Friday, May 18, 2012

A human being is a synthesis

Synthesis is a key word used be Søren Kierkegaard. But what does it mean that man is a synthesis? Vigilius Haufniensis and Johannes Climacus (two of Søren Kierkegaards many pseudonymous authors) both write that man is "a middle being" (“Mellomvesen”). Vigilius Haufniensis writes that man is between animals and angels (The Concept of Dread p. 234) and Johannes Climacus writes that man is between things and ideas (Postscript II, p35). Being a middle being means that man stands over him/herself as a problem. Synthesis is a problem, or a task. The destination of the synthesis leads back to being a self. “But to be oneself is to be concrete. But to be concrete is neither to become finite or infinite, for that which is to become concrete is indeed a synthesis” (Sickness unto Death, p.30). Nevertheless a synthesis and a self is not the same thing. This is clear in the citation below
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. A human being is a synthesis of the infinite and finite, of the temporal and the eternal, of freedom and necessity, in short, a synthesis. A synthesis is a relation between two. Considered in this way, is still not a self. (Sickness unto Death, p.13) 
The unspoken question is what is a human being. But this is also the unspoken question for the whole investigation for Anti-Climacus. To say that man is a synthesis is to point to the problem and the problem is exactly the synthesis. A self is the fact that the relation relates to itself. The problem is how the heterogeneousness in the synthesis is held together, but the self is precisely what keeps it together. This means that it is the self that makes the synthesis a synthesis.
            Vigilius Haufnienisis pulls in a third element into the self relation. This third is the spirit which holds up the heterogeneous relation. This means that it is the spirit as being the third element which holds the heterogeneous together. But this is exactly what the self is doing. That a human being already is made up means that it stands in front of the task of growing together with itself.
            The fact that a human being is a synthesis is both a condition and a normative goal. It is as a person a middle being, put together of different proportions, but the task is to try to get this different proportions to hang together. The synthesis has a hidden but radical meaning, namely that a person as a middle being stands in front of him/herself as someone else than oneself. The connection between what a person is put together of, spirit and body, gives itself as a problem by the fact that the body has its outmost meaning in sexuality. It is remarkable that Vigilius Haufnenisis pulls sexuality into The Concept of Dread as he does. He puts sexuality and history together, the history that sets ones identity at risk. He writes “There is no history without sexuality” (The Concept of Dread. P. 142). What that is important here is that it is in passion that a person is considered a relation to something else than oneself, even as being someone else to oneself, because it is in the passionate relationship that it is removed form oneself. Subjectivity is outmost passion
Christendom is spirit, spirit is passion, passion is subjectivity, subjectivity is outmost passion, in its climax indefinitely personally interested passion for its eternal salvation. (Postscript p 32)
And Johannes Climacus writes further on that
Subjectivity culminates in passion; Christendom is the paradox, paradox as passion fit nicely together and the paradox completely in the existence uttermost best (Postscript, p 192)
And a last citation from Johannes Climacus
An existing person cannot be in two places at the same time, to be both subject and object. The closest he can come being two places at the same time is in passion, but passion lasts only a moment, and passion is exactly the highest position for subjectivity (Postscript, p.166)
Sincerity most be understood as self understanding. This is where Kierkegaard makes a definitive difference between sincerity and reticence. Anti-Climacus says that “reticence is what one might say is sincerity where the lock is jammed”[1] (Sickness unto Death, p.72). Sincerity is subjectivity which has come to itself. Sincerity is sincerity towards existing, that is it understood with oneself. But sincerity can also be turned towards reticence. If sincerity does not speak, communicate, then it is reticence.
In the same way as sincerity can be jammed, also passion can go wrong. This is very clear in the analysis of negative phenomena done in The Works of Love. Hate and envy are passions, but distorted, because here one circles around oneself and at the same time looses oneself. Sincerity and passion are not just destinations for subjectivity as a self relation. They are themselves questions about which character the self relation has. One decides oneself in passion and sincerity. But how? Is this a motion only personal or egocentric, free or imprisoned? Sincerity and passion are subjectivity determined emphatically.

A theory of synthesis
The analysis of the different characters shame can have is split in two, a theory of synthesis and a theory of consciousness. The theory of synthesis is negative and therefore decided normatively. The “…task is to become itself, which can be done only through the relationship with God. To become oneself is to become concrete. But to become concrete is neither to become finite and to become infinite, for that which is to become concrete is indeed a synthesis” (Sickness unto Death, p.29-30). To become concrete is to grow together with oneself (Latin: “con- crescere”). Johannes Climacus writes that ethically speaking “…it is every individuals task to become a whole person” (Postscript, p.48). This is something that Vigilius Haufieniensis already has emphasized in saying that ethics suggests itself “…as a task for everybody in such a way that it will make him into a true and whole human being” (The Concept of Dread, p.117)
            Johannes Climacus says that “elements of subjectivity” (Postscript, p. 49) are fantasy, thinking and emotions. Anti-Climacus refers especially to the role which fantasy plays in the double movement of the synthesis. Fantasy as an endlessness of creativity makes our emotions, acknowledgments and intentions possible, seemingly through willing so, it is a question of willing to be oneself or not.
            Løgstrup (1968) says that the core in the transcendental epistemology is the claim that fantasy is the most basic capacity in human beings. He says that this is also Kierkegaard’s epistemology (“Oppgør med Kierkegaard”, p.148). With Anit-Climacus it is not a transcendental but existential synthesis. Anti-Climacus describes a synthesis which fails and a fantasy which is missing or has become fantastic. “…by not venturing it is so terribly easy to lose what would be hard to lose, however much one lost by risking, and in any case never this way, so easily, so completely, as if it were nothing at all – namely, oneself” (Sickness unto Death, p.34 ). The radical lose consists of losing oneself as if it were nothing. The lost isn’t noticed or seems to be forgotten.
            The finiteness of shame has therefore a radical significance, which differs from the symmetrical form which seems to exist between different forms for shame. The reason for is that the synthesis is itself asymmetrical. The indefinite is, as with Hegel, the over grasping element. It grasps over to the other, the finite and to the relation between the indefinite and the infinite. The infinite is in this meaning the self, as being over grasping and connecting.
            Anti-Climacus says that infiniteness of shame also can be found in the quiet lose of one self. The person that has become fantastic for one self and therefore in shame can “seem to be a man, be occupied with temporal matters…The greatest hazard of all, losing the self, can occur very quietly in the world, as if it was nothing at all” (Sickness unto Death, p.32). Finite and infinite forms of shame are in real life mixed together and it is not just one or the other.
            The description of possibility’s shame makes clear the difficulty in and the task of becoming oneself. The problem is that it is just oneself one is to become. The task is that one is bent back to oneself. In the world of fantasy the infinite possibility comes forth. It becomes a shame when this possibility is not bent back towards oneself. In the possibility the self  runs away from itself, or as Anti-Climaus puts it; “But if possibility outruns necessity so that the self runs away from itself in possibility, it has no necessity to which it is to return; this is possibility’s shame. The self becomes an abstract possibility” (Sickness unto Death, p.35-36). Possibility’s shame lacks necessities understood as that which holds one back, or even more precisely, one lacks “…the power to obey, to submit to the necessity in one’s life, to what may be called one’s limitations” (Sickness unto Death, p.36).
            In the description of necessity’s shame it is in the same way made clear about the task of possibilities or more correctly the decision for the possibility, “Necessity’s shame is to lack possibility” (Sickness unto Death, p.37). Necessity’s shame is describes in the same fashion as finitudes shame as resignation, where one loses oneself. Without a possibility even the necessary becomes distorted. The possibility becomes abstract and loses its significance as possibility for oneself and necessity is what one infinitely comes back to in the self-regulation.
            In the interplay between the normative destination and the negative description there is formulated an insight which says that the task is to become oneself, and this demands that one bends back to oneself. First in the frames of the analysis of the theory of consciousness will it become clear that lays in ones self presentation and in ones will a resistance against becoming oneself.
            All shame is per definition conscious. How can one then speak of a shame that is not conscious? Is a unconscious shame really shame? Anti-Climacus says that shame at a minimum is signified as “…a state that – yes, one could humanly be tempted almost to say that in a kind of innocence it does not even know that it is shame” (Sickness unto Death, p.42). Shames minimum is the unconscious shame, the person in shame is not conscious that he is in shame. This is not actually shame. But Anti-Climacus also says “That this condition is nevertheless shame and is properly designated as such manifests what in the best sense of the word may be called the obstinacy of truth. Veritas est index sui et falsi[2] ” (Sickness unto Death, p.42). Merold Westphal (1996) is of the meaning that unconscious shame can be compared with Sartres concept of “bad faith” (Mauvaise foi) and can be understood as a generalization of Kierkegaards description of unconscious shame.
            To a certain degree one makes oneself ignorant. In ignorance there hides a will to not wanting to know, which Anti-Climacus describes “There is indeed in all darkness and ignorance a dialectical interplay between knowing and willing” (Sickness unto Death, p.48). A person in shame can therefore make himself ignorant of his own situation. This unconscious shame is not a minimum shame understood as a simple figure at the starting line. On the contrary this is a very complicated and dangerous possibility, namely an attempt of not understanding oneself as spirit, “…the anxiety that characterizes spiritlessness is recognized precisely by its spiritless sense of security” (Sickness unto Death, p.44). Anti-Climacus identifies spiritlessness with unconscious shame when he says “An individual is furthest from being conscious of himself as spirit when he is ignorant of being in shame. But precisely this – not to be conscious of oneself as a spirit – is despair, which is spiritlessness” (Sickness unto Death, p.44-45)

A theory of consciousness    
There are two forms for actual shame. The first is being in shame for not willing to be one self and the second is being in shame for willing to be oneself. The first can be called a shame over weakness and the second a shame over ones weakness. The difference lies in the degree of consciousness, and with this begins a theory of consciousness, which differs from the description of the not actual shame which was synthesis theoretical. Shame is really having “lost the eternal and himself” (Sickness unto Death, p.61). Anti-Climacus also takes and turns the figure around, he who has the immediateness of shame, against oneself. It is a contradiction between what the figures means to do (to feel shame over something earthly) and then what he really does with it (feels shame over the eternal). Insight in the shame of weakness (that it is a weakness to feel shame over something earthly) gives a possibility for turning away from shame towards faith. But instead one holds fast to feeling shame by not willing to acknowledge ones weakness. “The person in shame himself understands that it is weakness to feel shame. But now, instead of definitely turning away from shame to faith and humbling himself under his weakness, he entrenches himself in despair and shames himself over his weakness” (Sickness unto Death, p.61). This leads to an ambiguous self relation, “… it hates itself in a way” (Sickness unto Death, p.62). One will not recognize ones own weakness, but this is because one is “…being self enough to love itself” (Sickness unto Death, p.63). One is in one way to proud to recognize ones one weakness. This ambiguousness is called reticence[3] (“Indesluttethed”).
            The reticence of shame is a ambiguous self relation, because one will not be oneself and at the same time has enough self to love oneself. In an accelerating motion this ambiguousness increases potentially, willing oneself and not willing oneself.
            This ambiguousness reaches its climax in the demonic shame, which is “…the most intensive form for shame: in shame to will to be oneself (Sickness unto Death, p.73). In the demonic shame one hold on to ones shame, one holds it “closed up in reticence” (Sickness unto Death, p.73).
            There are clearly methodological similarities between the figures of consciousness in Sickness unto Death and Hegel’s The Phenomenology of Spirit (1977). In all of Kierkegaard’s works written by pseudonyms and in his upbuilding works, phenomenology plays a decisive role. But in Sickness unto Death the phenomenology becomes more specific, as descriptive and analytical representation of figures of consciousness where there in the progress is shown what shame is an where it is shown through the figures themselves, because there is in the representation an interplay between what we see and what the figures themselves mean.
            The two sidedness which we find in the description of the figures of consciousness creates big problems. First the unconscious shame and then the pure immediate form for shame. The difference between the two is that not actual shame says itself to be free from shame, while the immediate form for shame calls itself for shame. In the not actual shame one says to be without shame, and there can not be created a starting figure in the process. Instead it makes itself into a complicated and dangerous possibility, which radically defies the goal for the process, which is to become conscious of what shame is. The fact that this radical possibility is there already before hand, shows the negative colors of the description.
            The immediate form for shame misunderstands itself when he means that his shame comes from an outside, external source, but he still calls himself in shame. Being in shame over something earthly shows itself to be shame over the eternal. Or put in another way: shame over the eternal is what feeling shame over something earthly means.
            It is important to se how Anti-Climacus describes a figure of consciousness which already is talking about himself. What keeps the figures together is consciousness. Here we find an important difference between the becoming of self consciousness in Sickness unto Death and The Phenomenology of Spirit. The progress in Sickness unto Death is negative. It is a description of a self consciousness which comes forth, but in the increasing motion shame also becomes more intensive and the task falls short. The negative and broken significance of the process hangs together with the fact that this is not only figures of consciousness. The big difference from The Phenomenology of Spirit is namely that shames different figures not only consist of consciousness but also will. The basic connection between consciousness and will in shame, makes the process continue further than necessary in order to attain insight in what it means to feel shame. The conclusive factor in shame is will or reluctance (lack of will) to be ones self.
            Shame is a unity of suffering and action. Anti-Climacus talks about the dialectical relation in the weakness of shame and the strength of shame. There is namely a power in the weakness of shame and a weakness in the strength of shame. It may seem as though Anti-Climacus identifies weakness with suffering and strength with action. Anti-Climacus reveals also a process where the weakness of shame is succeeded by the strength of shame (Sickness unto Death, p.50). Theunissen (1993) means that man must experience (“Erfarung”) something that he suffers from if he is to feel shame. Something brings one into shame. But shame is not just to be shamed over something (suffering), it is also to give this something an eternal meaning (action).
            Anti-Climacus starts by being in shame over something and ends with the shame over not willing to be oneself. The core in the analysis of shame is “…that he has lost the eternal and himself” (Sickness unto Death, p.61). Shame comes by the subjects’ reflection over oneself. The strength of shame is that “The person in shame himself understands that it is weakness to make the earthly so important, that it is a weakness to fell shame” (Sickness unto Death, p.61). But he still goes on feeling shame, in spite of his self understanding and “…his whole point of view is turned around: he now becomes more clearly conscious of his shame, that he feels shame over the eternal, that he feels shame over himself” (Sickness unto Death, p.61). Anti-Climacus holds forth that this new form for shame comes from within the self. So does all shame really, but the difference is now that it is all about the person in shame. He is in shame over himself for being in shame.
            What does it mean that shame is really to be in shame of oneself? Arne Grøn (1997) means that it is possible to show a “second” ethics in Kierkegaard through reading Sickness unto Death and The Works of Love together. These to books must be read together he says. The analysis of shame plays a central role also in The Works of Love especially in connection with what the right self relation consists of.
            When Anti-Climacus claims that shame is a disparity in the self relation, the questions is what kind of self relation is in disparity. The predisposition, that shame is a self relation which falls short, demands a closer stipulation of in which sense the self relation is in shame. Søren Kierkegaard describes in The Works of Love how love can become shame. “Shame is the disparity in a person’s innermost Being…Shame is lack of eternity” (The Works of Love, p.45). In shame one makes oneself guilty. Kierkegaard understands shame as a feeling of desperation, a hopelessness, which Anti-Climacus describes as “ …the torment of shame is precisely this inability to die. Thus it has more in common with the situation of a mortally sick person when he lies struggling with death and cannot die. Thus to be sick unto death is to be unable to die, yet not as if there were no hope of life; no, the hopelessness is that there is not even the ultimate hope, death. When death is the greatest danger, we hope for life, but when we learn to know the even greater danger, we hope for death. When the danger is to great that death becomes the hope, then shame is the hopelessness of not even being able to die” (Sickness unto Death, p.18). Shame is here stated as hopelessness. To “…have lost the eternal” (Sickness unto Death, p.61) means to have lost hope in that which rescues and restores.

[1] In the Hongs translation they translate this sentence differently, “…inclosing reserve, or what could be called as inwardness with a jammed lock”. I disagree with their translation firstly because “reticence” seems more correct and understandable than “inclosing reserve” for the state of being that Kierkegaard calls “Indesluttethed”, and secondly because “sincerity” is also more adequate than “inwardness” for the feeling of “Inderlighed” that Kierkegaard speaks of here. The Hongs constant use of “inwardness” instead of “sincerity” in Sickness unto Death is in my opinion a misleading translation of the Danish word “Inderlighed”.
[2] “Truth is the criterion of itself and of the false”
[3] The Hongs translate the Danish word “Indesluttethed” with inclosing reserve in Sickness unto Death.

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