“The child does not know what the dreadful is; this the man knows, and he shudders at it. The child’s imperfection consists, first of all, in not knowing what the dreadful is; and then again, as an implication of this, in shuddering at that which is not dreadful. And so it is also with the natural man, he is ignorant of what the dreadful truly is, yet he is not thereby exempted from shuddering; no, he shudders at that which is not the dreadful: he does not know the true God, but this is not the whole of it, he worships an idol as God.
Only the Christian knows what is meant by the sickness unto death. He acquires as a Christian a courage which the natural man does not know – this courage he acquires by learning fear for the still more dreadful. Such is the way a man always acquires courage; when one fears a greater danger, it is as though the other did not exist. But the dreadful thing the Christian learned to know is “the sickness unto death”. (Kierkegaard, the Sickness unto Death, introduction)
“The turn towards an emancipatory enthusiasm takes place only when the traumatic truth is not only accepted in a disengaged way, but is fully lived: “Truth has to be lived, not taught. Prepare for battle!” Like Rilke’s famous lines, “for there is no place that does not see you. You must change your life,” this passage from Herman Hess’s The Glass Bead Game cannot but appear as a weird non sequitur: if the Thing looks back at me from everywhere, why does this oblige me to change my life? Why not rather a depersonalized mystical experience in which I “step out of myself” and identify with the other’s gaze? Likewise, if truth has to be lived, why need this involve a struggle? Why not rather a meditative inner experience? The reason is that the “spontaneous” state of our daily lives is that of a lived lie, to break out of which requires a continuous struggle. The starting point for this process is to become terrified by oneself. When, in his early “Contributions to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right,” Marx analyzed the backwardness of Germany, he made a rarely notice yet crucial observation about the link between shame, terror, and courage:
the actual burden must be made even more burdensome by creating an awareness of it. The humiliation must be increased by making it public. Each sphere of German society must be depicted as the partie bonteuse of that society and these petrified conditions must be made to dance by having their own tune sung to them! The people must be put in terror of themselves in order to give them courage.” (Marx)
Such is our task today, when faced with the shameless cynicism of the existing global order.” (Zizek, Living in the End Times, introduction)
Cover image: Pluto & Charon