Note 1: Kierkegaard: The Concept of Dread. 9/10/99

Soren Kierkegaard, in The Concept of Dread (trans. Walter Lowrie, Princeton U P, 1970), argues that (wo)man is a created synthesis of soul and body whose necessary third term is best expressed by the word "spirit." Kierkegaard puts it this way: "In the foregoing chapters it was constantly affirmed that man is a synthesis of soul and body which is constituted and sustained by spirit" (73). As simple and direct as that statement seems to be, there is an immediate difficulty confronting anyone reading Kierkegaard's discussion of original sin, which is the central issue in hand and at stake in the book, because the term "spirit" is never clearly defined as being one thing or another, a problem serious enough in a Eurocentric vacuum of discourse (one which does not admit the existence of any other valid possibility), as it were, but one that becomes almost insurmountable if your point of view happens to be native American.

If anything can be categorically stated in this context, it is the fact that whatever Kierkegaard means by "spirit" he does not mean the same thing that native Americans refer to when they use that term. Spirit in native American philosophy refers to a concept of power, a concept of force, which animates the physical reality of anything that is alive, of anything that can be said to exist. A tree, for instance, has a spirit which is considerably stronger than the one that animates a bird who lives in its branches. The spirit of the bird, however, because it cannot lift and hold thousands of pounds of wood and fiber and leaves and branches in place against the howling force of the hurricane, and would, in fact, be blown to oblivion by that wind, nevertheless has the ability, because its power of animation is both quick and sure in navigating the currents of breeze and storm together, can, and almost always does, survive the destructive force of hurricano. Where the tree might be uprooted, the bird simply flies to safer, less violent, air. Neither the bird nor the tree has a soul, where both are clearly body animated by a unique and definitive spirit-force. Whatever Kierkegaard means, he does not mean this.

A point to be taken here, as I have already noted elsewhere in this document, is that native Americans, animistic people in general, do not embrace the notion that (wo)man is constituted from two contradictory "elements," this is, soul and body, which are in need of synthesis, a transformation into "spirit," as it were, through a dialectical process of some wholly abstract kind that is necessitated by the fact that the first man (Adam) and the first woman (Eve) disobeyed God's prohibition against acquiring a knowledge of good and evil in a perfect garden where they were both immortal and did not have to work for a living. Apparently, as this argument goes forward, God's punishment for this original sin, kicking the sinners out of paradise, so to speak, actually drove a wedge between these two "elements" that constituted a perfect creature, in its innocence (ignorance of the distinction between good and evil), which set off a war between the soul and the body, as most early church Fathers put it, which could only be resolved, won or lost, when one or the other establishes domination over its opposite part. Kierkegaard refers to this as a synthesis of soul and body which emerges in the third necessary term he calls "spirit." One cannot help but think of Augustine's distinction here between the city of men and the City of God; that is, people who live for the pleasures of earthly existence, sensuously, to turn it to Kierkegaard's terminology, dwell in the city of men. People who deny the body and its insistent needs and appetites, in preference for the things of the "soul," live on a necessarily higher plane of existence, in every way that hierarchical structures matter, which can be called the City of God, as Augustine defines it.

That Kieregaard means this can be seen in several passages about the relationship between sensuousness and sinfulness:

"after Christianity had come into the world and redemption was posited, sensuousness was seen in a new light, the light of contradiction, as it was not seen in paganism; and this serves precisely to confirm the proposition that sensuousness is sinfulness." (66)

The idea that the contradiction between soul and body was not recognized by pagan people prior to their exposure to Christianity is a truth and a fact confirmed, oddly enough, by Geoffrey Chaucer's Man of Law in the Canterbury Tales when he has the Sultaness of Syria, who is the arch-vilainess of the story of Constance's trials and tribulations in the face of Islamic (heathen rather than pagan) anti-Christian bigotry, say that the introduction of Christian principles and faith into her homeland will condemn her people to a "thraldom to oure bodies and penance,/ And afterward in helle to be drawe" (II.338-339). The Sultaness goes a little over the top, as it were, to prevent this subjugation of the "spirit" of her people to a Christian slavery to physicality by murdering everyone who has converted to Christianity, including her own son who has just married Constance, at the wedding feast after the nuptials are performed. Her reference to being "drawn" into hell after conversion to Christianity has a double-edged force in the sense that (1) her people will be condemned to that fate by virtue of their betrayal of the Islamic faith, on the one hand, and (2) expresses her belief in the impossibility of repressing natural human needs to the extent demanded by Christian ideology in order to achieve the "redemption" Kierkegaard claims was brought into the world by the newfangled theology of denying physical reality, on the other. One could say that Chaucer already sees through the Danish philosopher's argument four hundred years before he made it.

Kierkegaard later dodges the issue of whether sexuality itself is sinful, an ideological necessity because Christianity has always denied that original sin is simply a matter of (wo)man's sexuality but has never been able to move beyond the contradiction inherent in condemning something that must be sinful because it is so powerfully driven by pure physical need and is, at the same time, a necessary act that insures the survival of all animal species, wherein lies the problem, of course, because creationist hierarchical structures demand that (wo)man not be an animal at all, by arguing that

"The sexual is not sinfulness, but (if for an instant I may speak by way of 'accommodation' and speak foolishly) supposing Adam had not sinned, then the sexual would never have been posited as a propensity. A perfect spirit cannot be conceived as sexually differentiated. This is in harmony with the doctrine of the Church concerning the character of the resurrection, in harmony with its notion of angels, in harmony with the dogmatic definitions of the person of Christ." (71)

Kierkegaard goes on here to note that there is no mention made of the fact that Christ was ever tempted by the frailty of being or having a sexual identity, as other human beings are and do, but he excuses that fact of oversight (?), if that is what it can be called, by claiming that the explanation for it rests precisely on the "consideration that He withstood all temptations" (71). Hence, I suppose, it goes without saying that He never failed to repress that aspect of His humanity either. Kierkegaard refers to his flight into the possibility that Adam never sinned as speaking "foolishly" because he rejects out of hand the possibility that such a condition of sustained innocence could ever have been conceivable. In other words, where exactly would Christianity be if it did not have a goat to scape in the soul and body of sinful creatures who must be made to sin in the first place before they can hope to qualify to be saved from it in the second. That Kierkegaard draws out a list of three things, which no living or sensible person has ever seen or experienced ("resurrection," "angels," "Christ"), in order to prove that a "perfect spirit" cannot, and must not, be "sexually differentiated," leaves one mostly breathless with the giddiness inspired by the "leap" that is required to get from one place to the other. The "leap," of course, in Kierkegaardian terms, is precisely the point.

From a purely native American point of view, the difference in spirit between a male and a female bear, in the real world, a place Kierkegaard probably never experienced or imagined either, especially if the female is traveling with her cubs, always already determines the outcome of a chance encounter with one or the other if you happen to be trying to get from here to there on any given day of your life. A "leap of faith," especially one that requires ignorance of sexual differentiation, will save you from catastrophe if, and only if, the real bear cannot pursue you across the gulf separating one side from the other. Knowing the "spirit" of the bear, and how best to respond in the face of it, is an ideology that must be inclusive of every fact and nuance and never exclusive of any consideration. People who live in the willful bliss of absolute isolation from nature, people who live un-naturally, can well afford the pleasures of philosophical hair-splitting over issues about the sexuality of a "perfect spirit," but those of us who choose to remain connected to the real world follow a different path, one that does not include the luxury of pausing by the wayside to work out a dialectical synthesis between non-evident binary oppositions posited by mythological commissions of imaginary and/or legendary original sins.

One reason we have always managed to avoid this ideological hodge-podge of contradictory nonsense is that the people who were preaching it to us, who were telling us how inferior we were to them because we did not embrace their vision of our innocent degradation, we had it (innocence and degradation) but they did not, as it were, were so concerned over the state of our soul-lessness that they wanted to remove us to safe havens, known as Reservations/Concentration Camps, where we could be throughly instructed in lessons of the truth about the human condition. Most of them, the preachers, did not even bother to promise that we could reclaim the land they were stealing from us once we learned the lessons of human degradation so forcefully articulated by Christian ideology. They did not even promise they would release us from incarceration once we mastered the ins and outs of God's immutable law. Little wonder, then, that so few of us fell to our knees so that the ultimate lessons of hierarchical structure could be brought to bear against our outstretched necks.

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