After Kierkegaard: The Will to Meaning
Taking the Transrational Leap out of Infinite Critique
LESSON 2: PARADISE REGAINED: SECOND IMMEDIACY AND RE-ENCHANTMENT
Reflection, we have observed, is endless. It can continue ad infinitum, ad nauseam, ad absurdum. As it does, it puts all action on hold indefinitely. We thereby become paralyzed—until we finally become apathetic. In short, reflection kills action (a great problem for modern Danes it seems). Left unchecked, in the flow from modernity to modernism, “to be or not to be?” devolves into the “do I dare to eat a peach?” And, ultimately, we come to postmodernism’s palest either/or: “Coke or Pepsi?” And all the while, we never become human beings. And all the while, the Earth gets uglier, growing things die, God remains dead…
Clearly, then, endless modern reflection must be stopped. The infinite regression of ironic critique must come to an end—but how?
To simply turn one’s back on thought, question, critique, seems too much “head-in-the-sand.” Our Dear Foster-Foreigner recognized this possibility for the ironic artist too, saying, “One obvious option is for the fiction writer to become reactionary, fundamentalist. Declare…contemporary culture evil and turn one’s back on the whole spandexed mess and invoke instead good old…literal readings of the Testaments and be pro-Life, anti-Fluoride, antediluvian.” Of course, respected literary figure that he is, he quickly rejects this proposal, not just because a throwback-paradise remains equally susceptible to “manipulation in the interests of corporate commercialism and PR image,” but because “[m]ost of us will still take nihilism over neanderthalism.”
We must reject reactionaryism, too. Though, it should be stated that Wallace’s specific reasoning behind doing so seems based on relatively weak arguments. For instance: How does a culture that has turned its back on commercialism for the simple life of Good Ol’ Fashioned Religion even give corporate commercialism a foothold? I must say, I do not see the Amish, for instance, with these problems. One does not observe flashy television pitches for horse-drawn carriages or a neon barrage advertising homemade clothing. Homemade clothing by its very nature does not demand advertising, and those who abjure television make poor targets for television ads. In any event, the nihilist/Neanderthal debate seems more like an open question these days, and opening ever more with every new OPEN sign. As Ferguson notes, “the issue remains fiercely contested; reflection can be enlightenment, calculability, progress, justice as well as coldness, abstraction and authority. Immediacy can be nostalgia, sentimentality, superstition as well as warmth, community and spontaneity.”
Still, Wallace is right. The reactionary solution is no solution at all. It would entail some catastrophic undermining of the system, some withering shock to the unsustainable fundamentals. In short, to go backward we would have to be thrown backward. To get back to our roots from these skyscrapers we would need to collapse.
So, in lieu of apocalypse then—indeed, to avoid apocalypse—we’ll need to go forward still, to transition through superficial irony to some point beyond it, where reflection stops. To stop reflection we will need to go through reflection and reach what Kierkegaard called a “second immediacy.” Only there, on the other side, can we hope to establish a new unconditional—that ever-fixed point upon which we can base our lives, our culture, our selves, our souls.
This “new” or “second immediacy” was a crucial concept for Churchfarm. He was not interested simply to deconstruct society’s unquestioned values; he had an aim in mind. Taking the role of midwife from Socrates, he sought to engage his audience ironically to isolate thereby the “single individual” with herself in reflection—but only so he might guide them towards the second immediacy of a religious existence.
Once in reflection, the individual is eventually faced with a choice: either to keep reflecting themselves into paralysis and superficiality, or to break this endless cycle and leap into faith. The latter takes an act of will born out of passion—inward states that alone possess the power to break objective critique and found, subjectively, a new unconditional. Professor Paul Cruysberghs puts it succinctly enough, stating, “In the will reflection comes to its limits. And even though the will is reflective as well, by resolution and action a new order is established, a post-reflective order, which in some way repeats or resumes, or assumes the pre-reflective order of immediacy.”
Reflection ceases when the individual affirms a new unconditional, even as he or she knows that to do so is dangerous, for more reflection could easily prove this a bad decision: surely a different unconditional would have been better… And yet, because more reflection can always appear to disprove an unconditional, one will have to override doubt with volitional affirmation, acting, with all passion, as if it were true. Indeed, only by acting as if the unconditional is true can it ever be true for the individual.
In his essay “Second Immediacy: A Kierkegaardian Account of Faith,” Heiko Schulz captures some of the essence of this move (ironically, a kind of paradoxical both/and perspective). He writes:
According to Kierkegaard, believing in God is apparently something like being reflectively aware in every moment that it is up to yourself to decide what to do or what to strive for as unconditionally good, while at the same time being aware that every option has a counterbalance that could just as well be the right option here and now; and yet, on the other hand, to act as if there were no doubt as to whether this belief and this intention is the right one instead of their respective alternatives (including a complete withdrawal from action), since a loving god has promised, directly to reveal to and always already decide for you, which way to go.
In short, he goes on, one has the immediate sense that one has been taken by the hand even while, reflectively, one knows no hand is there. If immediacy is like dreaming, sound asleep, and reflection is akin to being woken up from the dream, then second immediacy is “dreaming wide awake.”
Such is Churchfarm’s answer to the problem of modernity’s paralyzing and ultimately nihilistic over-reflection. If his Copenhagen, “with the help of a newspaper,” and our postmodern America, exponentially more influenced by mass media, achieved a superficial “immediate reflection” of popular irony, then might this not present us with its salvific inverse: reflective immediacy? For we have not forfeited reflection, we have transfigured it, come to an immediacy beyond it. For us today, could this not offer the mechanism by which we once again achieve earnestness? Could this be the holy scheme Wallace sought, to undermine commercialized irony? A knowing naïveté, a willed earnestness, a second sincerity?
He ends his essay with a prophecy, a voice calling in the wilderness seeking poets to come,
who dare somehow to back away from ironic watching, who have the childish gall actually to endorse and instantiate single-entendre principles. Who treat of plain old untrendy human troubles and emotions in U.S. life with reverence and conviction. Who eschew self-consciousness and hip fatigue. These anti-rebels would be outdated, of course, before they even started. Dead on the page. Too sincere. Clearly repressed. Backward, quaint, naïve, anachronistic. Maybe that’ll be the point. …The new rebels might be artists willing to risk the yawn, the rolled eyes, the cool smile, the nudged ribs, the parody of gifted ironists, the ‘Oh how banal.’ To risk accusations of sentimentality, melodrama. Of overcredulity. Of softness. Of willingness to be suckered by a world of lurkers and starers who fear gaze and ridicule above imprisonment without law.
An ironist can brush off the reactionary all too easily. But what ammunition of ridicule is left against one who knowingly risks ridicule? What can be said of one who has gone so far through irony that she can authoritatively appropriate the pejorative “pastiche” in order to speak, when no one else will, of those “old untrendy human troubles and emotions”? To undermine, at the outset, the critics of such “kitsch” by an affirmative return to such “kitsch,” that she might transfigure it into “art”?
Could it work? if only long enough to clear the air of such toxic irony that something so absurd, so childlike and naïve as “God” might be born into a world of ironists?
If modern reflection occasioned our “disenchantment of the world,” what might a second immediacy do? If reflection kills immediacy and causes us to lose the unconditional—that divine point upon which self, soul, and culture rest—might we not will ourselves some “God” again, and passionately reconstruct a world ironic critique has left undone?
The soul is sick, pregnant with possibility. Where is the midwife? the preparer of the Way? Who can communicate to the world this leap, this second immediacy, this passionate willing of the unconditional? Wherever he or she is, more must first be learned—and in the most subjective way. For, our master midwife tells us, this leap cannot be directly communicated at all. It is too inward, too subjective an experience to be taught like some system. No, if the sense of it is to be elicited in another at all, it must be as the midwife elicits a child from the womb of her mother.
And so our lessons in this ancient craft continue…
NEXT: Lesson 3: Indirect Communication - Making Myth ‘Interesting’
 Wallace, “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction,” 69.
 Ibid., 69-70.
 Ferguson, “Modulation: A Typology of the Present Age,” 123.
 Paul Cruysberghs, “Must Reflection Be Stopped? Can It Be Stopped?” in Immediacy and Reflection in Kierkegaard’s Thought, 14-15.
 Schulz, “Second Immediacy: A Kierkegaardian Account of Faith,” 85.
 Ibid., 71.
 Wallace, “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction,” 81-82.