Friday, September 11, 2009


What do we make the positing of the instant that cannot be posited? Does one always come late to the instant, the instant that refuses to be even partially anticipated because it emerges as a surprise? What are we to make of this metaphysics of birth? In Kierkegaard's Instant: On Beginnings David Kangas rereads Kierkegaard's philosophy in light of such an instant, a coming into existence, he says:

that falls essentially prior to any beginning that could be represented, posited, or recollected by a subject: a beginning prior to all beginning, prior to the total horizon of presence—hence, an "anarchic" beginning that will always already have begun. This is what is meant by "Kierkegaard's Instant." The problem is one of thinking a beginning that cannot be translated as a first principle or ground, a beginning that neither serves as foundation nor can be posited. Self-consciousness, we learn from these texts [of Kierkegaard's], arrives always too soon or too late to the instant in which existence is given; it cannot be made to coincide with itself. Vis-à-vis this infinite beginning, existence shows itself as absolute departure, without foundation or goal.

(p. x)

If we take Kangas' reading as impetus to institute a logic of letting go of first principles, might we then also desire to let go of the coupling of the instant with a givenness of existence? Another passage may edify:

What transcends self-consciousness is not what stands over against it, but falls prior to it. Through paradox after paradox Kierkegaard's early texts exhibit a movement toward the radically anterior, the irrecuperable, the unrecollectable. They return thinking to an "infinite beginning," which he names "the instant" (Øieblikket), in which temporality itself begins. The instant is the name for a beginning that cannot be interiorized, appropriated, recollected, represented, or possessed. It is not a work of self-consciousness, not mediation, but rather the event through which self-consciousness is first enabled. The instant is the gift or birth of presence. An instant cannot claim to be. Of itself it is nothing, it is nowhere; it neither is nor is not. And yet everything changes in the instant. An instant enters into experience, or becomes present, either essentially too soon or too late. Anytime one says "and before I knew it," or "and then suddenly," one will have felt the residual effects ("traces") of the instant.

(p. 4, Kangas' emphases, my bold)

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posted by Fido the Yak at 7:49 AM.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

One calls to mind of course the Knight of Faith...

"Most people live dejectedly in worldly sorrow and joy; they are the ones who sit along the wall and do not join in the dance. The knights of infinity are dancers and possess elevation. They make the movements upward, and fall down again; and this too is no mean pastime, nor ungraceful to behold. But whenever they fall down they are not able at once to assume the posture, they vacillate an instant, and this vacillation shows that after all they are strangers in the world. This is more or less strikingly evident in proportion to the art they possess, but even the most artistic knights cannot altogether conceal this vacillation. One need not look at them when they are up in the air, but only the instant they touch or have touched the ground–then one recognizes them. But to be able to fall down in such a way that the same second it looks as if one were standing and walking, to transform the leap of life into a walk, absolutely to express the sublime in the pedestrian–that only the knight of faith can do–and this is the one and only prodigy."

– Johannes de Silentio, Fear and Trembling, 1843

September 11, 2009 10:24 AM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

That's a wonderful passage.

September 11, 2009 7:10 PM  

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