I just finished Philosophical Fragments (PF). I wanted to get a few observations down while they are fresh in my mind.
First, while I get Kierkegaard’s pseudonymous authorship this is the first one where it makes real sense to me. Either/Or is also blatantly clear but it strikes me as too much of an abstract experiment. PF still comes as an experiment. The experiment being whether it is possible to go beyond Socrates and what that might look like in philosophical discourse. However, Kierkegaard comes off as more invested in this venture, more curious about how this will actually play out.
Second, it is important to note that these are fragments. In his original manuscripts they were actually called ‘pamphlets’ which he also refers to them as within the book. The significance of this is brought fully to bear in the final section. Here he talks about the possibility of a ‘second pamphlet’. He writes,
If I ever do write a second section – because a pamphlet writer such as I am has no seriousness, as you presumably will hear about me – why, then, should I now in conclusion pretend to seriousness in order to please people by making a rather big promise? In other words, to write a pamphlet is frivolity – but to promise the system, that is seriousness and has made many a man a supremely serious man both in his own eyes and in the eyes of others. (109)
The ‘system’ of course is Hegelianism. What I find intriguing about this passage is the notion that perhaps the more ‘serious’, thoroughgoing, complete even social and political approach can actually end up being the most individualistic and self-serving. This is partially a critique of academia as well as what could now be termed an ideological centralizing of power by ‘men who talk about important stuff’ as I have heard it put. This final section really bookends well the intro to PF, which did not make a great deal of sense to me originally. The preface begins,
What is offered here is only a pamphlet, by one’s own hand, on one’s own behalf, at one’s own expense, without any claim to being a part of the scientific-scholarly endeavor in which one acquires legitimacy. (5).
Kierkegaard goes on in the Preface to consider what it might mean to have social (world-historical as he puts it) significance. No one would consider a pamphlet to have such significance. So what is Kierkegaard’s opinion on the matter?
Do not ask me about that. Next to the question of whether or not I have an opinion, nothing can be of less interest to someone else than what my opinion is. To have an opinion is to me both too much and too little; it presupposes a security and well-being in existence akin to having a wife and children in this mortal life, something not granted to a person who has to be up and about night and day and yet has no fixed income. (7)
There is a certain tone of liberation thought in the Preface and conclusion to PF (which hardly alludes to the book’s actual content in many ways!). The critique is of those wielding socially constructed and maintained forms of power who believe that they can function as the benefactors of truth. The framing of this book, which has just dawned on me, is making me rethink how I interpreted the bulk of the work. Hopefully I can post a reading of PF that reflects its preface and conclusion. Here are the final words of the preface. I thought they were pretty.
I can stake my own life, I can in all earnestness trifle with my own life – not with another’s. I am capable of this, the only thing I am able to do for thought, I who have no learning to offer it, ‘scarcely enough for the one-drachma course, to say nothing of the big fifty-drachma course’ (Cratylus). All I have is my life, which I promptly stake every time a difficulty appears. Then it is easy to dance, for the thought of death is a good dancing partner, my dancing partner. Every human being is too heavy for me, and there I plead per deos obsecro [I swear by the gods]: Let no one invite me, for I do not dance. (9).