Either/Or (1843) (Original Danish Title: Enten-Eller) is an influential book written by the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, in which he explores the aesthetic and ethical "phases" or "stages" of existence.
The book is the first of Kierkegaard's works written pseudonymously, a practice which he developed during the first half of his career. In this case, four pseudonyms are used: "Victor Eremita", "A", "Judge Vilhelm", and "Johannes". Victor Eremita is the fictional compiler and editor of the texts, which he claims to have found in an antique escritoire. "A" is the moniker given to the fictional author of the first text ("Either") by Victor Eremita, whose real name he claims to have not known. "Judge Vilhelm" is the fictional author of the second text ("Or"), while "Johannes" is the fictional author of a section of 'Either'; "The Diary of a Seducer". The views of the book are not neatly summarized, but are expressed as lived experiences and embodied by the pseudonymous authors. The book's central concern is the question asked by Aristotle, "How should we live?"
Part One: Either
- What is a poet? An unhappy man who conceals profound anguish in his heart, but whose lips are so fashioned that when sighs and groans pass over them they sound like beautiful music.
- People flock about the poet and say to him: do sing again; Which means, would that new sufferings tormented your soul, and: would that your lips stayed fashioned as before, for your cries would only terrify us, but your music is delightful. And the critics join them, saying: well done, thus must it be according to the laws of aesthetics. Why, to be sure, a critic resembles a poet as one pea another, the only difference being that he has no anguish in his heart and no music on his lips. Behold, therefore would I rather be a swineherd on Amager, and be understood by the swine than a poet, and misunderstood by men.
- I feel like a piece in a game of chess when my opponent says of it: That piece cannot be moved.
- In addition to my numerous other acquaintances I have still one more intimate friend — my melancholy. In the midst of pleasure, in the midst of work, he beckons to me, calls me aside, even though I remain present bodily. My melancholy is the most faithful sweetheart I have had — no wonder that I return the love!
- Variant: My depression is the most faithful mistress I have known — no wonder, then, that I return the love.
- Of all ridiculous things the most ridiculous seems to me, to be busy — to be a man who is brisk about his food and his work. Therefore, whenever I see a fly settling, in the decisive moment, on the nose of such a person of affairs; or if he is spattered with mud from a carriage which drives past him in still greater haste; or the drawbridge opens up before him; or a tile falls down and knocks him dead, then I laugh heartily.
- Let others complain that the times are wicked. I complain that they are paltry; for they are without passion. The thoughts of men are thin and frail like lace, and they themselves are feeble like girl lace-makers. The thoughts of their hearts are too puny to be sinful. For a worm it might conceivably be regarded a sin to harbor thoughts such as theirs, not for a man who is formed in the image of God.
- When I was very young I forgot in the Trophonian cave how to laugh; but when I grew older and opened my eyes and contemplated the real world, I had to laugh, and have not ceased laughing, ever since.
- A strange thing happened to me in my dream. I was rapt into the Seventh Heaven. There sat all the gods assembled. As a special dispensation I was granted the favor to have one wish. "Do you wish for youth," said Mercury, "or for beauty, or power, or a long life; or do you wish for the most beautiful woman, or any other of the many fine things we have in our treasure trove? Choose, but only one thing!" For a moment I was at a loss. Then I addressed the gods in this wise: "Most honorable contemporaries, I choose one thing — that I may always have the laughs on my side." Not one god made answer, but all began to laugh. From this I concluded that my wish had been granted and thought that the gods knew how to express themselves with good taste: for it would surely have been inappropriate to answer gravely: your wish has been granted.
- Most men pursue pleasure with such breathless haste that they hurry past it.
- Old age realizes the dreams of youth: look at Dean Swift; in his youth he built an asylum for the insane, in his old age he was himself an inmate.
- How absurd men are! They never use the liberties they have, they demand those they do not have. They have freedom of thought, they demand freedom of speech.
- There are, as is known, insects that die in the moment of fertilization. So it is with all joy: life's highest, most splendid moment of enjoyment is accompanied by death.
- A fire broke out backstage in a theatre. The clown came out to warn the public; they thought it was a joke and applauded. He repeated it; the acclaim was even greater. I think that's just how the world will come to and end: to the general applause of wits who believe it's a joke.
The Immediate Stages of the Erotic, or Musical Erotic
- Man's essential idea is spirit and we must not allow ourselves to be put off by the fact that he is also able to walk on two legs.
- Idleness, then, is so far from being the root of all evil that it is rather the true good. Boredom is the root of evil; it is that which must be held off.
- Since boredom advances and boredom is the root of all evil, no wonder, then, that the world goes backwards, that evil spreads. This can be traced back to the very beginning of the world. The gods were bored; therefore they created human beings. Adam was bored because he was alone; therefore Eve was created. Since that moment, boredom entered the world and grew in quantity in exact proportion to the growth of population. Adam was bored alone; then Adam and Eve were bored en famille. After that, the population of the world increased and the nations were bored en masse. To amuse themselves, they hit upon the notion of building a tower so high that it would reach the sky. This notion is just as boring as the tower was high and is a terrible demonstration of how boredom had gained the upper hand. Then they were dispersed around the world, just as people now travel abroad, but they continued to be bored. And what consequences this boredom had: humankind stood tall and fell far, first through Eve, then from the Babylonian tower.
- To forget--this is the desire of all people, and when they encounter something unpleasant, they always say: If only I could forget! But to forget is an art that must be practiced in advance. To be able to forget always depends upon how one experiences actuality.
- Married people pledge love for each other throughout eternity. Well, now, that is easy enough but does not mean very much, for if one is finished with time one is probably finished with eternity. If, instead of saying "throughout eternity," the couple would say, "until Easter, until next May Day," then what they say would make some sense, for then they would be saying something and also something they perhaps could carry out.
- Never take any official post. If one does that, one becomes just a plain John Anyman, a tiny little cog in the machine of the body politic. The individual ceases to be himself the manager of the operation, and then theories can be of little help. One acquires a title, and implicit in that are all the consequences of sin and evil. The law under which one slaves is equally boring no matter whether advancement is swift or slow. A title can never be disposed of, it would take a criminal act for that, which would incur a public whipping, and even then one cannot be sure of not being pardoned by royal decree and acquiring the title again.
- There are men who have an extraordinary talent for transforming everything into a matter of business, whose whole life is business, who fall in love, marry, listen to a joke, and admire a picture with the same industrious zeal with which they labor during business hours.
Part Two: Or
Balance between Esthetic and Ethical
- Also translated as "Equilibrium between the Aesthetic and the Ethical in the Development of Personality"
- This is what is sad when one contemplates human life, that so many live out their lives in quiet lostness; they outlive themselves, not in the sense that life's content successively unfolds and is now possessed in the unfolding, but they live, as it were, away from themselves and vanish like shadows. Their immortal souls are blown away, and they are not disquieted by the question of its immortality, because they are already disintegrated before they die.
- I see it all perfectly; there are two possible situations — one can either do this or that. My honest opinion and my friendly advice is this: do it or do not do it — you will regret both.
- Do not interrupt the flight of your soul; do not distress what is best in you; do not enfeeble your spirit with half wishes and half thoughts. Ask yourself and keep on asking until you find the answer, for one may have known something many times, acknowledged it; one may have willed something many times, attempted it — and yet, only the deep inner motion, only the heart's indescribable emotion, only that will convince you that what you have acknowledged belongs to you, that no power can take it from you — for only the truth that builds up is truth for you.