Page:Selections from the writings of Kierkegaard.djvu/19

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Selections from the Writings of Kierkegaard

what they regarded as common and universally established propositions, until his interlocutor became confused by some consequence or contradiction arising unexpectedly, and until he who had been sure of his knowledge was made to confess his ignorance, or even to become distrustful of the possibility of knowledge. Destroying supposedly positive values, this method would seem to lead to a negative re- sult only.

Kierkegaard makes less (and rather too little) of the positive side of Socrates' method, his maieutic, or mid- wifery, by which we are led inductively from trivial in- stances to a new definition of a conception, a method which will fit all cases. Guided by a lofty personality, this Socratic irony becomes, in Kierkegaard's definition, merely "the negative liberation of subjectivity" ; that is, not the family, nor society, nor the state, nor any rules superim- posed from outside, but one's innermost self (or subjectiv- ity) is to be the determining factor in one's life. And un- derstood thus, irony as a negative element borders on the ethical conception of life.

Romantic irony, on the other hand, laying main stress on subjective liberty, represents the aesthetic conduct of life. It was, we remember, the great demand of the Ro- mantic period that one live poetically. That is, after hav- ing reduced all reality to possibilities, all existence to frag- ments, we are to choose ad libitum one such possible ex- istence, to consider that one's proper sphere, and for the rest to look ironically on all other reality as philistine. Undeniably, this license, through the infinitude of possibil- ities open to him, gives the ironist an enthusiastic sense of irresponsible freedom in which he "disports himself as does Leviathan in the deep." Again, the "ajsthetical individual" is ill at ease in the world into which he is born. His typical ailment is a Byronesque Weltschmerz. He would fain mould the elements of existence to suit himself; that, is, "compose" not only himself but also his surroundings. But without fixed task and purpose, life will soon lose all con- tinuity ("except that of boredom") and fall apart into dis- connected moods and impulses. Hence, while supposing

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