Sunday, July 1, 2007


Written more than a century and a half ago, but possessing an honest and direct style more characteristic of modern works, Soren Kierkegaard's Either/Or is for me one of the best expressed statements of the stark choices in life. For those of you unfamiliar with the work, it is written in two parts, with each half purportedly written by a different author (but both actually penned by Kierkegaard himself). The first half, the "Either," beautifully describes the pleasures and anguish of the "aesthetic life:" a world of music, drama, art, and seduction, but also of chronic boredom and depression. The second part, "the Or," supposedly written by a married physician, succinctly argues for the pious and virtuous life of good clean hard work. It's written in the form of letters to the first chap.

The most famous sections of the book are the Diary of a Seducer (a chronicle of his meticulous wooing and subsequent abandonment of a young woman) and the Diapsalmata, a collection of fragmented thoughts about the boredom and restlessness in life -- what continuously drives the aesthetic appreciator to seek new forms of entertainment and stimulation. We realize what a futile quest the poor fellow is going through as nothing seems to satisfy him: "I do not care for anything," he writes. "I do not care to ride, for the exercise is too violent. I do not care to walk, walking is too strenuous. I do not care to lie down, for I should either have to remain lying, and I do not care to do that, or I should have to get up again, and I do not care to do that either. Summa summarum: I do not care at all."

So if the aesthetic side seems painful, then what about the ethical? Less stressful and easier on the heart, one surmises. However, while the second half seems the epitome of common sense it seems to lack color somehow.

Perhaps this dichotomy is a bit artificial, but in my mind Kierkegaard well depicts the sense of wonder about the roads not taken in life.

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