by Andrea Elizabeth
Cold rain, turkey buzz, warm fire, only two out of six kids, hubby home, gray Friday, orange glow, no scheduled events, relax.
Cold rain, turkey buzz, warm fire, only two out of six kids, hubby home, gray Friday, orange glow, no scheduled events, relax.
Inspired by yesterday’s article, this morning I again, after a long hiatus, picked up Either/Or Part II. Part I was from the point of view of the aesthete, and Part II is from the point of view of the ethicist. Aesthetics by nature are more interesting than ethics. Do is more interesting than don’t. Do opens the realms of possibilities, don’t closes the door. This is probably why Part I is a lot thicker than Part II. I think I must have quit reading after this: “but there is one thing for which I thank God with my whole soul, and that is that she is the only I have ever loved, the first, and there is one thing for which I pray to God with my whole heart, that he will give me the strength never to want o love any other.” (page 9)
To all who find themselves in this ideal arrangement, good for you. Preach on against those of us who did not. Club us over the head for our instability, recklessness, waywardness, dangerousness, immorality, and deservedness of being shunned. There, that was a self-indulgent pity party.
The third reason I’ve put this book at arms’ length is that Kierkegaard was never married. He courted Regina for four years, finally proposed, then dropped her immediately after she accepted. How can he preach about marriage?
But, he is a complicated fellow and deserves more query. Maybe he’s chastising himself as the aesthete? Maybe Part I is his loving himself and Part II is his hating himself? If that’s so, I can be more sympathetic. But this goal, “But now to the subject. There are two things that I must regard as my particular task: to show the esthetic meaning of marriage and to show how the esthetic in it may be retained despite life’s numerous hindrances.” (page 8) Have your cake and eat it too? Sounds like a women’s magazine cover article on keeping your marriage sparkly. So did he break off his own engagement because he didn’t think the aesthetic immediacy of attraction could really be retained? Was this next part himself?:
“You, however, actually live by plundering; unnoticed, you creep up on people, steal from them their happy moment, their most beautiful moment, stick this shadow picture in your pocket as the tall man did in Schlemiel and take it out whenever you wish. You no doubt say that those involved lose nothing by this, that often they themselves perhaps do not know which is their most beautiful moment. You believe that they should rather be indebted to you , because with your study of lighting, which magic formulas, you permitted them to stand forth transfigured in the supernatural amplitude of the rare moments…. If one dared to hope that the energy that kindles you in such moments could take shape in you, distribute itself coherently over your life, well, then something great would certainly come of you , for you yourself are transfigured in such moments.” (page 10-11)
My current theory is that Kierkegaard did try to sustain the transfigured energy – but he chose to do it through philosophical writing, not marriage. I don’t think he liked the physical as much as the intellectual, thus his decision not to marry her, but to devote himself to his work. But he did have an emotional bond to her, which he found that he could sustain without marriage. He believed in constant transfiguration, and for a while had the patience for it. But eventually he fulfilled this prophecy, “you who once wrote to me that patience to bear life’s burdens must indeed be an extraordinary virtue, that you did not even have the patience to want to live. Your life disintegrates into nothing but interesting details like these.” And this is why he died so young after getting more and more negative. Why do the brightest lights die so young? I do like Kierkegaard.
This article passionately expounds on Kierkegaard’s themes, but I wonder if he went far enough in his own reasoning when he says this:
This was powerful stuff for a teenager such as me who was losing his religious belief. What Kierkegaard showed was that the only serious alternative to atheism or agnosticism was not what generally passes for religion but a much deeper commitment that left ordinary standards of proof and evidence completely behind. Perhaps that’s why so many of Kierkegaard’s present-day admirers are atheists. He was a Christian who nonetheless despised ‘Christendom’. To be a Christian was to stake one’s life on the absurdity of the risen Christ, to commit to an ethical standard no human can reach. This is a constant and in some ways hopeless effort at perpetually becoming what you can never fully be. Nothing could be more different from the conventional view of what being a Christian means: being born and baptised into a religion, dutifully going to Church and partaking in the sacraments. Institutionalised Christianity is an oxymoron, given that the Jesus of the Gospels spent so much time criticising the clerics of his day and never established any alternative structures. Kierkegaard showed that taking religion seriously is compatible with being against religion in almost all its actual forms, something that present-day atheists and believers should note.
Maybe Kierkegaard did reject organized religion in his time and place, but Orthodoxy gives the right context imo. I’ll borrow more from the article:
For me, Kierkegaard defined the problem more clearly than anyone else. Human beings are caught, he said, between two modes or ‘spheres’ of existence. The ‘aesthetic’ is the world of immediacy, of here and now. The ‘ethical’ is the transcendent, eternal world. We can’t live in both, but neither fulfils all our needs since ‘the self is composed of infinitude and finitude’, a perhaps hyperbolic way of saying that we exist across time, in the past and future, but we are also inescapably trapped in the present moment.
The limitations of the ‘ethical’ are perhaps most obvious to the modern mind. The life of eternity is just an illusion, for we are all-too mortal, flesh-and-blood creatures. To believe we belong there is to live in denial of our animality. So the world has increasingly embraced the ‘aesthetic’. But this fails to satisfy us, too. If the moment is all we have, then all we can do is pursue pleasurable moments, ones that dissolve as swiftly as they appear, leaving us always running on empty, grasping at fleeting experiences that pass. The materialistic world offers innumerable opportunities for instant gratification without enduring satisfaction and so life becomes a series of diversions. No wonder there is still so much vague spiritual yearning in the West: people long for the ethical but cannot see beyond the aesthetic.
The Church, meaning the individuals in her, is somewhat limited in the here and now, but there is also a now and not yet. When Orthodox advertise its”fullness”, I think people can get the wrong idea and expect too much from its temporal members. The ones more in touch with eternity, who have partaken of eternity through :”being born and baptised into a religion, dutifully going to Church and partaking in the sacraments” will be able to aspire to more fully be what he thinks is impossible. “To stake one’s life on the absurdity of the risen Christ, to commit to an ethical standard no human can reach. This is a constant and in some ways hopeless effort at perpetually becoming what you can never fully be.” To take the leap of faith not only with Christ, but also his Church.
Kierkegaard’s greatest illustration of this is his retelling of the story of Abraham and Isaac in Fear and Trembling (1843). Abraham is often held up as a paradigm of faith because he trusted God so much he was prepared to sacrifice his only son on his command. Kierkegaard makes us realise that Abraham acted on faith not because he obeyed a difficult order but because lifting the knife over his son defied all morality and reason. No reasonable man would have done what Abraham did. If this was a test, then surely the way to pass was to show God that you would not commit murder on command, even if that risked inviting divine wrath. If you heard God’s voice commanding you to kill, surely it would be more rational to conclude you were insane or tricked by demons than it would to follow the order. So when Abraham took his leap of faith, he took leave of reason and morality.
The atheist is not willing to do this. He may embrace Kierkegaard’s honesty about unreasonableness, but he’s not willing to join in the eternity of it. He has decided God was a demon instead, and that is what entering the Church can sometimes feel like. Like you’re selling your soul by kneeling before idols and committing cannibalism. It takes a leap of faith to see that instead the Church is the only place where the temporal meets the eternal. This is everywhere evident in the baptism of water and spirit, partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ, the icons, incense, and hymnography. Hopefully there will be glimmers of it in the people too.
Hipster Barbie Instagram is popular for “perfectly mocking every annoying person on Instagram”. I bet the people who like it could be mocked too. I remember hearing someone say about my “perfect” friend who could sing solos, was valedictorian of her class, and was beautiful, “doesn’t she make you sick?”. No, perfect people don’t make me sick. I am glad that there are accomplished people in the world. They make me aim higher and inspire me. People who make excuses depress me. And so do the type-A judgmental people. There is a time to binge-watch and a time to hike. You don’t know if it is that person’s time. Let’s assume it is, ok?
from the Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy
Diogenes’ most famous successor was Crates (c.328-325 b.c.). He was a Boeotian, from Thebes, and renounced his wealth to become a Cynic. He seems to have been more pleasant than Diogenes; according to some reports, every Athenian house was open to him, and he was even regarded by them as a household god. Perhaps the most famous incident involving Crates is his marriage to Hipparchia, who took up the Cynic way of life despite her family’s opposition and insisted that educating herself was preferable to working a loom. Like Diogenes, Crates emphasized that happiness is self-sufficiency, and claimed that asceticism is required for self-sufficiency; e.g., he advises that no one is happy if happiness is measured by the balance of pleasure and pain, since in each period of our lives there is more pain than pleasure.
This description of weaving connects to another book I’ve begun, The Life of Charlotte Brontë by Elizabeth Gaskell. In the second chapter she writes,
The idea of the mistress and her maidens spinning at the great wheels while the master was abroad, ploughing his fields, or seeing after his flocks on the purple moors, is very poetical to look back upon; but when such life actually touches on our own days, and we can hear particulars from the lips of those now living, details of coarseness – of the uncouthness of the rustic mingled with the sharpness of the tradesman – of irregularity and fierce lawlessness – come out, that rather mar the vision of pastoral innocence and simplicity. Still, as it is the exceptional and exaggerated characteristics of any period that leave the most vivid memory behind them, it would be wrong, and in my opinion faithless, to conclude that such and such forms of society and modes of living were not best for the period when they prevailed, although the abuses they may have led into, and the gradual progress of the world, have made it well that such ways and manners should pass away for ever, and as preposterous to attempt to return to them, as it would be for a man to return to the clothes of his childhood.
Gaskell is obviously sold on civilized society, but this scathing review of the biography is more cynical in the vein of Diogenes. Though again, I wish it were more polite and did not reduce everything to sexual lust. This uncivilized place produced the Brontë sisters! Haworth was my absolute favorite part of the U.K.
In the above I learned of Charlotte’s dramatic seeking the attention of the headmaster of the school where she taught English and music. Here’s a sample of the nature of her letters. In them I hear her intense loneliness and the scarcity of finding someone, who she calls friend, that she respects. Both the above reviewers should cut her some slack. As did the headmaster’s wife; thank you, dear lady.
One thing people do to feel better at funerals is to remember the good and funny things that person said or did. Now that my vacation is over, I’ll reminisce about my brown fisherman jacket in August. We timed it so that we missed the 105 degree days of Texas and had mostly 75 degree days in Nova Scotia. In the mountains of Cape Breton National Park the cool winds and altitude brought out my warm flowy above the knee length jacket. It hides as well as warms. It is my favorite piece of clothing which I sadly do not get to wear enough in Texas.
It’s not just the escape from the hot summer that I miss. It’s looking forward to seeing something new and dramatically beautiful every day. Charting the course, finding places to sleep and eat, finding out what’s just beyond the next bend. Now I’m back to my routine of sameness. Same ol’ same ol’. Without even a jacket to cover it up.
a poem in blank verse with no feet
camping in a camper
cutting out carbohydrates, caffeine and alcohol while binging on avocados
silently, how silently she speaks
aggressive pacifism, not passive aggressiveness
reading Kierkegaard at an Indian reservation
ending on an odd
The ethicist vs. the aesthete in person in Talk of the Town with fugitive Cary Grant, law professor Ronald Colman and caught in the middle Jean Arthur.
For the aesthete, the choice is do I want physical beauty or a sensual physical experience? Compromises and deals are made in each direction. But I admire those who are committed to one or the other. Ones who are fully committed to an optimal physical appearance or to a no holds barred sell-out to food with no sacrifices. Oh, to have a whole bag of peanut (must get one’s protein) M&M’s on one side and a whole bag of Doritos on the other while sipping Dr. Pepper and looking forward to when they are done for a whole tub of Cookies and Cream. Actually I get a headache imagining that, but the lack of the exhausting struggle and deal making is attractive.
I have a similar back and forth with cleaning the house. One time I committed to keeping it clean and was not as satisfied with the result as I had imagined I would be. It wasn’t worth it. So it does not stay immaculate, but moderately neat.
I am pretty visual, but mostly touch-oriented. You’d think I’d be a touchy feely person, but I’m not. I mostly like comfortable resting places and the feeling of chewing and the taste and texture of food. Therefore the weight has slowly crept on. It would have been faster, but for mirrors and photographs. Mirrors can be tricked, however, and so can photos by someone who understands angles. Therefore one can have one’s cake and eat it too.
But I am not a committed aesthete, either. I also want what is right. It is not right to be a glutton. It is not right to be vain. It is not right to be on a roller coaster of sugar and caffeine highs and lows that exaggerate one’s negative responses to one’s family. The Fathers say irascibility is given to us to fight sin and the devil. One should not act irascible about just getting up in the morning, or to one’s family in ordering one’s house, should they? I haven’t gone into my sugar sensitivity that amplifies the above struggle.
All this to say that to avoid too much insulin production by not eating sugar, starches, or drinking caffeine or alcohol can appeal somewhat to the visual aesthete because of the weight loss, but it is a Pyrrhic victory. Male attention and female praise or envy are similar to a sugar high – fleeting and shallow.
A more stable and ramped down, calmer mood can also be seen as aesthetic as it is a pleasant feeling, but also ascetic for it puts one more in harmony with God and others. But even that is pleasant. It is inseparably mutual. Maybe I can be committed to that.