(v1.3, with updates)
It's a return to Kierkegaard's Either/Or for this post, where we talk about marriage and pragmatism. For various and sundry caveats on my arguments concerning Kierkegaard's work, please check out my post here. Let me know if you need any clarification on source materials. It's going to be quite a challenge to consolidate about 85 pages of argument, but I'll do my best. Let's see how this works.
Let's assume you are married and I asked you: "why did you marry"? Kierkegaard's character, Judge William, argues-- quite well, I think-- that "it is always an insult to a girl to want to marry her for any other reason than that one loves her" (EOII 67). While he notes that there is "a multiplicity of altogether puny objectives, because they are not even laughable... for example, marrying for money, or out of jealousy, or because of the prospects, because there the prospect that she will soon die... I do not care to bring up all such things" (EOII, 80). However, he does explicitly address some more commonly given reasons.
~If you responded that you married "in order to contribute to the propagation of the human race", your response might be "both a very objective and a very natural reason", and yet it misses the point-- "such a marriage is just as unnatural as it is arbitrary" and there is no question that a man who marries a woman to "contribute to the propagation of the human race" has married for the wrong reasons (EOII 64).
~Judge William also argues it would be wrong to marry "to acquire a home" (EOII 70), to have people around so one is not bored and devoid of contact with others. If he "has become bored at home, has taken a trip abroad and become bored, has come again and is bored", he might long for marriage "for the sake of company" (ibid). Such a person "feels the emptiness of everything around him-- nobody is waiting for him when he is gone" (ibid). The Judge replies that "I have not married in order to have a home, but I have a home, and this is a great blessing" (EOII, 74). Such a person "always pleads that there is no one who is waiting for them, no one who welcomes them, etc.", but this reveals that "they actually have a home only when they think of being outside it" (EOII, 75)-- that is, one has encountered the "pain, sadness, and humiliation" or being "a stranger and alien in the world" (EOII, 77). Such a person "could not stand to see you wife... in dishabille [a state of debilitation], unless this costume were finery designed to please you" (EOII, 78), indicative of an underlying problem: "you will always be a stranger and an alien" (ibid). You would be regarded as "a welcome guest... you would be inexhaustible in attentiveness, inventive in all ways of delighting the family... it would be very lovely, would it not" (ibid). However, in the end, "no matter how proud you are, there is a humiliation here", because you would still be "alone in one's boat, alone with one's sorrow, alone with one's despair-- which one is cowardly enough to prefer to keep rather than submit to the pain of healing" (EOII, 77).
~Similarly, marriage for happiness or for sensuousness is problematic because it "seeks momentary satisfaction" (EOII, 20), and it causes one to think "that one can probably stand living together for some time, but it wants to keep an escape open if a happier choice comes along. It makes marriage into a civil arrangement; one needs only to inform the proper authority that this marriage is over and a new one has been contracted" (EOII, 22). This view of romantic love and marriage asserts, "I do not ask for so much, I am satisfied with less; far be it from me to demand that you go on loving me forever if you will just love me in the moment I desire it" (EOII, 21).
A person who "marries for this and that" reason is acting inappropriately; "commonsensical calculating" cannot determine whether two individuals ought to marry (EOII, 60). One might say that they have good intentions, but "the goodness of his [or her] objective [meaning, intention] is of no use, for the mistake is precisely that he had an objective" (EOII, 60). He asserts that "nothing else ever belongs to marriage but marriage's own 'why', which is infinite" (EOII, 58), for it is "sensuous but also spiritual, free but also necessary, absolute in itself and also within itself points beyond itself" (EOII, 57). Marriage's teleology (for the sake of simplicity, its destiny or goal) is in itself, internally.
What justifies, then, getting married, if not common sense rationality? Judge William (Kierkegaard's character, here) does not dispute the presence of many "hows"-- "how they are going to manage, how they are going to take care of the children" (EOII, 58) and etcetera. However, while he does not discredit these or downplay their importance, they are insufficient for justifying a marriage. He claims that "marriage can [justly] be undertaken with only one intention, whereby it is just as ethical as aesthetic, but this intention is immanent" (EOII, 66). The inwardness required by marital love has as its first principle" frankness, uprightness, openness on the largest scale possible", and "secretiveness here is its death" (EOII, 96). This is the first principle of love (ibid), and also the "life principle in marriage" (EOII, 106). A marriage is not justified by the "whats" of how well one can procreate, or be happy, or have a home. Rather, a marriage is justified for a man (and for his wife, if the appropriate pronouns are switched) when he says, "The primary question is not one of where I am going to find the money and at what percent but first and foremost is of my love, whether I have kept a pure and faithful covenant of love with her to whom I am united" (EOII, 113). Such a person "has the proper conception of who he is and what he can do, and only marriage gives the historical faithfulness that is every bit as beautiful as the knightly kind" (ibid). One who is in a justified marriage has an eternal love-- "the married man has not killed time but has rescued it and preserved it in eternity.... he solves the great riddle, to live in eternity and yet to hear the cabinet clock strike in such a way that its striking does not shorten but lengthens its eternity" (EOII, 126).
I want to close with a quote from the conclusion of the essay from which these sources are from-- "On the Aesthetic Validity of Marriage". He states, "Accept now, in well-prepared anticipation what is here offered to you as well tested. If you find it far too trivial to satisfy you, then see if it is not possible to prepare yourself better, see if you have not forgotten some precautionary measure" (EOII, 139). This topic is more difficult than romantic love to depict artistically or even through arguments, but "let your consolation be, as it is mine, that we are not to [merely] read about or listen to or look at what is the highest and the most beautiful in life, but are, if you please, to live it" (EOII, 126).
Monday, February 8, 2010
(v1.3, with updates)
Posted by Zach Sherwin at 4:16 PM