Soren Kiekegaard is considered a major figure in 19th century philosophy. It would be difficult to place his bodies of work into a particular category, but he is most often referred to as an existentialist. He devoted much time and effort to exploring existence and what it means to the individual. For Kierkegaard there are three modes of existence: the aesthetic, the ethical, and for those willing to make a sincere leap of faith, the religious. The focus of this essay is on the aesthetic stage, and how it is exemplified in Diary of The Seducer, from Either/or Vol. I.
The aesthetic mode of existence is filled with adventure. Boredom is the worst evil. The aesthete lives in abstract immediacy, never acknowledging the universal. The outside world is either ignored or treated as a mere instrument of fantasy. He/She is a Don Juan moving from one erotic fantasy to the next totally unaware of the ethical.
Life for the aesthete is in the moment, in the particular, in the finite. The immediacy of the lifestyle does not allow for feelings of eternal love or despair. It is the condition of the classical narcissist.1 Description of the aesthetic can easily be found in the words of Diary of The Seducer. The Aesthete introduces the reader to the diary of Johannes the Seducer, a man he claims to know. Some argue that Aesthete is Kierkegaard and that the diary is a reflection of his relationship with Regina, a women to whom he was affianced but left after breaking the engagement.2 Was Kierkegaard the seducer of Regina? He may have been a seducer of sort, but not the aesthetic seducer Johannes portrays for Kierkegaard fled to Berlin to escape his feelings. Feelings are not a part of the true aesthete's thought process, therefore not a true projection of Kierkegaards' actions.
The story of Johannes and Cordelia, the object of his fantasy, is a simple one.
Johannes encounters Cordelia and right away decides to pursue her. He becomes acquainted with all aspects of her life. He learns her likes and dislikes, her family, her activities, and even her wardrobe before they have the opportunity to meet. He arranges for the two to meet formally but does not assume the role of suitor right away. Instead he appears completely removed from her, and he takes on a personality that Cordelia would not be able to resist.
To increase the adventure he enlists the help of Edvard, a real suitor in love with Cordelia. Edvard had no notion of Johannes' strategy, and that he would ultimately have a hand in the fair maiden's seduction. In the end he too would feel the full brunt of Johannes' deception. Of course the feelings of Edvard are never a concern for Johannes.
He is a mere pawn in the fruition of the fantasy.
Eventually Johannes is able to secure a promise of marriage from Cordelia, who is at this point completely vexed by the situation. The seducer immediately stops the erotic overtures, and once again assumes the persona of disinterest. Cordelia is forced to use erotic behavior to gain his attentions once again. Cordelia would ultimately break off the engagement, the end of the game was near. Cordelia was now "free"ÃÂ in the aesthetic sense. Johannes' seduction was complete.
The story of Cordelia and her seducer might appear simple on the surface. A closer look reveals a more complex narrative. Page after page the author unveils the art of the aesthetic. His prose is that of love sick romantic, full of passion and love, longing and erotic satisfaction. However, many of the memories he chooses to record are oddly superficial. He describes Cordelia's face as beautiful, but having "no external evidence of intellectual faculties."ÃÂ3 When he first learns her name is Cordelia he proclaims it to be a lovely name, which is important, "since it is often very embarrassing to have to use an ugly name with the tenderest predicates."ÃÂ4 His opinion of himself holds no less esteem for he has a side glance not easily forgotten.
The aesthetic does not marry. To marry means to make that choice that would open the world of ethical reality. Why does Johannes seek an engagement to Cordelia? In one instance he claims to have a respect for the ethical. He claims to have never promised marriage, even in jest. In the next instance he is proposing. The proposal is used to confuse Cordelia, tearing down her resistance and setting the stage for seduction. This aesthetic believes seduction to be a slow process. He compares a quick seduction to rape.
An engagement will create enough confusion that the girl would be totally blind to the truth. The truth being clear deception.
Johannes claims to not be a seducer. For him a seducer is one who prefers the "rape"ÃÂ of innocence. He is an aesthetic, and proudly so. He understands "the nature and meaning of love"ÃÂ and believes that no love affair "should last more than six months, and should cease as soon as one has had the ultimate enjoyment."ÃÂ5 In his world of the aesthetic everything is light and beautiful. Realizing the enormity of his deception and its consequences on the characters involved would create a harsh, ethical reality that is boring and unsatisfying.
As mentioned in the previous paragraph, Johannes denies being a seducer. His choice of words support his argument. He is orchestrating a seduction he will not even call by name. Instead he chooses to use metaphors that show a theme of conquest, which is the ultimate enjoyment. He calls the seduction an "attack"ÃÂ, a "web into which she is spun."ÃÂ He believes he is helping Cordelia. His seduction is her "baptism. It is her glorious "liberation."ÃÂ From what is he liberating her? It appears to be a liberation from a boring life of marriage, for which she surely would enter if not for his efforts.
Another frequent subject found in the reading is that of possession. Throughout the selection Johannes refers to Cordelia as "My Cordelia"ÃÂ, and himself as "Your Johannes."ÃÂ From the very beginning he knew that she would belong to him in entirety. In the opening entry of the diary, the seducer begins with "Take care, my beautiful stranger!"ÃÂ Cordelia could not bring herself to do the same. She was unsure as to whether Johannes ever belonged to her, or if he belonged only to himself. She would discover that the latter was the truth.
Cordelia cancels the engagement when it becomes apparent that Johannes was not what he appeared to be. She gave herself freely and left him freely. This was exactly what Johannes wanted her to do. The seduction was complete. She ended the relationship believing it the right thing to do. It was her decision, and public response would lay blame at her feet. Free and clear would be Johannes. Not that being free from blame meant anything for guilt was never a part of his thought. Johannes saw the breaking of the engagement by Cordelia as her victory. She had "raised herself to a higher sphere."ÃÂ And she would find in the end that this will be the most interesting part of the relationship she will remember.6 After all the hard work Johannes had put into the seduction he was content never to see Cornelia again. Once a woman has "given away everything, then she is weak, then she is weak....."ÃÂ He did not even say good-bye for fear she might cry. He finds nothing more disgusting than a woman crying, as he found nothing more satisfying than a freely giving woman.
The diary itself is an example of the aesthetic. It is an illustration of the author's desire to revel for a moment in his victory, and to share this victory with others. He does not care about Cordelia, Edvard, or the aunt. He only cares in his satisfaction, and can use the diary as a reminder. not a reminder of the woman whom he would rather forget, but as a reminder of the eloquence with which he played the game. He wants the reader to read and re-read in order to find amusement and enjoyment, two things the aesthete longs to possess. He goes so far as to suggest another seduction with which to use as an epilogue, never bothered with the prospect of destroying another young girls life. His only concern was to create an interesting epilogue with which to close the diary.
Kiekegaard's decision to use a narrative as an example of the aesthetic mode of existence is engaging. It is the perfect way to communicate in a manner that all who read would understand. The information would be not only educational, but interesting as well.
The reader may find the diary shocking, and even offensive. This is what Kierkegaard must have intended. Things that shock also illicit thought. Maybe Kierkegaards' intention was to make the reader think about the aesthetic mode of existence, and long for the ethical.