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Either/Or: A Fragment of Life by Søren…

Either/Or: A Fragment of Life (1843)

by Søren Kierkegaard

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Either/Or is a two part/two book set; this book is part I, that is, the Either of Either/Or. For those unfamiliar with this work by the Danish philosopher, Either presents what Kierkegaard terms the aesthetic view of life. And since the aesthetic view of life embraces multiplicity and variation, this book isn’t a straightforward philosophical essay; rather, Kierkegaard’s aesthetic individual (herein called ‘A’) writes 8 different papers, each one from a different aesthetic angle.

For example, the first paper is a series of short journal entries, dozens of them, written in a highly polished literary language, covering the wide emotional range of A’s philosophical self-examination. In one entry we read, “I say of my sorrow what the Englishman says of his house: My sorrow is my castle.”, and in another entry we read, “I have never been joyful, and yet it has always seemed as if joy were my constant companion, as if the buoyant jinn of joy danced around me." If this sounds contradictory . . .well, such is the aesthetic life.

The aesthetic life finds delectable fruit in music. In the nearly 100 page paper “The Immediate Erotic Stages” the author analyzes Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Anybody interested in Mozart and/or music will find this paper highly engaging and insightful. Toward the end, we read, “What It means to say – that Don Giovanni’s essential nature is music – is clearly apparent here. He dissolves, as it were, in music for us; he unfurls in a world of sound. . . . Such is his life, effervescing like champagne. And just as the beads in this wine, as it simmers with an internal heat, sonorous with its own melody, rise and continue to rise, just so the lust for enjoyment resonates in the elemental boiling that is his life.” This passage is typical of what one finds in Kierkegaard’s writing – colorful, poetic, highly engaging and thought-provoking.

One of the most lively papers is entitled ‘Rotation of Crops’ where the author invites us to consider ways to avoid boredom. For example: if you are obliged to listen to the words of a person you find boring, then simply shift your focus, rather than listening to him speak, watch the perspiration on his forehead or nose. Again, another example: if you are bored of living in your current city or country, simply move to another city or country. The trick is learning how to vary your activities and surroundings, to rotate your pleasures the way a farmer rotates his crops.

In the spirit of rotating pleasures to experience novel sensations, the author encourages his own country of Denmark to do something dramatic: “Borrow fifteen million, use it not to pay off our debts but for public entertainment. Let us celebrate the millennium with fun and games. . . . Everything would be free: the theater would be free, prostitutes would be free, rides to Deer Park would be free, funerals would be free, one’s own funeral eulogy would be free. I say “free” for if money is always available, everything is free in a way.” A bit of ironic tongue-in-cheek but, then again, why not, if life is to be lived on the level of an aesthete.

Jean Richepin, the decadent fin-de-siècle French author, wrote a story about a man who took the aesthetic life to the extreme, becoming ‘the dandy of the unpredictable’. This man possessed all the qualities needed to become a great poet, musician and painter, but rejected such things since he saw these accomplishments as too vulgar and altogether beneath him. So, what did this dandy of the unpredictable do? He murdered his mistress, embalmed her, and continued to be her lover. Then, living up to his creed of unpredictability, he confessed his crime and spent the last hours of his life in jail inventing a novel dance-step and creating a original oyster sauce. Kierkegaard’s aesthetic A would understand and appreciate his actions, for, after all, he avoided boring himself and certainly didn’t bore others.

So, the aesthetic life is to live on the surface of things, where one has a need to continually keep changing activities since one has become inured to the simple joys of life. Does all this sound vaguely familiar? Recall how back in the 1970s Alexander Solzhenitsyn said the Western world, in his estimation, would never serve as a model for a free society since it was enslaved to commercialism, intolerable music and TV stupor. In other words, according to Solzhenitsyn, we are an entire society of aesthetes.

Kierkegaard viewed his task to be the Socrates of Copenhagen, to wake us up from our comfortable stupor, to look inward and examine our lives as individuals capable of spiritual depth. This book by Kierkegaard is not only imaginative, vibrant literature but also deeply profound philosophy. ( )
  GlennRussell | Feb 16, 2017 |
The first part about the aesthetic is much more readable than the second part about the ethical. It is hard to understand how the same man wrote these two excerpts!
“I have always loved, on a moonlit night, to lie out in a boat on one of our lovely lakes. I take in the sails and the oars, remove the rudder, stretch out full-length, and gaze up into the vault of heaven. When the boat rocks on the breast of the waves, when the clouds scud before the strong wind so that the moon vanishes for a moment and then reappears, I find rest in this unrest. The motion of the waves lulls me, their lapping against the boat is a monstrous cradle-song.”
“Doubt, therefore, lies in difference, despair in the absolute. It requires talent to doubt, it requires no talent at all to despair; but talent as such is difference and what needs talent to make it effectual can never be the absolute, for it is only for the absolute that the absolute can be absolute as such.”
Perhaps the philosophy loses meaning in the translation. Perhaps I should reread the introductory explanations, or get a copy of the Cliff Notes. But I am too exhausted from slogging through to the end, to start over. I’ll just accept that I did my duty to give it a try, and remember some of the beautiful lines from the beginning. ( )
  drardavis | Dec 27, 2015 |
This is a classic of philosophy. Kierkegaard said not to read just one section of this book. But, that's what i did..lol.. The concept behind the whole book i've got though, so its okay. His idea is that there are two different ways of living your life, ascetically or morally according to the laws of whatever..religion, etc., and aesthetically or in the pursuit of beauty and pleasure for your own artistic reasons. Kierkegaard never really tells which one is best and that is for the reader to decide..maybe..perhaps he is saying that some blend of the two is ideal, and that to pursue either approach exlusively is wrong. That's what i believe. Regardless, I read this for the aesthetic parts, and his Seducers diary especially is a fascinating work on its own. I love the thoughts and characterization of Johannes, they are as you might expect, beautiful. ( )
1 vote ahystorian | Nov 23, 2007 |
The best of K! ( )
  xinyi | Sep 18, 2007 |
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» Add other authors (43 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Søren Kierkegaardprimary authorall editionscalculated
Hong, Edna H.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hong, Howard V.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lowrie, WalterTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amico mio! Quello che ti ho già detto tante volte, te lo ripeto, anzi te lo grido: o questo o quello, aut-aut! L'importanza dell'argomento giustifica l'uso delle parole.
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Aut-Aut, testo chiave dell'esistenzialismo, pubblicato per la prima volta nel 1843, è anche l'opera in cui il pensiero di Sören Kierkegaard raggiunge il suo apice. La contrapposizione fra vita estetica e vita etica, il passaggio dall'una all'altra attraverso l'esperienza della disperazione e dell'angoscia, la scelta come fardello esistenziale, il compito della realizzazione di sé in quanto individui: sono questi i temi principali di Aut-Aut, proposti da Kierkegaard con un vigore e una lucidità che ancora oggi colpiscono il lettore per la loro forza e urgente attualità.
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