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Tuesday, June 26, 2012
Kierkegaard on "Infinite Absolute Negativity"
In Part Two of The Concept of Irony, Kierkegaard begins by addressing Socratic irony once again, as if to underscore how this strange half-playful, half-serious attitude, so emblematic of the individual and his subjective awareness, is crucial to Socrates' spiritual mission. It is a curious, questioning tendency that exists out of respect for the daimon, a meticulous search for a Truth that lies beyond the whatever public opinion or historical actuality is able to express. Because it is so reluctant to affirm and to eager to expose inadequacies in speeches and logoi, Socratic irony, for some represents a destructive, nay-saying, atheistical force that mocks sacred, settled opinions; for others it heralds the beginning of a negative theology of sorts that is constantly testing the tradition, smashing idols as it goes, while making room for a divine logos able to embraces and explain the full complexity of the human predicament...
...irony [is] the infinite absolute negativity. It is negativity, because it only negates; it is infinite, because it does not negate this or that phenomenon; it is absolute, because that by virtue of which it negates is a higher something that still is not. The irony established nothing, because that which is to be established lies behind it.... Irony is a qualification of subjectivity. In irony, the subject is negatively free, since the actuality that is supposed to give the subject content is not there. He is free from the constraint in which the given actuality holds the subject, but he is negatively free and as such is suspended, because there is nothing that holds him. But this very freedom, this suspension, gives the ironist a certain enthusiasm, because he becomes intoxicated, so to speak, in the infinity of possibilities .... But if irony is a qualification of subjectivity, then it must manifest itself the first time subjectivity makes its appearance in world history. Irony is, namely, the first and most abstract qualification of subjectivity. This points to the historical turning point where subjectivity made its appearance for the first time, and with this we have come to Socrates.... For him, the whole given actuality had entirely lost its validity; he had become alien to the actuality of the whole substantial world. This is one side of irony, but on the other hand he used irony as he destroyed Greek culture. His conduct toward it was at all times ironic; he was ignorant and knew nothing but was continually seeking information from others; yet as he let the existing go on existing, it foundered. He kept on using this tactic until the very last, as was especially evident when he was accused. But his fervor in this service consumed him, and in the end irony overwhelmed; he became dizzy, and everything lost its reality (p. 262ff.).