either/or - both/and - NEITHER/NOR (1833 – 2017)
A short film by Danius Kesminas based upon Soren Kierkegaard’s* ‘philosophical crumbs’:
You stick your finger into the ground to smell what country you’re in. I stick my finger into existence – and there’s no smell at all. Where am I? What is that supposed to mean – in the world? What does the word mean? Who has lured me into all this and then left me standing here? Who am I? How did I get into the world? Why was I never asked? Why was I not taught the rules and customs here but just stuck into the ranks as though I’d been bought from some travelling slave-trader? How come I am a participant in this huge enterprise known as Reality? Why should I be a participant? Is there no choice in the matter? And if there is no choice, then where is the manager – there’s something I want to say to him. Is there no manager? Then to whom shall I address my complaint
The most important thing is that a person should grow in the soil to which he really belongs; although where that might be is not always easy to know. In that respect there are certain lucky souls who have such a clear bias in one particular direction that, once it is pointed out to them, they head straight off in that direction and are never troubled by the possibility that, in fact, they should really have been taking a completely different path. And then there are others, so completely conditioned in their progress by their immediate surroundings that they never fully understand what it is they really should be aiming for.
(Papers and Journals 1833-1855, published posthumously)
Of all the ridiculous things, it seems to me what is most ridiculous is to be busy in this world, to be a man who hastens to his food and hastens to his work. That is why, when at some critical moment I see a fly land on the nose of one of these businessmen, or he gets soaked by some carriage driving by in even greater haste than his own, or he has to wait while the river bridge goes up in front of him, or a tile falls from the roof and kills him, I laugh heartily. Who, after all, could fail to laugh? What is it, actually, that they achieve, these furiously busy people? Is there any difference between them and the woman who, in her confusion when a fire broke out in the house, salvaged the fire-tongs? Do they really salvage anything more from the great conflagration of life?
If anybody keeps a diary it should be me, to help jog my memory a bit. I often find myself completely forgetting what is was that moved me to do this or that thing, go to this or that place, and not just in trivial matters but in matters of real moment. And if I then do happen to recall the reason, it sometimes strikes me as so strange that I refuse to believe it. If I had written notes on which to rely then doubts like this would be wholly removed.
So all people are boring … The word ‘boring’ itself can as easily refer to someone who bores others as someone who bores himself. Those who bore others are the crowd, the mass, the common run of humanity in general. Those who bore themselves are the few, the elite: and the wonder of it is this, that those who do not bore themselves generally bore others, while those who do not bore themselves amuse others. While those who do not bore themselves are generally speaking the industrious people of the world, which is precisely why these are the most boring and most intolerable of all.
People suppose that there is no special art to being arbitrary, and yet it is a profound study to be arbitrary in such a way that one does not get lost in the process but is able to derive pleasure from it.
… when I got older, when I opened my eyes and saw the real world, I began to laugh and I haven’t stopped since. I saw that the meaning of life was to get a livelihood … that the bright joy of love was to marry a well-off girl, that the blessing of friendship was to help each other out of a financial tight spot, that wisdom was what the majority said it was … and that the fear of God was to go to communion once a year. That’s what I saw. And I laughed.
At a theatre once a fire broke out backstage. The clown came on to warn the audience. The audience thought it was a joke and applauded: he repeated what he had said, and the applause increased. I think that’s how the world will come to an end: to the general acclaim of witty types who think it’s all a joke.
Marry, you’ll regret it; don’t marry, you’ll regret that too; marry or don’t marry, you’ll regret it either way; whether you marry or you don’t marry, either way, you’ll regret it. Laugh at the world’s follies, you’ll regret it; weep over them, you’ll regret that too; laugh at the world’s follies or weep over them, you’ll regret it either way; whether you laugh at the world’s follies or weep over them, either way, you’ll regret it. Believe a girl, you’ll regret it; don’t believe her, you’ll regret that too; believe a girl or don’t believe her, you’ll regret it either way; whether you believe a girl or don’t believe her, either way, you’ll regret it. Hang yourself, you’ll regret it; don’t hang yourself, you’ll regret that too; hang yourself or don’t hang yourself, you’ll regret it either way; whether you hang yourself or you don’t hang yourself, either way, you’ll regret it. This, gentlemen, is the essence of all life’s wisdom.
Reflection is not the evil. The evil is the state of reflection, and the stasis that comes with reflection. These are corrupting and dangerous because, by conceding the possibility of withdrawal, they make retreat an easier option.
(Two Ages: A Literary Review, 1846)
…No one comes back from the dead, no one has come into the world without crying. No one asks when you want to enter the world, no one asks when you want to leave … How empty and meaningless life is. We bury a person; follow him to the grave, throw three shovels of dirt over him. We drive out in a coach and drive back in a coach, and console ourselves with the thought of our own long lives. But really, how long is three score and ten? Why not just get it over with straight away? Why not stay out there, hop down into the grave ourselves and draw lots to see who has the bad luck to be the last one alive, the one to throw the last three shovels of dirt over the last dead person?
*Born in 1813 in Copenhagen, Soren Kierkegaard was a prolific writer of the Danish ‘golden age’. A philosopher (of ‘anti-philosophy’), literary stylist, poet, social critic and modern theologian, his key concepts of angst, despair, and the importance of the individual and personal choice influenced many 20th century philosophers and literature throughout Europe. A famously fierce critic of the idealist thinkers of his time, he is regarded as the first existential philosopher.