Towards the fullness of time

March 12, 2013 § Leave a comment

Psychology ought to feel like an elegant descriptive work; it should come easily to the mind since that is its object of description. “Whoever does not wish to sink in the wretchedness of the finite is constrained in the most profound sense to struggle with the infinite” (The Concept of Anxiety 160), Søren Kierkegaard says in his description of the state of humanity. Our instinct is toward not reducing our position to either the mineral or vegetable kingdoms, which would mean remaining in the despair of finiteness. The struggle described is, it follows, the condition of assuming the human state: accounting for one’s material life while assuming the existence of another “spiritual” version of being — it is the latter for which we practice care of the self, pursue advantage.

In his psychology, Kierkegaard writes that anxiety is made possible (& necessary) by the hybrid nature of humanity: between crude body & celestial spirit. This comes from our terrific need to overcome the burden of particularisation. For some, this is the ever-lasting spirit that will be brought to grace upon death, while others fake a unity in form of character — a sort of avatar — or sometimes just an axiom so as to freely take part in the game of life (although their freedom is limited by that choice of identity). Hybridity means division, a conflicting continuity. The sublime object has been internalised since the Romantic period; it resides in being, as the trite cliché records, that the most profound canyon is to be found in the divide between the selves of a single person.

It is not only in gazing inwards that an individual becomes divided, but more profoundly in one’s relationship to the infinite. This is commonly described as a body/soul (or body/mind) divide. The advantages of conceiving the paradox by means of an infinity-relationship are multifarious: there is no assumed condition of essence, regarding the number of “types” we are no longer restricted to two, the conditionality of particularisation intuits the “anxiety” of being.

The infinity relationship usually comes in three varieties in the West, although many more could be imagined:

1. through the use of the personal pronoun, the name, being addressed, waking always as the same being, there is an implication of unified identity, so we attempt at uncovering the atemporal aspects of the self & call it essence. Those who seek integrity are subscribers to this conception of infinity — a unified self that doesn’t & can’t change. The division is created for the reason that the essential self must live in time, act in situations, make decisions, & be inconstant. [This is what it means to have the possible actualised.]

2. that an eternal truth exists to which all people of all eras are equally close. These are sometimes called true facts & are rarely brought up without a mention of the planet as flat & round. Objective hyper-rationality is a belief in the tracking of just such an eternal truth.

3. the eternal exists (if only conceptually) as a counterweight to all that has come into being, to be defined against it. It shows that we are not necessary on account of not being necessarily precisely as we are (Philosophical Fragments 92). Against the infinite, our existence in time — & every verb we can attach to ourselves! — we undo simply by being creatures of doing.

This is a particularly monotheistic construction Kierkegaard reminds us, resulting from the idea that god comes before the world (temporally & otherwise) by virtue of existing beyond time. This was not always the case. For example, the Ancient Greeks were especially fond of depicting the birth of gods — those of Aphrodite & Athena were very common for their peculiarity. This preoccupation with coming into being & the celebration of the fact exhibits how the power of their gods was based on wonder, for “how could it occur to anyone to wonder at a necessary construction”? (Fragments 99). The Greeks’ training of wonder through faith inspired also the development of scientific enquiry, art, & philosophy — for wonder is their common denominator.

Kierkegaard identifies the great innovation of Christianity as a change in the infinity relationship.* By extracting the divine from time, an engagement with essence, constancy, & progress was encouraged. The masks of Greek theatre could no longer satisfy, neither could the pettiness of gods. Christianity came to save the souls of people, but it had to invent the soul first. Eternity was their key: the idea of an eternal part of the self. At the same time, guilt for not being what one is was invented. This is the struggle, the despair, of being:

Hence anxiety is the dizziness of freedom, which emerges when the spirit wants to posit the synthesis [hybridity] & freedom looks down into its own possibility, laying hold of finiteness to support itself. Freedom succumbs in this dizziness. Further than this, psychology cannot & will not go. In that very moment everything is changed, & freedom, when it again rises, sees that it is guilty. (Anxiety 61)

The work of existentialism cannot escape this strictly Christian guilt. It aims at describing our innate incompleteness & making something of absurdity. Kierkegaard is one of the rare pious existentialists. He remains within religion to answer for the guilt. It is the never-ending well-spring for his philosophy & faith. “The pivotal concept in Christianity,” he writes, “& that which made all things new, is the fullness of time, but the fullness of time is the moment as the eternal” (Anxiety 90). In Philosophical Fragments the definition is extended to have the fullness of time be “transient as all moments are; it is past, like every moment in the next moment. & yet it is decisive & filled with the Eternal” (22). There is a co-dependecy between the idea of the moment & eternity because if only past & future were thinkable, the eternal — whose express condition is escaping the linearity of time — would have to inhabit the temporal space with a trajectory either that runs either backwards or forwards & would never achieve its “fullness”. In the idea, the temporal & atemporal achieve reconciliation, the particular self learns elevation. For it is only in the epiphanous moment that guilt & anxiety can be evaded to make possible the conception of our own divinity.


* It would seem that the Ancient Greeks had no function for conceiving eternity. Gods were imagined more as royals, always in danger of being overthrown as Ouranos was by Kronos, Kronos by Zeus, & the many attempts made on Zeus’s throne (Typhon, Athena, &c). Each “dynasty” had its own pantheon, distinct but not sacred. There was free movement of deities.


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