The self as choice . . . the choice to impregnate yourself that is

This weekend I finished Kierkegaard’s Either / Or. A major theme in the ethical ‘Or’ of Either / Or is the role of choice.

But what is it I choose?  Is it this thing or that?  No, for I choose absolutely, and the absoluteness of my choice is expressed precisely by the fact that I have not chosen to choose this or that.  I choose the absolute.  And what is the absolute?  It is I myself in my eternal validity.  Anything else but myself I never can choose as the absolute, for if I choose something else, I choose it as a finite thing and so do not choose it absolutely.  Even the Jew who chose God did not choose it absolutely, for he chose, indeed, the absolute, but did not choose it absolutely, and thereby it ceased to be the absolute and became a finite thing.

. . .

This self which he then chooses is infinitely concrete, for it is in fact himself, and yet it is absolutely distinct form his former self, for he has chosen it absolutely.  This self did not exist previously, for it came into existence by means of the choice, and yet it did exist, for it was in fact ‘himself.’

In this case choice performs at one and the same time the two dialectical movements: that which is chosen does not exist and comes into existence with the choice; that which is chosen exists , otherwise there would not be a choice.

This strikes me as a tremendously pivotal move in Kierkegaard’s work.  The notion of ‘self’ will be picked up again with greater rigour in The Sickness Unto Death but here we must also remember that Kierkegaard is still trying to awaken, to disturb, to move.  These are not his ‘direct’ religious writings.  It is easy to see that as Kierkegaard’s work was slowly translated into German and English that these sort of passages were developed into the type of ‘individualism’ that existentialism became known for.  However, even in this section Kierkegaard has no interest in the unique individual instead Kierkegaard demands the dialectic of the individual which is both absolutely singular and universal.  In following page he writes,

Therefore it requires courage for a man to choose himself; for at the very time when it seems that isolates himself most thoroughly he is most thoroughly absorbed in the root by which he is connected with the whole.

This then culminates not in the maxim of ‘knowing yourself’ but in the admonishment to ‘choose yourself’.  Though he admits if he wanted to be clever he would say that we must ‘know’ ourselves as Adam knew Eve.

By the individual’s intercourse with himself he impregnates himself and brings himself to birth.

I’ll let my distinguished readers unpack that one.

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3 comments on “The self as choice . . . the choice to impregnate yourself that is

  1. Hi David, this bit you have found from vol. 2 might have significance for my meditations on conditional immortality. Can we have page citations?

    In my current view, we are not born immortal (Greek idea) but only attain that kind of existence by a birth ‘from above’ (Jesus’ idea – Jn 3:3) or ‘of the spirit’ (Jn 3:8), a result of seeking and finding that ‘the reign of God is within’ (Lk 17:21). Now I like this idea from Kierkegaard of a ‘choice for impregnation’ because it can be cast in the form of an inner partnership with just the kind of higher self (conceived as our spiritual ‘better half’) implied in the gospel passages I cited.

  2. I’ll have to think a little about what you are trying to construct. As for the page numbers I am using an old Anchor edition for Either / Or (1959, tr. Walter Lowrie). All the quotes are in the last quarter of the book beginning on page 218 (with the total text coming in at 356 pages). The impregnation quote is on page 263. Hope this helps orientate you to find the citation.

    I am trying to think of how Kierkegaard might deal with the implications of not choosing yourself in terms of eternity (his preferred term over ‘immortality’), nothing is coming to mind so far (I’ll try to keep that question in the back of my mind as I keep reading). The question with regard to how I initially understand your thinking is whether or not immortality (your term) is conceived of primarily in terms of duration or existence (or something else).

  3. I’m not trying to convince you of anything, only thanking you for the citation – and appreciating anything else you find in your reading.

    At first glance my idea seems supportable in part from this material of SK’s, but I’ll check it out. I don’t expect a 100% fit.

    Thanks again.

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