies will often strictly prescribe what you may and may not ware--- think of nuns or the Amish---because fashion can be and often is transgressive, challenging strict social norms and allowing people to express themselves in all sorts of different, often highly personal, ways. It thus can become a source of irreverence that can seem more threatening to established order than mere word,--- perhaps because it is unstated. Fashion can be anarchic.

    Fashion does not, on the whole, take itself too seriously. It is self-conscious and knows at its heart that it is a bit absurd, and it often jokes at itself, for it also knows that it is ephemeral and that what is fashionable today will not be fashionable tomorrow. And that is its great virtue. Fashion is really quite modest in its pretensions, it lays no claim to a higher truth--- it does not claim to save souls. Though there will always be those who take it all too seriously. It is, perhaps, better to be a fashion victim than a religious fundamentalist. Fashion victims, on the whole, do less harm.

    Finally for me it is a joy to go out into the street and see people all dressed up in all there diversity and splendor, showing off if you like, but enjoying themselves. It gives me personally great pleasure though I'm hardly an epitome of fashion myself--- but then I don't have to be.

  • savvymum

    27 April 2010 9:47AM

    Kierkegaard talks about us being spiritual beings, in some very important sense of selfhood. We see him saying that it is perfectly possible to live the whole of life out, without any recognition of this spiritual self.

    I wonder how people fulfil this spiritual self in ways which are not mainstream.Ways in which they have either thought iot out for themselves, or had an experience which drives the direction this spiritual self takes?

  • PlasticGypsies

    27 April 2010 10:10AM

    redmullet:

    Let's take fashion as an example. I used to work for a woman's fashion magazine, laying out pages, many years ago, so I know a bit about it.

    My sister is a designer and I do have friends in this business as well.

    I think fashion is interesting for it allows people to say things about themselves within the public space in an often highly personal and idiosyncratic way and in a way that language in itself cannot do. The way we dress can and does tell us a great deal about who we are and how we wish to portray ourselves

    .

    Yes it does, this is not the issue, this is the end result. Dressing is a way of appearing to others, it is as you put a highly personl way of trying to describe oneself. However, since you were working for a fashion magazine, you were one of the person that put pictures and suggestions on how one should dress fashionably. The fashionable credential is off course beefed up by cebrities endorsing such or such trend. So either you are an original dresser, meaning that you will dress against what the fashion establishement and its advocates tell you or you follow the trend. The funny bit about the first part is that it often translates as 'avant-garde', meaning that the weirdos going against fashion will be somewhat shaping the future of fashion.
    Although, I agree with you that dressing says a lot about how you'd like to appear to the rest of the world.

    And why do you think that fashion provides no choice? Now more than ever does it seem to me to provide choice, if only because the social restraints that often used to apply to how we dressed no longer hold and we can, more or less, dress as we like. I live in a large city and when I go out into the street the last thing that I see is uniformity of dress. Fashion, at least in the West, is not tyrannical though it can be in certain highly religious societies--- the burka is after all a sign of spiritual purity . In fact rigid, religiously highly structured societies will often strictly prescribe what you may and may not ware--- think of nuns or the Amish---because fashion can be and often is transgressive, challenging strict social norms and allowing people to express themselves in all sorts of different, often highly personal, ways. It thus can become a source of irreverence that can seem more threatening to established order than mere word,--- perhaps because it is unstated. Fashion can be anarchic.

    It does provide a choice but it's only limited to being fashionable or not. dressing is mostly about belonging to some sort of tribe so if you're wearing hoodies and tracksuit bottom, I guess you want to sport the asbo-hip-hop gang style or that if you're wearing a top designer three piece suit you might want to look like a banker or a hedge fund manager... Everything is permitted in the west, so we are free to portray as we want although we should remember that we're not the only ones looking at ourselves so maybe I think I look cool with a hoodie, there is no reasn why I wouldn't look threatening to anyone else.
    Basically the same if I was wearing a burqa, while I might think I look like I embrace my religious beliefs, others might think that I look like my religion is oppressing me. It's all in the eye of the observer in the end, filtered by the observer's own beliefs.

    As far as fashion being anarchic, you're right but I think fashion is tribal before it is anarchic. The transgression you talk about is tribal. It's all about counter-cultural tribes dressing up their micro-cult.

    I guess that it's debatable but people equally dress up to belong to a group instead of dressing up to separate themselves from a group. either way, the first one that transgress will be soon followed by other transgressors.... But he would have only created a new group soon to transgressed again.

  • solocontrotutti

    27 April 2010 10:12AM

     

    Finally for me it is a joy to go out into the street and see people all dressed up in all there diversity and splendor, showing off if you like, but enjoying themselves. It gives me personally great pleasure though I'm hardly an epitome of fashion myself--- but then I don't have to be Red Mullett

    Red Mullet enunciates the philosophy opf modernity verbatim. The Thatcherite concept that there is really no society or that it is a "ruse" to exploit the poor. The notion that the individual is the only real entity and above the notion that society can be traduced to an aesthetic. In other words the niqab has null consequence other than giving some ephemeral notion of pleasure as a variant on the high street.

    It is an attitude that has been carefully adopted by governance and capital and clearly one that facilitiates globalising economies and it's probably not one that most people would have had 50 years ago.

    I would argue the opposite, that communities protect against over socialisation, that sprituality and awareness of the past and the future through exegesis protects you from over socialisation.

    Fashion is fine if you have money and are slim and attractive for most of us it's a pain in the *rse. Clothing children in shoes that are as expensive as adult ones, squeezing our bodies into clothes designed for the perfect shape competing on a pointless aeshetic with people who are wealthier and whos bodies conform to a socially acceptable aesthetic.

    The problem is that most people even in the rich West are poor. A third of all children are raised in poverty the choices that are offered become a mill stone around their neck, access to the frippery of media and images of fashion accessorised modernity mocks them and the endless empty wittering fills their minds with emptiness.

    I was pondering this the other day when sat with a group of young people learning of the perils of mephadrone (bubble or meeow) or actually being advised on how to use it properly. Their main complaint was that learning how to use something properly that is illegal and is treated with zero tolerance by the organisation organising the seminar is ridiculous.

    It was hard to disagree but I thought that the real issue here was that modernity has no means to communicate why you shouldn't take drugs other than it makes you look ugly or it will kill you neither is really true because modernity has no real ethos to promote.

    In a non society where the individual is God and most aspects of everything are an aesthetic, a drug designed to make you more self indulgent, more self obssessed and more external to reality is hard to argue against.

  • savvymum

    27 April 2010 11:00AM

    We will be fashion-free when I see men in flowery dresses, nice tweed skirts and crop tops, and women like myself, in mens trousers and a smashing suit - very smart.

    The trouble with a robust individualism, is that we've been encouraged to forget or sublimate our survival insticts whereby we gang together for the greater good and we team up for survival.

    perhaps there would be less lonliness and mental health problems and even poverty if ganged up together a bit more in a positive way, to re-enforce each other and send positive messages about each other.

    I think Kierkegaard's on to something and we in turn are bringing this out in the BTL discussion here, which is that materialism and our way of life here sees to our material needs very well indeed. However, there is another side to our human natures which needs nurturing and recognition and most of all feeding, which we in danger of losing.

  • solocontrotutti

    27 April 2010 11:57AM

     

    The trouble with a robust individualism, is that we've been encouraged to forget or sublimate our survival insticts whereby we gang together for the greater good and we team up for survival.

    Absolutely. And for me the collapse of neo liberalism in this country is another issue. Quite simply the left or the liberal left has completely failed to change society.

    Social mobility has gone even after massive government spending, we have the worst deprivation amongst children, the education system is developing in ways that most decent civilsed people would abhor I certainly do not want my six year old SAT tested into a state of misery.

    Quite simply if you do not want to be watched constantly by 60 per cent of the world's CCTV cameras, if you do not want to watch as business leaders like Philip Green spend £100,000 on a birthday party, if you do not want Rupert Murdoch to own the world's media then communities have to stand up against it because the politicians will not.

    I think Kierkegaard's on to something and we in turn are bringing this out in the BTL discussion here, which is that materialism and our way of life here sees to our material needs very well indeed. However, there is another side to our human natures which needs nurturing and recognition and most of all feeding, which we in danger of losing Savvy

    When everything we value is empirical then our education system becomes a a non learning statistical production line, our values become commodotised, our health is weighed against future productivity we become units of production and not humans.

    And I cannot see it improving until communities have simply had enough of empirical governance.

  • NormanHadley

    27 April 2010 12:03PM

    This is an excellent piece by Clare and there's enough bite in Kierkegaard's comments that they cannot be glibly dismissed. In a world of a thousand facebookquaintances and a new car every March, the charge of chasing nihilistic novelty carries some heft.

    But there are problems, too. A simplistic denunciation of "modernity" is self-refuting:- at the very instant one presses "Post your comment", your critique is modernity - ie it is the most modern thing there is for a whole millisecond.

    Another way of looking at it would be to attempt a critique on an earlier century. Was the C17th characterised by witch-trials or Newton's Principia? Identifying a clear Zeitgeist is fraught with contradictions.

    If you then redefine "modernity" to mean, rather than "what is happening now", something like "the persistent belief that technology will solve all our problems" or "the doctrine that individual liberty is the most important ideal" then that has more meaning but I don't think anyone wants to abandon technology to the extent of, say, letting all disease take its course. I would also observe the truism that almost all human migration is towards lands of greater personal freedom.

    A further problem of these warnings of disconnect from our "true selves" is a sense of "t'was ever thus". Is it just me or is anyone else getting an echo of Augustine's senectus mundi - the world has grown old? Oops - I'll get a densely-worded, three page response from savvymum now.

    All in all, I think it's fair to say that, in the Britain of 2010, there is a crying need for more communitarian thinking, less rampant materialism, less short-termism and more thinking about Big Stuff. But I don't see "let's all revert to religion" as any kind of response to those needs. Rather, I see them being treated with the promotion of charity, financial prudence, long-term public works and, er, poetry. As ever, God isn't needed but He can come along for the ride if he wants to...

  • PlasticGypsies

    27 April 2010 1:05PM

    NormanHadley

    But there are problems, too. A simplistic denunciation of "modernity" is self-refuting:- at the very instant one presses "Post your comment", your critique is modernity - ie it is the most modern thing there is for a whole millisecond.

    I completely agree with you. The critique of modernity per se doesn't help since the problem isn't particularly a modern problem, it is an ancient one.
    The trouble with modernity is that technology accelerates the pace of madness hence your brilliant neo-logism about the thousand-facebooquaintances.

    When we comment, we use technology but we use it as a tool to say something. Surely, the very fact that technolgy enables you to voice your opinion beyond natural reach is a blessing in itself but beyond the worship of the tool of being able to comment, it is still the content of the comment that matters rather than the technology that enables it.

    I would also observe the truism that almost all human migration is towards lands of greater personal freedom

    This is indeed very true but many years of intense promotion of individual liberties plus the collapse of the communism have helped this somewhat contradictory narrative.... Because what sort of community is created by people who want to have individual freedom?..Maybe what Solo refers to: A non-society founded on the values of libertarian-anarchism personified by personal freedom as opposed to the needs of a community.
    That's why the modern world has created megapoles of people who are actually alone-together. because personal freedom doesn't bring people together, it separates them.

  • solocontrotutti

    27 April 2010 2:02PM

     

    I completely agree with you. The critique of modernity per se doesn't help since the problem isn't particularly a modern problem, it is an ancient one. The trouble with modernity is that technology accelerates the pace of madness hence your brilliant neo-logism about the thousand-facebooquaintances. Plastic Gypsies

    But that is modernity. The difference between now and the past is exactly that - the difference between the two. That difference we can define as modernity. I agree that technology exacerbates persistent problems from the past but that is it's unique problem in this age.

    The problem I perceive with those who go back and compare the present with the past in terms of witch trials etc is that the past is distorted from it's true self because we are looking back with a single lens onto a complex age. And modernity is distorted from it's true self because we are living it the consequences of the age are yet to be felt.

    All in all, I think it's fair to say that, in the Britain of 2010, there is a crying need for more communitarian thinking, less rampant materialism, less short-termism and more thinking about Big Stuff. But I don't see "let's all revert to religion" as any kind of response to those needs. Rather, I see them being treated with the promotion of charity, financial prudence, long-term public works and, er, poetry. As ever, God isn't needed but He can come along for the ride if he wants to...

    But it won't work, it cannot work because governance doesn't want it to work. Governance now owns the people, the people do not own governance.

    Because capital and governance are working together. The need for community is non existent because governance manages all relationships in non society.

    Governance owns your data and governance watches your every move. No one is going to promote community, governance doesn't trust community, governance doesn't trust teachers, Doctors, nurses and governance doesn't trust anything except perhaps capital (though less than before).

    ..and particularly because communiies need a reason to exist and with governance managing all the relationships in non society that need is simply not there.

    The notion that we can "educate" or promote "change" is gone with the neo liberal age nearly 100,000 people leave school functionally illiterate. No one is going to promote a concept that nobody values even if such a complex concept could be promoted.

  • redmullet

    27 April 2010 3:20PM

    PasticGypsies

    Dressing is a way of appearing to others, it is as you put a highly personl way of trying to describe oneself. However, since you were working for a fashion magazine, you were one of the person that put pictures and suggestions on how one should dress fashionably. The fashionable credential is off course beefed up by cebrities endorsing such or such trend. So either you are an original dresser, meaning that you will dress against what the fashion establishement and its advocates tell you or you follow the trend.

    When I worked for a fashion magazine I was not working in the editorial section that decided on the content. My job was to arrange the contents in the most attractive way possible. In this way I was concerned with creating a product that would sell, though whether it would sell or not did not really concern me. What concerned me was that I should do the best job that I was capable of. I was applying the little skill that I had to the best of my ability for which I was paid.

    Never the less I got to know how the magazine worked as a whole pretty well and it did not seem to me to an organized conspiracy to defraud the ignorant masses and steel their souls. I think most of the staff had too much respect for their customers and for themselves ever to suppose that. They were also sufficiently aware and intelligent to know that the power of the magazine, which they helped to produce, was not that great and that their relationship with their customer was at best symbiotic, and was dependent on producing a product that the customer liked and would continue to buy. The staff was made up on the whole of highly intelligent and sophisticated women with minds of their own who would not have worked in a job that they felt demeaned them.

    I have sufficient confidence in people to suppose that given the opportunity they are not such fools as to let other people determine how they think or act, though I realize that this historically has not always been the case, and their have always been institutions--- such as the church--- that have attempted to undermine this individual autonomy as there have been historic moment of extreme crisis when the normal moral decency of people are lost, and that people are capable of acting to the detriment of others as well as to their benefit. It's a delicate balance but I'm an optimist and on the whole trust people, both in particular and in general. I'm a believer in a civil society, of mutual responsibilities and duties and respect, much as the society that I now live in in Barcelona. While far from being perfect it does allow for a vast number of very different people and communities to live together in relative harmony and to enjoy a full and satisfying life. I see no need for added "spirituality" other than as a perfectly acceptable consumer choice, which on the whole is what it is, whether it be Buddhism or Christianity or Fashion or what ever.

    As far as fashion being anarchic, you're right but I think fashion is tribal before it is anarchic. The transgression you talk about is tribal. It's all about counter-cultural tribes dressing up their micro-cult.

    I think dress has probably always involved an element of "tribalism" in so far as it often indicates what group you identify with, which is again an important element in defining who you are, of knowing yourself. I have no problem with that. It seems perfectly reasonable and understandable.

  • NormanHadley

    27 April 2010 3:38PM

    Hi PlasticGypsies.

    Your separation of message from medium is spot-on. one can spread banality or profundity with modern social networking tools, but the same can be said of a Gutenburg press or a village pump. And we have to keep reminding ourselves that things like Facebook and Twitter have only been around for about 40 months apiece - before we get too despondent about the volume of bilge they carry, we have to wait and see how people adapt to their bilge-capacity. My own view is that it's too early for despair - Sturgeon's Law applies - 90% of anything is crap.

    So, inexorably, to solo.

    Responding to my call for [charity, financial prudence, long-term public works and, er, poetry] But it won't work, it cannot work because governance doesn't want it to work.

    Well, governance can't stop me sponsoring a child, running the same car until it's looped the equator 5 time or writing poetry. To paraphrase the great philosopher Meat Loaf, three out of four ain't bad.

  • PlasticGypsies

    27 April 2010 4:48PM

    redmullet:

    I think dress has probably always involved an element of "tribalism" in so far as it often indicates what group you identify with, which is again an important element in defining who you are, of knowing yourself. I have no problem with that. It seems perfectly reasonable and understandable.

    But that's the whole point really. If there is always an element of triablism in how we dress, therefore dressing up is not about defining who you are. It's about defining who/what you belong to.... It makes a tribal stereotype of you instead of affirming who you really are. So if there is an element of freedom to express myself by the way I dress, it can only be limited to which box-stereotype would I like to fit in. That's probably why I would rather wear a shirt at work and a leather jacket at a rock concert instead of the other way round.

    I have sufficient confidence in people to suppose that given the opportunity they are not such fools as to let other people determine how they think or act, though I realize that this historically has not always been the case, and their have always been institutions--- such as the church--- that have attempted to undermine this individual autonomy as there have been historic moment of extreme crisis when the normal moral decency of people are lost, and that people are capable of acting to the detriment of others as well as to their benefit

    It's funny because I have no confidence in people for practically the same reasons you put forward. If people were not fools, then why did we have all these stupid wars for? It's easy to put the blame on the church or other religions for the ills of the past. These days, religion has quasi no influence in western europe but there is still murder, misery, sickness, poverty, stupidity and moral decay so clearly the issue goes way beyond mere authoritave religious institutions. If you got rid of religion, there would still be people acting in their benefit and to the detriment of others. Whether they are free to express themselves is irrelevant to the good and bad deeds they commit. Arguably it's a problem because people are so obsessed about narcissic ideas about how they can express themselves and how they should appear to people that it become more important as the deeds they perform and I think this is a serious issue because it glorifies the cheats who are more interested in presenting themselves in a positive way rather than being interested in what they really do.

  • redmullet

    27 April 2010 5:49PM

    savvymum

    We will be fashion-free when I see men in flowery dresses, nice tweed skirts and crop tops, and women like myself, in mens trousers and a smashing suit - very smart.

    The trouble with a robust individualism, is that we've been encouraged to forget or sublimate our survival insticts whereby we gang together for the greater good and we team up for survival.

    Well, we won't have abolished fashion "when I see men in flowery dresses" just changed the rules and by doing so perhaps change the way that we conceive of masculinity and thus how we see ourselves which maybe no bad thing.

    When I look around me I don't really see a society were the welfare of people in general is ignored . We have free education, free health care, unemployment benefit ---though inadequate--- invalidity benefit, the full paraphernalia of a welfare state: none of which we had a hundred years ago apart that is for a very rudimentary education system. Do you really want to move back to a system were one had to rely on charity to survive if you were unfortunately unable to fend for yourself?

    I think some people have a very rosy view of the past to think that it was all a matter of "ganging together for the greater good". My neighborhood is full of civic groups promoting particular interests, there is a Polish center just down the road in a disused church and Latin American center just across the road and there is a neighborhood association just around the corner, not to mention the new public library that they are on the point of opening just two minutes away . There are lots of social clubs were people can get together to pursue common interests, I'm a members of two of them, and that's not to mention the bars and cafes where people meet and socialize. There is no greater example of the community in full swing that a great city at its best and most generous.

    This disparage of modernity is really rather sad don't you think? After all here we are typing away madly in a medium that epitomizes modernity and all we can do is complain about it.

    It also smells of a certain elitism that divides the world into the spiritually pure at heart and the unclean masses with their trivial pursuits and irredeemable stupidity. Which for me seems to signify a certain hypochondria of the soul, a malad imaginaire, among the spiritually endow,whose principle symptom seems to be ostentatious despair.

  • solocontrotutti

    27 April 2010 6:15PM

    Well, governance can't stop me sponsoring a child, running the same car until it's looped the equator 5 time or writing poetry. To paraphrase the great philosopher Meat Loaf, three out of four ain't bad. Norman

    ....or watching paint dry or the grass grow but it can make you think in terms of "me" as opposed to "we".

  • solocontrotutti

    27 April 2010 6:34PM

     

    This disparage of modernity is really rather sad don't you think? After all here we are typing away madly in a medium that epitomizes modernity and all we can do is complain about it. Red Mullett

    Nuclear bombs and kipper lips epitomise modernity as well.

    It's not a question of complaining it's a question of pointing out the obvious that the endlesss banal twitter that fills the airways is the opiates of the nattering classes

    It also smells of a certain elitism that divides the world into the spiritually pure at heart and the unclean masses with their trivial pursuits and irredeemable stupidity. Which for me seems to signify a certain hypochondria of the soul, a malad imaginaire, among the spiritually endow,whose principle symptom seems to be ostentatious despair.Red Mullett

    I disagree but that is a splendid bit of prose and it does seem churlish to challenge the assumption that anyone who is proclaiming to be one of the iredeemably stupid could finish the sentence off with the phrases malad imaginaire and ostentatious despair.

    But anyway who cannot exist beyond his own ego in this world and not be in a state of despair whether ostentatious or otherwise "but a calm despair, without angry convulsions, without reproaches to Heaven, is the essence of wisdom" (Vigny).

  • JohnR

    27 April 2010 8:07PM

    I suspect that if we're not in some way dissatisfied with our existence there is likely to be little change in it, and I think that may well be what Kierkegaard is suggesting here. If we are all happy to contemplate our existence as idyllic then the chances are it won't ever change, if we have anything to do with it. By standing outside it from time to time and asking what it all means is perhaps the best start to changing it so that it come closer to our ideals for it.

  • redmullet

    27 April 2010 9:44PM

    solo

    thanks for the compliment. I do try to please , probable to hard, as often, when I read my comments back, they do fall rather flat and they are not helped by a persistent dyslexia in which words tend to go unaccountable astray and rather strange syntax, all of which causes me great shame but never, thank God, despair. Of cause in reality I would never dare speak as I do here as my few friends would just laugh at me and tell me to shut up, but here you can say anything as long as you don't upset AB and no one seems to turn a hair, and of cause it's anonymous so know one knows that it is you. In truth I have a broad cockney accent and a vocabulary of ten words and always talk in rhyming slang.

  • redmullet

    28 April 2010 2:15PM


    sebheld

    All those fanciful things that modern life has brought us seem to still have done little to answer the basic question "Who am I", "What am I to do with my life". Rather ironic I think is that we don't seem to be actually unaware of those questions, on the contrary (as a glance on the television programs or the self-help area in any bookshop will prove). The problem seems to be rather that there are so many answers designed to tell us who we are, and what we should do that the view on the original question is entirely blocked out.

    i think that I would say that the question "Who am I?" in a generalized sense is not a very useful question. I am, if you like, a work in progress and not only is there no definitive answer the "I" that you talk about but that is not even one coherent thing but a whole collection of interrelating facets, none of which can fully describe that illusive entity "I" in its entirety. That it is, as well, to a great extent a social construct, capable of being manipulated and molded to outside influences, and I think this is what K. is attempting to do by displacing his own highly neurotic concept of himself on to his readers, obviously with great success so he must have hit a nerve which, perhaps, had more to do with the social and economic changes that were underway when he was writing, and from which we are still in the process of realizing, more than any profound spiritual revelation. So I think K. creates the individual in "despair" rather than the individual looking into himself and finding himself as he "really" is in "despair" which is, to me at any rate, an impossibility for the reasons I have just stated. That is K. was instrumental in creating a new type of man in response to historic contingencies.

    "What am I to do with my life?" I am to live my life, there is no purpose other than that. I think that the only reason we ask ourselves such a question is that we have developed a highly sophisticated language that allows us to recreate the past and invoke the future and therefore make them both in a sense "real" lived experiences in the present, which in itself creates profound existential uncertainty in which we both live the past as a calcification of the present and live the future as the possibility of the present.Thus the question " What am I to do with my life" is of our own making and has no answer other than in a life actually lived.

  • sebheid

    28 April 2010 5:25PM

    @Redmullet

    I think your explanations why these two questions are pointless are actually pretty good answers to the questions. So I think the questions are maybe not that bad one just has to see them as a starting point rather than taking the implicit assumptions (like that there is a thing called I) to serious. So:

    I am, if you like, a work in progress and not only is there no definitive answer the "I" that you talk about but that is not even one coherent thing but a whole collection of interrelating facets, none of which can fully describe that illusive entity "I" in its entirety.

    is in that sense a good answer to the question "Who am I?"

    In the same way I'd see

    I am to live my life, there is no purpose other than that. I think that the only reason we ask ourselves such a question is that we have developed a highly sophisticated language that allows us to recreate the past and invoke the future and therefore make them both in a sense "real" lived experiences in the present, which in itself creates profound existential uncertainty in which we both live the past as a calcification of the present and live the future as the possibility of the present.Thus the question " What am I to do with my life" is of our own making and has no answer other than in a life actually lived.

    as a valid answer to the question 'what am I to do with my life?' even though it contains the assertion that the question wouldn't be valid.

    The problem with all these questions (I guess "what is the meaning of life?" falls also plainly in this category) is that the way the question is asked seems to make already a lot of assumptions about what the answer should be. For all those questions it seems necessary to be willing to overlook the assumptions when one wants to find and interesting answer.

    Does that make these questions pointless? I think it doesn't because one needs to start somewhere and in way one would know the answer in order to ask the question correctly, but then someone who disagrees with your answer would then again find your revised question questionable.

    Finally it is exactly because we aren't just things with a given nature, and because what we do with our life just does depend on what we actually do with it. Because we sort of create our path while walking it, is it worth it to think about these things. And, to come back to Kierkegaard, I think it is actually exactly this openness and undefinedness of our existence, which lies at the bottom of what he calls despair, it is the realisation that it is up to us and that there are no answers which could tell us what is rigt thing for us to do, in the end we have to make a guess and than make the leap of faith.

  • sebheid

    28 April 2010 5:33PM

    Argh, sorry guys, I should never make these comments in a hurry I need to remember the fact that I obviously can't think and type at the same time.

  • redmullet

    28 April 2010 8:03PM

    sebheld

    I think I got what you were trying to say pretty clearly. Thanks for the response. And that "calcification" what did I mean by that, I think "qualification" which would mean something like condition the present, that we live the past by continuously recreating it in the present or something like that. Though the more I think about it the more complex it becomes.

  • tohimself

    29 April 2010 1:03AM

    Clare Carlisle

    Thankyou for this series. It offers, at least to me, a rare oasis of genuinely thoughtful considerations at a time when this election is making many of us feel the Spiritlessness of the times all too clearly.

    (How can the Guardian be so down on Gordon Brown? At least he cares about poverty and the Third World...). Politics is so frustrating. I wonder whether Kierkegaard would have given politics much thought if he'd been around in our century? Probably he would have given it more attention than he did then, but his conception of the human self as spirit would have driven him to find a solution outside of politics for sure.

    Afterall, politics at its best just tidies the room a little bit more for all of us, it doesn't tell us much about who lives in the room and why. Maybe it offers hints, but politics never gets inside human consciousness to discover who I am or who you are. We discover bits and pieces of ourselves in social history, class struggles, social injustices, but not the whole.

    Humanity is our broader self, but how more efficiently to inquire into it than through coming directly upon one's own thoughts and feelings in the act of existing?

    The public mind is the mind of the media and we who consume it. The individual life of a human being lies in becoming aware of oneself as influenced by the society and the public mind, but also as instincts and passions, loves and lusts and hates, fears and hurts and hopes. In the midnight swirl of these emotions and self-justifications, imaginative projections of thought as desire and self-protection and dim intuitive callings, we discover ourselves as an existential, vital process, as something living, alive, as a feeling, sensing, acting being, and perhaps even, in rare moments, as something "far more deeply interfused" - and then what?

    I think self-awareness is important in itself without asking what is beyond it too quickly, because what we become aware of usually, is of disorder, conflict, loneliness and anxiety, all of which is eating into our life-force (our ability to live life fully and passionately) at a deeply unconscious level (or at a very conscious level), and it becomes important not to run away from this reality or deny its actual validity.

    In order to escape from what amounts to a kind of inner despair we turn more and more obsessively to those human lights which seem to give us shelter and warmth, position, identity, place - and in so doing we participate in the creation of a consumer-society, which becomes for most of us most of the time our view of reality, our world.

    It is only when a crisis comes, when our apparently solid structures are temporarily torn away from us by circumstances, that we are reminded of our true condition again, of what and who we actually are.
    It is at these moments of apparent or real crisis that we can actually become cleanly and nakedly self-aware and participate in another order of creativity altogether, at a level that political activities cannot touch or answer.

    In these moments of crisis or unveiling we begin to see ourselves for what we are, and consequently the world for what it is, and in this active seeing of what is actually taking place without our choice in the matter and without escape, we are making the ground fertile for some new activity of mind/spirit. It is the soil which is important, not the seed.

    The soil is the naked awareness of our own insufficiency, self-contradiction and suffering, our inner disorder - out of which something genuinely new might come into being.

Comments on this page are now closed.

<script type="text/javascript"> jQ(document).ready(function(){ // check jQuery UI hasn't been loaded in by a microapp. short-term fix. if (!jQuery.ui) { jQ.ajax({ url: 'https://ajax.googleapis.com/ajax/libs/jqueryui/1.7.3/jquery-ui.js', type: 'GET', dataType: 'script', cache: true }); } }); </script> <script type="text/javascript"> function fix_domain_for_careers(url){ var re, fixed_url; var careers_length = "careers".length; if (window.location.host.substr(0, careers_length) === "careers") { re = /http:\/\/www\./; fixed_url = url.replace(re, "http://careers."); } else { re = /http:\/\/careers\./; fixed_url = url.replace(re, "http://www."); } return fixed_url; } jQ(function() { fixPluckCommentUrl('http:///discussion/api/resolvePluckCommentKey'); var loading_box = jQ("<div class='report-form-loading'>Loading</div>"); jQ('a.report-abuse:not(.no-abuse-popup)').live('click', function(ev) { ev.preventDefault(); loading_box.dialog({ title: "Abuse report", draggable: false, modal: true, width: 400, minHeight: 320, resizable: false, beforeclose: function(event, ui) { var readOnly = jQ('.report-abuse-ajax-readonly').length; if(readOnly == 1) return true; var reason = jQ('.report-abuse-ajax-form textarea#id_reason').val(); var thanksPage = jQ('.report-form-loading p[data-abuse-report-accepted-for-comment]').length; if (thanksPage == 0) { thanksPage = jQ('.report-form-loading p[data-abuse-report-accepted-for-profile]').length; } if(thanksPage == 0) { if(reason == 0) { return true; } else { return confirm("Closing this window without pressing \"Report\" will result in your words being lost. Are you sure?"); } } else { return true; } }, close: function(ev, ui) { loading_box.remove(); } }); abuse_report_url = this.href.replace('report-abuse', 'report-abuse-ajax'); abuse_report_url = fix_domain_for_careers(abuse_report_url); jQ.ajax({ url: abuse_report_url, success: function(data){ loading_box.html(data); } }); }); jQ('body').delegate('.report-abuse-ajax-form form', 'submit', function(ev) { ev.preventDefault(); var form = jQ(this); var url = fix_domain_for_careers(form.attr('action')); jQ.post(url, form.serialize(), function(html) { form.parents('.ui-dialog-content').html(html); // Has the abuse report been accepted? var el = jQ(html); var comment_id = el.attr('data-abuse-report-accepted-for-comment'); var profile_id = el.attr('data-abuse-report-accepted-for-profile'); if (comment_id) { jQ('ul#comment-' + comment_id).find('li.abuse-report').remove(); } else if (profile_id) { jQ('p.report-abuse').remove(); } var is_successful_submission = (comment_id || profile_id); if (is_successful_submission) { if(guardian.r2.omniture.isAvailable()) { // track with omniture s.linkTrackVars = 'events,eVar37'; s.linkTrackEvents = 'event37'; s.eVar37 = 'Comment:Report Abuse'; s.events = 'event37'; s.tl(true, 'o', 'Comment report abuse'); } window.setTimeout(function() { loading_box.dialog("close"); }, 3000); } }); }); // make sure submit button is enabled onReady. jQ('#newcommenting-form input[type=submit]').removeAttr('disabled'); var newFormURL = window.location.protocol + '//' + window.location.host + window.location.pathname + '?#post-area'; jQ('div#login-container form.post-your-comments').attr('action', newFormURL); jQ('div#signup-container input').click(function(){ urlStack.clearUrlStack(); urlStack.pushUrlOntoStack(newFormURL); document.location = 'http://users.guardian.co.uk/signup/tr/1,,-720,00.html'; }); jQ('.recomended').show(); jQ('#newcommenting-form').submit(function(){ jQ('input[type=submit]', this).attr('disabled', 'disabled'); }); }); //end jQ ready function openAbuseBox(commentId) { jQ("#abuse-report-comment-id").val(commentId); var loading_box = jQ('<div class="report-form-loading">Loading</div>'); loading_box.dialog({ title:"Abuse report", draggable: false, modal:true, width:400, minHeight:320, resizable: false, beforeclose: function(event, ui) { var reason = jQ('textarea#id_reason').val(); if (reason != "") { return confirm("Closing this window without pressing \"Report\" will result in your words being lost. Are you sure?"); } else { return true; } } }); } function recommendComment(commentId) { var guardian_domain_thing = 'foo'; var post_url = "http://www.guardian.co.uk/discussion/handlers/recommendComment"; post_url = fix_domain_for_careers(post_url); jQ.post(post_url, { comment_id: commentId }, function(data) { if (data == "OK") { var span = jQ("#recommended-count-" + commentId); span.prev('a').contents().unwrap(); span.text(parseInt(span.text(), 10)+1); } else { var span = jQ("#recommended-count-" + commentId); span.prev('a').contents().unwrap(); } }); } </script>
<iframe marginwidth="0" marginheight="0" src="http://optimized-by.rubiconproject.com/a/7845/12580/22620-9.html?" frameborder="0" width="160" scrolling="no" height="600"></iframe>

News of belief from the web

Read more from Cif belief

<script type="text/javascript"> jQ(function($){$('.about-zeit').each(function(){var distance=-10;var time=250;var hideDelay=500;var hideDelayTimer=null;var beingShown=false;var shown=false;var trigger=$('.what-is',this);var info=$('.zeit-popup',this).css('opacity',0);$([trigger.get(0),info.get(0)]).mouseover(function(){if(hideDelayTimer)clearTimeout(hideDelayTimer);if(beingShown||shown){return;}else{beingShown=true;info.css({top:-97,right:0,display:'block'}).animate({top:'-='+distance+'px',opacity:1},time,'swing',function(){beingShown=false;shown=true;});}return false;}).mouseout(function(){if(hideDelayTimer)clearTimeout(hideDelayTimer);hideDelayTimer=setTimeout(function(){hideDelayTimer=null;info.animate({top:'-='+distance+'px',opacity:0},time,'swing',function(){shown=false;info.css('display','none');});},hideDelay);return false;});});}); </script> <script type="text/javascript"> function cleanUpExtraWeirdLinkCreatedBySomeOtherScriptThatOnlyExistsOnOnePageThatICantFineAwesomesauce() { try { jQ('.m-zeitgeist #att-toggle ul.tabs li a').each(function(i, el) { if (jQ(el).html().trim().length === 0) { jQ(el).remove() }}); } catch(er) { // Ignore } } cleanUpExtraWeirdLinkCreatedBySomeOtherScriptThatOnlyExistsOnOnePageThatICantFineAwesomesauce(); // And because we have no idea when the script runs that adds the extra <a> tag setTimeout("cleanUpExtraWeirdLinkCreatedBySomeOtherScriptThatOnlyExistsOnOnePageThatICantFineAwesomesauce()", 1000); setTimeout("cleanUpExtraWeirdLinkCreatedBySomeOtherScriptThatOnlyExistsOnOnePageThatICantFineAwesomesauce()", 2500); </script>