Saturday, September 23, 2006

Kierkegaard on wearing masks

“Do you not know that there comes a midnight hour when every one has to throw off his mask? Do you believe that life will always let itself be mocked? Do you think you can slip away a little before midnight in order to avoid this? Or are you not terrified by it? I have seen men in real life who so long deceived others that at last their true nature could not reveal itself;... In every man there is something which to a certain degree prevents him from becoming perfectly transparent to himself; and this may be the case in so high a degree, he may be so inexplicably woven into relationships of life which extend far beyond himself that he almost cannot reveal himself. But he who cannot reveal himself cannot love, and he who cannot love is the most unhappy man of all.”

- Soren Kierkegaard, Either/Or II.146

Last night I saw Match Point by Woody Allen, an exploration of deception, justice and ultimately, luck. Can life be mocked? With luck, yes, until midnight. But as Kierkegaard points out, there is a cost to be paid even in the remaining hours.

16 comments:

Jason Goroncy said...

Great quote Byron. It is from Either/Or? Do you know the ref?

Rob said...

Great quote, Byron, but it's kind of depressing.

byron said...

Jason - pretty sure it's from Either-Or, but not sure where... (I got it from a quote site that didn't give page refs) :-(

Rob: depressing? Perhaps. Or maybe it is liberating - to know that the midnight hour is coming means that masks are temporary measures. We live in the light of revealed faces, and can begin the painful task of vulnerability.

byron said...

Or perhaps - the painfully delightful task and privilege of vulnerability.

nicole said...

i didn't find the quote nearly as depressing as the movie. i was so depressed by match point that i cried; not entirely an unusual occurence during a movie, however mine were tears of deperation - i just couldn't stand it anymore and wanted to go home!

nicole said...

woops. not quite sure what 'deperation' is. assume it to be one consonant short of total desperation.

Ali said...

Just so happens that the quote for today is:
It is probably no mere historical accident that the word person, in its first meaning, is a mask. It is rather a recognition of the fact that everyone is always and everywhere, more or less consciously, playing a role.
-Robert Ezra Park, sociologist (1864-1944)

byron said...

Alison: Thanks for the quote.

Nicole: my wife Jess also found the movie pretty distressing. The main character was a typically lovable Woody kind of guy. Scary to think that the movie was Woody playing what-if: what if I hadn't run off the young beauty but had stayed with my wife?

Anonymous said...

You're most welcome to the quote (I never knew that was the origin of the word "person") - I am enjoying yours. Since you're talking Woody Allen and engagement, have you seen this one (from Woody):

"To love is to suffer. To avoid suffering, one must not love. But then, one suffers from not loving. Therefore, to love is to suffer; not to love is to suffer; to suffer is to suffer. To be happy is to love. To be happy, then, is to suffer, but suffering makes one unhappy. Therefore, to be happy, one must love or love to suffer or suffer from too much happiness."

byron said...

Alison, I assume the linking of person with mask is found in the Latin, persona, which we still use of an actor playing a character, it is the 'mask' they wear on stage. This theatrical use is, I believe (Latin scholars correct me), the basic use of the term in Latin too.

Indeed, the terminology debate about 'person' has raged in trinitarian discussion since the early centuries, with persona making the Eastern (Greek-speaking) church suspicious of the West's use of persona to speak of Father, Son and Spirit, as if they were the masks worn by an as yet unknown God.

byron said...

And the Woody quote, as always, is spot on. :-)

Here's my favourite: "I am not afraid of death; I just don't want to be there when it happens."

Ali said...

That's quite fascinating. Here's what good ole dictionary.com had for me (so, yes, can appreciate the Greek's dilemma):
[Origin: 1175-1225; ME persone < L persōna role (in life, a play, or a tale) (LL: member of the Trinity), orig. actor's mask < Etruscan phersu (< Gk prósōpa face, mask) + -na a suffix] or [Middle English, from Old French persone, from Latin pers na, mask, role, person, probably from Etruscan phersu, mask.]
Thanks for that little insight...

Ali said...

By the way, I saw Matchpoint too - very disturbing. But I actually appreciated the take on it - think it showed only too clearly what a slippery slope an "affair" can be (it was like one bad decision following another for the entire movie).

charlie said...

Ooh, Kierkegaard quote! Makes me happy. I'm a little late, but anyway:

Took a while to find. It's from Either/Or, part II, at beginning of the Balance between the Esthetic and the Ethical in the Development of the Personality. (Thanks Google Books!) It's spoken by Judge William to A.

There's an interesting point with regard to "persona" that you discussed. The bit that's been snipped at the ellipsis includes this:

Or can you think of anything more appalling than having it all end with the disintegration of your essence into a multiplicity, so that you actually become several, just as that unhappy demoniac became a legion, and thus you would have lost what is the most inward and holy in a human being, the binding power of the personality?

(Note if you want to find the quote in content: reference on the side is II 146, page 160 in Hong's translation, which is different to the translation quoted by the way. I guess the quote is from the Swenson and Lowrie translation available as a Penguin paperback.)

byron said...

Thanks Charlie, very helpful!

Anonymous said...

There is a movie that dramatizes this quote - mask, midnight, slipping away, love and self-revelation, point by point, and will make you cheer for it: V for Vendetta. And it comes to the conclusion - I think this is not a spoiler - that self-revelation and unmasking are not one and the same thing. And further, that a man may smile and smile and yet not be a villain.