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Reviews, essays, and translations

Entries in Kierkegaard (7)

Tuesday
Jan312012

Kierkegaard, "Don Giovanni" (part 2)

The conclusion of a review by this Danish philosopher of an 1843 performance of this work of art.  You can read the original here.

Let a couple of years pass by then go and visit Mr. Masetto: you will find Zerlina essentially unchanged.  As she goes along and plays with him in the opera, so now she – pretty, beloved, etc. – is pottering about his house.  Were you to say to her, "But how was it then with that Don Giovanni fellow?" she would answer: "Yes, it was odd, it was an odd wedding day, such a hullabaloo, and I had to be on the lookout everywhere I went: suddenly Masetto would appear, grousing, suddenly Don Giovanni, who wanted to speak with me.  I firmly believe that if it hadn't been for me, they would have killed each other."  So must she remain in order to make herself a female character distinct from Anna and Elvira.  Comparatively, Anna is far less culpable than Zerlina.  She has confused Giovanni with Ottavio, nothing more.  But because she is considerably developed, this may end up troubling her for the rest of her life.  This she fails to disclose for as long as possible, and becomes crazed with the idea of vengeance. 

Yet Zerlina remains undaunted and proceeds, in carefree fashion, both to a dance with Don Giovanni and confession at Masetto's, which is altogether somewhat remarkable, and each of these gentlemen in due time will become stakeholders.   She is abroad in all parts and feels herself to be in the same circle of society as those noble ladies and just as important as any of them.  She is about to reel in Don Giovanni, not because he has seduced her, but because he has killed Masetto (it is significant that she confounds the physical and the moral), and therefore finds that Leporello is just as culpable, because he too has killed Masetto, her own little Masetto of whom she is so fond, and towards whom everyone else is rather nasty. 

Elvira is a vast female character with an absolute passion to know and understand what it means to be seduced.  She does not wish to save a modicum of her honor from the world, she wishes to stop Don Giovanni, naturally with the reservation that he wants to be true to her.  So she forsakes the mission's itinerant component – but in this way the mission likewise is stopped.  This is genuinely feminine, an exquisite invention.  Yet in a way, on her mission as a woman she is out of her depths, außer sich, and therefore there must fall upon her a comic light.  I am not thinking of her deeply tragic situation in the second act where she mistakes Leporello for Don Giovanni, about whom one writer has said that this is almost cruel, if for another reason.  She herself is seduced, and now she wishes to rescue others, without thinking that for such an endeavor one needs preliminary studies and numerous exams, whereby one might acquire the ability to take on others.  This she cannot do at all.  Nor, therefore, can she make herself understood to Zerlina, and in this respect Elvira remains a comic figure.  She transfers all her pathos to Zerlina and in the end, am Ende, Zerlina can better understand Don Giovanni than comprehend Elvira.  Thus an actress portraying Zerlina should not, as used to be done in this work, become appalled or seized by fear from Elvira's talk – that would be far too much.  She ought to marvel at this new surprise, and marvel that the good listener and viewer will almost smile upon the situation, while still detecting the tragic element in Elvira.

Now to Don Giovanni.  If the singer were to imbue his voice with imagination and use this performance for such an accompaniment, what then?  The situation would become a seduction scene; perhaps, but not in an opera.  On the other hand, in a drama where a seducer does not sing to the girl but for the girl, so by this method he can help out in terms of imagination.  I shall outline precisely such a scenario.  There would be no farm girl, but a lady, a Donna, a developed girl with considerable qualifications.  The seducer has the voice, he knows how to let his imagination infect it.  So sometimes he sings for her what she would like to hear.   And then one day – as is to be understood, coincidentally – he selects the performance as Don Juan.  This he performs with complete imagination and inspiration.  Naturally, he does not look at her, not a glance, not a desire, otherwise all would be lost.  He looks straight in front of him and his voice begins to rise and brighten as he sets the mood for the imaginary allurement and seduction.  So the Donna listens, safe and comfortable as she is, because she knows that he is not singing to her, that this is not about her, and this is where she gives in to daydreams.  And when these dreams are assumed to have taken effect, here is where the seducer procures the first rendezvous both in his imagination and in the imagination's view and the weakened notion of the face-to-face meeting.  Should this be portrayed, this would in essence no longer be an opera, but its transition from this situation to the seduction's reality as reflected in a drama or tale.  

Now if Mr. Hansen were to be assigned this situation in a drama, then his performance would be the definitive version, the omnibus numeris absoluta, and every person who has a sense for such observations would certainly not deny that it is stunning to hear such a superb performance.  Calm and insinuating in his voice, wistful and dreamy yet clear in his expression, articulating every letter so that nothing is wasted and no time is lost, he engenders a rare effect.  But when it is in an opera, as in this case, the battle must be fought, and this sensational performance would not be in the right place, a golden apple in a silver bowl.  Don Giovanni is no pampered sitar player, but rather a seducer who has a need for such a mask at first approach.  Were one to take another moment in the opera, the guitar aria, for example, or Don Giovanni's aria as worked into Elvira's first part, "Poverina, poverina," then dwelling on this last point, I would say that here the performance could be put to use.  Nothing essential of what is Don Giovanni concerns this outburst, Don Giovanni who remains in a way based upon himself and in constant anticipation of pleasure.  For that reason should the voice be imbued with imagination, an ironic tinge should not arise in Don Giovanni's rumination about this relationship, although this will be precisely the impression made on the listener and viewer who understands Don Giovanni.  The actor must then also be sure to remain at peace until this moment, when the contrary then becomes correct and during the aria he will go back and forth in a certain tension.  But most of all he may not emerge when he sings these words, because Elvira won't hear them anyway.  Nor should he sing them to Leporello as the remaining part of the aria.  The essential here is that Don Giovanni is in the mood.  The unique effect in this situation should not result in reflections or assessments by Don Giovanni, but in the search for the total effect, which one writer has demonstrated. 

In the duet with Zerlina, Don Giovanni sings to Zerlina.  This is Don Giovanni, and Zerlina is the adorable little farm girl.  Compared to the Donna in the hypothetical situation outlined above, it was necessary to begin in such a manner because the attraction was not immediate.  For that reason it all began as innocent reverie and this holds true for the entire seduction: one moment of premature passion and all would be lost.  Just because Zerlina is now a farm girl, it does not follow that Don Giovanni ought to begin with rascally mischief; Don Giovanni never does that.  Naturally, with natural power and no posing or study, Don Giovanni always has a certain dignity and grace.  Even the recitations before the duet are flavorful in the good sense.  This is completely correct because Don Giovanni is a man who acts without reflection.  And to understand a farm girl on such a broad plain of the imagination and in an idealizing surtout when one, like Don Giovanni, is certain that she is in the process of seeing and admiring this handsome man, is a superb method of making her dazed in the head.  A fellow quick to his fists would be understood all too rapidly by Zerlina and would put her on her guard, since in all her naïveté Zerlina is honorable and does not understand jokes.  And she does not at all understand the man she sees.  At the same time, however, one may see Don Giovanni's haughtiness here as an important commentary on the text, see him catch flies with candy, see how he in a certain sense is right when he says to Elvira: "that was only in jest."  This replique is neither vicious nor ironic, but forthcoming and direct.  Don Giovanni considers Elvira to be too powerful to be affected by a little fling with little Zerlina; she the seduced par excellence, ϰατ' ἐξοχην, and Zerlina!  It is still easy to allow Don Giovanni some reflection, and in the opera the art is precisely in keeping this tendency at bay, for a Don Giovanni without the slightest reflection would be a meager figure and the opera would fail in its construction.  The actor must embody haughtiness in his posture, his expressions, his gestures, his presentations, in all his figure's finality.

Then the duet begins.  One feels that one hears the accompaniment's dreamy plainness (owing to the fact that music is a universal medium) in Don Giovanni's application of his charms in which he seizes Zerlina, in his and the accompaniment's natural power.  As he stands there, the very best, and sees her giddy and confused, he sees that her non-willingness is a cloaked surrender, and so he musters all his haughtiness in almost commanding omnipotence.  This is the self-esteem of natural force.  The accompaniment on the first part, "Be mine," is therefore not ingratiating but energetic and decisive.  Now she gives in.  Don Giovanni, of course, does not do things this way.  Here again one must notice his haughtiness.  Compared to Anna, Elvira and others of their type, it is not unthinkable for Don Giovanni to enjoy a pleasure so greatly in the moment in which he has become victorious, as if he were a lover who gave as much as he took, and then revert a moment later to a seducer.  But Zerlina is captured and served in another way.  Here there is jest and pleasure and Don Giovanni is directly and purely musically in his element.  Zerlina is no more insignificant to him than any other woman, but simply something different from Elvira and Anna, and, actually, in her own way just as attractive, and essentially just as preoccupying for him.  Therefore I shall reiterate that Zerlina must be cast and held as such.  When she is seen and heard in relation to Don Giovanni, a certain elation will be evoked in the good listener and viewer because he, in vain, will use this serious category against her.  When she is seen in relation to Masetto, a smile will be coaxed out of the same listener because Zerlina is essentially neither seduced nor saved, but constantly dangling in the wind.

One person or another, various people, perhaps even many people might think it somewhat insignificant that one almost never sees Zerlina made into an object of aesthetic interpretation.  I personally tend to see this as insignificant, and therefore feel obliged to apologize to Mr. Hansen – in the way he knows that he will see his name in print, perhaps then he will do himself the inconvenience of reading what has been written here – and to beg Fædrelandet for forgiveness that I, curiously enough, am still struggling with such a contribution,  if the shortcoming is precisely that it is no longer hard to write.  Mr. Hansen can with little difficulty forgive me.  What luck when one has the desire and has made one's choice in life to have then precisely the singing voice that he has; what luck when one has the desire and has chosen one's job as an actor to have so many good qualifications as he really does have.   When one has so many gifts and has also made something of them, one may with little difficulty squander some rehearsal time on one's gait and posture.  The truth is that I would not believe that my legs or my gait stood in any relation whatsoever to my understanding of the most immortal of operas.  Soon I should get a few other legs to walk on.

Sunday
Jan292012

Kierkegaard, "Don Giovanni" (part 1)

The first part of a review by this Danish philosopher of an 1843 performance of this work of art.  You can read the original here.

Don Giovanni has been staged yet again.  Compared to many other warmed-over, refined, and not at all nutritious pieces, with this opera the theater has, as our colloquial language puts it, a tasty chunk of meat that will tide you over for a long time.  And the public would be happy to know that there is such a thing, even if it were performed less frequently.  The papers have already voted about the performance both as a whole and in its details, thus about that I will not risk developing so quick an opinion, or one at all about the newspaper's audit and evaluation.  There is a lovely old rule traced to the long-dead Socrates: one should modestly deduce from the little that one knows rather than from the innumerable things that one doesn't.  The newspapers' theater reviews command me to assume the greatest possible modesty and an aesthetic abstinence from any conclusions.

If Mr. Hansen's performance is one which says a lot with universal applicability and admirable skill, it is also one that is ready-made and complete.  And I do not dare to have a general opinion on the matter so ready-made.  On the other hand, there is a single point that caught my interest, on which I would like for a moment to dwell and thereby request the reader's attention, as I do not wish to delay anyone in a hurry, nor waste any businessman's precious time.  I would rather dwell on this detail because I do not consider it a high-water mark in Mr. Hansen's interpretation and version, about which in general I have no opinion apart from the fact that it is indeed a high-water mark, perhaps something this actor performs everywhere at the same level (which, of course, cannot darken a detail's genuine brilliance) or at a lower level elsewhere (which, of course, could only reasonably make the high-water mark more eye-catching).  This point is the duet with Zerlina in the first act where we see, even if we may be of another opinion regarding the performer's importance in the scene, that this ought to be considered an absolute success.

The first thing required of a singer is voice.  The second is presentation, which is the union of voice and mood, as well as something else apart from the voice's suppleness in the coloraturas or roulade, since this is in theory their mutual commensurability and in reality the voice and mood's harmony in the presentation.   The last thing that is required of a dramatic singer is that his mood and feelings be correct given the situation and poetic individuality.  When a singer loses the mood and feeling of his part, he comes off as in the throes of artificial passion; if he is also an actor, he can still incorporate opposites at once into his gestures and movements.  The more he has reflected and practiced managing his voice against the mood's piano, the more combinations he will have at his disposal and, in such a way, the more fully he can give vent to the composer's demands (only when, of course, the composer's work understands when to make demands upon the singer's presentation and is not simply one of those intolerant and unperformable operas).  If he has taken less time to reflect, his mood and character will not have as great a significance.  Yet one thing remains: the universal, all-encompassing reason for mood and feeling, to be able to have voice determine imagination, and to be able to sing with imagination.  Such was the performance by Mr. Hansen which I beheld and admired at the aforementioned point.

For the duet with Zerlina huge demands are made spontaneously.  The first scene with Anna is too stormy for one to recognize Don Giovanni properly; but here everything lies in perfect order, the surroundings have been removed, and we anxiously and attentively wait to see how he will manage his first attack.  And we think: here we are going to learn whether Don Giovanni is a dandy and a windbag (what a person becomes when he wishes to be a Don Juan) who has in Leporello a faithful trumpeter and in Mozart a powerless troubadour, or whether he is indeed the famous Don Juan and whether this opera is indeed our composer's most renowned work.  The composer performs what has to be performed.  The accompaniment is ingratiating and convincing, like a stream's purling recurrence, charmingly returning, whereby the orchestra seems to supervise itself, hold in that pattern, and not allow itself to be concluded.  

All this has a dreamy yet captivating effect, as the scent of a flower may become like a sedative; it leads on into the endless, not with the energy of desire, but with silent craving and aspiration.  Mozart knows full well what he is doing, and the individual personality of a Zerlina does not seem to possess prerequisites that would condition another interpretation, such as, for example: a most powerful arousal of passion in a union of desire, where female lust would translate into energy and the risk of almost competing with Giovanni's natural might; or a female damnation of Giovanni, in which there would arise a boundless female realm; or a vanquished rebellion that founders in its pride; or the whole thing performed with noble simplicity, or defiled with heightened purity; or that same meek intensity that offended once now offends for a lifetime; or that deep faith in God, once disappointed, is now disappointed forever; or infinity's holy passion, led astray into perdition; or female recklessness that enters the light itself, and so forth.  

Zerlina's seduction is at a quiet wedding which proceeds without being called off.  Thus the essential comes to pass: she does not know how it came to be, but it did come to pass and she was seduced.*  And the result of Zerlina's greatest effort in the exercise of reason is this: one cannot explain it.  Now the interpretation of Zerlina is of great importance.  It was therefore a mistake by an otherwise meritorious actress, Ms. Kragh, to sing the replique "No!  I shall not," with strong emphasis, as if it were a decision which had been brewing in Zerlina.  Far from it.  She is bewildered, dizzy in her head, curious about her heart from the very beginning.  If we imbue her with thoughts in this respect, then the whole opera appears erroneous and mistaken.**

The following words, "Masetto's soul will bleed," deal with the same.  If this sympathy had a category, the whole thing would not be possible.  The replique must therefore not mean more and not be sung in any other way than to remain at the level of sudden gestures, such as, for example, staying in one's apron and pushing away Don Giovanni's embrace.  Precisely this makes her beautiful and lovable, and her relationship with Masetto correct.  To detect a work of atonement in the aria "Batti, batti, o bel Masetto" would be pure misunderstanding.  She is still not quite in possession of level-headedness, which can always extend, and quite abundantly, into Masetto's household, but not into Don Giovanni's snare.  She sees that Masetto is angry, so there's nothing else left to do, and she has to speak well for herself, both for his ears, and for her own.  For what this whole thing was is still not clear to her, and in her innocence her innocence is utterly doubtless.  She must be kept in this naïveté; she can only be very wise to Masetto, and he can only be so angry.  Thus neither character should have any atonement to make, as she was just redeemed.  By no means.  This begins again as soon as she sees Don Giovanni, and so again must she go and whimper a bit for Masetto, comfort him, and trust herself finally, that it is Don Giovanni and Masetto who have become enemies, God knows what for, and she has become the person who will have to satisfy them with her talk.

------------------------------

* Therefore Leporello and Zerlina would be able to engage in splendid conversation when he says to her what he used to say in bygone days to Elvira regarding Don Giovanni, and what most revolted her: "Yes, oh yes!  It is so strange, because as quickly as he is here, so is he gone."  And then Zerlina would say: "It is not that at all, I tell you; one really has no idea how it all comes to pass."

** The system in such an instance would be altered and we would move towards the profound and the Greek, in that Don Giovanni would stumble over a straw, over a little Zerlina, while he fell under the sway of wholly other powers.  The complete effect and the complete unity of the story would be disrupted.  Anna's passion, the murder of her father the Commendatore, the reunion with Elvira, all of this is against Don Giovanni; he is in the process of being stopped and for the first time in his life he is left gasping for air.  All of this has happened so early on, in the first two scenes, that the opera is still at its beginning.  What now of the seduction that is to take place in the play?  One of two: it shall involve either a seduction so complicated and dangerous that he is motivated purely by the thrill, which incites his greatest desire and greatest strength (which, nevertheless, will weaken the effect and be weakened by the impact of Anna and Elvira), or an insignificant, lovable little farm-girl imbued with natural roguishness and childlike qualities, a type of woman that one may find in the north and for whom the Catholic Church has a dubious category.  Don Giovanni is well in his element here, with the impact on the rest of the play not weakened.  This is Mozart's intention, and in this intention the play has its own beautiful unity and Mozart his own joyful mission.  Don Giovanni and Zerlina relate directly to one another like natural force and natural destiny, a purely musical relationship.

Friday
Mar042011

Kierkegaard, "A Worthwhile Engagement" (part 2)

The concluding part of a selection from a work by this Danish man of letters. You can find the original in this volume.

Now I am in legal possession of Cordelia.  Now I have her aunt's approval and blessing and the congratulations and well wishes of her friends and relatives.  All this should hold up.  Now the difficulties of the war have past and freedom's blessings may begin.  What folly!  As if her aunt's blessing and her friends' well wishes could make me possess Cordelia at an even more profound level!  As if love distinguished between peacetime and war!  No sooner does love exist as it announces itself in battle however different the weapons might be.  The difference in fact may reside in what we call cominus – hand-to-hand battle – and eminus – battle from a stone's or spear's throw.  The more a love affair has been fought eminus, the more worrisome it will be and all the more insignificant will be the actual scuffle.  To the scuffle belongs a squeeze of the hand and a touch with the foot, something that Ovid famously recommends as much as he jealously resents, not to mention a kiss or an embrace.  He who fights eminus generally has only his eye to rely upon; and yet if he is an artist, he will know how to use this weapon with such virtuosity as almost immediately to achieve his end.  He will know how to let his eye linger on a girl with desultory tenderness, which has an effect similar to that of accidentally touching her.  With his eye he will be in a position to seize her as tightly as if he held her encircled by his arms. 

It would be, however, a mistake and misfortune to go on forever in this way, to fight eminus for too long, because such a struggle is but a designation not a pleasure.  When one fights cominus is when everything assumes its true significance.  When there is no fight in love it has ceased to exist.  I have almost never fought eminus, and so it is not from the conclusion but from the beginning that I draw my weapons.  I am in possession of her, that much is true, that is to say, in the legal and petty bourgeois understanding of possession; but there is nothing of consequence to this and my notions of her are even purer.  She is engaged to be married to me, that much is true; but if I were to conclude therefrom that she loved me, that would be a disappointment because she does not love me in the least.  I am in legal possession of her and yet I am not in possession of her in the way I could be in possession of a girl without being in legal possession of her:

Upon secretly reddened cheek [Auf heimlich erröthender Wange]
Shall glow the heart's desire [Leuchtet des Herzens Glühen].

Now by the tea table she sits on the sofa, I in a chair by her side.  Her posture suggests something confidential and yet instilled again with a nobility that distances her.  Such posture always has a remarkable effect on the observer, that is to say, on those who have an eye for such things.  Love has many positions, and this is the first.  How royally has nature equipped this girl: her soft, pure forms, her deep, womanly innocence, her translucent eyes – all of this intoxicates me.  I have greeted her.  As was her custom she came over to me in a happy if somewhat embarrassed and unsure state: an engagement to be married may indeed have rendered our relationship into something different, but she does not know just how different.  She took my hand, but not with a smile as was her custom.  I answered her greetings with a light, almost unnoticeable squeeze of the hand; I was mild and friendly without being sensual.  Now by the tea table she sits on the sofa, I in a chair by her side. 

An explicatory solemnity reigns over the situation, like the dawn's faint light.  She is silent and nothing breaks this stillness.  My eye glides gently over her without coveting what I see, in truth that would be too impertinent on my part.  A fine, fleeting blush sweeps over her like a cloud above a field, rising and falling.  And what does this blush signify?  Is it love, yearning, hope, or fear?  Is red indeed the color of the heart?  Not in the least.  She is puzzled, she is astonished – but not with regard to me, that would be a little too much to ask of her.  She is puzzled not with regard to herself but within herself: she is transforming into herself.  Such a moment demands quiet, so no reaction should disturb it, no hubbub of passion should interrupt it.  It is as if I were not present at all, and yet precisely my presence is the condition for her contemplative astonishment.  My being is in harmony with hers.  In such a state a young girl is grown and idolized in silence like a godhead.  

It is thus so fortunate for me that I have my uncle's house.   If I were to impart to a young man a taste for tobacco, I would take him into one or the other smoking-room at the Regents; if I were to impart to a young woman how to be engaged, it would behoove me simply to introduce her here.   As tailors seek out only other tailors at a guild's house, so does she look here for her betrothed.  This is dangerous company in which to be, and I cannot blame Cordelia if she is somewhat impatient.  When we are, I believe, all assembled together en masse we would be ten quiet pairs, in addition to the conquered battalions which come to the capital during major festival periods.  Those of us engaged to be married could then really enjoy the pleasures of our engagement.  I meet Cordelia standing at attention to receive a taste of these lovers' blows, the awkward acts of enamored workmen.  In the distance all through the evening one can hear a sound as if someone were going around with a fly swatter – this is the lovers' kiss.  In this house one is in possession of lovable unceremoniousness.   Corner pubs are not what one seeks, no!  No, here we sit at a round table.  I too pretend to treat Cordelia the same way.  By the end of all this I will perhaps have committed great violence to my person.  It would be really outrageous if I were to permit myself to nurture her deep femininity in this way.  I would reproach myself greatly whenever I deceive her.  In general I can assure a wholly aesthetic treatment to any girl who confides in me, but it shall end with my deceiving her.  And yet this is part of my aesthetic system, for either the girl deceives the man, or the man deceives the girl.  Nevertheless it would be interesting to conduct a study of fairy tales, legends, folk tales and mythologies to tally up the number of times the girl was unfaithful and how many times the man.

Monday
Feb282011

Kierkegaard, "A Worthwhile Engagement" (part 1)

The first part of a selection from a work by this Danish man of letters.  You can find the original in this volume.

Thus I am engaged to be married; so is Cordelia, of course, and that is nearly everything that she knows about the matter.  If she had a friend with whom she could speak properly and openly, she would say something like the following: "What all this means I really cannot fathom.  There's something about him which attracts me to him, but I cannot get wise to what that is.  He has some weird power over me, but love him I do not, and perhaps would never arrive at such a condition.  On the other hand, I could see myself living and even being quite blissful with him and our life together because if one can tolerate him he certainly does not ask for much."  My dear Cordelia!  Perhaps he is asking for more in exchange for less tolerance – and of all ridiculous things an engagement to be married must be the most ridiculous.  After all, marriage is a purpose even if the purpose discomforts me.  An engagement to be married, however, is purely a human invention and by no means does its inventor any honor.  It is neither fish nor fowl, and is to love what the rags a school groundsman wears are to a professor's gown.  Now I am a member of this hateful society.  This is not insignificant  for, as Trop says, only once you are an artist do you have the right to judge other artists.  And isn't a fiancé necessarily a deer park artist?    

Edward is beside himself with acrimony.  He's let his beard grow and hung up his black frock, which says a lot already.  He wants to talk to Cordelia and describe my subtlety to her.  Now this would be a shattering scene: Edward unshaven and in slapdash garb, speaking in high tones with Cordelia.  May he not jab me with his long beard!  In vain I attempt to bring him to reason; I explain that it was the aunt who set up the match, so to speak, with Cordelia still possibly harboring feelings for him, and me willing to step back if he can win her over.  For a moment he waffles as to whether he should let his beard stick out in some new way, whether he should buy a new black frock; then a moment later I find him scolding me.  Nevertheless, I try my best to maintain my best countenance.  However angry with me he may be, I am certain that he would not take a step without first consulting with me.  He cannot forget what a benefit it was to have had me as a mentor.  And why should I then wrest from him this final hope, why should I break with him?  After all, he is a good person who knows what can happen in time.

What I have to do now is twofold.  On the one hand, I must exert all efforts to have the engagement broken off so that I may assure myself of a lovelier and more meaningful relationship with Cordelia; on the other hand, I will need to use the time as profitably as possible so as to exult in all the grace and adorableness with which Nature has so superfluously equipped her.  I will also delight in the limitations and circumspection which impede anything from being understood.  Once I have made her learn what it means to love, and what it means to love me, so then will the engagement collapse like an incomplete form, and she will belong to me.  Other people get engaged at precisely this point, and have excellent prospects for a boring marriage for all of eternity.  That is up to other people.  

Everything is still in statu quo, but hardly could any fiancé on earth be happier than I, nor any miser who has just come across a gold coin.  I am intoxicated by the thought that she is in my power.  A pure, innocent femininity as transparent as the ocean and yet as profound as it as well, without a suspicion of love!  Now she will learn what kind of power love is.  Like a king's daughter raised from the dust that leads to her father's throne, she is then enshrined in the Royal house to which she has always belonged.  And that shall happen with me: because she will learn to love, she will learn to love me; because she will develop rules and successive paradigms will unfold, all these will become me; because in loving she will feel her entire meaning, she will apply this to loving me; and she will love me twice as much once she realizes that she has learned it from me.  The thought of my joy overwhelms me to such a degree that I almost lose consciousness.       

Her soul is neither bound nor eased by love's indefinite stirrings, something which leads many young women never to love, that is to say, never to love definitely, energetically or completely.  What they have on their consciences is a fuzzy everyday scene which shall become an ideal once the genuine article has been sampled.  From such halves comes something with which one can move through the world in a Christian way.  Since love now watches over her soul, I can see through it; from within her I can listen to it in all of love's voices.  I gain certainty as to how this has taken shape in her and pattern myself in that image.  And since I am already directly involved in the story, love runs through her heart and I meet her again halfway, as disappointingly as possible.   After all, a girl only loves once.      

Friday
Jul312009

Kierkegaard, "A True Friendship" (part 2)

The concluding part of a selection from a work by this Danish man of letters. You can find the original in this volume.

All of this is but one picture, all four of us together.  If I were to think about some of them I would be able to find an analogy as far as my own self – Mephistopheles; the only difficulty here is that Edward is no Faust.  Were I to dub myself Faust the problem would be different: Edward is the farthest thing from Mephistopheles.  As am I for that matter, at least in Edward's eyes.  He admires me for the good genius of Love, and in that regard he does well; at least he can rest assured that no one can watch over his love more meticulously than I can.  I promised him to engage the aunt in conversation, and I tend to this hateful task with all seriousness.  Practically before our very eyes the aunt disappears into pure agronomy: we go to the kitchen and basement, out into the fresh air, look after the hens, ducks and geese, and so forth.  All this angers Cordelia, but she of course cannot understand what I actually want.  To her I remain a mystery, a mystery whose solution does not tempt her but which provokes bitterness and indignation.  She feels very good that her aunt is almost ridiculous, and yet her aunt is such a respectable woman that she certainly does not deserve it.  On the other hand I make her feel that she would be forgiven if she sought me out to provoke me.  Sometimes I go so far as to make Cordelia smile at her aunt with secrecy.  There are studies that have to be done.  It's not as if Cordelia and I acted in such a way so that she would never smile at her aunt – far from it.  I remain undeterred in my commitment to taking the matter seriously; but she doesn't let herself smile.  And this is the first error in her education: we have to teach her how to smile ironically.  But this smile applies almost as much to me as to her aunt because she really has no idea what to think of me.  Nevertheless it was possible that I was a young man who had become old before his time; it was possible.  There was a second possibility as well as a third, etcetera.  Once she has smiled at her aunt she will feel indignant towards herself, and I will turn around and continue chatting with her aunt, look at her with a grave and serious mien, and she will smile at me, at the situation.              

Our relationship does not involve the tender, faithful embraces of understanding nor attraction, but misunderstanding's repulsion.  My relationship towards her is in fact nothing at all, it is purely spiritual – which of course is nothing in a relationship with a young girl.  The method to which I now adhere does have, however, its extraordinary conveniences.  A person who comports himself chivalrously stirs up doubt and provokes resistance – but I am exempt from such things.  No one watches over me; on the contrary, one would sooner label me a reliable sort well-suited to watching over a young girl.  This method has only one flaw, which is its slowness; this can only used to one's advantage on those people who would be interesting to win over.

What else possesses the tremendous force of a young girl?  Not the wind's whisper, nor the freshness of the morning air, nor the brisk cool seaport, nor the scent and vim of a bottle of wine.  No, nothing; nothing else on earth has this power.

Soon I hope to have made her hate me.  I have wholly assumed the guise of bachelor, talking only about loafing at home, having a reliable servant, and having a friend with a good enough foothold that he can be counted on when we join arms in camaraderie.  If I could only get the aunt to stop talking about farming, I would be able to give her a more direct occasion for irony.  A bachelor is someone you can laugh at, someone with whom you can sympathize, yet a young man who is not out of his mind; and a young girl will bristle at such behavior, with all of her gender's meaning, her beauty and poetry destroyed. 

Thus the days go by: I see her but do not speak to her, in her vicinity I only make idle chatter with her aunt.  One night perhaps it may occur to me to give full vent to my love.  So I walk outside her windows shrouded in my cloak, my hat pulled down over my eyes.  Her bedroom looks out upon the courtyard, but since it lies on the corner it also faces the street.  Now and then she stands up for a moment beside the window or opens it, and, unnoticed by all, looks up towards the stars – although she is not one to want to be noticed by everyone.  During these nocturnal hours I drift around like a ghost, and like a ghost I haunt her apartment block.  Here I forget everything, have no plans or calculations; here I throw reason overboard, expand and strengthen my bosom with deep sighs, a movement not permitted in my system of conduct.  Some are virtuous during the day and sinful at night, and I am all pretense in daytime and pure desire as evening comes.  If only she could see me here, if only she could peer into my soul – if only. 

If this girl wishes to understand herself, she will have to confess that I am a man for her.  She is too intense, too deeply set on being happy in marriage; it would not be enough to let her fall for a seducer, pure and simple.  But when she does fall for me she will salvage the interesting part of this shipwreck.  With me she will have to do what philosophers have described with a pun: zu Grunde gehen.

As it were, she's grown tired of listening to Edward.   This is so often the case when strict limits engird the person of interest.  Sometimes she listens in on my conversation with her aunt, and once I notice this, to the astonishment of both her aunt and Cordelia, some hint of another world gleams on the horizon.  Her aunt sees lightning but hears nothing; Cordelia sees nothing but hears a voice.  And yet at that very time everything is in perfect order, the conversation between her aunt and me advancing in its humdrum way like courier ponies in the still of the night, accompanied by the melancholy of the tea machine.  In the living room at such moments it can sometimes get uncomfortable, especially for Cordelia.  She has no one to whom she can talk or listen.  Were she to turn towards Edward in his embarrassment, she would run the risk of a very dumb move; were she to turn to the other side, towards her aunt and me, she would trigger that assuredness that reigns, the brisk, monotone hammering of conversation, so different from Edward's supreme awkwardness.  I can well understand how it might occur to Cordelia that her aunt was charmed and bewitched, as she moves in perfect harmony with my tempo.  Nor could she participate in this conversation, because this is one of those means that I use to repulse her, and I allow myself to treat her completely like a child.  It's not as if on that account I should permit myself all sorts of liberties towards her – far from it.  I see quite clearly how confusing this might seem, especially as to whether her femininity may rise up pure and  beautiful as it once was.  Owing to my intimate relationship with her aunt, it is easy for me to treat her like a child that has no understanding of the world.  This approach neutralizes rather than affronts her femininity, because her femininity cannot be offended by the fact that she has no idea about market square prices although it may repulse her that this is somehow the most essential thing in life.  In this respect her aunt outdoes herself – with my powerful support.  She becomes almost fanatic, something for which she has me to thank.  The only thing she cannot tolerate about me is that I am simply nothing.   Now I have introduced the practice that every time our topic of conversation is a vacant office or post, that means that this is a post for me, and a matter of serious discourse between us.  Cordelia always notices the irony, which is exactly what I want. 

Poor Edward!  Pity that his name is not Fritz.  Every time that I dwell in my reflections on my relationship with him, I always end up thinking about Fritz i Bruden.  Edward is moreover just like his role model, the Corporal in the National Guard; to be honest, Edward is also rather boring.  He never perceives a matter the right way, and always appears taut and rehearsed.  Just between us, out of friendship towards him, I always try to appear as reckless as possible.  Poor old Edward!  The only thing that hurts me more is his endless debt to me, and that he almost doesn't know how to thank me.  Therefore allowing myself to be thanked would really be too much. 

Wednesday
Jul292009

Kierkegaard, "A True Friendship" (part 1)

The first part of a selection from a work by this Danish man of letters.  You can find the original in this volume.

So we are friends, Edward and I; a true friendship, a beautiful relationship exists between us, one unlike any that has existed since the halcyon days of Ancient Greece.  We soon became confidants and, after having involved him in a plethora of observations regarding Cordelia, I almost succeeded in making him confess his secret.  It is said that as easily as secrets come together, so do they slip away.  Poor fellow, so often has he sighed already.  He decks himself out each time she comes by; from there he walks her home in the evening, his heart throbbing at the thought of her arm grazing his.  And they stroll home, gazing at the stars, he rings the outside doorbell, she disappears, he despairs – but he hopes and waits for next time.  He still has not had the courage to set foot across her threshold, he whose own apartment is so exquisite.  Although I cannot help but silently mock Edward in my mind there is indeed something cute about his childishness.  And although I imagine myself otherwise as rather skilled in all these erotic concepts, I have never observed that condition, a lover's fear or trembling, that is to say, to the degree that it robs me of my composure which I can usually maintain.  But this instance is such that it actually makes me stronger.  Perhaps one would say I have never really been in love – perhaps.  I have reprimanded Edward; I have encouraged him to rely on our friendship.  Tomorrow he shall take a decisive step, personally go over and invite her out.  I have made him keen on the desperate idea of asking me to go with him; this I have promised him.  He takes it as an extraordinary act of friendship.  The apartment is just how I want it, with the door opening into the living room.  Should she have the slightest doubt about the meaning of my appearance, my appearance shall yet again confound everything.

I have not been accustomed previously to preparing myself for conversation, and now I see the necessity of talking with her aunt.  Namely, I have taken upon myself the hateful task of conversing with her, therewith concealing Edward's love-struck movements towards Cordelia.  The aunt used to reside in the country, and from both my painstaking studies of agronomic documents and the aunt's wisdom grounded in experience, I continue to make significant progress in my insights and capabilities.

At her aunt's I do whatever I please; she regards me as a staid and respectable person whom one can always enjoy inviting along – not like one of those waggish Junkers.   With Cordelia I do not think of being particularly well-regarded.  Owing to her purely innocent femininity she is someone who demands that every man pay her courtship, and yet she senses all too greatly the rebelliousness of my existence.

So as I sit in that cozy salon and as she, like some good angel, spreads her charm and grace everywhere and over everyone,  I come into contiguity with her, beyond good and evil, where I sometimes become impatient within and am tempted to abandon my cover.  For even though I sit before everyone's eyes in the living room, I also sit and lurk.  I am tempted to grab her hand, to embrace the entire girl, to hide her within me out of fear that someone will rob me of her.  Or as Edward and I leave them in the evening, as she extends her hand to me to say goodbye, as I hold it in mine, sometimes I find it difficult to let the bird slip out from my fingers.  Patience – quod antea fuit impetus, nunc ratio est ***– may now be spun in a completely different way in my loom, and suddenly I let all of passion's might burst forth.  We do not debase this moment with sweets, with untimely anticipation – and you can thank me for that, my dear Cordelia.  I work on developing contradistinctions, opposites; I tense Cupid's bow to wound even more deeply.  And like an archer I release the string, tense it again, hear its song anew, which is my war anthem, but I still do not aim nor place an arrow on the string.

As a limited number of people often come in contact with one another in the same room, so there develops a tradition as to each person's place, his stage, that remains in one's mind like a picture which can be unrolled at will, a map of the terrain.  This is how we are now in the Wahlske house: a picture all together.  The general scene: seated on the sofa, the aunt moves the little sewing table towards her; Cordelia moves to accommodate her; she moves it up to the coffee table in front of the sofa; then Edward follows, and I follow Edward.  Edward wants secrecy, mysteriousness, he wants to whisper; and in general he whispers so well as to seem completely mute.  I, on the other hand, make no mystery of my effusions to the aunt, market square prices, a calculation as to how many pots of milk would make a pound of butter through the liquid medium and the butter's core dialectic.  These really are things to which every young girl cannot just listen without being harmed; even more rarely does it devolve into a solid, fundamental and constructive conversation that ennobles the head and heart.  I generally have my back to the coffee table and to Edward and Cordelia's chatter, and I chat away with the aunt.  And is it not of our great and undoubted nature in its creations; what is butter if not a delicious gift; what a magnificent result of nature and art.  Her aunt would certainly be in no condition to listen to what is being said between Edward and Cordelia, assuming something is actually being said.  That much I promised Edward and I am a man of my word.  I, however, can hear every word exchanged, every movement.  For me this is paramount because one doesn't know what a person in his despair might venture.  The most cautious and dispirited among us sometimes attempt the most desperate acts. Nevertheless, I have nothing of the kind to undertake with these two people, I can see that on Cordelia's face.  And I am the constant invisible presence between her and Edward.

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*** More properly, "Quod nunc ratio est, impetus ante fuit," from Horace [What we justify today as reasonable, we deemed yesterday an act of violence]. 

Wednesday
Jun112008

Kierkegaard, "Cordelia"

An excerpt from one of the more famous works by this philosopher and native of Copenhagen.  The original Danish volume can be found here.

It was today that my eyes first came upon her.  Sleep is allegedly capable of making an eyelid so heavy that it can no longer close.  Maybe my gazing upon her had something of this form.  My eyes pull shut and still feel the breath of dark powers within her.  She does not see that I see her.  She feels that I see her, feels it over her entire body.  My eyes do not close, and it is night.  But within her is the light of day.

I must rid myself of Edward.  He goes to extremes, so I expect at any moment that he will accost her with a declaration of his love.  No one could know this better than I, his confidant, who with diligence praises him to high heaven so that he can have more of an effect on Cordelia.  But letting him get so far as to confess his love would be too risky.  For I know that the answer will be no; and yet the story will not end there.  He will certainly take the matter very personally.  This may, in turn, serve to touch Cordelia, to move her emotions.  Although in such a case I need not fear the worst, that is, that she undo what has been done, her soul’s pride might all the same be affected by compassion.  Should that happen, then success and Edward will never meet.   

My relationship with Cordelia is beginning to take a dramatic turn.  Something simply has to occur; no matter what, I can no longer relegate myself to observation and there is no time to lose.  She might be surprised, yet that is a necessary step.  But when one wants to surprise her, one has to be ready in position.  That which would generally surprise other women would perhaps not have the same effect on her.  As it were, she has to be surprised in such a way so that the reason for her surprise would be contained in that first instant, whereby something quite ordinary would occur.  Then it must be demonstrated that there is something implicitly surprising in it.  This is the constant law and this same law applies to all my movements involving Cordelia.  When you know the element of surprise, you have already won the match.  For a moment, one suspends the energy in question, makes it impossible for her to act, and then one uses either the unusual or the usual.  It is with no small satisfaction that I still recall a foolhardy attempt with a woman of distinguished family.  For a while I skulked around in vain looking for a riveting way to break the ice when, one day around noon, we came across one another on the street.  I was sure that she did not know me, nor knew that I was a local.  She was walking alone.  I slipped past her so that we came face to face.  I gave way to her, but she did not budge from her flagstone.  At that moment I shot her a wistful glance; perhaps a tear even grazed my eye.  I removed my hat and she stopped.  With a wavering voice and dreams in my eyes I said: “Dear Lady, do not be so upset that the likeness between your outline and a being I once loved with all my soul now living far from me is so remarkable that you cannot forgive my peculiar behavior."  She thought I was just another admirer, and every young girl likes a bit of admiration, especially when she also senses her superiority and deigns to smile at the man in question.  So she smiled, which suited her so indescribably well.  With noble superciliousness she greeted me and smiled.  Then she continued on her way, but she had hardly taken two steps when I was by her side.  Some days later I met her and allowed myself to greet her.  She laughed at me … Patience is a priceless virtue, and he who laughs last … I think you know the saying. 

Various ways to surprise Cordelia came to mind.  I could try to raise an erotic storm which could eradicate trees from the ground.  If possible, I could try on this basis to win her over with arguments, run her down on the strength of our history, and seek in this agitation to evoke her passion with secret means.  The possibility of all this was not out of the question.  A girl with her passion could be made to do anything.  This would be, however, aesthetically unpalatable.  I do not want giddiness.  Such a condition is hardly recommended when dealing with a girl who by herself might so gain poetic reflection.  Therefore one must abstain from such pleasure; far too much confusion is the result.  Its effect would be completely lost on her.  After a couple of inhalations, I would have breathed in what I could have had for much longer a time.  Yes, the worst is enjoying with a cool head that which could have been fuller and richer.  Cordelia does me no good in exaltation.  I might surprise her at that first moment if I so chose, but I would quickly become satiated just because this surprise lay too close to her audacious heart.

A betrothal, pure and simple, would be of all methods the best and most prudent.  Perhaps she would still be less inclined to believe her own ears if she heard me spout off my prosaic declaration of love as I held her hand.  Less inclined still if she were to listen to the entirety of my eloquence, inhale my poisonous and intoxicating elixir, and hear her heart throb at the thought of abduction.

The damned thing about getting engaged was the ethical side.  The ethical was as tedious in science as it was in life.  What a difference: in the world of aesthetics everything is light, pretty, and fleeting; when ethics are incorporated, everything becomes hard, angular, and endlessly boring.  Strictly speaking, a betrothal has, however, no ethical reality, just as a marriage is only valid ex consensu gentium.  This ambiguity can be very useful to me.  The ethical component is simply that Cordelia, in her lifetime, wishes to get the impression of passing beyond the boundaries of the ordinary.  So the ethics involved are not too serious, and I should feel nothing more than an uneasy shudder.  I have always had a certain respect for the ethical.  Never have I made to any girl a promise of marriage that was not in the end stamped out, as one might have guessed beforehand, because it was nothing more than a feigned gesture.  Thus I will arrange matters so that it will be she who breaks off the engagement.  My chivalrous pride has great disdain for promises.  I loathe when a judge promising freedom incarcerates a culprit upon the latter’s confession.  Such a judge renounces both his power and his talent.  In my practice, I still encounter the circumstance whereby I wish for nothing, which is freedom’s gift in the strictest sense of the word.  Let second-rate seducers use such means.  What do they gain by doing so?  He who doesn’t know how to accommodate a girl so that she loses sight of everything that one doesn’t want her to see, and he who doesn’t know how to invent himself for a woman so that everything quits her because he so wishes, this person is and will remain a bungler.  I will not begrudge him his enjoyment.  Such a person is and will remain a bungler, a seducer, a label which one can by no means affix to my broad brow.  I am an aesthete, an erotic who has grasped love’s essence and point, in that I believe in love and know it for the simple reason that it only has a private meaning reserved for me.  I also know that every love story lasts half a year at most, and that every relationship is over as soon as one has enjoyed the last.  All this is known to me; I also know that the greatest pleasure I could imagine is to be loved.  Being loved is greater than everything in the world.  Inventing yourself for a girl is an art, and creating yourself from her is a masterpiece.  But the last depends very much on the first.

Yet there was another way.  I could do everything in my power for her to become engaged to Edward.  I would become the family friend in this picture.  Edward would trust me unconditionally – after all, it was to me that he owed his happiness.  And I, I would benefit from this concealment.  But this wouldn’t do.  She could not get engaged to Edward without disparaging herself in some way.  And it would result in having a relationship with her that was more feisty than interesting.  The unending commonplaceness of an engagement is the echoless nadir of what could possibly be interesting.

Everything was more critical in the Wahlske house.  One plainly noted that a hidden life grazed our own from beneath the daily platitudes, and that it soon had to emerge as a similar revelation.  The Wahlske house was made for an engagement.  An outside observer would now think about the fact that there sat no one but a couple: the aunt and I.  What couldn’t be achieved in such a marriage for the expansion of agronomical knowledge for coming generations?  So here I became Cordelia’s uncle.  I was a friend of freethinking; and no thought was absurd enough for me to have anything against it, at least for a while.  Cordelia feared a declaration of love from Edward; Edward was hoping that such a declaration would be the answer to everything.  And now he can be sure of that.  So as to spare him the unpleasant consequences of such a step, I would simply have to beat him to the punch.  I now hoped to dispatch him quickly: he was truly in my way.  And today I felt right.  Today he did not look dreamy and lovesick enough for one to fear that he might suddenly get up like a sleepwalker, confess his love before all of mankind, objectively viewed, and get any closer to Cordelia.  Today I took a look at him.  Just like an elephant seizes what it wants with its trunk, so did I seize him with my gaze, long as it was, and threw him back.  Although he was sitting down at the time, I think he felt it in every part of his body.

Cordelia was not as sure towards me as she was before.  She would always approach me like a woman, sure of herself, and now she wobbled a bit.  This did not mean, however, anything of importance, and I would have little difficulty in getting things back to where they once were.  And yet, this is not what I want.  I just want an exploration, and then an engagement. That should present no difficulties.  Overwhelmed with surprise, Cordelia will say yes, and the aunt, amen.  She will be beside herself with joy for gaining an agronomist of this kind as a son-in-law.  Son-in-law!  Everything now hung together like peas and pods when one ventured into this area.  I would become not her son-in-law, as it were, but her nephew.  Or, more correctly, volente deo, neither of the two.