Saturday, April 07, 2007

The Power Which Posited Us From Two Different Perspectives

There is a wonderful documentary film named Emmanuel's Gift which tells of the overcoming spirit and triumph of a handicapped boy from Ghana who grew to be a man that is inspiring those who are largely discarded and considered accursed in his society, the handicapped, to take courage and to believe and live joyously and overcoming though given a difficult lot in life. The film introduces you to others that have had in some ways even starker challenges- a man hit by a car twice, the founder of an association for handicapped athletes shows an amazing spirit of faith and overcoming. I think of this in relationship to my reading of Kierkegaard today who also had his own personally gigantic struggles in which it seems he overcame in his Christian faith. Kierkegaard describes the psychology of a kind of despair that one is tempted to in suffering a misfortune, and as part of his overcoming he is able to to diagnose it, it seems to me, to some extent, to discern the sorrowful state and to affirm the good instead.

"A self which in despair is determined to be itself winces at one pain or another which simply cannot be taken away or separated from its concrete self. Precisely upon this torment the man directs his whole passion, which at last becomes a demoniac rage. Even if at this point God in heaven and all his angels were to offer to help him out of it- no, now he doesn't want it, now it is too late, he once would have given everything to be rid of this torment but was made to wait, now that's all past, now he would rather rage against everything, he, the one man in the whole of existence who is the most unjustly treated, to whom it is especially important to have his torment at hand, important that no one should take it from him- for thus he can convince himself that he is in the right. This at last becomes so firmly fixed in his head that for a very peculiar reason he is afraid of reternity- for the reason, namely, that it might rid him of his (demoniacally understood) infinite advantage over other men, his (demoniacally understood) justification for being what he is. It is himself he wills to be; he began with the infinite abstraction of the self, and now at last he has become so concrete that it would be an impossibility to be eternal in that sense, and yet he wills in despair to be himself. Ah, demoniac madness! He rages most of all at the thought that eternity might get it into its head to take his misery from him!"- Soren Kierkegaard, Sickness Unto Death, (p. 205-206).

This and other sections in this tightly weaved masterwork (which Kierkegaard said was one of the two best things he had ever written) describes a Christian psychology that it seems to me is a valuable curative given by God to help bring us out of Nietzshcean and Freudian diminuitive psychology. It seems that the greatest and most effective answers to the challenge of Nietzsche is in providing the profounder, more authentic psychology, something which it seems to me Doestoevsky and Kierkegaard provide essential aids for. Part of what I think surpasses Nietzsche in Kierkegaard and Doestoevsky is a grasp of a structure that is more comprehensive and sturdy enough to withstand the tempestuous blast of the arch fury of someone like Nietzsche which it seems is described by Kierkegaard here and even more precisely in the following pages some of which I will quote here:

"it does not even in defiance or defiantly will to be itself, but to be itself in in spite; it does not even will in defiance to tear itself free from the Power which posited it, it wills to intrude on this Power in spite...Revolting against the whole of existence, it thinks it has hold of a proof against it, against its goodness. This proof the despairer thinks he himself is, and that is what he wills to be, therefore he wills to be himself, himself with his torment, in order with this torment to protest against the whole of existence. Whereas the weak despairer will not hear about what comfort eternity has for him, so neither will such a despairer hear about it, but for a different reason, namely because this comfort would be the destruction of him as an objection against the whole of existence..."

(He goes on to make an imaginative analogy here.)

Kierkegaard, like Doestoevsky and Nietzsche, wrote out of experience of intense personal suffering (much of it brought on themselves). Nietzsche had an evangelical Christian father who when Nietzsche was young boy had fallen and suffered brain damage and for a period of time had gone insane before he died. Called the "little pastor" as a child, Nietzsche grew into a virulently anti-Christian writer- perhaps more so than has ever occurred before. What it seems to me is that he excercises in a kind of systematic way an option God has left open to humans and made of himself an objection to God, willing to be by his very self an objection to "the Power which posited him". Kierkegaard was inflicted with a spinal curvature and his relationship too the oppostie sex is said to have amounted to a black comedy. This is not to equate the suffering. How are we to measure the suffering of a person?(I eschew utilitarian calculations of pain as imaginary mathematics. ) In the writings of Kierkegaard, which I am a new comer to, it seems one sees a monumental struggle ending with faith in the living God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. He too suffered but rather than succumbing to the despair of being that he describes, probably with no conscious relationship to Nietszche (I have no idea if they were ever aware of each other's writings), it seems he found a vantage point, like the best kind of Danish mountain climber, the vantage point from which to rightly reject the despair that leads to death with which he had been tempted. He testified to a reality and authenticity that are in opposition to Nietzsche's account. So did Doestoevsky who wrote once that his "hallelujah was born out of a furnace of doubt." Nietzsche said of Doestoevsky that "he is the only psychologist from which I have anything to learn." Nietzsche was not all wrong. He had deep perceptions which is why he is largely worthy of his aura of danger. But Kierkegaard and Doestoevsky, in my judgment, had greater and more psychologically and mentally and authentically advantageous perspectives.

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