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  • Writer's pictureTashroom Ahsan

The Atemporal Demonic

Vigilius Haufniensis, the pseudonym of Kierkegaard writing The Concept of Anxiety, turns towards the demonic at the end of his exploration of the psychological state preceding hereditary sin. The demonic, for him, constitutes the state which flees from inheritance. It closes itself off from the good. By precluding a relationship with the good, the demonic prevents the individual from becoming himself. But how does the demonic sever the individual from his humanity? Temporality bridges the individual with his humanity; through the moment, the individual is both himself and the human race, allowing both sin and the good to permeate through him. He coheres himself through the moment. The demonic, however, is the sudden—it posits itself as being atemporal, thereby severing the individual from all coherence, making him utterly impenetrable to anyone, including himself. Because his being is shut off through the sudden, the demonic individual cannot express anything. He is drawn towards expression yet fails at every attempt. The atemporality of the demonic prevents him from becoming a human being.

The moment unfolds the consciousness of sin which enables one to become good. Vigilius describes the moment as “that ambiguity in which time and eternity touch each other…whereby time constantly intersects eternity and eternity constantly pervades time.” In the moment, the instant—that instantaneous point of time before an individual—presents eternity, and eternity dwells in each instant. Eternity is constantly present through the moment. In anxiety, the hesitation preceding hereditary sin, the individual understands himself in a similarly ambiguous way. “The individual has a history,” writes Vigilius, and “he is at once himself and the human race.” The individual becomes aware of hereditary sin as a problem as he realizes these two ambiguities. He possesses the history, the eternity, of each man’s first sin—the weight of this eternity bears upon him constantly. He knows of all sins prior and to come. At the same time, he has not yet sinned. Anxiety, for him, is simultaneously qualitative and quantitative. It quantitatively builds up with eternity—he holds the weight of all sins—but only in an instant does he accept it as his own. This instant belongs to him alone. None can reproduce it—hence it is a qualitative leap; in one instant he is not anxious, in the next he is. In this sense the individual is both “himself and the human race.” When the individual realizes this awareness—becomes aware of his capacity for sin—his instant becomes the moment. Eternity, history, belongs to him, while his “time,” the instants through which the world appears to him, remains within him alone. His time carries eternity and eternity is accessed through time. In acknowledging his double-carrying of sin, knowing that he has carried evil, the individual tacitly acknowledges that he can and should become good.

The moment coheres time and eternity. Truth itself maintains this coherence. Vigilius writes that “truth is for the particular individual only as he himself produces it in action.” Vigilius clarifies that, in truth, “a person will in the deepest sense acknowledge the truth, will allow it to permeate his whole being, will accept all its consequences.”3 When the individual comports their “whole being” into a deed, he produces truth through action. To do this, he must act with “earnestness,” or the “originality with which [the individual] returns in repetition.” The individual’s truth is non-reproducible; he offers it the originality of his being, clarified to him through repetition. It cannot be general, for that “increases the scope and quantity” of truth while abstracting its clarity, precluding the individual from living it out. Truth is a deed cohered both by the individual’s individuality—the fact that he is himself, originally producing the deed—and by him repeating the actions affirming it. The individual coheres truth. He lives in the moment; for the individual in truth, deeds contain the eternity of repetition while constantly being original in time.

Language is the highest form of truth’s coherence. For Vigilius, “the content of freedom is truth, and truth makes man free”3 and “freedom is always communicating.” Truth, by allowing the man to express himself, makes him free. He expresses the earnestness that he alone possesses. Truth, then, is constantly disclosing the free individual through action. Language achieves this disclosure most directly. “Language,” writes Vigilius, “the word, is precisely what saves;”6 later, he writes, “disclosure is the good, for disclosure is the first expression of salvation.” In speaking, one communicates with the good to save them. He makes a report to He who saves. He can only verbally justify himself in a way that is good—otherwise his justification is nonsense. Language forces the individual to be as coherent as possible. His report is to be heard in a universal way, one which all must understand, unlike his deeds which belong to himself alone. Disclosure in language is essentially ethical; speech is only in the terms of the good that everyone hears.

The converse of the good is not evil. In calling something evil, we disclose it to the good, priming it for salvation. The demonic opposes the good—it flees from the good. Defined by “anxiety about the good,” the demonic subsists in a fundamental tension: it is posited by the good—by anxiety of it—yet by virtue of its anxiety, it flees the good. It cannot act towards it, for it lacks certitude and earnestness in its anxiety. Instead it hesitates before it, hiding. Vigilius characterizes the demonic further as “inclosing reserve,”8 “the sudden,” and “the contentless, the boring.” In turning away from the good, it is “inclosing reserve.” By this Vigilius means that the demonic cannot communicate in any way. The good begins with disclosure. Because the demonic flees the good, it flees expression. But how can the demonic remain inexpressible—what does inexpressibilty mean?

To grasp the inexpressibility of the demonic, we shall delve into its temporality. The demonic is the sudden. The tension between the demonic and the good produces its ‘suddenness.’ Vigilius accounts for the sudden as “always due to anxiety about the good, because there is something that freedom is unwilling to pervade.” The demonic individual possesses something within him which he cannot comport towards his action. He simultaneously feels a draw to the good, for the demonic is grounded in the good, but the “freedom” in his goodness cannot penetrate his fleeing, demonic self. Because he cannot penetrate himself, he finds himself in a contradiction of action. “Inclosing reserve may wish for disclosure, wish that this might be brought about from the outside, that this might happen to it. ” writes Vigilius.7 He wants to account for himself, but his account finds its limit in the demonic element he possesses. He cannot account—thus he cannot act. For him, time cannot be the moment. His deeds cannot comport his whole being, because he hides himself; truth cannot find repetition, because it does not know what remains constant; he cannot find himself as a man. He cannot find himself as the human race, either, for freedom cannot penetrate the demonic element within him—he cannot call it himself, or his humanity. History fails to account for him, and so does he. His temporality lacks both time and eternity. The instant for him is always different from other time—his instants are instantaneous. The demonic, as the sudden, is essentially atemporal.

Since the demonic is atemporal, he is utterly inexpressible. There is no coherence for him to express. What comes out of the demonic sounds like “indolence that postpones thinking, as curiosity that never becomes more than curiosity, as dishonest self-deception…etc.” Vigilius also writes that, “inclosing reserve is precisely muteness.”6 But the “muteness” of the inclosing reserve is not silence. Inclosing reserve communicates in a way that negates communication. It is “involuntary disclosure.”9 Vigilius offers a portrait of the communication of the demonic individual; met with the accusing silence of an interrogator, holding him for a crime, he bursts in random spurts of words. His words cannot come together. “Communication,” writes Vigilius, “is the expression for continuity, and the negation of continuity is the sudden.”9 The demonic is not merely silent, for silence can be read—he destroys language, disclosure, and expression, in his sudden expression. In doing so, he makes himself entirely unknown.

The demonic is untruth. He is “contentless, boring” because he cannot be filled up with anything. Any reading of him is destroyed by his discontinuity. His being, inexpressible, removes him from being either himself or the human race. Removed from his being, his time is atomized as the sudden. Atomized time renders him incapable of becoming. He is no one, says nothing, and does nothing. Truth cannot touch him. Lost in instants without moments, the demonic cannot face himself as a man.


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