Sunday, September 13, 2009


In Dostoevsky’s Notes From Underground, the underground man believes he is able to exercise his freedom (that is, his choice rather than reason) by going against the ethical, by not receiving help for his illness. Though he is reasonably not acting in his best interest, he believes it is in his own best interest, or "the most advantageous advantage" to exercise is ability to be and to keep himself an individual--not a robot, not a machine, not a "piano key." He urges to assure himself that humans' lives are not entirely determined, that an individual can defy the laws of science and rationality. Thus, he does not receive help.

But back to the concept of an individual's best-interest: in regard to Kierkegaard's idea of anxiety, which he says is caused by endless possibilities and freedom, why would someone actually want to have anxiety? Why put yourself through the suffering? Obviously, we know Kierkegaard would argue that anxiety makes one "more of a man" and that again, we know we are free in regard to possibilities and choices, but it is not necessarily in our best interest, not reasonable, to be anxious, to lie awake at night thinking about possibilities, rather than sleeping (which would reasonably be the best choice). But like the underground man, are we constantly going against our best interest in order to be anxious? I suppose that Dostoevsky would also see anxiety in this sense as going against reason and rationality to exercise our freedom and explore the endless possibilities in life—it is irrational, but that is because rationality cannot be subjective—so therefore, is it our irrationality that makes us individuals?

Also, according to Kierkegaard, it is understanding that restricts possibilities, for understanding is “anticipating possibility” as a result, not as what it is--as a possibility. Thus, if we are constantly trying to understand, we are simply trying to make our lives easier. So, if we have anxiety about the future, about graduation, about identity, about this blog, we are making our lives more complex and therefore more open to possibilities—more possibilities mean more anxiety, which means more freedom, which means more individuality, I suppose; but what about universal anticipation, such as an event like 9-11? After this disaster that struck, the nation was devastated, as well as extremely anxious about possible future terrorist attacks. Though everyone was affected by the trauma, even if not directly so, it was apparent that our nation came closer, more united, because of the event. However, Kierkegaard would say that there is not universal anticipation or worrying, because though the majority of our nation may have suffered because of the attack, everyone’s suffering or anxiety is subjective. We cannot all worry the same, and if we did, we would not be individuals. So, I suppose that even if an event like 9-11 can change the whole nation, the nation as a whole can never suffer the same, individually—we have the freedom to suffer or anticipate as individuals, in endless ways: even if the exact same traumatic event happens to two people, those people will each suffer or anticipate in completely different ways. However, what does it mean to be able relate with someone in this way?—do we try to understand their pain? Or simply realize one will never feel the exact same pain as another individual, so their pain is insignificant?


  1. I would almost take the Underground Man's illness as not really an illness, but a projection of his distaste for life and happiness on his physical self. He has constant liver pains and toothaches. The liver metabolizes alcohol, and usually one who drinks a lot develops liver problems. Kind of a shot in the dark, but I want to assume that the Underground Man turned to alcohol- even though Dostoevsky never says this outright- and the Underground Man places yet another blame on humanity by blaming liver disease on his living conditions (both physical and mental). I think he doesn't seek help because he knows a doctor or person in authority would find nothing wrong with him. Dostoevsky uses physical pain to point to mental pain, and usually the mental pain does come out of the body physically (see Synecdoche, New York... how existential.)

  2. To (attempt to) answer your closing question, a look back at lessons that came before seems in order. During our discussion of the Abraham story, we deduced that society operates in three separate realms: the absolute, the universal/ethical, and the individual. In order to provide order and a sense of cohesiveness for each individual, we look to the realm of the ethical for the connecting ligaments between one person/situation and the next. In that sense, the same can be said for individual pain and empathy. In the case of 9-11, it is impossible for one person to fully understand how that event affected someone else, even in situations where seemingly the same tradegy occured (i.e. two daughts who both lost their fathers, two mothers who both lost their sons). But by looking to the realm of the ethical, we are able to understand atleast the gist of what they experienced and gain some comprehension of the gravity of what took place. Amongst society as a whole, we all agreed that what happened on 9-11 was completely and utterly devastating, resulting in the needless deaths of thousands. Thus, when we meet someone who was directly affected by 9-11, we understand that whatever happened to them was horrible and traumatic and wrong. We may not fully grasp the depths of their pain, but we comprehend the basic sketch. In that sense, their pain is not insignificant, but all the more hearbreaking.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.