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« The History of Witchcraft | Main | Kierkegaard, "A Worthwhile Engagement" (part 1) »
Friday
Mar042011

Kierkegaard, "A Worthwhile Engagement" (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.

Now I am in legal possession of Cordelia.  Now I have her aunt's approval and blessing and the congratulations and well wishes of her friends and relatives.  All this should hold up.  Now the difficulties of the war have past and freedom's blessings may begin.  What folly!  As if her aunt's blessing and her friends' well wishes could make me possess Cordelia at an even more profound level!  As if love distinguished between peacetime and war!  No sooner does love exist as it announces itself in battle however different the weapons might be.  The difference in fact may reside in what we call cominus – hand-to-hand battle – and eminus – battle from a stone's or spear's throw.  The more a love affair has been fought eminus, the more worrisome it will be and all the more insignificant will be the actual scuffle.  To the scuffle belongs a squeeze of the hand and a touch with the foot, something that Ovid famously recommends as much as he jealously resents, not to mention a kiss or an embrace.  He who fights eminus generally has only his eye to rely upon; and yet if he is an artist, he will know how to use this weapon with such virtuosity as almost immediately to achieve his end.  He will know how to let his eye linger on a girl with desultory tenderness, which has an effect similar to that of accidentally touching her.  With his eye he will be in a position to seize her as tightly as if he held her encircled by his arms. 

It would be, however, a mistake and misfortune to go on forever in this way, to fight eminus for too long, because such a struggle is but a designation not a pleasure.  When one fights cominus is when everything assumes its true significance.  When there is no fight in love it has ceased to exist.  I have almost never fought eminus, and so it is not from the conclusion but from the beginning that I draw my weapons.  I am in possession of her, that much is true, that is to say, in the legal and petty bourgeois understanding of possession; but there is nothing of consequence to this and my notions of her are even purer.  She is engaged to be married to me, that much is true; but if I were to conclude therefrom that she loved me, that would be a disappointment because she does not love me in the least.  I am in legal possession of her and yet I am not in possession of her in the way I could be in possession of a girl without being in legal possession of her:

Upon secretly reddened cheek [Auf heimlich erröthender Wange]
Shall glow the heart's desire [Leuchtet des Herzens Glühen].

Now by the tea table she sits on the sofa, I in a chair by her side.  Her posture suggests something confidential and yet instilled again with a nobility that distances her.  Such posture always has a remarkable effect on the observer, that is to say, on those who have an eye for such things.  Love has many positions, and this is the first.  How royally has nature equipped this girl: her soft, pure forms, her deep, womanly innocence, her translucent eyes – all of this intoxicates me.  I have greeted her.  As was her custom she came over to me in a happy if somewhat embarrassed and unsure state: an engagement to be married may indeed have rendered our relationship into something different, but she does not know just how different.  She took my hand, but not with a smile as was her custom.  I answered her greetings with a light, almost unnoticeable squeeze of the hand; I was mild and friendly without being sensual.  Now by the tea table she sits on the sofa, I in a chair by her side. 

An explicatory solemnity reigns over the situation, like the dawn's faint light.  She is silent and nothing breaks this stillness.  My eye glides gently over her without coveting what I see, in truth that would be too impertinent on my part.  A fine, fleeting blush sweeps over her like a cloud above a field, rising and falling.  And what does this blush signify?  Is it love, yearning, hope, or fear?  Is red indeed the color of the heart?  Not in the least.  She is puzzled, she is astonished – but not with regard to me, that would be a little too much to ask of her.  She is puzzled not with regard to herself but within herself: she is transforming into herself.  Such a moment demands quiet, so no reaction should disturb it, no hubbub of passion should interrupt it.  It is as if I were not present at all, and yet precisely my presence is the condition for her contemplative astonishment.  My being is in harmony with hers.  In such a state a young girl is grown and idolized in silence like a godhead.  

It is thus so fortunate for me that I have my uncle's house.   If I were to impart to a young man a taste for tobacco, I would take him into one or the other smoking-room at the Regents; if I were to impart to a young woman how to be engaged, it would behoove me simply to introduce her here.   As tailors seek out only other tailors at a guild's house, so does she look here for her betrothed.  This is dangerous company in which to be, and I cannot blame Cordelia if she is somewhat impatient.  When we are, I believe, all assembled together en masse we would be ten quiet pairs, in addition to the conquered battalions which come to the capital during major festival periods.  Those of us engaged to be married could then really enjoy the pleasures of our engagement.  I meet Cordelia standing at attention to receive a taste of these lovers' blows, the awkward acts of enamored workmen.  In the distance all through the evening one can hear a sound as if someone were going around with a fly swatter – this is the lovers' kiss.  In this house one is in possession of lovable unceremoniousness.   Corner pubs are not what one seeks, no!  No, here we sit at a round table.  I too pretend to treat Cordelia the same way.  By the end of all this I will perhaps have committed great violence to my person.  It would be really outrageous if I were to permit myself to nurture her deep femininity in this way.  I would reproach myself greatly whenever I deceive her.  In general I can assure a wholly aesthetic treatment to any girl who confides in me, but it shall end with my deceiving her.  And yet this is part of my aesthetic system, for either the girl deceives the man, or the man deceives the girl.  Nevertheless it would be interesting to conduct a study of fairy tales, legends, folk tales and mythologies to tally up the number of times the girl was unfaithful and how many times the man.

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