Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Kierkegaard's Reflective Sorrow

I want to write something to those who've been burned... I will start out with a quote from a philosopher I've been reading and relate it back to love/ reflective sorrow.

"If someone possessed a letter which he knew or believed contained information concerning what he had to consider his life's blessedness, but the written characters were thin and faded, the handwriting almost illegible, he would read it and reread it, with anxiety and disquiet certainly, but with passion. At one moment he would get one meaning out of it, the next another. When he was quite sure he had managed to read a word, he would interpret everything in the light of that word. But he would never pass beyond the same uncertainty with which he began. He would stare, more and more anxiously, but the more he stared the less he saw; sometimes his eyes filled with tears, but the more that happened, again the less he saw. In due course the writing became weaker and less distinct; finally the paper itself crumbled away and he had nothing left but eyes blinded with tears" (Either/Or, 187)

For Kierkegaard, this is the perfect analogy for uncertainty that comes from love. The moment a person falls in love, they've gained meaning... but the moment they start to question whether this love is wholly reciprocated, this meaning can wane. Think of a time where you've had a crush, but they ignored your hints.... if a person meant everything to you, but they told you they could never be with you...

At first, its easiest to channel pain into hatred. Hatred that they deceived you in the love... to hell with them. And it might be the reaction that your friends try and create even if the situation is ambiguous. Why? Because you're in pain... the ambiguity is torture, and so instead of reassuring you in this pain, they condemn this person as a despicable... telling you that you're better than them, that you don't need them.

But this reassurance is the facade you must stand by. You have to be strong around your friends because that's what they've come to expect you are. You're doing okay... you're having fun with them, so you must have moved on, and forgotten whoever you may have loved.

However, ambiguity never leaves you internally, no matter what facade you have on externally. As Kierkegaard would say, "When a possibility is broken off, the instantaneous pain may not be... great, but then it often leaves one or another small ligament whole and unharmed, which becomes a constant source of continued suffering" (179). What you constantly entertain is every single new possibility... every account that this person could actually love you... every account that they never loved you in the first place. Every verdict is given on each side, but no case is decided on...

Sorrow is left in the ambiguity that reflection perpetuates... and continually perpetuates... The first stance held... the liberation from the very thought of this person (the deceit for this person that was first entertained) is lost in this reflection... in the ambiguity that will never comfort. And the more that it is emoted... the more that it is felt, the less a person is reminded of why they are in sorrow in the first place. For the man who desperately wanted to configure the contents of that letter initially found that the "...writing became weaker and less distinct" until "...finally the paper itself crumbled away and he had nothing left but eyes blinded with tears" The very object of what perpetuated the sorrow disappears.. and before you know it, you are pained by what you can't name... an object that you will continually search for.


Have you ever been in internal anguish without any sight of what could cause it? Its binding... because people expect you to be all right... to be a person they recognize... but internally, you're in pain and you have no idea why. You can't name the object of your sorrows... just that you are bound to the sorrow. And so you entertain every idea of why you might be sad. You're neurotic... you're having a bad day... No one understands you/ is pressuring you... there has to be an answer! But, what I get from Kierkegaard in these few lines... is that in entertaining these ideas, you're only blinding yourself from something that never had a clear answer in the first place.

But this isn't something that by will a person can stop... this isn't mediated reflection... it is an emotion that conflates these ideas... and so you form a spiral... a spiral that can last for years (for me it lasted three years up until midway through my freshmen year of college)... mine wasn't about love but it produced the same bind that ambiguous love can create. I would have mental as well as physical breakdowns where I would drop to the ground and bawl without any idea of why I was bawling. And just as I couldn't figure out what caused these breakdowns, I also couldn't figure out how I got over them.

One day... I got up... and I was okay again.

I guess I type this not as a biographical sketch but more as a reflective and therapeutic philosophy. Maybe if I had read Kierkegaard earlier, I would have at least understood myself a bit better. Anyways, I can't really say whether this entry would be helpful to anyone (or rather, if anyone would actually read this) but I just wanted to give it a try.

1 comment:

  1. Mike I read it. I read the whole thing. You are very very intelligent and it shines though in your writing. i know what you mean about the breakdowns. Been there and I think most people have, and if no will. it is natural to freaky out and not know the reason why. This world is crazy and hard to grasp. And by the way the children i nanny for are in front of the TV now... it is my last day and as the "cool" nanny i told them they could do anything they wanted to do... any thing, and what do they want to do? Watch TV. How sad is that?