“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Monday, June 09, 2008


... que tu vois en Dom Juan, mon maître, le plus grand scélérat que la
terre ait jamais porté, un enragé, un chien, un diable, un Turc, un hérétique, qui ne croit ni Ciel, ni Enfer, ni loup−garou

According to his biographer, Alistair Hannay, Kierkegaard first attended a performance of Don Giovanni when he was 22. It was the same period in which, according to his journal, he was deeply interested in the Faust myth.

Hannay quotes a journal entry from Kierkegaard four years after having seen (and reseen – he went back repeatedly) – Mozart’s opera:

In some ways I can say of Don Giovanni what Elvira says to the hero: “You murderer of my happiness’ –
For to tell the truth, it is this piece which has affected me so diabolically that I can never forget it; it was this piece which drove me like Elvira out of the quiet night of the cloister.

Much latter, in Berlin, when Kierkegaard went to a performance of Don Giovanni, he compared the singer of Elvira to “a certain young woman” – Regina, that Beatrice among the jilted.

Kierkegaard found Moliere’s Don Juan ... unsatisfactory. He was not the medieval knight endowed with the erotic sensibility of Kierkegaard's imagination. Remember that Kierkegaard’s view of the Middle Ages comes directly from the Romantic writers. Spain in the sixteenth century was a Grimm's fairy tale place, or a place where the Grand Inquisitor roamed. Of course, really, Spain was the country most open to the rest of the world – Africa, Asia and America - in the sixteenth century. It was in Spain that the adventurer found his epoch making social embodiment – in the conquest of the New World.

But putting this aside - we’d like to linger a bit on the question of why Kierkegaard would say that Don Giovanni – the opera – had murdered his happiness, the way Don Giovanni – the character – had murdered Elvira’s.

A couple of notes before we look at the section on Don Giovanni in Either/Or. First, the identifications here. Kierkegaard is like Dona Elvira in his first notes about the opera. Then Regine Olson is like Dona Elvira when he sees the opera in Berlin. That would tacitly put Kierkegaard in Don Giovanni’s place, as the seducer. But Regine’s happiness was not, it seemed, murdered in that seduction – she remarried.

Is the murder of happiness the goal of the seducer or an accidental byproduct? Kierkegaard was sometimes unhappy that Regine’s remarriage showed that she wasn’t unhappy. At least on the level of sadism, there is a strong connection between Moliere’s and Mozart’s Don Juan. Don Juan is aroused by Dona Elvira’s tears. To want someone to be unhappy might, however, simply be the sign that one wants someone’s happiness – the seduced, the victim – to depend on oneself – as the seducer. In this way, the exchange of recognitions is different from that of the Master-Slave relationship, where recognition – but not happiness – is the dominant term in the dialectic. If happiness enters as an issue in the Master-Slave relationship, if fundamentally alters it. But there is another relationship that might explain the murder of happiness. It might be that the seducer reveals something to the victim that strikes at her fundamental ability to be happy.

Enough. I had no sleep last night, and must write a grandiose review tomorrow. I'm weepin on my own grave - or at least jerking off over it. More in another post.

(ps - I should say - in terms of stage performance, Moliere's Don Juan has long been under Kierkegaard's thumb. Since Louis Jouvet revived Dom Juan, a not often performed play, in 1947, the play has returned to the canon, but not as a comedy. Notice, in the tv version I linked to, the ... the un-harlequin-ness of Sganarelle. This is not the comic figure who Moliere played - there isn't a laugh in the speech with Gusman. The laughs in it - for instance, Sganarelle falling down a sand dune - are neo-realist laughs, laughs from the pain of real life. Hmm, I don't know what Moliere would have made of it all. But Moliere was, after all, an actor, and knew all about changing the directions in a play, the tendency of it, the pronunciation of it).

Addition Tuesday night:

Kierkegaard’s Don Juan is seduced, himself, by his desire. The rush of that desire is primarily musical. Don Juan is no slyboots, no fast talker, no layer in wait. Time, for him, breaks in two: before the moment of supreme sensuality and after the moment.

Of course, Kierkegaard knows there are other Don Juans – he quotes Achim von Arnim’s remark that the devil had to be careful taking Don Juan to hell, because his verbal skill with women was such that if he met the devil’s grandmother, he’d talk himself out of the place. But this is not Don Juan as Kierkegaard sees him in Mozart’s opera.

Yet if he is no talker, he is still a hunter – he is still after women as prey:

“Thus Don Juan desires the whole of the female sex in every woman; and herein lies the sensual idealizing power, with which he at the same time beautifies his prey, as he makes her submit. The reflection of this gigantic passion softens and transforms the object of his desire: she blushes in the intensified beauty of her mirror image, there. In so far as the fire of some desired object illuminates with its seductive glow even objects standing far off from it, if it only stands in some relationship to them, so does he transfigure in a far deeper sense every girl when his relation. Thus all differences vanish for him in comparison with the one thing that is the main thing: that he has a woman before him. He makes the aged younger, bringing them back to the very center of their feminity; near children he ripens in the bud; everything feminine counts as prey to him.“

This poses a construction problem for the Don Juan epic, for it has the potential to go on as long as there are women to seduce - it has no natural bound. For Kierkegaard, the solution to that problem – that aesthetic problem – is musical. Don Juan fallen into the mere particulars of speech is a man with a mania like other men – a mania for money for some, a mania for health for others – in fact, the manias that make up Moliere’s Theophrastian comedies. But Don Juan as a musical sensualist transcends the problem of the particular – in Kierkegaard’s opinion.

This is one of the motives Kierkegaard gives for dismissing Moliere’s play.

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