Wednesday, November 13, 2013

What is a poet?

What is a poet? An unhappy person who conceals profound anguish in his heart but whose lips are so formed that as sighs and cries pass over them they sound like beautiful music. It is with him as with the poor wretches in Phalaris's bronze bull, who were slowly tortured over a slow fire; their screams could not reach the tyrant's ears to terrify him; to him they sounded like sweet music. And people crowd around the poet and say to him, "Sing again soon" — in other words, may new sufferings torture your soul, and may your lips continue to be formed as before, because your screams would only alarm us, but the music is charming. And the reviewers step up and say, "That is right; so it must be according to the rules of esthetics." Now of course a reviewer resembles a poet to a hair, except that he does not have the anguish in his heart, or the music on his lips. Therefore, I would rather be a swineherd out on Amager and be understood by swine than be a poet and be misunderstood by people.
— from "Diapsalmata," in Either/Or, by Søren Kierkegaard.

This is a very strange and disjointed text, mostly dwelling on Kierkegaard's (self-termed) "depression." He sounds overly dramatic, and very much like those German Romantics he rails against.
I have, I believe, the courage to doubt everything; I have, I believe, the courage to fight against everything; but I do not have the courage to acknowledge anything, the courage to possess, to own, anything. Most people complain that the world is so prosaic that things do not go in life as in the novel, where opportunity is always so favorable. I complain that in life it is not as in the novel, where one has hardhearted fathers and nisses and trolls to battle, and enchanted princesses to free. What are all such adversaries together compared with the pale, bloodless, tenacious-of-life nocturnal forms with which I battle and to which I myself give life and existence.

How self-indulgent.

I was completely unprepared for this. It seems that after having defended his thesis (The Concept of Irony), Kierkegaard threw all notions of structure and form to the wind, one big middle finger to the Man, his traditions and institutions. This strikes me as a little at odds with his being a Christian theologian, but what do I know. (Maybe we'll cover this issue later in the course.) To Kierkegaard's credit, he practiced what he preached, practiced irony and found his own subjective truth.

It's pages upon pages of aphorisms concerning death, cereal, erotic love, Mozart, boredom, salmon, Sunday afternoons. It begs to be parodied. And it's wildly beautiful.
This is the way, I suppose, that the world will be destroyed — amid the universal hilarity of wits and wags who think it is all a joke.

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