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Kierkegaard dialectic of Communication

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  • Médéric Laitier
    Dear Kierkegaardians, In an earlier writing, Jim Stuart wrote: I feel I have identified the central strands of SK s thought, but nevertheless I don t feel I
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 9, 2004
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      Dear Kierkegaardians,
      In an earlier writing, Jim Stuart wrote: "I feel I have identified the central strands of SK's thought, but nevertheless I don't feel I have fully grasped what SK has attempted to communicate."

      The paradox involved in the above statement along with the very accurate account of SK's core ideas has a definite flavour of kierkegaardian humour, I dare say. And Something tells me Jim is not as unaware of it as he would most certainly protest. I nonetheless regard the issue of indirect communication in Kierkegaard's work as crucial and shall therefore pretend I have not noticed any trace of humour in Jim's communication.

      I happened to read lately a passage in Kierkegaard's Guilty, not Guilty which, in some unfortunately too direct way, enlights the reason for and meaning of indirect communication in his works.

      "May 19th, Midnight.

      (...) As far as my neighbour is concerned, I have never hesitated to follow my genie (alt geniality) and have surrendered to a certain form of original modesty in my claims towards the good and to a form of melancolic distrust for myself so as to give a somewhat deceptive image of myself under the cover of which I could silently act somewhat better. I have always had the distinct feeling that any human being essentially depends on no-one but himself, unless he is an apostle, for the latter has a mission of which the dialectical determination is incomprehensible to me. The present discussion shall therefore except the apostolic case.

      (...) I have thought a lot about all this, because of my being an existing man and because I for this reason have to make an ethical use of all that is said.(...) Thinking about the issue [of helping a neighbour to become more ethical], I have reached the conclusion that it is through misleading him that I can best be useful to him. The highest truth concerning my relation with him is the following: essentially I cannot be useful to him at all - this is the expression of a pain, the deepest of all, full of goodwill and compassion but it is also the expression of the supreme enthusiasm before a universal equality for every man. And the most adequate form for me in this truth is to mislead my neighbour, for otherwise he could be mistaken, he could learn the truth through me and believe he has learnt it from me.

      (...) Even if the wisest man dedicated six hours a day to influence another man, and another six hours to think of the best way to do so. Even though he should have done so for six years, this man would be an impostor if he should claim he was essentially useful.

      (...) Thus I tried to understand the existence. Those who would understand it in the same manner should I suppose behave as I did and should always express themselves with caution under the cover of a misleading form so as to avoid the danger of believing the truth can be communicated directly." In Etapes sur le Chemin de la vie, p274 and following tr. Prior and Guignot 1948 Ed. Gallimard (France) - translation to an approximate english by your servant's care.

      I shall not claim this passage contains the truth, of course, concerning SK's bias for indirect communication. But it is a quite relevant illustration, I believe, of how deeply convinced he was that no truth can ever really be communicated directly and reasons for so believing. Now for the issue of whether this attitude is a moral one or is a serious mistake, I can only outline the fact that SK's anxiety of not being misleadingly understood as the origin of the truth rather than a medium for its transmission is a fear a priori. He decides not to chance that rather than to fight afterwards realised misunderstandings. Therefore, his attitude remains in the potentials' sphere and denotes in my opinion a fear for actual commitment in the true locus ethicae as he defines it himself, namely the sphere of action. From this 'record' to a more serious accusation of immorality hidden behind clever dialectical argumentation is a qualitative leap I refuse to take; for it is very difficult indeed to truthfully know how sincere SK was when he wrote these lines. It would more over demand a more indirect form of communication between you and me...

      To enrich the truth of my contribution to an understanding of SK's dialectic of communication, I would like to add the following passage which, though shorter, might well be of some importance:

      "February 28th, in the morning

      (...) The deceit is succeeding as deceit always benefits me. For I seldom succeed at expressing myself in a simple manner, but as soon as it comes to indirect and fraudulent ones I am an unrivalled master." Ibid. p203

      Little is the need for comment upon this, except perhaps that very comment; which, related to K's view of everything that is immediate, becomes highly ironic. One could also question my reason for the revert time-order...

      To end with, I would like to quote some other words from Jim's criticism:

      "I have a particular problem with the direct communication / indirect communication distinction because I can't help feeling that a lot of what SK writes in this chapter is direct communication. Aren't all the quotes I've typed out above examples of direct communication?"

      and propose the following reading of this problem: the quotes Jim has made are indeed formulated as direct statements; they possess a 'truth' which is a certain objective-like substance. These quotes alone cannot be seen as K's truth, nor our truth nor any truth (objective truth to be worshiped) for no such thing can humanly be formulated... Directly, at least. These quotes however belong to a larger work in which a key pattern is paradox. The consequence of the latter is that the reader can never be sure not to misunderstand what Kierkegaard has truly meant. He shall therefore always question both writer's intentions and his own acceptance of it in order to give birth to a true personal understanding of what lays written in front of him and its relevance as related to himself as an existing human being. In the long process of reading Kierkegaard, this personal reading shall arise and strengthen years and years after, possibly and probably sliding apart from Magister's most intimate one. But is it not so and only so that a real personality could grow on the side of K's lectures? And is it not so and only so that Kierkegaard could ethically succeed at helping one growing ethically?

      Yours Sincerely

      Médéric Laitier



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