Kierkegaard’s Version of Authenticity

October 6th, 2004 · 2 Comments · Education, Writing

I really shouldn’t be blogging; I’m behind on my reading for my history of museums class, and I’m sitting in the library with my laptop open instead of my textbook. Ah, the library, where the click-click of computer keys is like a bubbling brook, and the occasional dee-dee-do-do-dee of a cell phone bursts forth like a rare jungle bird. Back when I was an undergrad in the early 90s, it used to be deadly quiet in university libraries… in fact, it was the place you’d head to take a 50 minute nap in the stacks between classes.

But I’ve been wanting wanting to write about Kierkegaard and “Either/Or” and how it relates to Murray’s previous post about Authenticity. It was like a light going off in my head when I read “on the classic work” — listen to this!

“In a classic work, good fortune — that which makes it classic and immortal — is the absolute correlation of the two forces. This correlation is so absolute that a subsequent reflective age will scarcely be able, even in thought, to separate that which is so intrinsically conjoined without running the danger of causing or fostering a misunderstanding. For example, if it is said that it was Homer’s good fortune that he acquired that most exceptional epic subject matter, this can lead one to forget that we always have this epic subject matter through Homer’s conception, and the fact that it appears to be the most perfect epic subject matter is clear to us only in and through the transubstantiation due to Homer. If, however, Homer’s poetic work in permeating the subject matter is emphasized, then one runs the risk of forgetting that the poem would never have become what it is if the idea with which Homer permeated it was not its own idea, if the form was not the subject matter’s own form. The poet wishes for his subject matter, but, as they say, wishing is no art; this is quite correct and truthfully applies to a host of powerless poetic wishes. To wish properly, however, is a great art, or more correctly, it is a gift. It is the inexplicability and mysteriousness of genius, just as with a divining rod which never has the notion to wish except in the presences of that for which it wishes. Hence, wishing has a far deeper significance than it ordinarily does; indeed, to abstract reason it appears ludicrous, since it rather thinks of wishing in connection with what is not present, not in connection with what is present.

* * *

All classic productions rank equally high, as previously noted, because each one ranks infinitely high. Consequently, if one nevertheless wants to introduce a certain order to this series, it stands to reason that it cannot be based on anything essential, for that would mean that there was an essential difference, and that in turn would mean that the word ‘classic’ was wrongly predicated of all of them. If a classification were based on the dissimilar nature of the subject matter, one would immediately be involved in a misunderstanding, which in its wider extension would end with the annulment of the whole concept of the classic. The subject matter is an essential element, inasmuch as it is one factor, but it is not the absolute, since it is only one element. It could be pointed out that in a sense certain kinds of classic works have no subject matter, whereas in others, however, the subject matter plays a very important role. The former is the case with works we admire as classic in architecture, sculpture, music, and painting — especially the first three, and even in painting, insofar as there is any questions of subject matter it has importance almost solely as an occasion. The second is true of poetry, this word understood in its widest meaning to denote all artistic production that is based on language and the historical consciousness. […]

So it is when the subject matter is made the principle of division. In speaking of it, one speaks of something entirely different: namely, the formative activity.

But the same thing happens if one starts with the formative activity and emphasizes it alone. In maintaining the distinction here and emphasizing that in some respects the formative activity is creative to the degree that it creates the subject matter in the process, whereas in other respects it receives the subject matter, then here again, although one thinks one is speaking of the formative activity, one is actually speaking of the subject matter and is basing the classification on the division of the subject matter.” -Kierkegaard, on the Classic Work, and on Art and Poetry

I’ll have to expound on this more later… I’ve got to pack up and head to class, and then on to an artist’s lecture.

Category: Education · Writing

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