Oct 15, 2009

Running out of ideas

If one lacks the faith to dissolve oneself in a sea of wisdom, one can still occupy oneself in a relatively noble fashion with ideas of truth. The problem is, ideas run out. It is not long before you ahve thought all thoughts, and perhaps written all ideas, and they cease to thrill. One's ink runs dry.

The temptation is now to fall back into the immediacy of common worldliness, where there is at least some pleasure, some colour, however shallow.

The wise never run short of ideas, because they seek no joy in them, and thus find no pain. Their strength arises from their having sacrificed knowledge, and having become all-knowledge.

— Kevin Solway

Oct 10, 2009

Kierkegaard and epilepsy

Kierkegaard probably did suffer from epileptic fits, as described by Heidi and Leif Bork Hansen in their essay "Kirkegaard's Epilepsy: The Intriguing Secret of the Machinery". It is not altogether true, however, that Kirkegaard's conception of the Infinite was influenced by his epileptic experiences. Kirkegaard noted many times in his Journals that his "thorn in the flesh" was something he strove not to give into, and was aware that it was a untruth.

It was not, as the Hansens surmise, a direct result of his God-relationship, as a sort of divinely raised whip of discipline. Rather, Kierkegaard knew his illness as a psychosomatic combination of melancholy, and the psychological strain of his penitentiary education, under the ideals of reverence for his father and respect for his beloved:

At one time my condition was such that I had the burden of anguish which I may call my thorn in the flesh: a sorrow, a mental anguish related to my late father, a deep grief related to that beloved girl and everything that was involved. Thus I believed that, compared to the ordinary man, I mgiht be said to be carrying a heavy burden.

Kierkegaard was always sickly, and knew it. From childhood, his illness forced him to concentrate on the intellectual. He could not be one of the "universals" - a physically sound, robust, worldly fellow. His epilepsy was an important cause in his development as an extraordinary genius. In the same vein, it would have caused him to become acutely self-aware, to watch out for signs of approaching fits, so as to manage his neurological states better. But it is important to make a clear distinction between this kind of self-monitoring and the other kind of spiritual monitoring which makes up the body of his journal entries entitled, "About myself". Occasionally, he uses such entries to control any hypochondriac or depressive moods, but he is largely writing about how to adjust his moods and thoughts to a higher psychology, in the wake of various stressful events.

The Hansens imply that the temporal lobe seizure ("God-experience") that epileptics often use to justify belief in God was relevant to Kierkegaard's case. However, Kierkegaard did not identify the God-relationship as an altered state of consciousness, for, he did not value the idea of drawing close to God on Sundays, "quiet hours", or in special moments. The God-relationship was a 24/7/365 thing for Kierkegaard. Also, anyone who would argue that Kierkegaard's religiousness was entwined with his epileptic fits would have to argue that Kierkegaard thought Jesus, or the God-man prototype, should have similar fits in order to be religious. It is the kind of argument one would make who had no knowledge of Kierkegaard's emphasis on the education. If Kierkegaard indeed thought that epileptics were the true apostles, he would have been outright interested in finding epileptics and would have preached people into trances, rather than discoursing on purely intellectual ideas.

Similarly, the Hansens imply that Kierkegaard broke his engagement with Regina Olsen because of the epilepsy, but this is false. Kierkegaard's melancholy was something more closely aligned with his reverence for his father, having been made aware at an early age that the most noble man is rejected by society, and it was this characteristic melancholy, combined with his sickliness (creating a penchant for the otherworldly, the intellectual, the idea), which he knew would make the marriage a lie. He was unable to share candidly this inner life with Regina, and knew that any such marriage would be a farce.

Kierkegaard did indeed write compulsively, but this cannot be entirely put down to epileptic hypergraphia. Any genius wishes to control and restrain thought, to find and iterate the idea. Writing one's ideas profusely, as well as speaking or reading, are means to do this. In addition, Kierkegaard regarded his writings as to be read aloud, and mentions that he often speaks what he is to write, before he writes, to ensure the idea is expressed well. It is not entirely out of the question that a bachelor living alone, who has no object in life but his authorship (which was his penitentiary education), no past-times like watching television or gallivanting around the countryside, and whose daily life mostly included hours of thinking and writing, would write a lot.

The Hansens, who have never entered into the life of genius, have made inferences about Kierkegaard's life based on their ignorance. It would seem that their intention is to help publicise their own services as "humanitarian therapists" and to help again to destroy human consciousness of the spiritual man.