St. Olaf professor Gordon Marino has a post that was published on the NY Times Happy Days blog on Wednesday that’s currently the #1 emailed articled on the entire NYT site. It’s called Kierkegaard on the Couch (Marino is also curator of the Hong/Kierkegaard Library at St. Olaf.)
These days, confide to someone that you are in despair and he or she will likely suggest that you seek out professional help for your depression. While despair used to be classified as one of the seven deadly sins, it has now been medicalized and folded into the concept of clinical depression.
In America, there is endless talk of the importance of having a dream — that is, a dreamed-up self that you will to become: a millionaire, a surgeon, or maybe the next Dylan or George Clooney. But master of suspicion that Kierkegaard was, he goes on to note that while the man who has failed to become Caesar would have been in seventh heaven if he had realized his dream, that state would have been just as despairing in another way — because in that giddy self-satisfied condition, he would never have come to grasp his true self.
The spirit is one thing, the psyche another: The blues one thing, despair another. How might Kierkegaard have parsed the distinction for the Doubting Thomas who will only believe what he can glean on an M.R.I.?