The aesthete who tries to be ethical

by Andrea Elizabeth

Half-way through Don Giovanni, and a question I read on Either/Or in Wikipedia is in my mind. “Don Juan is split between the esthetic and the ethical. He’s lost in the multiplicity of the “1,003 women he has to seduce”.[21]Faust seduces just one woman. Kierkegaard is writing deep theology here. He’s asking if God seduces 1,003 people at one time or if he seduces one single individual at a time in order to make a believer.”

Then I also thought of St. Augustine, whose Confessions I am about half-way through listening to, though distracted while driving. He was a bit of a Don Juan in his younger years, but settled down with a single mistress. I couldn’t remember why he didn’t marry her, and in looking it up, I came upon this sad reflection about how he couldn’t get from St. Ambrose what he wanted:

“Nor did he know my own frustrations, nor the pit of my danger. For I could not request of him what I wanted as I wanted it, because I was debarred from hearing and speaking to him by crowds of busy people to whose infirmities he devoted himself. And when he was not engaged with them–which was never for long at a time–he was either refreshing his body with necessary food or his mind with reading.

 But actually I could find no opportunity of putting the questions I desired to that holy oracle of thine in his heart, unless it was a matter which could be dealt with briefly. However, those surgings in me required that he should give me his full leisure so that I might pour them out to him; but I never found him so. I heard him, indeed, every Lord’s Day, “rightly dividing the word of truth” among the people.”

I will not judge if St. Ambrose failed him, but maybe it is the nature of a writer to write in his frustration. Prolific Kierkegaard may have been similarly frustrated with not having the right person to talk to, so he wrote instead. And wrote and wrote and wrote. I came across a neat quote from Teddy Roosevelt about writing:

“Write no matter how tired you are, no matter how inconvenient it is; write if you’re smashed up in the hospital; write when you are doing your most dangerous stunts; write when your work is most irksome and disheartening; write all the time!” from a letter to his son, Quentin.

Back to St. Augustine, “I was enamored of a happy life, but I still feared to seek it in its own abode, and so I fled from it while I sought it. I thought I should be miserable if I were deprived of the embraces of a woman, and I never gave a thought to the medicine that thy mercy has provided for the healing of that infirmity, for I had never tried it.” The Aesthete.

But I wont dismiss it completely as that. “My mistress was torn from my side as an impediment to my [entering] marriage, and my heart which clung to her was torn and wounded till it bled. And she went back to Africa, vowing to thee never to know any other man and leaving with me my natural son by her.”

I read elsewhere that a marriage to her, after 10 years of living with her, wouldn’t have suited his station in life. While I commend St. Monica’s devotion in prayer for her son, I don’t commend her ambition for him to reach his potential. I don’t agree with him either that his bond with this woman was just an affliction. Couldn’t she have been the help-meet described at the beginning of Genesis?