Wednesday, August 30, 2023


Interregnum. Summer has lost its grip, but Fall has not yet taken hold: cloudy, quiet, rainless days appear one by one and vanish. In the evening, Vega or Arcturus appear, dim and inarticulate, in the pools between the clouds, and vanish again, their messages undelivered. I am waiting, I suppose, for my two granddaughters to arrive -- one in Colorado, and one here. A pause, while Fall considers its approach; a long indrawing of the tide.

It's California weather, of course, not Oregon weather. My parents' generation of Oregonians tended to move to California when they retired, and their bones got tired of the damp and chill: climate change has accomplished this move for my generation without the trouble of packing. At the moment -- why not gathers such crumbs as fall? -- I'm content to live in a dryer, warmer state. The September slant of the sun has always pleased me, and we get to see more of it, now. 


(Notes on Kierkegaard's Either/Or, continued.) 

p 154. "As a passionately erotic glance craves its object, so anxiety looks cravingly upon sorrow." 

I'm nonplussed by this business of "the modern Antigone." Why? He must want to say something about the modern condition that just pointing out the ancient condition would not convey: but I'm not clear what that is. The sheer effrontery is impressive, of course, but effrontery is Kierkegaard's stock-in-trade.

Side note: K's sexism is the smarmiest, ugliest kind. I applaud any woman who has the fortitude to wade through this sewer. Thank God he never married: what a mess he would have made of it!

p 180. the fiction of the narrator in "Silhouettes" is that he knows all about love. Since K is obviously an awkward inexperienced young man, this falls on its face from time to time. K knows almost nothing about love, except what he's read in books. The farthest my generosity can stretch is to take all this as a species of literary criticism. 

p 198. It takes some doing to keep reading. My dislike of K is profound: I find him deeply, deeply antipathetic. All this analysis of seduction and its aftermath, which is all adolescent fantasy: and yet never the slightest twinge of what drove Shelley to imagine, "this could be otherwise: eros could be in service to agape."

Maybe K is right, and it can't be: but for God's sake, you want him to at least be tempted by the idea. Instead he goes on and on and on, clearly relishing the betrayals, lingering on them lovingly. No, I do not like this man: I find him repellent. For all his supposed sympathy with these Maries and Elviras and Susannas, he would not lift a finger to help them.

Friday, August 25, 2023

Either/Or, 2

There is an important metaphysical point being made in this apparently trivial issue of Don Juan, as archetypical "medieval" seducer, being only expressible in music. K is asserting that there is one single correct way to express the archetype, and that Mozart has done it. What this means is that Don Juan is in fact real, and that the expression of him must conform to his reality. It echoes K's assertion that Homer is the right treatment of the Matter of Troy, not just a treatment of it -- that the Matter of Troy demanded a particular expression. This is anti-modern, anti-Romantic, in the extreme, though to (say) Dryden or Pope it would have been a matter of course.

It is in other words a refutation of the "flat ontology" of the Romantic/Modern, which says that there is matter, stuff, which is inert, and then there is shaping spirit: there is nothing else. To speak of matter "demanding" a certain form is, to a Modern, a fallacy. But that's precisely what K is insisting on.

p 129: "Don Giovanni's life is not despair; it is, however, the full force of the sensuous, which is born in anxiety; and Don Giovanni himself is this anxiety, but this anxiety is precisely the demonic zest for life."

... what the actual fuck? The weirdest use of "anxiety" that I have ever seen.

Despite not knowing the opera, and not understanding the German philosophical turns of phrase ("qualified as spirit" probably means something, but damned if I know what) I think I have a sense for what K is talking about in this section: the manic phase of bipolar, when the force of one's desire seems (and sometimes is) irresistible. It's true that this is only really expressible in music.

p 145: "... this age... automatically makes the individual responsible for his life... One would think that the generation in which I have the honor of living must be a kingdom of gods."

p 151: "Since it is at variance with the aims of our association [ the symparanekromenoi, the fellowship of the dead ] to provide coherent works or larger unities, since it is not our intention to labor on a tower of Babel that God in his righteousness can descend and destroy, since we, in our consciousness that such confusion justly occurred, acknowledge as characteristic of all human endeavor in its truth that it is fragmentary, that it is precisely this which distinguishes it from nature's infinite coherence, that an individual's wealth consists specifically in his capacity for fragmentary prodigality..."

This page-long sentence/paragraph is a tour-de-force -- pure Kierkegaard. The intellectual pressure is enormous

Friday, August 18, 2023

Notes on Kierkegaard's Either/Or, 1

"language is bounded by music on all sides" p 69

Even when K is blithering he comes up with such valuable things. (Why, why are we discussing language vs music at all? No clue so far.)

"Music always expresses the immediate in its immediacy. This is also the reason that in relation to language music appears first and last, but this also shows that it is a mistake to say that music is closer to perfection as a medium. Reflection is implicit in language, and therefore language cannot express the immediate." p 70

I have no idea, none at all, what K means by "spirit."

But, as often, I must have patience. This entire book, I suspect, is a sustained definition of "spirit," and looking for a simple definition is looking to skip the book. It's like asking 'what does Plato mean by "the good"?' Socrates said that "the good" was what life was for, but he also said he didn't really know what it was. He wasn't being coy, he was being honest. All Plato wrote were partial, fragmentary attempts to shadow forth "the good," especially in the person of Socrates: to ask for a simple definition of it is to totally misunderstand Plato's project. And so here. K's project is to shadow forth "spirit," and I'm just going to have to move in and out the tide of his thought and hope that the movement stirs something in me.

p 76 - 78: we're fairly embarked in actual discussion of Mozart's operas, here, and it may well be that reading the rest of this essay -- when I know nothing of Mozart, or of opera, or of music -- will be ridiculous and a waste of time. Certainly there's no point in reading this a second time without having at least some background. I'll persevere for now, but between having not the slightest notion of opera, and no idea what a phrase such as "desire is absolutely qualified as desire" may mean -- if anything -- I'm really not gleaning much here. Hopefully I'll do better with the upcoming essay on ancient tragedy.