Conscious Despair in Weakness

The next level of despair is conscious despair, in which one has a truer conception of despair and greater clarity about oneself as being in despair, although one may still have only 'a dim idea' of one's true state and self-identity at this level (SUD 48). Anti-Climacus basically distinguishes between two forms of conscious despair: despairingly not to will to be oneself (despair in weakness or 'feminine despair'), and despairingly to will to be oneself (defiant despair or 'masculine despair') (49). Although women can manifest masculine despair and men can exhibit feminine despair, these instances are exceptions to the rule, as feminine despair is typical of women, due to their natural or instinctive tendency to lose themselves in devotion to others, while masculine despair is commonly experienced by men, who are more egotistical and intellectual by nature and thus more prone to be self-assertive or defiant.50 Despair in weakness manifests itself in two ways, either as despair over the earthly or over something earthly or as despair of the eternal or over oneself The first is characteristic of people who live in a state of pure immediacy without any reflection at all or who have a modicum of reflection but 'no infinite consciousness of the self, of what despair is, or of the condition as one of despair' (50-1). According to Anti-Climacus, this is the most common form of despair in weakness (57). Purely immediate individuals may be conscious ofbeing in despair but only as something that happens to them or affects them from outside, to which they passively submit. Thus, when they lose something of a worldly nature, such as money or a job, they are in despair but have no inkling that despair is really to lose the eternal. Insofar as they have a concept of self, it is defined by externals, such as the clothes they wear, and instead of willing to become themselves, they despairingly want to be someone else (52-3).

Despairing individuals who possess a degree of reflection are able to recognize that despair is not due to external circumstances but is brought on to a certain degree by their own actions. With this recognition and acceptance of personal responsibility for despair they begin to make a break with immediacy so as to acquire a sense of self apart from the environment and external events, and even to form 'a dim idea that there may even be something eternal in the self'—but only up to a certain point (SUD 55). They do not 'entertain the ludicrous notion of wanting to be someone else' like purely immediate individuals, but neither do they get very far in turning inward so as to become themselves (55). A common misperception about despair is that it belongs essentially to youth and thus is something left behind as an adult, but as Anti-Climacus sees it, that is far from being the case, as 'most people virtually never advance beyond what they were in their childhood and youth', which is immediacy with 'a little dash of reflection' (57-8).

According to Anti-Climacus, the second form of despair in weakness, despair of the eternal and over oneself, constitutes the formula for all despair (SUD 60). Even those persons who think they are despairing over something earthly are actually despairing of the eternal, which is what releases them from despair, and over themselves, which is what binds them in despair (60-1). Consciousness of despair at this level, however, constitutes an advance over the previous stage in that the person in despair understands that it is weakness to despair and is in despair over this weakness. One thus has a greater consciousness of the self, of what despair is, and of one's own condition as despair, yet is unwilling to acknowledge the self because of this weakness. Instead, one shuts oneself off from it in 'inclosing

50 See further Walsh (1987: 121-34, or 1997: 203-15).

reserve', simultaneously loving and hating the self that one is unwilling to become (63). Although this form of despair is less common than despair over the earthly, it is generally undetectable and thus may appear in a person who otherwise leads a normal bourgeois life as a university graduate, parent, spouse, public officeholder, and nominal Christian. But the longing for solitude one frequently feels in this condition is a sign that there is a measure of spirit within oneself, unlike the 'superficial nonpersons and group-people' who 'promptly die the moment they have to be alone' and 'need the soothing lullaby of social life' in order to live (64). If one continues in inclosing reserve, however, Anti-Climacus warns that it could result in suicide or become intensified in a higher level of despair, namely defiant despair.

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