Calculating rightly

Do you ever have stretches of time where life as life exerts itself on you as a force that pulls, strains or simply weighs down?  There are no immediate pressures in life that are causing the pressure, rather it seems to come as a whole.  I ask this seriously because while I see others express similar experiences I don’t assume that it is so for many people.  Sometimes I think this is a condition of privilege; that I have a certain leisure to sit with and entertain such thoughts and feelings.  Sometimes I think this is a condition of arrogance; that I can account for the variables of life and attempt to create and navigate a true course and understanding.  So in no ways do I assume this is a healthy experience or one that can be characterized as indicating some profound nature (though in saying this I of course am tempted to view it as such).  This was simply the best way that I could characterize much of last week.  I was absentminded and removed though in some ways more attuned to what was going on around me.  I looked out and saw meaningless, well, maybe not quite.  I saw arbitrary meaning.  I could not discern and adjudicate the possible meanings.  They swirled, arose, and died again around me.  They taunted me asking which meaning I would choose.  Is this a false option?  Is this an incorrect framing of the question and circumstances?

Towards the end of Kierkegaard’s final published writings he speaks at length about the Instant or Moment (depending on translation).  Kierkegaard believes that humans are a synthesis of the finite and infinite and therefore can never exist as settled.  To do so is to collapse (as if that were possible) or at least tune out the dialectic.  The Instant is the in-breaking of the eternal.  It is a qualitatively difference expression then what all the resources of the finite are able to muster.  But our applied resources are just that.  We cannot speak, think, or act beyond the finite.  So Kierkegaard speaks of the ‘leap’, though from what I can remember he does not use this expression (to leap) in his writings on the Instant.  Rather he says this,

The Instant is when the man [sic] is there, the right man, the man of the Istant.

This is a secret which eternally will remain hidden from all worldly shrewdness, from everything which is only to a certain degree.

Worldly shrewdness stares and stares and stares at events, at circumstances, it reckons and reckons, thinking that it might be able to distill the Instant out of the circumstances, and so become itself a power by the aid of the Instant, this breaking through of the eternal, hoping that itself might be rejuvenated, as it so greatly needs to be, by means of the new.

But in vain.  Shrewdness does not succeed and never will to all eternity succeed by means of this surrogate.

No, only when the man is there, and when he ventures as one must venture (which is precisely what worldly shrewdness and mediocrity want to avoid), then is the Instant – and the circumstances then obey the man of the Instant.

. . .

For the Instant is precisely that which does not lie in the circumstances, it is the new thing, the woof of eternity – but that same second it masters the circumstances to such a degree that (adroitly calculated to fool worldly shrewdness and mediocrity) it looks as if the Instant proceeded from the circumstances.

There is nothing worldly shrewdness so broods over and so hankers after as the Instant.  What would it not give to be able to calculate rightly!

The Instant  no. 10

In some ways that comes close to framing my experience last week.  There is always this grasping.  But the nature of the grasping does not seem to understand what it is grasping at.  I continue to read and reflect on accounts that I admit to complexity but implicitly or explicitly render formulas for personal or social change.  Can I believe that circumstances will obey the person of the Instant?

To what extent is this experience also an internal condition to a particular strand of the Christian tradition, that is existential angst?  Is it helpful to even speak of a human condition on these matters?  Sure I could retire into the refrain of the Preacher of Ecclesiastes but how satisfying is that and how much does it reveal that I need to be satisfied in this process?  Is this simply by definition a transitional experience that happens prior to another stasis, or just a rhythm of a larger pattern?


3 thoughts on “Calculating rightly

  1. “There is nothing worldly shrewdness so broods over and so hankers after as the Instant. What would it not give to be able to calculate rightly!”

    *chuckling* That would be an interesting rendition / variation of Matthew 16:26

    “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”


  2. This is what I like about Kierkegaard. I am not sure it is impossible for me to stop attempting to ‘calculate rightly’ but at least I can have the framework of paradox and dialectic in order to try and process that attempt well or honestly. As for my soul I suppose I will have to leave that in the hands of another.


  3. To borrow an analogy from C.S.Lewis, worldly shrewdness is like painters who would rather paint a picture of heaven than live in it. Because they try to be objective, they leave themselves out of the picture. While attempting to be spectators of world history, they cease to exist as human beings.


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