Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Dissertation on shame. Chapther 4.1.2 Synthesis

4.1.2 Synthesis

Synthesis is in my opinion a key word in Kierkegaard’s text. But what does he mean when he says that a human being is a synthesis? Kierkegaard argues that humans are “middle beings” (Danish: Mellomvesen) between the animals and the angels (Kierkegaard 1844/1981) and between things and ideas (Kierkegaard 1846/1992). This means that we face a task of synthesis; the goal of synthesis is to become a self. “But being one’s self means being concrete. But being concrete means becoming both finite and infinite, for that which is to become concrete is indeed a synthesis” (Kierkegaard 1849/1980: 30). However, synthesis and becoming a self is not the same thing.

If the task of the self is to become a self, then this involves becoming concrete; binding together all the different aspects of the self into a coherent whole and thus becoming what one always already is. A person can only become a self by discarding ideal representations. To become ones self means to come to oneself. A person becomes a self when the self relates to itself; with the growth of self-awareness. This perspective is essential in my analysis of the concept of shame.

The question of the nature of the human being remains unanswered. To say that we are a synthesis is to point to the task of synthesizing. The self is a relation that relates to itself. The problem is how a synthesis can hold the heterogeneousness or “in betweenness” of the human being together, but the self is precisely what keeps it together. The will is synonymous with the self – as is the possible lack of will; it is this will that binds together all of one’s different aspects into a coherent whole. This means that it is the self that makes the synthesis a synthesis. One of the participants in my study, Linda, explains that her shame is rooted in her relation to herself and to others. Her self-description seems quite negative, but Linda has become conscious of her conscience, she has come to be her self by being in conflict with her self, so to speak.

Linda_1:         Yeah. My feelings about who I am and what others think of me, that’s my shame. Umm ((Presses her lips together)) and that leads again to feeling guilty about things that happen around me. Guilty in relation to my children, to my husband and ((Puts her fist under her chin and looks away)) umm ((Presses her thumb against her front teeth and looks away)) (.) if anything goes wrong here it’s always my fault.

Linda speaks here of guilt while she at the same time seems to shows non-verbal markers (appendix 20) of shame  by pressing her lips together and looking away while she speaks. Shame is often considered as a painful emotion but speaking dialectically, shame is both positive and negative. The ability to feel shame is what separates humans from animals. The awareness of this “sickness of the self”, as Kierkegaard (1849/1980: 13) calls it, is the advantage moral humans have over immoral ones. Being cured of it is the concern of ethics. The advantage of being able to feel shame is thus full of ambiguity. Shame involves a disparity in the synthesis of the self; in the process where the self relates itself to itself.

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