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Either Or: A Fragment Of Life PORTABLE

The title Either/Or refers broadly to two things. First, it is intended as an alternative to Hegelian philosophy, which was in currency at the time, which posited the famous triad: a thesis yields an antithesis, which then yields, along with the thesis, a synthesis or unity, which in turn becomes a new thesis. Kierkegaard asserted that this jeopardized belief in propositional truth, specifically the law of contradiction. Secondly, the two parts of the either/or choice are the two stages of the esthetic and the ethical. But Kierkegaard posited three stages (or spheres) of existence: the esthetic, the ethical and the religious. Kierkegaard made the actual either/or a choice between the human esthetic and ethical on the one hand, and the religious on the other hand. The religious sphere is addressed later in Stages on Life's Way, though hinted at the end of part two, called "Ultimatum: The Upbuilding that Lies in the Thought That in Relation to God We Are Always in the Wrong".

Either Or: A Fragment of Life

The "author" of the first volume, the "either" half, is called simply A. Of the works on the esthetic sphere is the diary of a seducer, essays on drama and literature, and an essay on Don Giovanni. Eremita speculates that A merely edited, rather than wrote the diary, which is attributed to Johannes the Seducer. He says that it is difficult to determine not only the order of A's works, but which ones are by him or merely edited by him. Some of the works edited by A may also be by The Young Man, who is also the subject of Kierkegaard's Repetition, who signifies the esthetic stage, since he cannot commit to the ethical. Most of the works by A point to a more reflective and somber esthete as opposed to the author of the "Seducer's Diary". The latter "author" is more overtly in the pleasures of the moment, of which one is pleasure at recollecting the period of seduction. Often A is thought to adhere to Epicureanism, which is not a philosophy of wanton pleasure, as is often thought, but of moderated pleasure and retreat into the peace and quiet of the garden.

The most abstract idea conceivable is the sensuous in its elementaloriginality. But through which medium can it be presented? Only through music.It cannot be presented in sculpture because it has a qualification of a kind ofinwardness; it cannot be painted, for it cannot be caught in definite contours.In its lyricism, it is a force, a wind, impatience, passion, etc., yet in sucha way that it exists not in one instant but in a succession of instants, for ifit existed in one instant, it could be depicted or painted. That it exists in asuccession of instants expresses its epic character, but still it is not epicin the stricter sense, for it has not reached the point of words; itcontinually moves within immediacy. Consequently, it cannot be presented inpoetry, either. The only medium that can present it is music. Music has anelement of time in itself but nevertheless does not take place in time exceptmetaphorically. It cannot express the historical within time (p.56f.).

Next the speaker decides to consider a single person as a representativefrom different groups of unhappy souls. There is a person who hopes for eternallife. He is unhappy if he lives only for the future, but happy if his hope isactualized in the present. There is a young girl who laments that her lover hasbeen unfaithful to her. She will grieve in the act of recollection, which, aswe have said, lies within Kierkegaard's sphere of the esthetic. Job isconsidered, who lost everything gradually. There is the father of the prodigalson, who lost his dear son. The speaker closes espousing several blessings onhis hearers, most of which involve power over others, or more importantly, apromise that others will not have power over them.

He says that after some time passed, he found that his beloved was engagedto someone else. She tells him that since she did not ever love him, her newfiancé is actually her first love. At this point the story seems tofollow Kierkegaard's own life, since he was engaged to Regine Olsen, and afterhe left her, she was soon found to be engaged to another. After this interlude,he returns to tell us of his encounter with the performance, and how he finallypublished his review. He then addresses the plot of Scribe's The FirstLove in some detail. His conclusion is that it is the only perfect play byScribe. It improves the more often it is seen.

Idleness, we are accustomed to say, is the root of all evil. Toprevent this evil, work is recommended.... Idleness as such is by no means aroot of evil; on the contrary, it is truly a divine life, if one is notbored.... My deviation from popular opinion is adequately expressed by thephrase "rotation of crops." The method I propose does not consist in changingthe soil but, like proper crop rotation, consists in changing the method ofcultivation and the kinds of crops. Here at once is the principle oflimitation, the sole saving principle in the world. The more a person limitshimself, the more resourceful he becomes (p. 289, 291).

Our author recommends asking less from life, randomly approaching life, inan almost dadaistic sense, attending only to accidents instead of main themes.He describes a man so boring that he could only enjoy his company by focussingon the enormous bead of sweat that formed on his nose. He further recommendsthe use of recollection to enjoy the experiences of life. The recommendation totemper and control one's thoughts and experiences, and the approval ofidleness, is Epicurean (see introduction to Either/Or above). In sum,our author recommends taking charge of all of one's experiences and reactions.It reminds one of the popular dictum that he who hopes for nothing will neverbe disappointed.

July 3: A plain and simple engagement is the best of all means, themost suitable for the purpose. She will perhaps believe her own ears even lesswhen she hears me make a prosaic declaration of love, also ask for her hand,even less than if she listened to my ardent eloquence, imbibed my poisonousintoxicating potion, heard her heart pound at the thought of an elopement. Thebanefulness of an engagement is always the ethical in it. The ethical is justas boring in scholarship as in life. What a difference! Under the esthetic sky,everything is buoyant, beautiful, transient; when ethics arrives on the scene,everything becomes harsh, angular, infinitely langeweilig [boring]. Butin the strictest sense an engagement does not have ethical reality such asmarriage has; it has validity only ex consensu gentium [by consensus ofthe people]. This ambiguity can be very advantageous for me (p.367).

Part two, the "or" part, was written by B, otherwise known as the judge, or Judge William, who writes on marriage. He is also the "Married Man" of the second (ethical) part of Stages on Life's Way, entitled "Reflections on Marriage". He symbolizes the ethical stage in his advocacy of marriage, which concept, as we have said elsewhere, is a forward-looking commitment known as repetition (see Repetition), contrasted with the backward-looking (esthetic) concept of recollection. B responds to the documents written by A, asserting that the esthete's life is selfish, living only for the moment in dissipation. Stylistically, just as A is given to prolixity, the judge is even more wordy to the point of tedium. W. Lowrie explains that this was necessary, that Kierkegaard needed to unleash, like an expectoration, the great abundance of ideas in his mind.

My Friend [that is, author A of Either/Or Part One]....Thereare two things that I must regard as my particular task: to show the estheticmeaning of marriage and to show how the esthetic in it may be retained despitelife's numerous hindrances....for I am still within my calling, I who, myself amarried man, battle on behalf of marriage.... [My wife] is the only one I haveever loved, the first, and there is one thing for which I pray to God with mywhole heart, that he will give me the strength never to want to love anyother.... All feelings, even the highest religious ones, can take on a certainindolence if one is always alone with them. In her presence I am simultaneouslypriest and congregation (p. 8ff.).

The second chapter of Either/Or Part Two is entitled "The Balance Between the Esthetic and the Ethical in the Development of the Personality". The judge begins by accusing A of not being able to make the either/ordecision, that he is non-committal. The judge thus reinforces that the ethicalstage is one of commitment (repetition), while the esthetic stage is dreamilyconnected to the past, or even to the moment.

Your choice is an esthetic choice, but an esthetic choice is nochoice. On the whole, to choose is an intrinsic and stringent term for theethical. Wherever in the stricter sense there is a question of an Either/Or,one can always be sure that the ethical has something to do with it. The onlyabsolute Either/Or is the choice between good and evil, but this is alsoabsolutely ethical. The esthetic choice is either altogether immediate, andthus no choice, or it loses itself in a great multiplicity.... Therefore, theethical choice is in a certain sense much easier, much simpler, but in anothersense it is infinitely more difficult. The person who wants to decide his lifetask ethically does not ordinarily have such a wide range; the act of choosing,however, is much more meaningful to him (p. 166f.).

A masterpiece of duality, Either/Or is a brilliant exploration of the conflict between the aesthetic and the ethical - both meditating ironically and seductively upon Epicurean pleasures, and eloquently expounding the noble virtues of a morally upstanding life.

Kierkegaard leaves for Berlin after splitting with Regina Olsen. During this time, he loses himself in philosophy and attends the philosopher Schelling's lectures opposing Hegel. Along with this, he works on a strange book that he publishes under the pseudonym Victor Eremita. The book will make him famous and he writes most of the book between Berlin and Copenhagen. The book's title, Either/Or is arguably more important than the entire book, because it is the phrase that is mostly closely associated with Kierkegaard after its publication. It represents him well because he stands for decisive choices between the practical alternatives of life. 041b061a72


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