Monday, May 14, 2012

Shame as a sickness of the self

Kierkegaard[i] uses the concept of shame in one way or another in a total of 176 times in his complete works (not including his notes). In seven of his books the concept is not used at all. It is in his book The Works of Love (Kjerlighetens Gjerninger, 1847, CW 12) that he uses the concept most often, 59 times. My anticipation was that I would find shame used most often in the book he wrote about despair, called The Sickness unto Death (Sygdommen til Døden, 1849. CW 15). But here he uses the concept shame only once. Why Kierkegaard focuses on shame 59 times in a book about love and only once in a book about despair is for me not an accidental circumstance but intentional.
This is a notion that I will comment on further in this chapter. It is my theory that the book about despair describes the concept of shame in great detail and that the book about love shows a way of being freed from the suppression felt by being shamed. I will use my interpretation of Kierkegaard as a foundation for my understanding of the concept of shame, and show how a new light can be thrown upon leading theory in psychology and sociology that are concerned with shame by using the existentialistic philosophy of the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard.
Søren Kierkegaard published the book Sickness unto Death under the pseudonym of Anti-Climacus. The book was written in just three months, March-May 1848, and he waited over a year before releasing it on July 30th 1849. Some say that this book is Kierkegaards most mature piece of work, and even call it his masterpiece (Come 1995, Grøn 1997). The first few pages of this book are reflected in all of Kierkegaards remaining works, both those written with pseudonym authors and those in his own name.
Kierkegaard had used the pseudonym Johannes Climacus two times before as author for his more philosophical entiteled books. Johannes Climaus is a man how declares himself as not being a Christian, but instead being expectant and experimental. Johannes Climacus is the author of Philosophical Crumbles (Philosophiske Smuler, 1844, CW 6) and Completed Unscientific Postscript (Afsluttende uvidenskabelig Efterskrift, 1846, CW 9 and 10). Anti-Climaus is in many ways his opposite and declares himself for being a Christian. He is used as the author of Sickness unto Death and a book called Practice in Christianity (Indøvelse i Christendom, 1850, CW 16). The subtitle in Sickness unto Death is A Christian Psychological Expostion for Upbuilding and Awakening. In the English translation by Hong and Hong the term “psychological” is understood as a philosophic anthropology or a phenomenology of human possiblities (Sickness unto Death 1980, Hong and Hong translation, p 173).
            The book consists of two parts. I will concentrate on the first part of the book The Sickness unto Death is Despair. The second part of the book is called Despair is Sin. In the preface of the book, Anti-Climacus writes that all Christian knowing ought to be concerned. Anti-Climacus is the last of the pseudonyms invented by Kierkegaard and has a different character and function than the rest. Anti-Climacus was invented by invented by Kierkegaard to allow him to say what he wished to say as a Christian, keenly conscious of the gap between the ideals he wanted to express and the actuality of his experience. Anti-Climacus thus does not say things with which Kierkegaard would disagree, though he says many things Kierkegaard sees as directed towards his own failings (Evans 2006). When I refer to Kierkegaards writings, I will use the pseudonym authors that Kierkegaard has selected. This is because Kierkegaard himself explicitly disclaims the works of the pseudonyms:
            Thus in the pseudonymous works there is not a single word by me. I have no opinion about
them except as a third party, no knowledge of their meaning except as a reader, not a single private relation to them, because this would be impossible to have to a double-reflecting wessage. (Concluding Unscientific Postskript, CW volume 10, A First and Last Declaration, 286, my translation)
This theme about Kierkegaard and his pseudonym authors is extremely interesting and a great subject for further study, but it is not a part of my investigation here and now.
Concern, he writes, constitutes the relation to life, to the actuality of the personality. Despair on the other hand is a sickness, not a cure as some people might think. Kierkegaard means that we have to live with despair, and the only cure for despair is death.
            In my reading of Sickness unto Death, it becomes clear to me that Anti-Climacus is speaking of despair it coincides with what many call shame today. The book concentrates on what happens when we are not our selves or understood as not willing to be ourselves. I will later in this chapter put forth new research in psychology and sociology that build on this same way of thinking about shame, i.e. that shame is about how we perceive ourselves. I will therefore continue my exploration by replacing despair in Sickness unto Death with shame and see where this leads me. It could well be that Anti-Climacus used the more speak able concept of despair because shame is so difficult and even shameful for such an ethical man as Anti-Climacus to speak about directly. He therefore must use an indirect form for communication, and uses the most obvious consequence of shame, despair, when he is really taking about one of the most difficult emotions to speak about.
            The book starts by claiming that shame is the sickness unto death. Shame is a sickness of the self and Anti-Climacus writes that shame can therefore be threefold
  1. Shamed over not to be conscious of having a self (not shame in the strict sense)
  2. Shamed not willing to be oneself
  3. Shamed willing to be oneself
He then comes with a description of the concept of the self. This is not done directly, but indirectly by taking up the theme of despair, which I chose to understand as shame in my examination. Shame is understood as not being (or willing to be) ones self (Grøn, 1997). If shame is to be understood as a sickness of the self, it would seem necessary to have an understanding of what the self is. Many have in the last decades found renewed insight in what the self is through Anti-Climacus point of view (Pörn 1998). Anti-Climacus understanding of the self is so precise and logical that it could be characterized as algebraic in its precision and intensity (Come 1995).
A human being is spirit. But what is spirit? Spirit is the self. But what is the self? The self is a relation that relates itself to itself or is the relation’s relating itself to itself in the relation; the self is not the relation but is the relation’s relating itself to itself (Sickness unto Death 1962 p. 73, Hong and Hong translation 1980 p. 13).
The first word here, a human being, should be understood as the universal way of being for all humans that shines constantly in each and every individual even though all the differences also make each and every human unique. Kierkegaard often used the term “The Individual” (“Hiin Enkelte”) when addressing this universal human form for being in his books.
            Anti-Climacus formulates an equation, “A human being is spirit. But what is spirit? Spirit is the self”. Putting together spirit and self in this way, he leaves the tendency in earlier western thinking, by identifying the spiritual with a world as “anti-matter” and “the hereafter”, and at the same time does something somewhat sensational by saying that the spiritual is included in all aspects of life. This is likely a learning that Kierkegaard received from Hegel (i.e. that the spirit exceeds the totality of the human being). Man is according to Anti-Climacus a synthesis of infinity and finites. The self is the synthesis where finites is limiting and infinity is expanding. This assertion is built on Hegelian dialectics which assumes that two elements which bring forth a synthesis are opposites (thesis and anti-thesis) (Hegel 1977). But Kierkegaard states that Hegel was not concerned with qualitative oppositions. Opposites are for Hegel reconciled, mediated and always stay inside the immanence (i.e. existing in all parts of the created world).
            Then he asks “But what is the self?” The answer he gives establishes five conditions for the mature or realized self. These conditions are almost put forth in a prophetical fashion, where the one awaits and foresees the next. The first two can be seen in a humanistic frame, while the last three can be seen in a ethical/moral frame. The five conditions or qualifications can in short be summarized like this:
  1. The self is a relation.
  2. The self is a relation which relates to itself.
  3. The self, as a relation which relates itself to itself, is created by another (“et Andet”) and by relating itself to itself, relates also to this another.
  4. The self, as a relation which does not relate itself to itself and which does not relate itself to this another, finds itself in a double disparity of shame.
  5.  The self will find its shame completely cured when it rests transparently in the force that created it.
The double disparity of shame put forth in condition four means that there two forms of real shame. The first one relates to ones self, and the second relates to others. The formula for what kind of condition the self is in, is to relate itself to itself. To be ones self builds on the force which created it, which I understand as our ethical consciousness. A theological explanation here could say that Anti-Climacus is talking about God as the force that created us. I leave such theological interpretations to theologians, and chose here a more ethical terminology.
Pure dialectically, shame is both something positive and negative. The possibility of having this sickness is mans advantage over other animals. To be attentive of this sickness is the advantage moral humans have over unmoral ones. To be cured from this sickness is the concern of ethics. It is therefore an indefinite advantage to be able to feel shame. Shame is the disparity in the synthesis’ relationship which relates ones self to ones self.
            Someone feeling shame does not feel shame over something. Feeling shame over something is not shame, but a starting point, or as the doctor would say, the sickness has not yet shown itself. The formula for all shame is to be ashamed over ones self. People feeling shame will have a shamed way of being, they will be oneself in a shamed way. Those feeling shame feel that they are dying, yet know that they cannot die. This is what Anti-Climacus means by saying that shame is a sickness in the self, a sickness unto death.
            All people feel shame. The highest demand for a person is to be a self (Løgstrup 1991). The well informed doctor does not have an absolute belief in all the beliefs patients give him about their health. He has a different perspective on sickness than the patient does. Why is this? Because the doctor has a precise and wider understanding of what it means to be healthy and he evaluates those he meets there after. The self relates in the same way to shame. The self knows what shame is. Shame is dialectically different from sickness, because it is a sickness in the self. As soon as shame shows itself man was already shamed, it becomes clear for him that he has been shamed all his life. Shame is a destiny of the self. It relates to the indefinite and has therefore something indefinite in its dialectics. Shame is not only dialectically different from sickness, but in relation to shame all signs dialectical. Shame is when people are not aware of being a self. Shame is, because it is completely dialectical, the sickness that it is the greatest misfortune not to have. It is a gift, even though it is the most dangerous sickness to have when one does not want to be cured from it.
            Anti-Climacus goes on in Sickness unto Death to describe the self as freedom. Freedom is the dialectical in positions of possibility and necessity. The more consciousness one has - the more self. The more consciousness - the more will. The more will - the more self. A person without a will has no self. So according to Anti-Climacus, the more will a person has, the more self-consciousness he also will have.
            Our fantasy is an infinity making reflection. The self is reflection and fantasy is reflection. Fantasy is a representation of our self, which can be understood as the self’s possibility. Our fantasy makes all reflection possible, and therefore the intensity of our fantasy is the possibility of the self’s intensity.
While the indefinite shame is a lack of the definite, the definite shame is a lack of the indefinite, and this is because of the dialectical, that the self is a synthesis where the one is the others opposite.
A self without possibilities, feels shame and the same applies for the self without necessity. Possibilities necessity is lacking necessity, the same way as the shame of necessity is lacking possibilities. When a person is fainting he asks for water. When a person feels shame, then he needs a possibility. With a possibility the person feeling shame can begin to breathe again.
The personality is a synthesis of possibility and necessity. The more consciousness one has, the more intense the shame. In not being aware of ones shame, one is still not a self. But being aware of ones self is shameful, and selflessness. The degree of self-awareness increases the degree of shame.
The opposite of feeling shame is to believe. The formula for belief is to relate to ones self, and to be ones self is to have the self grounded in the moral foundation the self is built on. The shame of weakness is to be ashamed over not wanting to be ones self.
Being ashamed over the definite, the worldly, is pure immediateness, or immediateness with a quantitative reflection in it. To be ashamed is to lose infinity. This form of shame is to be ashamed over not willing to be ones self, or ashamed over wanting to be someone other than ones self, wanting to be a new self.
Immediateness does not really have a self, it does not know itself, and can therefore not know ones self. When the immediateness believes to have a reflection (self-reflection) in it, the shame is somewhat modified.
Being ashamed over the worldly, or something worldly, is the most common form for shame. The more thoroughly the reflection over shame becomes, the more rare this form of shame becomes.
Shame can either grow stronger to a higher form of lead to a belief/faith. To be ashamed over the worldly is the dialectical first impression of being ashamed over infinity or over ones self.
The self is double dialectical. Being ashamed of and over ones self. Anti-Climacus distinguishes between the acting self and the suffering self. This is the theme of the second part of Sickness unto Death called Despair (Shame) is Sin.

Sickness unto Death deals with not being ones self, or understood as not wanting to be ones self. It all begins with a question about what the self is, and the method quickly becomes quite negative. The book is about shame (“Fortvilelse”). In shame the person is not his/herself. So what is the connection here between question and theme? When the question about what the self is asked, Anti-Climacus uses a negative method by speaking of shame as not being ones self. The self here is not only determined as a relation but also as a process. The self is a self-relation, but not only a relation to itself, but that the relation relates to itself.
            What is this self that one relates to? Anti-Climacus translates the self to its concrete existence, that is to the life one has lived and the concrete possibilities that this existence gives. To become ones self means to take over ones self, what one already is, the existence that is ones own, and that one is ones self in relation to. The task is to grow together with ones self .
To become oneself is to become concrete. But to become concrete is neither to become finite nor to become infinite, for that which is to become concrete is indeed a synthesis. (Sickness unto Death, Hong and Hong translation, 30)
Every human being is primitively intended to be a self, designed to become himself. (Sickness unto Death, Hong and Hong translation, 33).
If one is to become oneself, the only way of doing so is to grow together with what that already is.
            When Anti-Climacus speaks about the self becoming itself, the question naturally arises about what is this self one shall become. The process part of the self (the self is about relating oneself) explains the relational part of the self (the self being a self-relation). The task is precisely that the individual by relating to oneself must acknowledge oneself. The point the Anti-Climacus is making is that the self is more than what meets the eye. Our consciousness shows that the self relates to itself – against itself. It experiences itself as one that has one already has related to.
            A reconstruction of what the self is, must go in two directions at the same time, both in direction of being a relation and in being a process. Anti-Climacus radical interpretation in the beginning of Sickness unto Death still stands: The self is as self-relation understood as a relation that relates to itself. But at the same time, the self-relation is concrete. A person is in this self-relation decided by oneself, but also against oneself. A person is oneself - and against oneself, at the same time.
            If we use only the process orientated view of the self (that the self is that the relationship relates itself to itself), than the result is that the self is only what it is and becomes itself through what it does. The self-relation is in a fundamental way a self-experience. By relating to oneself lies a passiveness (that one suffers under this relating to oneself) and a concreteness (that one is decided through and in spite of the way one relates in). This relation between the active and the passive, through doing and suffering, is what a theory about subjectivity is about.
            While Anti-Climacus analysis’s shame in Sickness unto Death, another pseudonym author, Johannes Climacus goes a different way in Concluding Unscientific Postscript (Afslutende uvitenskapelig Efterskrift 1849/1962, CW volumes 9 and 10). This book is about the problem of subjectivity and the problem raised here is that subjectivity is to become what it is, a subject. Instead of building subjectivity on shame, he here builds on the problem of making a decision. The problem of becoming oneself, as a subject, lies in making a decision and following this decision.
            The problem of subjectivity is turned the other way around in Sickness unto Death by asking what is comes from the outside and what comes from the inside. What happens to a person and what does s/he do? In what way is a person suffering (passive) and in what way is s/he acting (active)? That the Sickness unto Death is about the problem of subjectivity, is clear in that the analysis of shame as a point of balance lies between consciousness end will. Anti-Climacus makes the disparity of shame a question about consciousness and will.

The negative tendency in Sickness unto Death  
Anti-Climacus starts the book with short sentences about what the self is, namely a self-relation which relates itself to itself and then immediately latter speak of shame (“fortvilelse”) a disparity for the self. The question about the self goes directly to the subject of shame. Instead of directly showing what it means to be oneself, Anti-Climacus goes negatively forward by analysing the different faces of shame, i.e. the different ways in which a person does not become oneself and therefore is not oneself.
            What does this negative tendency mean? It is a connection between becoming oneself and not being oneself. The normative part (becoming oneself) goes through the negative part (shame, not being oneself) in the double meaning that the normative part ( to become oneself in order to be oneself) partly assumes and partly is an answer to the negative possibility (not being oneself). The task of becoming oneself supposes that a person can indeed loose oneself. A human being first becomes oneself by freeing oneself of shame. This negative method is not a superfluous detour, but the normative goal. To become oneself is to win (back) oneself, but in order to win oneself it is necessary first to loose oneself.

[i] The Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) died only 43 years of age but managed to write in his lifetime a total of 28 books, thousands of pages of notes and in his last few years of his life he fought a battle with the Danish church by writing a newspaper in 10 publications called the Moment (“Øyeblikket”). His complete works were first published in 1901-06, and revised in 1920-36 in a 15 volume edition. The revised version was published again in 1962-63 in 19 volumes. It is this edition I have used in my reading and interpretation of Kierkegaard. A new edition of his complete works are now being published in Danmark together with research volumes to all his writings. An enormous publication, the largest in Danmarks history, with over 50 volumes. But since this publication is still ongoing and not completed, I will use the last available edition called Søren Kierkegaard, Samlede Værker (Complete Works, hereafter noted as CW) in 19 volumes published in 1962-63. I will note specifically when I use books printed in English translations and when I use my own translations from the Danish edition.

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