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« The Sussex Vampire | Main | Kierkegaard, "A True Friendship" (part 1) »
Friday
Jul312009

Kierkegaard, "A True Friendship" (part 2)

The concluding part of a selection from a work by this Danish man of letters. You can find the original in this volume.

All of this is but one picture, all four of us together.  If I were to think about some of them I would be able to find an analogy as far as my own self – Mephistopheles; the only difficulty here is that Edward is no Faust.  Were I to dub myself Faust the problem would be different: Edward is the farthest thing from Mephistopheles.  As am I for that matter, at least in Edward's eyes.  He admires me for the good genius of Love, and in that regard he does well; at least he can rest assured that no one can watch over his love more meticulously than I can.  I promised him to engage the aunt in conversation, and I tend to this hateful task with all seriousness.  Practically before our very eyes the aunt disappears into pure agronomy: we go to the kitchen and basement, out into the fresh air, look after the hens, ducks and geese, and so forth.  All this angers Cordelia, but she of course cannot understand what I actually want.  To her I remain a mystery, a mystery whose solution does not tempt her but which provokes bitterness and indignation.  She feels very good that her aunt is almost ridiculous, and yet her aunt is such a respectable woman that she certainly does not deserve it.  On the other hand I make her feel that she would be forgiven if she sought me out to provoke me.  Sometimes I go so far as to make Cordelia smile at her aunt with secrecy.  There are studies that have to be done.  It's not as if Cordelia and I acted in such a way so that she would never smile at her aunt – far from it.  I remain undeterred in my commitment to taking the matter seriously; but she doesn't let herself smile.  And this is the first error in her education: we have to teach her how to smile ironically.  But this smile applies almost as much to me as to her aunt because she really has no idea what to think of me.  Nevertheless it was possible that I was a young man who had become old before his time; it was possible.  There was a second possibility as well as a third, etcetera.  Once she has smiled at her aunt she will feel indignant towards herself, and I will turn around and continue chatting with her aunt, look at her with a grave and serious mien, and she will smile at me, at the situation.              

Our relationship does not involve the tender, faithful embraces of understanding nor attraction, but misunderstanding's repulsion.  My relationship towards her is in fact nothing at all, it is purely spiritual – which of course is nothing in a relationship with a young girl.  The method to which I now adhere does have, however, its extraordinary conveniences.  A person who comports himself chivalrously stirs up doubt and provokes resistance – but I am exempt from such things.  No one watches over me; on the contrary, one would sooner label me a reliable sort well-suited to watching over a young girl.  This method has only one flaw, which is its slowness; this can only used to one's advantage on those people who would be interesting to win over.

What else possesses the tremendous force of a young girl?  Not the wind's whisper, nor the freshness of the morning air, nor the brisk cool seaport, nor the scent and vim of a bottle of wine.  No, nothing; nothing else on earth has this power.

Soon I hope to have made her hate me.  I have wholly assumed the guise of bachelor, talking only about loafing at home, having a reliable servant, and having a friend with a good enough foothold that he can be counted on when we join arms in camaraderie.  If I could only get the aunt to stop talking about farming, I would be able to give her a more direct occasion for irony.  A bachelor is someone you can laugh at, someone with whom you can sympathize, yet a young man who is not out of his mind; and a young girl will bristle at such behavior, with all of her gender's meaning, her beauty and poetry destroyed. 

Thus the days go by: I see her but do not speak to her, in her vicinity I only make idle chatter with her aunt.  One night perhaps it may occur to me to give full vent to my love.  So I walk outside her windows shrouded in my cloak, my hat pulled down over my eyes.  Her bedroom looks out upon the courtyard, but since it lies on the corner it also faces the street.  Now and then she stands up for a moment beside the window or opens it, and, unnoticed by all, looks up towards the stars – although she is not one to want to be noticed by everyone.  During these nocturnal hours I drift around like a ghost, and like a ghost I haunt her apartment block.  Here I forget everything, have no plans or calculations; here I throw reason overboard, expand and strengthen my bosom with deep sighs, a movement not permitted in my system of conduct.  Some are virtuous during the day and sinful at night, and I am all pretense in daytime and pure desire as evening comes.  If only she could see me here, if only she could peer into my soul – if only. 

If this girl wishes to understand herself, she will have to confess that I am a man for her.  She is too intense, too deeply set on being happy in marriage; it would not be enough to let her fall for a seducer, pure and simple.  But when she does fall for me she will salvage the interesting part of this shipwreck.  With me she will have to do what philosophers have described with a pun: zu Grunde gehen.

As it were, she's grown tired of listening to Edward.   This is so often the case when strict limits engird the person of interest.  Sometimes she listens in on my conversation with her aunt, and once I notice this, to the astonishment of both her aunt and Cordelia, some hint of another world gleams on the horizon.  Her aunt sees lightning but hears nothing; Cordelia sees nothing but hears a voice.  And yet at that very time everything is in perfect order, the conversation between her aunt and me advancing in its humdrum way like courier ponies in the still of the night, accompanied by the melancholy of the tea machine.  In the living room at such moments it can sometimes get uncomfortable, especially for Cordelia.  She has no one to whom she can talk or listen.  Were she to turn towards Edward in his embarrassment, she would run the risk of a very dumb move; were she to turn to the other side, towards her aunt and me, she would trigger that assuredness that reigns, the brisk, monotone hammering of conversation, so different from Edward's supreme awkwardness.  I can well understand how it might occur to Cordelia that her aunt was charmed and bewitched, as she moves in perfect harmony with my tempo.  Nor could she participate in this conversation, because this is one of those means that I use to repulse her, and I allow myself to treat her completely like a child.  It's not as if on that account I should permit myself all sorts of liberties towards her – far from it.  I see quite clearly how confusing this might seem, especially as to whether her femininity may rise up pure and  beautiful as it once was.  Owing to my intimate relationship with her aunt, it is easy for me to treat her like a child that has no understanding of the world.  This approach neutralizes rather than affronts her femininity, because her femininity cannot be offended by the fact that she has no idea about market square prices although it may repulse her that this is somehow the most essential thing in life.  In this respect her aunt outdoes herself – with my powerful support.  She becomes almost fanatic, something for which she has me to thank.  The only thing she cannot tolerate about me is that I am simply nothing.   Now I have introduced the practice that every time our topic of conversation is a vacant office or post, that means that this is a post for me, and a matter of serious discourse between us.  Cordelia always notices the irony, which is exactly what I want. 

Poor Edward!  Pity that his name is not Fritz.  Every time that I dwell in my reflections on my relationship with him, I always end up thinking about Fritz i Bruden.  Edward is moreover just like his role model, the Corporal in the National Guard; to be honest, Edward is also rather boring.  He never perceives a matter the right way, and always appears taut and rehearsed.  Just between us, out of friendship towards him, I always try to appear as reckless as possible.  Poor old Edward!  The only thing that hurts me more is his endless debt to me, and that he almost doesn't know how to thank me.  Therefore allowing myself to be thanked would really be too much. 

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