9.3, Kierkegaard and the Poetic, Patience, Socrates

“The rich bird comes swishing, comes flaunting; the poor bird–and patience is a poor bird, which does not come parading and posturing but comes like a soft breeze and the incorruptible essence of a quiet spirit. Patience is a poor art, and yet it is very long. Who learned it properly from life–who had the patience for that? Who taught it to another person in the right way–ah, perhaps there was someone who taught another patience very well by being very impatient himself! Who spoke fittingly about it, so that he did not rush into impatience of expression and hastiness of phrase? Who listened to the discourse and thus certainly comprehended patience and the discourse about it but did not comprehend that it was not to be understood in that way!”

Literality, oh so critical down here, has its limits. Beyond those limits is the poetic–it progresses to the gibberish of speaking in tongues, only interpretable by the expert in the appearance of gibberish that conceals insight; beyond that is the inexpressible. That the term inexpressible is, is a sign of the limit of the literal.

Patience. Where it is had, there is poverty. Why? Only he who lacks must wait and wait well. But where it is had, there is riches. Why? Only he who has stillness can receive the data necessary for movement without distortion by the passion of impatience.

It cannot be acquired impatiently. Could it, the effect (patience) would be greater than the cause (including impatience). An impossibility. It cannot be acquired patiently. It would already be possessed and thus not need acquiring.

Patience. Humble, quiet, almost invisible, that in a soul which never seeks recognition for its willingness to wait and remain unnoticed. Patience does not seek. But seeking can be done patiently. To seek patiently is to look for without demand; to look for without stomping of foot; to look for without passion.

I am sure that in my impatience I distort patience so that nothing I write about it can be literally true. And yet, the poetic, picturesque and paradoxical sentences of Kierkegaard do more and better than any literal description could. For the sentences of Kierkegaard leave me stumped, in doubt, empty of solutions and full of questions. But is not this the beginning of inquiry, famously (in Plato’s Meno) that which is either impossible or unnecessary?

Is not the insecurity made more obvious by the confrontation with the paradoxical, the inexplicable, generative of birth? Is this not why Socrates (as sage) considered himself a midwife (in Plato’s Theaetetus)? He, done birthing knowledge, done with inquiry, used questions to plant the seeds in others that would lead to birth?

Is this not why, in opposition to the tendency in a segment of Greek culture for elder men to fall head over heels for younger men of beauty, it was precisely the opposite with Socrates? Young men clamored to gain his attention, to spend time with him, to be penetrated by his interrogations and questions (consider Alcibiades’ speech in Plato’s Symposium).

Such is patience. It is in the paradoxical and approaches the inexpressible, but it is there to be pursued…though patiently. From the perspective of the literal, the finite, the context in which patience is desperately needed, it is messy, unclear, what it looks like or how to get more. I must exit the literal to pursue patience. It is like seeking to be undone by Socrates.

And yet surely it can be approached if the sage is more than a delusive dream. Patience. The most useful thing down here that must be pursued in such a way that it is not pursued primarily for its usefulness down here. That would be to limit it, and it is not limited.

Real patience, the immovable passionless passion, the unwilled willingness to wait, the calm that is a kind of not-feeling that feels so good as to sound like speaking in tongues to try and express it.

What is the pursuit to be like? Like Meno, any other young man, answering Socrates’ questions. Meno, after three failures to define virtue well, finally lands on a seemingly suitable string of words that will satisfy the sage. “Virtue”, Meno says, “is the power to get good things.” So adequate. Of course who can say what power is literally. But never mind. Socrates does not go there. His next question is to check the status of that critical term used in the definition which will say more about Meno’s understanding of virtue than anything else. “Meno”, says Socrates, “what mean you by good things?” Meno says, and there is so much in the response: “gold and silver and high office”.

And here, we see that though Meno has come so far; though he has approached Socrates, asked rightly about the acquisition of virtue, endured, though likely not patiently given his outburst of frustration and name-calling; though he has defined adequately virtue after three prior failures, we find that deeper down there is wrongful attention to the limited, the finite, the best of the earthly–money and position. This wrongful attention to the earthly distorts attention on the divine, the moral, the infinite, that which can only be, at best, expressed poetically.


Published by Purilib

Anonymously interested in grasping the good life.

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