Monday, May 10, 2010

Carlisle, Clare. "Kierkegaard's World, Part 7: Spiritlessness." GUARDIAN April 26, 2010.

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. . . . Read the rest here:

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