Category Archives: Kierkegaard

I realize more and more that I am so constituted that I shall not succeed in realizing my ideals… Ordinarily, most people aim their ideals at the Great, the Extraordinary, which they never attain. I am far too melancholy to harbor such ideals. One would smile at my ideals… I aspire to be as little as possible; that is precisely the core of my melancholy. For that very reason I have been content to be regarded as half-mad, though this merely was a negative form of being something out of the ordinary. And this may quite possibly remain my essential form of existence, and I shall never attain the pleasant, becalmed existence of being something very small.

— Søren Kierkegaard, Journals, via here

Impotence and joy

It is dreadful, the total spiritual impotence I suffer at this time, just because it is combined with a consuming longing, with a spiritual ardour – and so without form that I don’t even know what it is I am missing.

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There is an indescribable joy that is kindled in us just as inexplicably as the apostle’s unmotivated exclamation: ‘Rejoice and again I say, Rejoice’. —Not a joy over this or that, but a full-bodied shout of the soul ‘with tongue and mouth and from the bottom of the heart’: ‘I rejoice in my joy, of, with, at, for, through, and with my joy’ — a heavenly refrain which suddenly interrupts our other songs, a joy which like a breath of air cools and refreshes, a puff from the trade winds which blows across the plains of Mamre to the eternal mansions.

— Kierkegaard, Journals (tr. A. Hannay)

No conclusions

It is not improbable that the lives of many men go on in such a way that they have indeed premises for living but reach no conclusions. Such a man’s life goes on till death comes and puts an end to life, but without bringing with it an end in the sense of a conclusion. For it is one thing that life is over, and a different thing that a life is finished by reaching a conclusion. In the degree that such a man has talents he can go ahead and become an author, as he understands it. But such an understanding is an illusion. For that matter […] he may have extraordinary talents and remarkable learning, but an author he is not, in spite of the fact that he produces books. […] No, in spite of the fact that the man writes, he is not essentially an author; he will be capable of writing the first and also the second part, but he cannot write the third part — the last part he cannot write. If he goes ahead naively (led astray by the reflection that every book must have a last part) and so writes the last part, he will make it thoroughly clear by writing the last part that he makes a written renunciation to all claim to be an author. For though it is indeed by writing that one justifies the claim to be an author, it is also, strangely enough, by writing that one virtually renounces this claim […] To find the conclusion it is necessary first of all to observe that it is lacking, and then in turn to feel quite vividly the lack of it.

— Kierkegaard, On Authority and Revelation (quoted here)

Seeing the god

There was a people who had a good understanding of the divine; this people believed that to see the god is death. —Who grasps the contradiction of this sorrow: not to disclose itself is the death of love; to disclose itself is the death of the beloved.

— Kierkegaard

David Foster Wallace on Kafka

‘Alas’, said the mouse, ‘the world is growing smaller every day. At the beginning it was so big that I was afraid, I kept running and running, and I was glad when at last I saw walls far away to the right and left, but these long walls have narrowed so quickly that I am in the last chamber already, and there in the corner stands the trap that I must run into’. ‘You only need to change your direction’, said the cat, and ate it up.

— Kafka

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What Kafka’s stories have is a grotesque and gorgeous and thoroughly modern complexity. Kafka’s humour — not only not neurotic, but anti-neurotic, heroically sane — is, finally, a religious humour, but religious in the manner of Kierkegaard and Rilke and the Psalms, a harrowing spirituality against which even Ms. O’Connor’s bloody grace seems a little bit easy, the souls at stake pre-made.
   And it is this, I think, that makes Kafka’s wit inaccessible to children whom our culture has trained to see jokes as entertainment and entertainment as reassurance. It’s not that students don’t ‘get’ Kafka’s humour but that we’ve taught them to see humour as something you get — the same way we’ve taught them that a self is something you just have. No wonder they cannot appreciate the really central Kafka joke — that the horrific struggle to establish a human self results in a self whose humanity is inseparable from that horrific struggle. That our endless and impossible journey toward home is in fact our home. It’s hard to put into words up at the blackboard, believe me. You can tell them that maybe it’s good that they don’t ‘get’ Kafka. You can ask them to imagine his art as a kind of door. To envision us readers coming up and pounding, not just wanting admission but needing it, we don’t know what it is but we can feel it, this total desperation to enter, pounding and pushing and kicking, etc. That, finally, the door opens… and it opens outward: we’ve been inside what we wanted all along. Das ist komisch.

David Foster Wallace

Open wound

 Keeping a wound open can also be very beneficial: a healthy and open wound; sometimes it is worst when it skins over.

— Kierkegaard