Defiant Despair

In defiant despair there is an even greater consciousness of the self, of what despair is, and of one's own state of despair as being self-initiated. One wants to become oneself, but one wants to become the self one wants to be rather than the self one is intended to be by God. As Anti-Climacus expresses it, 'the self in despair wants to be master of itself or to create itself, to make his self into the self he wants to be, to determine what he will have or not have in his concrete self' (SUD 68). Distinguishing between an acting self and a self being acted upon, Anti-Climacus elucidates this form of despair by way of an analogy to Greek mythology. Like Prometheus, the titan who stole fire from the gods for the benefit of humankind, the acting self steals the thought that God pays attention to the individual and egoistically pays attention to itself, recognizing no power over itself and relating to itself by imaginatively, hypothetically, arbitrarily constructing and deconstructing itself at will (68-9). However, if in the process of imaginatively constructing itself the despairing self is acted upon in such a way as to encounter a 'temporal cross' it cannot bear, then again like Prometheus (who was punished by Zeus for his theft by being chained to a rock while vultures ate his liver, which was rejuvenated daily to prolong his agony), the despairing self feels itself nailed to that cross, unable to do away with it yet unwilling to hope that it can come to an end (70). With respect to this particular 'thorn in the flesh', then, the despairing self does not will to become itself yet defiantly wills to be itself—not in spite of or without this suffering but along with it (70-1). Flouting and rebelling against all existence, the defiant self does not want to be helped temporally by the eternal but demonically prefers to be itself 'with all the agonies of hell' (71). Although this level of despair is a rarity in the world, it is virtually undetectable externally, as the intensified inclosing reserve that characterizes it is concealed in a world of its own, where it is 'restlessly and tormentedly engaged in willing to be itself' (73).

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