Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Kierkegaard: using cleverness subversively, as a spy

 The Price of Willing One Thing: The Exposure of Evasions
But the one who in truth wills the Good, puts cleverness to an inward use: in order to prevent all evasions and thereby to help him enter into and persist in the commitment.

Cleverness is indeed a great power, yet it is treated by him as an insignificant servant, as a shrewd contemptible one. He hears the servant, to be sure, but in action he is not guided by him. He uses cleverness against himself as a spy and informer, which informs him instantly of each evasion, yes, even gives warning at any suspicion of an evasion. Now just as the thief knows the hidden way -- and goes by it, so the authorities also know it and go by it in order to detect the thief, but the knowledge as knowledge is the same in both cases.

This is the way he makes use of cleverness. I do not know whether it is true that at each man’s birth two angels are born, his good and his bad angel. But this I do believe (and I will gladly listen to any objection, although I will not believe it) that at each man’s birth there comes into being an eternal vocation for him, expressly for him. To be true to himself in relation to this eternal vocation is the highest thing a man can practice, and, as that most profound poet has said: "Self-love is not so vile a sin as self-neglecting."(Shakespeare in Henry V, Act 2, Scene 4.)..

..Yes, man can deceive himself and men. But when eternity listens attentively, listens in order to discover whether the playing of the strings is pure and in time with itself -- alas, it instantly detects false tones and hesitation. It rejects such a man just as a connoisseur rejects a stringed instrument when it is damaged. Alas, it is indeed a sorry cleverness (however much it boasts of the material advantage that it won as a proof -- of its folly; however much it points to the badges of distinction and thereby again to -- the hidden dejection within), a sorry cleverness that deceives itself about what is the highest of all. The only genuine cleverness is that which helps a man in all devotedness truly to will the Good.

The one who truly wills the Good, therefore, makes use of cleverness against evasions. But by this does he not achieve something great in the world? Perhaps so, perhaps not. But one thing definitely he does become: he becomes a friend, a lover of memory...

...The one who in truth wills the Good also uses cleverness on the outer world. It is no disgrace to be clever; it is a good thing. It is no disgrace that the authorities are clever, that they shrewdly know how to trace the criminal’s hidden trail in order to seize him and make him harmless. In so far as the good man is clever, he, too, knows, how in the very face of truth the world wishes to have the Good made agreeable, how the crowd desires to be won -- the much feared crowd, who "desire that the teacher shall tremble before his hearers and flatter them." He knows all about this -- in order not to follow it, but rather by the very opposite conduct to keep as free as possible of these deceptions, that he himself may not adopt any illicit way of deriving some advantage from the Good (earning money, distinction, and admiration) and so that he may deceive no one by a figment of the imagination. Whenever possible he will prefer to withdraw the Good from contact with the crowd...

..Above all, the one, who in truth wills the Good must not be "busy." In quiet patience he must leave it to the Good itself, what reward he shall have, and what he shall accomplish. He dare not allow himself a single word of compromise, not a glance. He dare not ask the slightest relief from the world. He has only to give himself up to the Good and to that thing and to that person that might possibly be helped by him. He is no judge. On the contrary, he is just the opposite, he is the one who is judged. He effects a judgment only in the sense that the surrounding world becomes manifest by how it judges him.

But in this way does he accomplish nothing at all, since he is weighed down with men’s opposition, and then gets the worst of the battle? Now in this life indeed no, and in eternity, never. In this life indeed no, for the one who sincerely trusts in God is enthusiastic. He is not like a candle-stub, whose tiny flame goes out before a wind. No, he is like a great fire; a storm cannot quench it! And the flame in his fire is like that one in Greece: water cannot put it out! And even if finally the world does make him suffer, on that account neither the Good nor he has lost -- for to be too far up in the world is most often, as in the ordeal that is called "trial by water," a sign of guilt. To be sure, since the world puts more store by the fashionable than by the truly Good, just on that account in the reckoning of the moment, he will accomplish far less by not giving in, not bargaining, not even making himself comfortable and powerful, by not willing to have profit for himself. But the remembering, the remembering! Let us indeed never forget the remembering, although a person might certainly believe that he would at least be able to forget. And shall not memory be able to remind him of that time when he sneaked away by underhanded means, in order to avoid a decision; of that time when he gave the matter another turn, in order to please men; of that time that he deserted his post, in order to let the storm pass over; of that time he knuckled under, in order to secure an easing off of his painful position; of that time he sought refuge and association with others -- perhaps, as it is called, in order to work all the more effectively for the Good’s victory, that is, in order to make his own position a little less difficult than as though at the midnight hour, somewhat terror-stricken, one stood all alone "with heavily loaded weapons at his dangerous post.

Nay, what he accomplishes, and what he does not accomplish, in the sense of the moment, that is not his concern. He always accomplishes this -- that he becomes the friend and lover of memory. He accomplishes this whether he is remembered in the world or not. For this world’s memory is like the moment: a series of moments. Eternity’s memory, that he is certain of. When he leaves this world, he leaves nothing behind him, he takes all with him, he loses nothing, he gains all -- for "God is all to him."   Link, full chapter here, full book: Purity of Heart Is to Will One Thing by Sören Kierkegaard, or here

No comments:

Post a Comment

Hey, thanks for engaging the conversation!