on loving anguish

by Andrea Elizabeth

The poet-existence under consideration here is different from despair in that it does have a conception of God or is before God, but it is exceedingly dialectical and is as if in an impenetrable dialectical labyrinth concerning the extent to which it is obscurely conscious of being sin. A poet like that can have a very profound religious longing, and the conception of God is taken up into his despair. He loves God above all, God who is his only consolation in his secret anguish, and yet he loves the anguish and will not give it up. He would like so very much to be himself before God, but with the exclusion of the fixed point where the self suffers; there in despair he does not will to be himself. He hopes that eternity will take it away, and here in time, no matter how much he suffers under it, he cannot resolve to take it upon himself, cannot humble himself under it in faith. And yet he continues in the God-relationship, and this is his only salvation; it would be sheer horror for him to have to be without God, “it would be enough to despair over,” and yet he actually allows himself – perhaps unconsciously- to poetize God as somewhat different from what God is, a bit more like the fond father who indulges his child’s every wish far too much. He becomes a poet of the religious in the same way as one who became a poet through an unhappy love affair and blissfully celebrates the happiness of erotic love. He became unhappy in the religious life, dimly understands that he is required to give up this anguish – that is, in faith to humble himself under it and take it upon himself as a part of the self – for he wants to keep it apart from himself, and precisely in this way he holds on to it, although he no doubt believes this is supposed to result in parting from it as far as possible, giving it up to the greatest extent humanly possible (this like every word from a person in despair, is inversely correct and consequently to be understood inversely). But in faith to take it upon himself – that he cannot do, that is, in essence he is unwilling or here his self ends in vagueness. Yet this poet’s description of erotic love – has a charm, a lyrical verve that no married man’s and no His Reverence’s presentations have. Nor is what he says untrue, by no means; his presentation is simply his happier, his better I. His relation to the religious is that of an unhappy lover, not in the strictest sense that of a believer; he has only the first element of faith – despair – and within it an intense longing for the religious. His conflict actually is this: Has he been called? Does his thorn in the flesh signify that he is to be used for the extraordinary? Before God, is it entirely in order to be the extraordinary he has become? Or is the thorn in the flesh that under which he must humble himself in order to attain the universally human? – But enough of this. With the accent of truth I may ask: To whom am I speaking? Who cares about these high-powered psychological investigations to the nth degree? The Nürnberg pictures that the pastor paints are better understood, they deceivingly resemble one and all, what most people are, and spiritually understood – nothing. (The Sickness Unto Death, p. 78, 79)