Kierkegaard, The Present Age

Kierkegaard describes his age as one of reflection, rather than of revolution.  Ironically, he wrote this in 1846.  Perhaps it wasn’t ironic, I don’t know enough about 1848 to say for sure.   The mere fact that a revolution, or revolutions, occur does not mean that they are truly revolutionary, nor that we have escaped the doldrums of the age.  Regardless, the characterization certainly applies to the present

A reflective age is one in which the predominant turn is inwards, away from action and towards understanding.  Not true understanding in the sense of the Delphic maxim, γνῶθι σεαυτόν.  Indeed, true understanding is impossible in a reflective age, because we have become besotted with abstraction.  We move inwards unmoored from a connection to the concrete, and thus our search for higher relations with which to understand abstracts us more and more from reality and from ourselves. 

(True understanding involves the individual as an individual fixed within a concrete reality and through concrete action orienting himself towards the grounds of that concrete reality, God made manifest in Creation.  It involves a move within, but this move is within us as persons not within us as a part of the larger, abstract whole)

The more moored we are to abstraction, the less possible action becomes, since abstractions do not exist and require a removal from the particularity of ourselves as actors,  “There is no more action or decision in our day than there is perilous delight in swimming in shallow waters.”   More, abstraction necessarily requires the loss of passion, because the passions are both cued by and are the particulars that are abstracted away from.  To construct ourselves as abstract we must denude ourselves of our spiritedness, the very thing which makes action possible (this can be seen clearly in the idol of the Cartesian self as merely thinking substance). 

The reflective age is thus an age of indolence, dissipation, and boredom, devoid of meaning. 

A passionate tumultuous age will overthrow everything, pull everything down; but a revolutionary age, that is at the same time reflective and passionless, transforms that expression of strength into a feat of dialectics: it leaves everything standing but cunningly empties it of significanceInstead of culminating in a rebellion it reduces the inward reality of all relationships to a reflective tension which leaves everything standing but makes the whole of life ambiguous: so that everything continues to exist factually whilst by a dialectical deceit, privatisime, it supplies a secret interpretation–that it does not exist.

One response to “Kierkegaard, The Present Age”

  1. […] is characteristic of a reflexive age, which simultaneously gives it no productive outlet (as in ancient Greek ostracism where it was a […]

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