Hope Contra Kierkegaard

Kierkegaard: “Hope is a pretty girl, who slips away from one’s grasp.” And again (!), “He who will only hope is cowardly. He who wants only to recollect is a voluptuary. But he who wills repetition, he is a man, and the more emphatically he has endeavoured to understand what this means, the deeper he is as a human being.”

Against Kierkegaard:

Emily Dickinson:

“Hope is the thing with feathers, That perches in the soul.” (Although her praise is so warm and fuzzy I cannot help but feel that it is ironic.)

Theognis of Megara:

“Hope is the only good god remaining among mankind;
the others have left and gone to Olympus” (After the myth of Pandora’s Box, where along with disease and death, only hope escaped/remained, depending on the myth. Although, again, there has been a long line of argument against the translation of the Greek word elpis. It can be translated as the expectation of the good/the bad—hence Nietzsche, commentating on Pandora, commented, “in truth, it [hope] is the most evil of evils because it prolongs man’s torment.”)

Here, we have the antinomy of hope. On the one hand, is Kierkegaard, who almost espouses a certain version of western buddhism (though infinitely more sophisticated than that with his concept of repetition)—that we should “live in the moment”, for all torment lies in expecting too much and remembering too stringently. It, in a certain sense, is true. It is through self-consciousness (that fall from eden) that we discover time (by discovering the existence, and persistence, of myself through thinking about myself in the manner of the Cogito), and self-consciousness brings us much torment, the least amongst which is our mortality—hence Heidegger liked to call us Mortals: beings who can die in virtue of its understanding of Death. And simultaneous with this discovery of time is the concept of possibility. The present is actual, the future, always possible (at least always has to be thought as possible). In time, things can happen, newness can emerge. With death comes natality. And this, of course, does “prolong man’s torment”, for the possible is like “pretty girl who slips away from one’s grasp”—it is possible just because it is not actual, and therefore aways elusive, always changing.

Is it possible, however, to redeem hope? I mean, we hope all the time. Although it is torturous (and I am feeling its torments all the more intensely 2.5 months away from the end of the college application process), it seems to be constitutive of our humanity to hope—at least, I cannot purge my hopes (and the accompanying fears) no matter how hard I try. Hope, anyways, is our unique way to conceptualize a future that we wish to inhabit, and the motor that spurs us into tireless striving towards that better end.

This, of course, is the very problem that Kierkegaard is struggling with. This Hegelian infinite judgement of hope qua “the thing with feathers”, the most precious thing of all, the infinite, and hope qua that which is always temporal, always fleeting, always finite, bounded, conditioned. This very dilemma of the Unhappy Consciousness who struggles with this contradiction at the heart of consciousness as such.

What is Kierkegaard’s answer? I will give one apropos Repetition when I have finished reading the book (I apologize!). But there is a general solution that K gives in Fear and Trembling, which he talks with regard to the transition of loving a person to the love of the knight of infinite faith (verging on the religious). To love a person is to love something fleeting and finite, to hope. To love as the knight of infinite faith is to structure one’s experience in such a way that the love becomes the background from which one does everything, so even if the individual beloved is gone, she (or, to be politically correct, “he”) is, so to speak, always-already with me. The passage from hope to hope, I propose, may be of the same content.

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