The Dialectical Constituents of the Self as a Synthesis

In order to awaken us to an understanding of what despair really is and the specific forms it can take in a human being, Anti-Climacus analyses despair first of all in terms of the dialectical constituents of the self as a synthesis of the temporal and the eternal, finitude and infinitude, necessity and possibility. Since the first pair of these constituents was introduced in The Concept of Anxiety, Anti-Climacus limits himself to a discussion of the disparity in the self's relation to the other two pairs (SUD 29-42). With regard to finitude and infinitude, he states that 'To become oneself is to become concrete', which means to become neither simply finite nor simply infinite but a synthesis or combination of both (30). This is done by first making an infinite movement away from oneself through reflection or imagination in order to form a conception of the ideal self one should become, and then by returning to oneself in a process of finitizing or actualizing that self within the context and limits of finitude. Despair, or a disparity in the proper relation of oneself to these factors, occurs whenever either of these movements is carried out to the exclusion of the other. Thus infinitude's despair is to lack finitude while finitude's despair is to lack infinitude. If one gets lost in infinitude, the selfbecomes fantastic and does not become itself. For example, if one constantly engages in daydreaming about what one is going to become in life but never actually takes any concrete steps towards realizing that goal, the self engages in 'a fantasized existence in abstract infinitizing' in which it moves further and further away from itself rather than becomes itself (32). Conversely, if one lacks infinitude, the self becomes completely finitized and reduced to a mere copy or number like others:

But whereas one kind of despair plunges wildly into the infinite and loses itself, another kind of despair seems to permit itself to be tricked out of its self by 'the others.' Surrounded by hordes of human beings, absorbed in all sorts of secular matters, more and more shrewd about the ways of the world—such a person forgets himself, forgets his name, divinely understood, does not dare believe in himself, finds it too hazardous to be himself and far easier and safer to be like the others, to become a copy, a number, a mass man. (SUD 33-4)

This form of despair was typical of the secular mentality of bourgeois society in Kierkegaard's time and is even more common in the present age.48 Yet, as Anti-Climacus observes, it goes practically unnoticed in the world and is so far from being regarded as despair that a person in this kind of despair is thought to be 'just what a human being is supposed to be'—totally absorbed in temporal goals such as amassing money, carrying out secular enterprises, becoming a success in the world, gaining public esteem, and perhaps even making a name for oneself in history (34-5). But such a person lacks inwardness and is unwilling to venture everything in order to become a self in relation to God. Spiritually speaking, then, this person has no self, no matter how 'self-seeking' she or he otherwise is.

A comparable disparity occurs between the constituents of possibility and necessity in the synthesis of the self. Both possibility (freedom) and necessity (limitations) are 'equally essential' to becoming a self, but if one becomes lost in possibility, believing that everything is possible without having to submit to any limitations or constraints upon oneself, then one is in possibility's despair and lacks actuality (SUD 35-7). This form of despair is a common one, as individuals are often encouraged to think they can become and do anything they wish regardless of their personal, ethnic, cultural, social, and economic conditions and backgrounds. As noted in the previous chapter, Kierkegaard particularly associates the illusion that everything is possible with early nineteenth-century German romanticism, which is severely criticized in his academic dissertation for its negative attitude towards actuality in the affirmation of an unbounded freedom of the human imagination to create the self by experimenting with a multiplicity of poetic possibilities (CI 272-323).49 As Anti-Climacus sees it, everything is possible for God, but there is much that is not possible for finite beings. Every individual is subject to personal and social limitations and is essentially defined as a self by God. Conversely, if possibility is lacking in a person's life, iffrom a merely human perspective there seems to be no hope and a personal collapse or downfall is certain, then the disparity takes the form of necessity's despair (SUD 37-42). Likening existence to respiration or breathing, in which one both inhales and exhales, Anti-Climacus associates this form of despair with determinism or fatalism, in which everything is necessary. The fatalist has no freedom or room to breathe and is suffocated by necessity. As Anti-Climacus sees it, however, an even more wretched

48 Cf. Marcel (2006); Tuttle (2005); Marcuse (1964).

49 See further Walsh (1994: 43-62).

expression of this form of despair can be seen in the philistine-bourgeois mentality, which is lost in triviality, probability, and spiritlessness and is bereft of the imagination required for becoming aware of God and the human self as spirit. The antidote for despair in this situation is a strong dose of possibility, namely the belief that for God all things are possible, precisely at that point where possibility seems impossible, which for Anti-Climacus is precisely what it means to have faith or to believe (38-9).

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