The Concept of Anxiety by Soren Kierkegaard
Tapping into self-consciousness means releasing from the steady grip of the immediate, external reality. There is a very specific and concrete truth to this fact. And it is through our anxiety and fear, Kierkegaard writes, that such an undertaking is possible. The rest is misleading because it dims the interiority of life. To fixate on the exteriority breeds dullness and uniformity because our sense of self is acutely tied up with surfaces and appearances. And through the inevitability that surfaces and appearances diminish, our understanding of the self also begins to recede. For Kierkegaard, anxiety is an inescapable human condition. And for someone who is unaware of it, it can give rise to emotional, intellectual, and creative barriers. Some of which seep into a person’s day-to-day living causing false and temporal happiness. Kierkegaard’s fascination with anxiety is nothing new. In The Sickness Unto Death, he writes that the loss of one’s despair is also the loss of one’s self. And so in The Concept of Anxiety, he reiterates this loss of self as something that is profoundly and philosophically tied together with the loss of anxiety. Fear, which is another acute response to reality and our internal presence stationed in that reality, is perpetually tied together with anxiety. Fear of anxiety, the anxiety of fear, and the anxious fear of the infiniteness of human choice. To cope with this dread, Kierkegaard believes, humans desensitize their freedom. They cure existential anxiety by limiting themselves to fewer possibilities. So that ultimately, our choices become our only axis around which we (the hollow shells) continuously revolve. Through that lens, nothing of consciousness can enable us to reflect on our experiences. Nothing of “self” can be identified as self because it exists outside of us. Kierkegaard writes about the psychological state of anxiety but he elevates the concept to a profoundly creative and philosophical narrative. A narrative that anyone can apply to their day-to-day living. And that is a strong reason to want to read this book.