On the aphorisms (“Diapsalmata”) that begin Soren Kierkegaard’s Either/Or (1843), plus the essay also in the first volume, “Rotation of Crops.” What is it to live your life as if it were a work of art? One might think (after having read the Romantics or Nietzsche) that this is the only honest way to live, that anything else (e.g. identifying yourself with a particular religion or cause) sacrifices your freedom and lies about who you are. Beauvoir called this being “the serious man,” and labeled it an existential error.
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K here explores this “aesthetic” way of being in the world from the inside, as a character known only in the text as “A,” who sees the absurd in everyone else’s pretensions and tries to live per the Romantic philosophy of K’s time. So the first volume of Either/Or is a collection of essays written by A that demonstrate the kinds of things that such a Romantic would value, criticize, and recommend. In the introductory set of aphorisms to this volume that we largely focused on, this climaxes in a section called “Either/Or: An Ecstatic Discourse,” where whatever a person chooses will inevitably cause regret. True freedom comes in the moment before any choice at all is made, when the world is limitless possibility.
In line with K’s criticism of Romanticism as described in our last episode, K thinks this point of view is unserious and cowardly, and we’ll read a direct response to this character in taking on the second half of the book for episodes 331 and 332. A is even pretty self-critical; he is aware that his whims do not bring him lasting happiness, and he complains about being bored and depressed, qualities which K thinks are a result of not being committed in a way that integrates your personality.
We’re reading the Hong translation of the book. Read it online. We also discuss Louis Mackey’s article, “Some Versions of the Aesthete: Kierkegaard’s Either/Or” (1972).
The discussion continues with part two.