Reading Notes
PHI 1305: Living Issues in Philosophy

Summary and Comments on Kierkegaard's "Diary of a Seducer" from Either/Or , vol. I

by Dr. Scott H. Moore, Dept. of Philosophy, Baylor University

These notes are intended to assist you in the reading of the assigned essay. The notes are incomplete and are not a substitute for the essay itself.

The Aesthete (hereafter named "A") tells the reader that he was able to obtain the diary which follows from an individual whom he knew. The diary is "running commentary" of "impressions from erotic situations, " reflections on a relationship, and a number of letters. A notes that concerning this individual (named Johannes), "his whole life was intended for enjoyment." the writer was a "seducer," but "he lived much too intellectually to be a seducer in the ordinary sense." A also knew the girl seduced, Cordelia.

The narrative of the relationship between Johannes and Cordelia can be recounted rather briefly. Johannes discovers Cordelia. He encounters her several times and is infatuated by the prospect of seducing her. With great secrecy, he comes to know her likes and dislikes, her family history, her daily activities, her talents, her weaknesses, and even her wardrobe. In time, he arranges to meet her (formally), but he does not treat her as a suitor. Rather he leads her to believe that he has many business engagements and is a confirmed bachelor. He begins to create a captivating personality to which she will ultimately give herself freely and entirely. He does not want mere "momentary enjoyment" (which he likens unto rape). His objective: to bring "it to a point where a girl has but one task for her freedom, to give herself, so that she feels her whole happiness in this, so that she practically begs for this devotedness and yet is free--only then is there enjoyment, but this always takes a discerning touch."

Johannes believes it will further his seduction if Cordelia has an "insufficient suitor." Edvard, the wholesaler's son, is already in love with her, and Johannes becomes his friend. Johannes arranges to accompany Edvard during his "courtship" of Cordelia and spends time talking with her aunt while Edvard attempts to win Cordelia. All the while, Johannes is making Cordelia fear, hate and even love him. Ultimately, Johannes asks Cordelia to become engaged to him, Cordelia defers to her aunt, the aunt consents, Cordelia follows suit, "and that is just about all she knows concerning the whole affair." And in the words of Johannes, "and now the story begins." (p. 312)

Johannes' seduction of Cordelia takes place in two "acts." In the first act, Johannes builds Cordelia's confidence. He teaches her to know through him "all the powers of erotic love." She begins to see herself as having a strange power over Johannes. Her pride grows with her confidence; erotic love is awakened in her soul; "she is being enthroned in her meaning as a woman." When she has reached the height of her passion, Johannes begins the second act. Here he changes entirely the course of their relationship. When they are together, he is often engrossed in thoughts which completely occupy him. His letters stop coming; her anxiety mounts. She tries to "recapture" him through the use of the erotic, but it is to no avail. Johannes' plan is to have Cordelia break off the engagement, which, in misery, she ultimately does.

The high point of pleasure for Johannes is still to come. For him, the seduction culminates, not in an act of romantic love as one would expect, but in Cordelia's orchestrated recollection of Johannes--the man whom she freely and entirely gave herself and with whom she freely broke the engagement. She realizes the depth of her misery and the extent of her seduction. In the end, Johannes wants nothing more to do with her.

Far and away, the primary focus of "The Seducer's Diary" is not the re-telling of this strange narrative, but rather the examination of the mind of the aesthete par excellence. In an autobiographical confession, Johannes writes, "I am an aesthete, an eroticist, who has grasped the nature and the point of love, who believes in love and knows it from the ground up, and I reserve for myself only the private opinion that no love affair should last more that a half a year at most and that any relationship is over as soon as one has enjoyed the ultimate."

The seducer seems to embody in actuality what the author of the "Crop Rotation" has proposed. Marriage and friendship are both an infringement on his freedom and a potential detriment to his quest for amusement. Engagement is, in its essence, laughable. He fears boredom and cannot comprehend why one would want to have a child. One can observe his implementation of the rotation method in the variety of ways in which he refers to the seduction itself. He calls the seduction: the "attack," the "web into which she is spun," "her baptism," "the trap door through which she falls," his "pulling the bow of love tighter in order to wound all the deeper," her "falling to the ground," "war," "war of liberation--a game," and "war of conquest--a life and death struggle." Note how he varies the metaphors around a theme of conquest. He is not even content to call his seduction by a single name.

Frequent attention is given to the subject of "possession." Johannes addresses all of his letters to "My Cordelia" and signs them, "Your Johannes." On more than one occasion, he specifically asks what do these possessive pronouns ("my" and "your") actually mean. At an advanced stage of the engagement, Johannes observes that Cordelia does not have the courage to call him "her" Johannes in conversation. He encourages her; she tries but cannot. We should note that A includes three letters from Cordelia to Johannes which are placed at the beginning of the diary. "Cordelia confesses that he has never been "her" Johannes. At most he is her seducer, her deceiver, her enemy, or her murderer. She realized that she has completely given herself to him, and she is indeed his. "Yours I am, yours, yours, your curse. Your Cordelia." In the opening entry of the diary, Johannes begins with "Take care, my beautiful stranger! Take care!" From first to last, Cordelia belongs to the seducer. "She is mine." This entire project is his: his seduction of his prey to be described with painstaking detail in his diary for his recollection of his victory of his game.

The existence of the diary itself is an illustration of its author's insatiable appetite for the recollection of how his desires have been fulfilled. These "memories" are meticulously planned beforehand, masterly orchestrated, and eloquently described on the pages of the diary. We get the impression that, for Johannes, the events exist so that they might be recorded-- not the other way around. The intent is obviously to provide its author/reader with further amusement and enjoyment when the entries are re-read and remembered. In the closing entry, he even postulates on the possibility of a variation on this theme of seduction which the author thinks will make " a very interesting epilogue." The seducer is not the least but bothered about a young girl's life which may be ruined in the next seduction; he is concerned only that his diary have a proper and "interesting" epilogue.

Kierkegaard's decision to describe the esthetic stage or sphere of existence through the creation of a narrative is most incisive. This is a very effective medium for communicating his content. More importantly, for Kierkegaard, this is indirect communication. The reader sees Johannes' perspective, his decisions, and his motivations, and the reader must ask himself or herself, "In what ways is this a description of my own life? And what should I do about it?" We may be shocked and offended, and this, of course, is one of SK's intended consequences. Many of want to live a merely aesthetic life, and yet we do not want to embrace the dark melancholy which is a necessary part of the aesthetic sphere of life.

Return to the Kierkegaard Resource Page.
Return to the PHI 1305 Syllabus.