I drove to Cardiff on Saturday morning to see Mum. Normally I go on Fridays, but my Irish DNA ensured I was in no condition to get behind the wheel of a car after the wake at Hotel du Vin Cannizaro House that followed the funeral.
As ever I popped up Ty-Gwyn Avenue when I was home to see Sean. Who could have guessed that the smartest person I would ever meet (present company - my readers - excepted of course) would turn out to be the snotty brat to my right of my snotty brat when they lined us up in alphabetical order on our first day in primary school? I wish I had known at the time. It would have saved me a lot of time with false prophets and celebrity gurus.
He has set me Either/Or, the first published work of the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, as homework for my next visit. No pressure then.
After writing and defending his dissertation On the Concept of Irony with Continual Reference to Socrates (1841), Kierkegaard left Copenhagen in October 1841 to spend the winter in Berlin. The main purpose of this visit was to attend the lectures by the German philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling, who was an eminent figure at the time. The lectures turned out to be a disappointment for many in Schelling's audience, including Mikhail Bakunin and Friedrich Engels, and Kierkegaard described it as "unbearable nonsense". During his stay, Kierkegaard worked on the manuscript for Either/Or, took daily lessons to perfect his German and attended operas and plays, particularly by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. He returned to Copenhagen in March 1842 with a draft of the manuscript, which was completed near the end of 1842 and published in February 1843.
According to a journal entry from 1846, Either/Or was written "lock, stock, and barrel in eleven months" ("Rub og Stub, i 11 Maaneder"), although a page from the "Diapsalmata" section in the 'A' volume was written before that time.
The title Either/Or is an affirmation of Aristotelian logic, particularly as modified by Johann Gottlieb Fichte and Immanuel Kant. Is the question, "Who am I?" a scientific question or one for the single individual to answer for themself?
Kierkegaard argues that Hegel's philosophy dehumanized life by denying personal freedom and choice through the neutralization of the 'either/or'. The dialectic structure of becoming renders existence far too easy, in Hegel's theory, because conflicts are eventually mediated and disappear automatically through a natural process that requires no individual choice other than a submission to the will of the Idea or Geist. Kierkegaard saw this as a denial of true selfhood and instead advocated the importance of personal responsibility and choice-making.
Myself: Those Jena boys eh? Schelling, Goethe and Fichte (Icons passim), they get everywhere.
Myself (shrugging shoulders): Yes. Paaarty!