Friday, May 09, 2008

Diary of a Seducer

The Seducer's Diary is another book from the Great Love series by Penguin which I mentioned in an earlier post. After reading this, my enthusiasm for the series has increased even more and I have managed to find and order a few more titles, which now happily adorn my shelf.

Seducer's Diary is primarily a philosophical work from Soren Kierkegaard: a 19th century Danish philosopher, and one of the earlier enthusiasts of Existentialism. It is part of one of his most illustrative works Either/Or, which I hope to read sometime. In Either/Or, with a few fictional pseudonyms, Kierkegaard argues for both the aesthetic (Either) and ethical (Or) aspects of life. It is in the Either or the aesthetic part that Seducer's Diary finds its place.
In itself, the Seducer's Diary is a complete book, even though it gives a unidirectional perspective, as different from the balanced perspective that Kierkegaard intended with the complete book . It seductively indulges in aesthetics, in the joy and happiness of being in love.

Written as part of diary entries of Johannes, the seducer, recounting his deliberate planning and plotting in the pursuit of a girl Cordelia, the book takes us through the meticulous thought process of Johannes. His remarkable consciousness of Cordelia's mind and thoughts is evident in the reading of each entry. He plays on her subconscious, remaining on the periphery, gaining her confidence from this periphery and giving her a false sense of power over himself. As she gets drawn to him, he then introduces an aloofness, feigning distance and indicating a fading of this power, which makes her confused and anxious, and she tries eagerly to bridge this distance and resume power again.

The game seems simple enough. Certainly there are in this world many a men and women playing similar games in a less conscious form. However the consciousness of it is the most impressive part of the work, not to say mildly shocking.

There are some biographical allusions to this work, especially pointed out by John Updike in his introduction to this work (Incidentally, my edition did not have this introduction but I read parts of it in the google preview of this book). Kierkegaard himself broke up his engagement with a young girl (Regine Olson) whom he had coveted for a long time. He remained unmarried, and this work is seen as his confession, his version of the entire episode. Perhaps it could be so. But if it is remorse, there is little of it that is seen in this work, which remains a delicious, arrogant recounting of a laborious victory.

I loved this work, mainly for Kierkegaard's articulate expression of Johannes thoughts on love. There is also some truth in his words which is perhaps felt universally - most people rush to conquer and get engaged in love and they don't know what they have conquered. It is in the drawn out months before a confession or engagement is made, the months of pursuit that are more aesthetic. Hence it is the melodrama of pursuit and mischances that play out the centrestage in most movies, while the 'they lived happily ever after' is always the small inconsequential part which no one is interested in - the part at which people get up and leave.

A beautiful work. I may have idolized Johannes, were it not for his misogyny and nauseating views on women!


Alok said...

I'm glad you liked it. I was reading some comments on amazon and goodreads and some (mostly female) readers were calling him "creepy". I don't know, but it really must take a lot of wishful thinking to assume that no conscious calculation takes place in a romantic relationship, even the healthy ones. The only thing that makes his case different is that he doesn't believe in marriage and of course that he is very articulate. If he just agreed to marry her, many of those readers will find him very romantic.

Spontaneity is something we can only hope for, but I don't think it is possible once you reach that conscious age. Once you begin to think you are already alienated from your subject...there is already a gulf. There are occasional moments of spontaneity (moments of "pure being" as a philosopher would call it) and that's what keeps the sparks in a relationship alive. Also, personally I would prefer someone like Johannes who is at least very self-aware even if he is a manipulator as compared to someone who is spontaneous but is actually full of only banalities and just spouts whatever is fed to him/her by the culture industry...

digression aside (i don't know if it made any sense)... I found an article on Kierkegaard and Feminism which may interest you... if you scroll down there is a section on seducer's diary too.

Kubla Khan said...

Kierkegaard is primarily a christian philosopher and writer, and his existentialism aside, very conservative.
have you read his Fear and trembling? if not, i w'd suggest you should. and later, read what Zizek writes on kierkegaard, of course, through a Lacanian perspective.

I have found Kierkegaard highly readable, i mean philosphers usually aren't but his whole philosophy is stepped in a deep conservatism( nothing against that) that in itself offers deeper readings. however, for those who know the Abraham/Ibrahim sacrificial subject from non-judeo-christian perspectives, his Fear & trembling seems puerile at times.
that said, who better to read than Kierkegaard!

Madhuri said...

Alok,Thanks for the link. I have not completely read the article yet, but I agree with the point on pseudonyms - that's why I specifically mentioned Johannes' misogyny :)
It is true, spontaneity in relationships is a rather optimistic expectation. Perhaps it's there in extreme youth, when thought generally is on a back-seat. But at that time, it is banalities that rule, which as you say is even worse.
Johannes' views on engagement were amusing, were they not?

Madhuri said...

Kubla Khan, even I found Kierkegaard surprisingly readable for a philosopher. Most of the philosophers talk/write in a way that demands a lot of application.
I have not read any of his works before - thanks for the recommendation. I will look out for it. I vaguely remember seeing that book in my bookstore.