Wednesday, May 16, 2012
Critique of ideal representations
The normative goal that the self has must go through a critique of what is normative. Kierkegaard says that it is not possible to speak of the “true” self. The problem with a normative self (normative meaning norms for actions, relating to standard for our actions). The problem with a normative identity consists of the peculiar circumstance that identity has the possibility of not being there. Not being oneself is a disparity, a lack of conformity with oneself. Anti-Climacus disposition is however even more radical. His negative method is grounded in thinking that the normative destination of the self can not be used directly, because of the self-relation. The task of becoming oneself lies not only in the future, but engulfs also into the past in what already has been and in the relationships of the present. The problem is not only to realize an ideal task.
Anti-Climacus writes that the problem begins already when one wants to be someone else than one is. In other words, the problem is the ideal representations a person sets for him/herself. One can use such representations in order not to acknowledge oneself. Our ideal representations makes it possible for us to be someone else than we are. Ideal representations can lead us away from the task of becoming ourselves.
When Kierkegaard speaks of shame (“fortvilelse”) as a disparity in the self-relation, it become obvious to interpret it in such a way that what one is, does not correspond to the representations one self has about who one should be. But Anti-Climacus localizes the problem even further back, in what a person wants him/herself to be. The disparity of shame is established also by the ideal representations a person makes. The problem is not that we lack ideal representations about what we can be, but that we want to be something else than we are. The Kierkegaard researcher James Kellenberger makes an interesting association to Friedrich Nietzsche here when he writes that
For the “Ubermensch” to come, for his vision to be realized – for human beings til become
consscious creators of their values and meing – he (Nietzsche) saw that God must die at even the deepest psychological level. (Kellenberger 1997, 79)
All this means that the problem with normatively is doubled. According to Anti-Climacus, we can not apply a normative destination for the human subjectivity directly. It must be done indirectly. Not only through the negativity of shame, but also through the problem that lie in setting an ideal for oneself. In short, the normative destination must undergo a critique of the ideals. Formulated subject theoretically, a person’s ideal representations about oneself must be broken before one can be oneself.
Kierkegaards ethics is an ethic of ethic critique, and can be found in Works of Love (Kjerlighedens Gjerninger 1847/1963 volume 12) and in Sickness unto Death. These to books have close relationships and should be read together. A critique of ideal representations are common for both books. Kierkegaard writes that we can use our ideal representations to hold reality away from ourselves, both our own and others. Both books have as a motive a suspicion through ideal representations. They ask what we use these representations for. Works of Love (Written by Kierkegaard and not by a pseudonym author) is mostly about a battle between these representations, and both books say that the way we look at ourselves, our self picture, and the way we view others – must be broken so that one can humbly receive oneself – and the other. It is especially with this critique of ideal representations that these to books can be called Kierkegaards ethics of love.
The disposition between Works of Love and Sickness unto Death interweave and the two books should be read backwards. Sickness unto Death puts forth the self-relation which is assumed in Works of Love, namely that what a person does to others does also something to oneself. And likewise, Works of Love brings shame (“fortvilelse”) into concepts which Sickness unto Death analyses and deepens the answers about shame that is described in Sickness unto Death.
Even though Kierkegaard has a critical eye on ideal representations, he still holds onto the normative destination of being a human being. The opening passage in Sickness unto Death is normative. A human being is spirit and as spirit a self. A person shall become oneself because one only be oneself by becoming oneself. Anti-Climacus makes a clear measure for the normative in his analysis of shame, namely the destination of becoming oneself. But it is also a destination of what it means to be a human being.
The normative destination
What makes this disposition so remarkable is that it turns back to what the human being already is. If the selfs task is to become ones self, than this means to become concrete or to grow together with oneself. But this means that if is to become what it already is. A person can only become itself by breaking with its destination. To become oneself means to come to oneself. A person is a self in the meaning that it already relates to itself. This is a perspective that has a conclusive meaning in the analysis of shame (“fortvilelse”)
One can ask oneself in what way is a human being already a self, when it is given the task of becoming oneself? This seems like two of the same thing. Anti-Climacus does not answer this question directly. In one way a person that Anti-Climacus describes having shame, is already a self. This shows itself in the negative possibility which is there all the way from the start, namely selflessness (being without a self). What does it mean that a person already is a self? How does the normative destination relate to the negative possibility of selflessness, which in a radical way affects this destination?