“Rise & grind! Busy day!! Gym then packing 4 Paris again! This is the despair of finitude, when the self is lost to the temporal, the trivial,” tweeted Kim Kierkegaardashian, a Twitter account that combines Søren Kierkegaard quotes and Kim Kardashian’s tweets. As the New Yorker reports, this feed offers “reflective maxims on life, death, sin, and emptiness, salted with luxury accessories of the Kardashian lifestyle.” The Washington Post explains, “Basically what you have is profound ideas that exercise your brain, combined with mindless comments that lower your IQ. Put the two together and they cancel each other out, allowing your mind to do exactly nothing while you read this online stream of idiot-losophy.” To most people, these tweets do appear to be nothing more than “idiot-losophy.” That being said, I think this Twitter feed offers the most Kierkegaardian cultural analysis that is available today.
Søren Kierkegaard, the Morosely Melancholic Dane, often wrote to show the vapidity of the Late Modern culture in which he lived. In doing this, he often employed parody and irony to argue against his opponents. The method that Kierkegaard perfected – e concessis argumentation – required that he argue from his opponent’s premises. In doing this, Kierkegaard wrote full works in which he played or acted as those whom he opposed, be it “A the Aesthete” in Either/Or Part I, the Kantian parson in Either/Or Part II, or (my favourite) Anti-Climacus – the Christian who preceded Hegel. Rather than systematically constructing arguments, Kierkegaard often relied on narrative and epigrams to critique his opponents.
One of Kierkegaard’s most important cultural critiques comes from his character, A the Aesthete. A the Aesthete believes, “Boredom is the root of all evil.” This is because “man’s destiny is to amuse himself.” The problem A the Aesthete sees with boredom is that “it is built upon emptiness […] Boredom rests upon the nothing that interlaces existence: its dizziness is infinite, like that which comes from looking down into a bottomless abyss.”
In describing this “boredom,” A the Aesthete harkens back to Kierkegaard’s The Sickness Unto Death, which describes the psychological malaise of despair that afflicts the Modern person. In this work, he states, “Every moment man is in despair, he is bringing it upon himself.” For Kierkegaard, man “despairs” because he has misunderstood his place in this world.
Rather than staring into confronting this “nothing that interlaces existence,” A the Aesthete must escape his boredom by arbitrarily choosing a passion and pursuing that passion until it has been exhausted. Ideally, this lifestyle, assuming the passions are “rotated” properly, will allow A the Aesthete to forget his despair and become caught up in the sensate moment. By “rotating his crops,” A the Aesthete has found an unstable solution to despair that neglects having to come to terms with his mortal condition.
Showing his prescience, Kierkegaard’s created A the Aesthete to embody the Modern lifestyle. A the Aesthete wholeheartedly embraces the temporal pleasures of the body as an attempt to distract himself from his despair. Quite similarly, we see with the aesthetic lifestyle today in the over-sexualization of culture. In our culture, we often seek ways to forget our despair rather than confront it.
Given this cultural state, I believe that Kim Kierkegaardashian embodies a Kierkegaardian critique of our society. Much like Kierkegaard, Ms. Kierkegaardashain offers her critiques by playing a character and employing wit, irony, and parody rather than systematic argumentation. This collusion of pop-culture vapidity with existential angst uncovers the many different ways through which we forget about our despair.
Though there are many areas she addresses, here are three of particularly interesting societal phenomena that Ms. Kierkegaardashian has addressed:
- Our commercialization of the holidays:
- “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. A bankrupt age disguises itself in extravagance.”
- “Start searching for the perfect holiday gift & the inauthentic kind of happiness it is capable of producing.”
- Our tastes in couture:
- “Are passions, then, the pagans of the soul? Is reason alone baptized? The sexy secretary look lets you have both.”
- “Glamor, menswear, top hat… I stick my finger into existence and it smells of nothing.”
- Our obsession with selfies:
- “What is the operation by which a self relates itself to its own self, transparently? Selfie.”
- “We love selfies! The despairing self, by taking notice of itself, tries to make itself more than it already is.”
Through all of her tweets, Ms. Kierkegaardashian plays a character that represents the duality of our Modern culture. She is vapidly consumed with the pursuit of the immediate and sensual, and, at the same time, she is plagued with despair. By embracing this duality, Kim Kierkegaardashian forces us to confront the ways through which we distract ourselves from our own despair and become “lost to the temporal” and the “trivial.” In doing this, Ms. Kierkegaardashian embodies the heart of Kierkegaard by helping us confront our human condition and reject the emptiness of this Modern age.