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KIERKEGAARD, Søren



Either/Or
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I have the courage, I believe, to doubt everything; I have the courage, I believe, to fight with everything; but I have not the courage to know anything; not the courage to possess, to own anything. Most people complain that the world is so prosaic, that life is not like romance, where opportunities are always so favorable. I complain that life is not like romance, where one had hard-hearted parents and nixies and trolls to fight, and enchanted princesses to free. What are all such enemies taken together, compared with the pale, bloodless, tenacious, nocturnal shapes with which I fight, and to whom I give life and substance?

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You love the accidental. A smile from a pretty girl in an interesting situation, a stolen glance, that is what you are hunting for, that is a motif for your aimless fantasy. You who always pride yourself on being an observateur must, in return, put up with becoming an object of observation. Ah, you are a strange fellow, one moment a child, the next an old man; one moment you are thinking most earnestly about the most important scholarly problems, how you will devote your life to them, and the next you are a lovesick fool. But you are a long way from marriage.

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No one comes back from the dead, no one has entered the world without crying; no one is asked when he wishes to enter life, nor when he wishes to leave.

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I have never been joyful, and yet it has always seemed as if joy were my constant companion, as if the buoyant jinn of joy danced around me, invisible to others but not to me, whose eyes shone with delight. Then when I walk past people, happy-go-lucky as a god, and they envy me because of my good fortune, I laugh, for I despise people, and I take my revenge. I have never wished to do anyone an injustice, but I have always made it appear as if anyone who came close to me would be wronged and injured. Then when I hear others praised for their faithfulness, their integrity, I laugh, for I despise people, and I take my revenge. My heart has never been hardened toward anyone, but I have always made it appear, especially when I was touched most deeply, as if my heart were closed and alien to every feeling. Then when I hear others lauded for their good hearts, see them loved for their deep, rich feelings, then I laugh, for I despise people and take my revenge. When I see myself cursed, abhorred, hated for my coldness and heartlessness, then I laugh, then my rage is satisfied. The point is that if the good people could make me be actually in the wrong, make me actually do an injustice-well, then I would have lost.

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The most ludicrous of all ludicrous things, it seems to me, is to be busy in the world, to be a man who is brisk at his meals and brisk at his work. Therefore, when I see a fly settle on the nose of one of those men of business in a decisive moment, or if he is splashed by a carriage that passes him in even greater haste… I laugh from the bottom of my heart. And who could keep from laughing? What, after all, do these busy bustlers achieve? Are they not just like the woman who, in a flurry because the house was on fire, rescued the fire tongs?

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Fear and Trembling

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So this movement I am unable to make. As soon as I would begin to make it everything turns around dizzily, and I flee back to the pain of resignation. I can swim in existence, but for this mystical soaring I am too heavy. To exist in such a way that my opposition to existence is expressed as the most beautiful and assured harmony, is something I cannot do. And yet it must be glorious to get the princess, that is what I say every instant, and the knight of resignation who does not say it is a deceiver, he has not had one only wish, and he has not kept the wish young by his pain. Perhaps there was one who thought it fitting enough that the wish was no longer vivid, that the barb of pain was dulled, but such a man is no knight. A free-born soul who caught himself entertaining such thoughts would despise himself and begin over again, above all he would not permit his soul to be deceived by itself. And yet it must be glorious to get the princess, and yet the knight of faith is the only happy one, the heir apparent to the finite, whereas the knight of resignation is a stranger and a foreigner. Thus to get the princess, to live with her joyfully and happily day in and day out (for it is also conceivable that the knight of resignation might get the princess, but that his soul had discerned the impossibility of their future happiness), thus to live joyfully and happily every instant by virtue of the absurd, every instant to see the sword hanging over the head of the beloved, and yet to find repose in the pain of resignation, but joy by virtue of the absurd -- this is marvelous. He who does it is great, the only great man. The thought of it stirs my soul, which never was niggardly in the admiration of greatness.

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