This is Regine Olsen, Kierkegaard’s Cordelia! It is said that The Seducer’s Diary is autobiographical, and though, as with any artist, with any writer, the gifts of inspiration are drawn from life itself, it would be an oversight of immeasurable consequence to read the Diary as a mere personal instalment. I’m not sure Kierkegaard himself had the temperament to be much of a seducer really; though I could be wrong. Still, the Diary is a narratival tale that speaks to the restlessness of that spirit betrothed to hedonism. “The title is in perfect harmony with the entire contents. His life has been an attempt to accomplish the task of living poetically. With a sharply developed organ for discovering the interesting in life, he has known how to find it and after having found it has continually reproduced his experiences half poetically. Therefore, his diary is not historically accurate or strictly narrative; it is not indicative but subjunctive”. These prefatory remarks make Kierkegaard’s intent clear enough: both in his own person (this is a complicated story as Kierkegaard introduces layers of pseudonyms claiming authorship for his works, and this is no exception) and in the name of Johannes, the diary’s seducer, entries sculpt meaning from slabs of stone, making the trite beautiful through the imagination. As it is with life, art is what aestheticizes the ordinary, the everyday, the routined, the given. Blasé, undifferentiated life events stream through consciousness uninterrupted, where instead quiet screams should inhabit and torment the spirit as much as it caresses it. Here Kierkegaard’s “connoisseur of the erotic”, Johannes, lurks the grounds for the perfect specimen – someone as of yet unspoiled, devoid of anticipatory expectations that inform as much as they corrupt; an innocent.
“With the help of his intellectual gifts, he knew how to tempt a girl, how to attract her without caring to possess her in the stricter sense”. Johannes is not satisfied to simply have Cordelia. That is an ordinary task, quite crude and as dismissively spent as coinage shot through a gum dispenser. Johannes was not one to chomp on bubble gum with the grotesque extravagance of a teenager! He’d not be one to join the brodding crowd of men gathered in a beer-drunken, sport-enraged bar either! He’d as soon as throw himself into the waters of Narcissus! Exhibitionists of pleasure are vulgar inhabitors of the hedonic. Impatient, vulnerable to the extrinsic bating his senses, and devouring his appetite all at once, he is never to find himself in the spoils of despairing, haunting desire. This man prides himself on the number of his conquests, his virility uncontested. Not a seeker but a glutton of indiscriminate taste. The breath of his conquests find him spent, and slowly enthusiasm wanes as his senses grow dull to colours and shapes that stick to his eyeballs, sounds that prick his eardrums, smells that evaporate in his nostrils, until boredom sets in! For the experience of the hedonic is lost on him, rooted, as it is, in nothingness. It is “objective” in that immediacy lacks subjectivity; vulnerable to the contingencies of what happens-by, he is too quick to pounce, never quite present, always somehow feeling things from a distance. Spectators inhabit a desolate prism wherefore everything is only ever seen from afar. Perhaps the futility of such a life naturally elicits doubts regarding the validity of the immediately sensuous. Doubt is the first of steps towards subjectivity. No longer outwardly precarious, he motions inwardly, as with Johannes.
Yes, yes, Johannes. A hedonist of nobility. Not a moral man. A man of pride. He is cultivated, savvy, elegant, cultured, refined, dignified. As with a connoisseur of wine, taste is cultivated, its experience savoured. It involves a relationship of respect. The connoisseur will be sure to come to the table fully prepared, almost meditative in his anticipation of the experience; he will have first committed himself to the selection, knowledgeable of its history, his palate appropriately predisposed (μεράκι) to a full awakening, the accompaniments to forge the experience. So it is with the subjective erotic too – it is part objective in its sincerity, and part subjective in its imagination. Both serve to intensify the hedonic. The seducer is as much entangled into his artistry as the young Cordelia. But make no mistake, Cordelia, his love, is a victim. “For him, individuals were merely for stimulation; he discarded them as trees shake off their leaves-he was rejuvenated, the foliage withered”. And yet he lavished adorning respect upon her, mostly in silence. To have her, he’d have to opportune her birth into womanhood. “A young girl does not develop in the sense that a boy does; she does not grow, she is born. …a girl takes a long time to be born and is born fully grown up. In this lies her infinite richness; the moment she is born, she is full-grown, but this moment of birth comes late. …she does not awaken gradually, but all at once; on the other hand, she dreams that much longer, that is, if people are not so unreasonable to awaken her too soon. But this dreaming is an infinite richness”. Cordelia shall not only be permitted her indulgence in this dreamlike state, but Johannes shall orchestra the development of her erotic, “romantic” some might say, imagination. For:
“Only in freedom is there love; only in freedom are there diversions and everlasting amusement. Although I am making arrangements so that she will sink into my arms as if by necessity of nature and am striving to make her gravitate toward me, the point nevertheless is that she should not fall like a heavy body but as a mind should gravitate to a mind. Although she will belong to me, yet it must not be in the unbeautiful way of resting upon me as a burden. She must neither be an appendage in the physical sense nor an obligation in the moral sense. Between us two, only freedom’s own game will prevail. She must be so light to me that I can carry her on my arm.”
But what kind of freedom is this, this freedom by manipulation? It is the only kind that matters, one might dare say. It is freedom subjectively realized, the only truth of consequence. It is in reflecting upon one’s sensuality within the grips of the disturbances of the imagination amidst doubt, anticipation, and allusion that dear Cordelia shall discover in herself such depths of feeling that shall leave her entirely beyond restitution. This is where her freedom wanders – emancipation from all extrinsic, sublimated horizons that constrict both in manner and force. And it is there, in their union, that together they shall discover desperation in love.
He shall insinuate himself in her thoughts by making a proper study of her. He shall first unassumingly enter by way of following social decorum, then have her see him ever more frequently, as if by accident, arrange for their engagement, and henceforth begin entrapping her unforced reflective mocking of such social arrangements. He entices her with notes and letters, and suddenly takes distance from her, only to peek her interests, and make her uneasy in her perceived rejection, and simultaneously preoccupied with gaining his affections. For, “…if one can bring it to a point where a girl has but one task for her freedom, to give herself, so that she feels her whole happiness is this, so that she practically begs for this devotedness and yet is free-only then is there enjoyment, but this always takes a discerning touch”. The more profoundly Cordelia breaks with the serenity of her surrounding horizons, the more resounding and resolutely does she come into her own reflective subjectivity. This captures the overtures of the seducer whose mission it is to live poetically by drawing out from actuality the bottled-up forces for intensified hedonic consumption – but as a connoisseur of the female figure, he understands that this will require that she fully give herself over to him – a process of inwardness premised on a break with all externalities, all forces that previously glamourized and moralized proper decorum. The hedonic reaching its zenith when finally Cordelia breaks off the engagement, and they part ways. Johannes succeeds in poeticizes himself out of her life as that great masterpiece of which he spoke.
Poor, dearest, Cordelia is never to find her footing; she is denied any emotional composure in all of this. Often when speaking of Johannes, she’d recite these lines:
Her mind remains unsettled. With profound aporia, and a broken heart, she writes …
Never will I call you “my Johannes,” for I certainly realize you never have been that, and I am punished harshly enough for having once been gladdened in my soul by this thought, and yet I do call you “mine”: my seducer, my deceiver, my enemy, my murderer, the source of my unhappiness, the tomb of my joy, the abyss of my unhappiness. I call you “mine” and call myself “yours,” and as it once flattered your ear/ proudly inclined to my adoration, so shall it now sound as a curse upon you/a curse for all eternity.
Do not look forward to my planning to pursue you or to arm myself with a dagger in order to provoke your ridicule! Flee where you will, I am still yours; go to the ends of the earth, I am still yours.
Love a hundred others, I am still yours-indeed, in the hour of death, I am yours.
The very language I use against you must demonstrate to you that I am yours. You have had the audacity to deceive a person in such a way that you have become everything to me, so that I would rejoice solely in being your slave.
Yours I am/ yours, yours/ your curse.