EitherOr - Eit/zer Or 97 But this power of having...

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Unformatted text preview: Eit/zer/ Or 97 But this power of having constantly a free outlook is the blessing be— stowed by duty, whereas romantic love goes astray or comes to an impasse because of its unhistorieal character. VOL. II: EQUILIBRIUM BETWEEN THE AESTHETICAL AND THE ETHICAL IN THE COMPOSITION OF PERSONALITY My Friend, What I have so often said to you I say now once again, or rather I shout it: Either/”or, (Ingmar. . . . There are situations in life where it would be ridiculous or a species of madness to apply an either/ or; but also, there are men whose souls are too dissolute (in the etymological sense of the word) to grasp what is implied in such a dilemma, whose personalities lack the energy to say with pathos, Either/or. Upon me these words have always made a deep impression, and they still do, especially when I pronounce them absolutely and without specific ref- erence to any objects, for this use of them suggests the possibility of starting the most dreadful contrasts into action. They affect me like a magic formula of incantation, and my soul becomes exceeding serious, sometimes almost harrowed. I think of my early youth, when without clearly comprehending what it is to make a choice I listened with child- ish trust to the talk of my elders, and the instant of choice was solemn and venerable, although in choosing I was only following the instruc— tions of another person. I think of the occasions in my later life when I stood at the crossways, when my soul was matured in the hour of deci- sion. I think of the many occasions in life less important but by no means indifferent to me, when it was a question of making a choice. For although there is only one situation in which either/ or has absolute significance, namely when truth, righteousness, and holiness are lined up on one side, and lust and base propensities and obscure passions and perdition on the other; yet it is always important to choose rightly, even as between things which one may innocently choose; it is important to test oneself, lest some day one might have to beat a retreat to the point from which one started,1L and might have reason to thank God if one had to reproach oneself for nothing worse than a waste of time. In common 1 A leading ethical idea of SILK; is the “rerersai” of one‘s path which is necessary in order to undo the eIIeets of evil. CI. pp. 103—104, 346—343; see also join-nah; 635. 98 Either/03‘ parlance I use these words as others use them, and it would indeed be a foolish pcdantry to give 11p using them. But sometimes it occurs, nevertheless, that I become aware of using them with regard to things entirely indifferent. Then they lay aside their humble dress, I forget the insignificant thoughts they discriminated, they advance to meet me with all their dignity, in their official robes. As a magistrate in. commoi'i life may appear in plain clothes and mingle without distinction in the crowd, so do these words mii'igle in common speech—when, however, the magistrate steps forward with authority he distinguishes himself from all. Like such a magistrate whom I am accustomed to see only on solemn occasions, these words appear before me, and my soul always becomes serious. And although my life now has to a certain degree. its eitherfor behind it, yet I know well that it may still encounter many a situation where the either..__..-=0r will have its full significance. I hope, how— ever, that these words may find me in a worthy state of mind when they check me on my path, and I hope that I may be successful in choosing the right course; at all events, I shall endeavor to make the choice with real earnestness, and with that I venture, at least, to hope that I shall the sooner get out of the wrongr path. And now as for you—this phrase is only too often on your lips, it: has almost become a byword with you. What significance has it for you? None at all. You, according to your own expression, regard it as a wink of the eye, a snap of the fingers, a coup de more, an ahracadahra. At every opportunity you know how to introduce it, nor is it without effect; for it affects you as strong drink affects a neurasthenic, you become completely intoxicated by what you call the higher madness. “It is the compendium,” you say, “of all practical wisdom, but no one has ever inculcated it so pithily (like a god in the form of a puppet talking to suffering humanity) as that great thinker and true practical philosopher who said to a man who had insulted him by pulling oftr his hat and throwing it on the floor, ‘If you pick it up, you’ll get a thrashing; if you don’t pick it up, you’ll also get: a thrashing; now you can choose.’ " You take great: delight in “comforting” people when they have recourse to you in critical situations. You listen to their exposition of the case and then say, “Yes, I perceive perfectly that there are two possibilities, one can either do this or that. My sincere opinion and my friendly counsel is as follows: Do it, or don't do it—you will regret both." But he who mocks others mocks himself, and your rejoinder is not a mere nothing but a profund mockery of yourself, a sorry proof how limp your soul is, that your whole philosophy of life is concentrated in one single Either/0r 99 1'59" preposition, “I say merely ‘lflither—--or.' ‘ In case this really was your serious meaning, there would be nothing one could do with you, one must simply put up with you as you are and deplore the fact that mel- ancholy lliterally, heayy-mindednessj or light-mindedness had enfec— bled your spirit. Now on the contrary, since one knows very well that such is not the case, one is not tempted to pity you but rather to wish that some day the circumstances of your life may tighten upon you the screws in its rack and compel you to come out with what really d wells in you; that they may begin the sharper inquisition of the rack which can— not be beguiled by nonsense and witticisms. Life is a masquerade, you ex- plain, and for you this is inexhaustible .material for amusement; and so far, no one has succeeded in knowing you; for every revelation you make is always an illusion, it is only in this way that you are able to breathe and prc-:vent people from pressing importunatcly upon you and obstructing your respiration. Your occupation consists in jiirescrving your hiding— place, and that you succeed in doing, for your mask is the most enig— matical of all. In fact you are nothing; you are merely a relation to others, and what you are you : re by virtue of this relation. To a fond shcpherdess you hold out a languishing hand, and instantly you are masked in all possible bucolic sentimentality. A reverend spiritual father you deceive with a l'n'otlierly kiss, etc. You yourself are nothing, an enigmatic figure on whose brow is inscribed, Either—or. “For this," you say, “is my motto, and these words are not, as the grammarians believe, disjunctive conjunctions; no, they belong inseparably together and therefore ought to be written as one word, inasmuch as in their union they constitute an interjection which I shout at mankind, just as boys shout ‘Hep’ after a Jew.” Now although nothing you say in that style has the slightest effect upon me, or, if it has any effect, it is at. the utmost the effect of arousing :1 righteous indignation, nevertheless for your own sake I will reply to you. Do you not know that there comes a midnight hour when every one has to throw off his mask? Do you believe that life will always let itself be mocked? Do you think you can slip away a little before miti— night in order to avoid tl is? Or are you not terrified by it? I have seen men in real life who so long deceived others that at last their true nature. could not reveal itself; I have seen men who played hide and seek so long that at last in madness they disgustingly obtruded upon others their secret thoughts which hitherto they had proudly concealed. 'J The Aestheticist is surely not entitled to the mark or disjunction, though Kierke— gaard himself made no such distinction since he did noL employ the mark in either case. JOO Either/Or Or can you think of anything more [rightful than that it might end with your nature being resolved into a multiplicity, that you really might bECOIDC many, become, like those unhappy demoniacs, a legion, and you thus would have lost the inmost and holiest thing of all in a man, the unifying power of personality.F Truly, you should not jest with that which is not only serious but dreadful. In every man there is some- thing which to a certain degree prevents him from becoming perfectly transparent to himself; and this may he the case in so high a degree, he may be so inexplicably woven into relationships of life which extend far beyond himself, that he almost cannot reveal himself. But he who cannot reveal himself cannot love, and he who cannot love is the most unhappy man of all. My young friend, suppose there was no one who troubled himself to guess your riddle—what joy, then, would you have in it? 3 But above all, for your own sake, for the sake of your salvation— for I am acquainted with no condition of soul which can better be described as perdition—stop this wild flight, this passion of annihilation which rages in you; for this is what you desire, you would annihilate everything, you would satiate the hunger of doubt at the expense of existence. To this end you cultivate yourself, to this end you harden your temper; for you are willing to admit that you are good for nothing, the only thing that gives you pleasure is to march seven times around existence and blow the trumpet and thereupon let the whole thing collapse, that your soul may be tranquilized, yea, attuned to sadness, that you may summon Echo forth—for Echo is heard only in emptiness. However, I am not likely to get. further with you along this path; moreover, my head is too weak, if you would put it that way, to be able to hold out, or, as I prefer to say, too strong to take pleasure in seeing everything grow dizzy before my eyes. I will therefore take up the matter from another side. Imagine a young man at the age when life really begins to have significance for him: he is wholesome, pure, joy— ful, intellectually gifted, himself rich in hope, the hope of. every one who knows him; imagine (yea, it is hard that I have to say this) that he was mistaken in you, that he believed you were a serious, tried and experi- enced man from whom one could confidently expect enlightenment upon life’s riddles; imagine that he turned to you with the charming confidence which is the adornment of youth, with the claim not to be gainsaid which is youth’s privilege—what would you answer him? 3 “W'ithout knowing it, the neurotic person is in the dilemma of being incapable of loving and yet being in great need of love from others.” (Karen I'lorney, The Neurotic 'Perromfizy of Our Time, p. 107.) Either/0r 101 Would you answer, “I say merely ‘Either—or’ "P That you would hardly do. Would you (as you are wont to express it when you would indicate your aversion to having other people vex you with their affairs of tht: heart), would you stick your head out of. the window and say, “Try the next house”? Or would you treat him as you do others who ask your advice or seek information from you, Whom you dismiss as you do the collector of tithes by saying that you are only a lodger in life, not a householder and paterfamilias? No, you would not do this either. A young man with intellectual gifts is the sort of thing you prize only too highly. But in the case I suppose, your relation to the youth is not just what you would have wished, it was not an accidental encounter which brought you in contact with him, your irony was not tempted. Although he was the younger, you the older man, it was he, nevertheless, who by the noble quality of his youth made the instant serious. It is true, is it not, that. you yourself would like to be young, would feel that there was something beautiful in being young but also something very serious, that it is by no means a matter of indifference how one employs one’s youth, but that before one there lies a choice, a real eitherg’br. You would feel that, after all, the important thing is not to cultivate one’s mind but to mature onc’s personality. Your good nature, your sympathy, would be set in motion, in that spirit you would talk to him; you would fortify his soul, confirm him in the confidence he has in the world, you would assure him that there is a power in a man which is able to defy the whole world, you would insist that he take to heart the importance of employing time well. All this you can do, and when you will, you can do it handsomely. But now mark well what I would say to you, young man—for though you are not young, one is always compelled to address you as such. Now what did you do in this case? You acknowledged, as ordinarily you are not willing to do, the importance of an either/0r. And why? Because your soul was moved by love for the young man. And yet in a way you deceived him, for he will, perhaps, encounter you at another time when it by no means suits your convenience to acknowledge this importance. Here you see one of the sorry consequences of the fact that a man’s nature cannot harmoniously reveal itself. You thought you were doing the best for him, and yet perhaps you have harmed him; perhaps he would have been better able to maintain himself against your distrust of life than to find repose in the subjective, deceitful trust you conveyed to him. Imagine that after the lapse of several years you again encountered him: he was lively, intellectual, daring in his thought, bold 102 Either/Or in his expression, but your ear easily detected doubt in his soul, you conceived a suspicion that he had acquired the questionable wisdom: “.1 say merely Either—or.” It is true, is it not, that you would be sorry for him, would feel that he had lost something, and something very essen- tial? But for yourself you will not sorrow, you are content with your ambiguous wisdom, yea, proud of it, so proud that you will not suffer another to share it, since you wish to be alone with it. And yet you find it deplorable in another connection, and it is your sincere opinion that it was deplorable for the young man to have reached the same wisdom. What a monstrous contradiction! Your whole nature contradicts itself. But you can only get out of this contradiction by an either/or, and I who love you more sincerely than you loved this young man, I who in my life have experienced the significance of choice, I congratulate you upon the fact that you are still so young, that even though you always will be sensible of some loss, yet if you have, or rather if you will to have the requisite energy, you can win what is the chief thing in life— win yourself, acquire your own self." Now in case a man were able to maintain himself upon the pinnacle of the instant of choice, in case he could cease to be a man, in case he were in his inmost nature only an airy thought, in case personality meant nothing more than to be a kobold, which takes part indeed in the movements, but nevertheless remains unchanged; in case such were the situation, it would be foolish to say that it might ever be too late for a man to choose, for in a deeper sense there could be no question of a choice. The choice itself is decisive for the content of the personality, through the choice the personality immerses itself in the thing chosen, and when it does not choose it withers away in consumption. For an instant it is as if, for an instant it may seem as if the thing with regard to which a choice was made lay outside of the chooser, that he stands in no relationship to it, that he can preserve a state of indifference over against it. This is the instant of deliberation, but this, like the Platonic instant,5 has no existence, least of all in the abstract sense in which you would hold it fast, and the longer one stares at it the less it exists. That which has to be chosen stands in the deepest relationship to the chooser and, when it is a question of a choice involving a life problem, the indi- vidual must naturally be living in the meantime; hence it comes 4Cf. Tire Sickness unto Death, where this theme is treated at length from a religious point of view. 5 Parmentdes, Chap. 19, defines the “now" as the border between the “before” and the “after." (L) Ez'zfzcr/ Or I 03 about that the longer he postpones the choice the easier it is for him to alter its character, notwithstanding that he is constantly deliberating and deliberating and believes that thereby he is holding the alternatives distinctly apart. When life’s eitherr’or is regarded in this way, one is not easily tempted to jest with it. One sees, then, that the inner drift of the personality leaves no time for thought-experiments, that it constantly hastens on ward and in one way or another posits this alternative or that, making the choice more dillicult the next instant, because what has thus been posited must be revoked. Think of the captain on his ship at the instant when it has to come about. He will perhaps be able to say, “I can either do this or that”; but in case he is not a pretty poor navigator, he will be aware at the same time that the ship is all the while making its usual headway, and that therefore it is only an instant when it is indifferent whether he does this or that. So it is with a man. If he for- gets to take account of the headway, there comes at last an instant when there no longer is any question of an either.” or, not because he has chosen but because he has neglected to choose, which is equivalent to saying, because others have chosen for him, because he has lost his self. You will perceive also in what I have just been saying how essentially my View of choice differs from yours (if you can properly be said to have any view), for yours differs precisely in the fact that it prevents you from choosing. For me the instant of choice is very serious, not so much on account of the rigorous cogitation involved in weighing the alternatives, not on account of the multiplicity of thoughts which attach themselves to every link in the chain, but rather because there is danger afoot, danger that the next instant it may not be equally in my power to choose, that something already has been lived which must be lived over again. To think that for an instant one can keep one’s person~ ality a blank, or that strictly speaking one can break of} and bring to a halt the course of the personal life, is a delusion. The personality is already interested in the choice before one chooses, and when the choice is postponed the personality chooses unconsciously, or the choice is made by obscure powers within it. So when at. last the choice is made, one disfl covers (unless, as I remarked before, the personality has been completely volatilized) that there is something which must be done over again, something which must be revoked, and this is often very difficult. We read in fairy tales about human beings whom mermaids and mermen enticed into their power by means of demoniae music. In order to break the enchantment it was necessary in the fairy tale for the person who was under the spell to play the same piece of music backwards without .104 Either/Or making a single mistake. This is very profound, but very difficult to perform, and yet so it. is: the errors one has taken into oneself one must eradicate in this way, and every time one makes a mistake one must . begin all over. Therefore it is important to choose and to choose in time. You, on the contrary, have another method—for I know very well that the polemical side you turn toward the world is not your true nature. Yea, if to deliberate were the proper task for a human life, you would be pretty close to perfection. I will adducc an example. To fit your case the contrasts must be bold: either a parson,,-"'or an actor. Here is the dilemma...
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