Saturday, February 25, 2006

The Sickness unto Death (Notes)

This is pretty much just for me, although others are welcome to read it. I'm currently reading The Sickness unto Death by S. Kierkegaard for the first time, and have decided that it demands to be read very deliberately and slowly. I'm going to put my notes here and add to them as I go. All told, I may end up with a great amount of notes. But, that's okay with me.

Part 1.A. That Despair is the sickness unto death.

A. (p.43-44)
Despair is the sickness of the spirit...

The Sickness.
The Bible speaks of Lazarus having "a sickness unto death". But, this cannot be a sickness unto death, and in fact, no sickness can be "unto death" for the Christian. Kierkegaard believes instead that the sickness unto death is despair. This is a sickness of the self, or the soul. Most people are apparently sick in this way, although many do not know that they despair.

The Self.
A human being is a synthesis of the infinite and finite, the temporal and the eternal, and freedom and liberty. The human being is not a self, and in general, I think Kierkegaard sees selfhood as something that has to be achieved, or at least a consciousness that one has to come to. In the relation he has established, there is a third term- the relation itself. And this relation which relates to itself is, I think, the self, or the spirit, or soul. Selfhood consists in consciousness. Although, by calling it a "relation that relates to itself", it seems that selfhood consists of self-consciousness. Also, there are degrees of selfhood, with the highest being standing before God and answering to one's true name.

Kierkegaard thinks that there are two true types of despair: despair in which we do not want to be ourselves and despair in which we want to ourselves. The self is not self-established, and we know this because we don't just want to be free of ourselves, but also want in despair to be ourselves. So the self is a relation that relates to itself and which is established by something else. Despair then is an imbalance in this relationship.

When is despair overcome? When the self, by relating to itself and wanting to be itself, is grounded in the power that established it.

Notes: Okay, so I can understand the sickness, and have a sense of what the self is. I'm not sure why it cannot be self-established. Perhaps though, Kierkegaard could say that a self-established self would not be infinite or free either.

B. (44-47)
The possibility and Actuality of Despair.

First off, despair is a benefit in that it reflects the infinite loftiness of man being spirit. It is what saves him from being an animal, and the possibility of overcoming despair is what makes the Christian blessed. Kierkegaard agrees with the Buddhist that despair is a part of every human life.

The possibility of despair lies in the synthesis (infinitude/finitude, etc.), and if the human were not a synthesis, he could not despair. But, the despair itself comes from the relation in which the synthesis relates to itself, from the spirit or self. In this sense, he brings it upon himself. It is a sickness of the self, and one can never be rid of the self.

Notes: It is becoming clearer to me. I can understand how every being is a synthesis of the infinite and the finite, and actually find that to be a brilliant idea. Can you imagine how it would change your encounters with strangers to consider them each to be a synthesis of the infinite and the finite? What a gorgeous thought, and how much more significant it makes existence seem! At any rate, by being aware of the synthesis, we have self-consciousness, and this is where despair is recognized, and so comes to exist. The psychological aspect of Kierkegaard's writing is bracing. It's no wonder Freud was so fond of him.

C. (47-51)
Despair is the Sickness unto Death

The Christian believes that no one ever dies, so no sickness can be unto death. Yet, despair is the sickness unto death in the sense that the torment is precisely the inability to die. Despair cannot consume the self, and the despairing cannot die. Because he lives to experience death for a moment, he lives to experience it forever.

To want to be free of oneself is the formula for all despair. But, eternity will not allow a man to be free of himself because it is the greatest concession made to man, but also eternity's claim on him.

Notes: He's talking about the athiest here, I think. The athiest "dies death eternally" as Kierkegaard puts it because he lives to experience death, while the Christian doesn't. By refusing to surrender himself to God, he actually surrenders all hope, and lives with that. I think the gist here is that only the athiest really dies, as far as hope goes, without ever physically dying. So, only the athiest experiences death.

1.B. The Generality of this Sickness (Despair) (52-58)

Every human being despairs, even the Christian. This is not pessimistic because it views every man in regards to the request to be spirit. The common view only sees man as being in despair when he recognizes he is in despair. But, this is a poor view because not being conscious of despair is a form of despair. But, it is a sickness that is truly providential to get. It is easy to slip through this life and be distracted by it, but he who says that he is in despair is a step closer to the cure for that despair.

The truly wasted life is one who lived it so distracted by life's pleasures that he never became aware of himself as spirit, and that he exists as such before God, whose blessings only come through despair.

Notes: There's something a bit Romantic in Kierkegaard here, in the way that he emphasizes the corrupting influence of social life and how it distracts us from our true inner selfhood. It's specifically Christian with Kierkegaard, but it's a Romantic Christianity.

1.C. The Forms of this Sickness

It is whether or not despair is conscious that distinguishes one sort of despair from another.

(Fill in Tomorrow)


Anonymous said...

I read the SUD about three years ago and I came across your post because I'm doing some research on the book again because I'm writing a paper on it. Anyway, just wanted to say that you couldn't be more right that it necessitates slow and deliberate reading. And in case it doesn't feel like it yet, I assure you that it will pay off!

Anonymous said...

Wow, I'm really bright. This was published in 2006. Well, hopefully you're done reading it!

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