Søren Kierkegaard’s Either/Or: a Fragment of Life is a profound, and highly experimental, philosophical investigation into two essential modes of human existence: the aesthetic and the ethical. The first volume, Either, comprises the miscellaneous papers of an anonymous Aesthete: it contains aphorisms and essays on everything from opera (Mozart’s Don Giovanni) to modern drama (Eugène Scribe’s comedy The First Love) to the experience of boredom—as well as “The Seducer’s Diary,” the disquieting reflections of a certain “Johannes” as he connives to seduce the innocent “Cordelia.” The second volume, Or, takes the form of letters from Judge Wilhelm to Either’s Aesthete, urging a life of choice and commitment. The ethical, Wilhelm writes, “is that whereby a person becomes what he becomes.” Written in a flurry after Kierkegaard’s own broken engagement, Either/Or revolves around the issues of pleasure, love, commitment, moral responsibility, and the meaning of the self. Through his multifold strategies of disguised authorship and indirect communication, Kierkegaard confronts the reader relentlessly with a basic existential dilemma: Who will I become? How will I live?
In this course, we will read from both volumes, including all of “The Seducer’s Diary,” examining such central Kierkegaardian concepts as authenticity, irony, the instant, the leap, choice, paradox, levelling, the crowd, the single individual, and the poetic. We will ask: What does Kierkegaard mean by “the aesthetic” and “the ethical”? What does Either/Or have to say to us about sex and selfhood today? What does it look like to orient one’s life around fundamental values, whether the aesthetic, ethical, religious, or political? Is commitment a necessary feature of mature subjectivity? Can one live solely “aesthetically” or “ethically”? Must the choice be either/or?
Course ScheduleMonday, 5:00-8:00pm PT
June 07 — June 28, 2021