Kierkegaard, Søren. “The Immediate Erotic stages or the Musical Erotic.” In Either/Or.
annotation by Adam Shapiro (Theories of Media, Winter 2003)

Søren Kierkegaard’s Either/Or was first published in Copenhagen in 1843. Among the pieces which comprise this book is the essay entitled “The Immediate Erotic Stages or the Musical Erotic.” The essay is ostensibly an analysis of Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni, yet it is the “Platitudinous Introduction” to the essay—an “introduction” which is as long as the entire rest of the work—as well as the introduction of the overall book by the “editor,” nested in a series of interlocking frame stories, where a theory of media emerges. The “author” of the “Platitudinous Introduction” is rather explicitly a media theorist, attempting to explain by comparing artistic media, why Don Giovanni is not only the greatest of all musical works of art, but of all artistic works. More importantly, through the action of the frame stories, Kierkegaard is himself more subtly and implicitly engaging in media theory. Only through the refractive and reflective layerings under which Kierkegaard places the essay itself can sense be made of the more explicit theory.

Kierkegaard published the book under the pseudonym Victor Eremita (the victorious hermit.) Kierkegaard later explicitly categorized his pseudonymous works as aesthetic works in contrast with his religious works. The specific pseudonym refers, Kierkegaard claims, to his cloistered religiosity, which he maintained in spite of the production of the aesthetic work.

The pseudonym, for Kierkegaard, ironically proclaims its irony, and yet internal to the pseudonym there are more constructions which aim to separate the author form the word on the page. The introduction to the book by Victor Eremita tells the story of finding the papers which comprise the rest of the book inside a secret compartment of a desk which he bought from a secondhand dealer (who himself recalls having bought it at an auction.) This frame story separates Eremita from the papers he has published (doubly so, as they are not only not his words, but the authors are untraceable.) “The Immediate Erotic Stages” is found among the first half of these papers, which appear to be a series aesthetic essays. The second half consists of letters (written in another hand) to the first author.

Through the series of frame stories—Kierkegaard’s pseudonym, the story of this editor finding the papers in a desk, the story of the second hand dealer’s having acquired the desk anonymously—Kierkegaard has presented the essay through a veil which uses media to heavily obscure his purpose. Insofar as the obscurity seems to be part of his purpose, Kierkegaard is deliberately making use of the opacity of his media. The meta-medium of the desk, particularly, thickens this veil. A pseudonym may indicate full agreement with a text (where such agreement may be detrimental to the author) or an ironic or satiric inversion of the meaning of a text (as in this case.) In either regard, it must take the content of the text as a whole, and cannot be pseudonymous about part of a text and not about others. An editor may be assumed to be in partial sympathy with what he publishes, even if his agreement is only in part or is with a different understand of the text from the author. The desk therefore serves as the fully-obscuring meta-medium as the intention of an “author” of these essays. Is the author himself attempting irony, or a more subtle satire? Given the already-established layers of mediation it seems rash to assume that even “A,” as the author is dubbed, is himself straightforward.

This ultimate inability to resolve anything about the nature of A’s writings forces the reader to suspend any notion of the author, in a sense, forcing him to take total responsibility for the interpretation of the work. It is this responsibility thrust upon the reader which seems essential to Kierkegaard’s implicit media theory. Insofar as Kierkegaard proclaims that this book as an aesthetic work of a religious author, “is a deception.” “But direct communication presupposes that the receiver’s ability to receive is undisturbed. But here such is not the case; an illusion stands in his way.” His audience is unprepared to receive direct religious communication (even his religious writings, which are explicit and “direct,” suffer to a smaller degree from the problem of mediation and Kierkegaard explains that he cannot communicate to the religious audience authentic religiosity, but only approach it asymptotically.) By calling attention to the mediation of the aesthetic work, the media is not only observed, it is exposed as impossibly obscuring and, indirectly, illustrates to the aesthete the breakdown of his enterprise.

Kierkegaard’s religious philosophy informs his media theory. He makes use of media to build up layers of self-reflecting mediation, calling attention to irony and thickening the media until (he intends) it collapses. This theory not only calls attention to the process of thickening, but to the concept of authorship: Kierkegaard’s goal is to divorce himself and his writing from the final concept, the concept of God, which arrives in the observer unauthorized.