Are some people addicted to suffering?

Psychologist and Philosopher Soren Kierkegaard

“Sovereign of my heart, Regina, kept safe and secret in the deepest corner of my breast.”

I’m big on psychology theorists these days, and while searching for e-books for Rollo Reese May (since I failed to find any hardcopies in our distinguished book-stores across Cairo), I came across works by Soren Kierkegaard, Danish philosopher, psychologist and theologian. I decided to “wiki” him since I have to admit I knew nothing of him and the book that I came across had an incredibly sexy title (It’s called ‘Fear and Trembling’).

His wiki page touched upon his relationship with the love of his life Regine Olsen. The woman, as also several other pages claim, greatly influenced his work. He was briefly engaged to her, their love was “deep” according to records, but then he lost her. How? Well, he broke off the engagement. It was his doing, and then he suffered for it during his short life (he died at 42).

Why did he do it? The reasons are not clear. Some say it was due to his devotion to God and church (almost forced upon him by his father), others say to immerse himself in his work, while some said he realized he was not a man for marriage but the real reasons died with them. Olsen refused to publish her diaries (although an unverified account resurfaced later and was sold as her diary), while Kierkegaard referred to his relation only in his work. He and Olsen also corresponded, but his letters remains and hers are destroyed. Some accounts said that Olsen had told her friends that before the break-up Kierkegaard felt an immense sadness, and she suspected that drowning himself in work was a tactic to distance himself away from her.

Such a mystery, isn’t it? From her side, Olsen was devastated when seemingly without good reason her man left her. He refused to take her back even when she threatened suicide. In her despair, she begged him not to leave her. And in order to drive her away, Kierkegaard feigned coldness, telling her that perhaps in 10 years, he will take another woman to “rejuvenate him.” The woman was left in shambles.

Ironically, she moved on, got married but he didn’t. In fact, he was “shocked” to hear of her marriage two years after he had left her. According to a source, shortly after the break up, of her he wrote: “Not even here in Berlin has my, alas, all-too-inventive brain been able to refrain from scheming something or other. She must either love me or hate me, she knows no third possibility. Nor is there anything more harmful to a young girl than half-way situations.” He remained alone until he died, and four weeks before his death, he still wrote of his agony. “I had my thorn in the flesh,” he said. “And therefore did not marry.”

Their story is fleshed out in the introduction of Kiekregaard’s book The Seducer’s Diary — which is believed to be an account of his relationship with Olsen, detailing how he seduced her and how he left, masquerading as a “fictional” tale. The introduction and the first 23 pages of the book can be found here (Google Books Preview).

Of her love, he had written in his journal, “Thou sovereign of my heart treasured in the deepest fastness of my chest, in the fullness of my thought, there […] unknown divinity! Oh, can I really believe the poet’s tales, that when one first sees the object of one’s love, one imagines one has seen her long ago, that all love like all knowledge is remembrance, that love too has its prophecies in the individual.”

The question that begs itself is: What was that about?

I’m sure the pain and the confusion had turned into energy that fuelled his creativity and inspired his writings and made his drive and will stronger. But why make this hard choice to leave abruptly as such and suffer the consequences? Was it reluctance to live with the idea of choosing one person, a lack of responsibility towards this choice or a refusal to surrender to the idea of marriage? Was it cold feet, fear of commitment, fear of happiness? Or was it the realization that he was not meant to be happy or settled or with the person he loved? The belief that he must suffer for some twisted reason that only God knew what it was? Self-punishment? Or perhaps worse, a knowledge that even the person that his heart desires can’t make him whole. A chronic feeling of (and an impulsion for) loneliness or aloneness? Perhaps it was simply boredom. Or a desire to break away, to always be free. Not to be tied down to anything, even the objects of one’s infatuation.

The story touched me. I could see people doing what he was doing (and to be honest, I could see myself doing that despite knowing that women are usually reluctant to make such radical decisions. I just read that women are more reluctant than men to break up relationships even if they’re equally, or even more, miserable than their partners).

The story is not shocking, it’s a bit surprising but most of all it’s sad. Heart-wrenching actually. Because we do make similar choices. I wondered if some people are, by nature, convinced that they cannot and shall not be happy that they consciously (or by a curse of obsessive thought) create the melo-drama, place a verdict upon their lives in their heads and act upon it.

Regine Olsen source: wikipedia

Could it be? The idea scares me. I can’t help but think: What if I’m trapped in my own thinking as such that I might be stirring up suffering? That perhaps there’s a pleasure in being confined to suffering, to being a victim of circumstances. (Or that perhaps it’s easier). We’ve studied back in college cases of people whose lives (and failures) were prophecized by their thinking. Of women who say they can’t find love but keep rejecting it or scaring potential partners away, unconsciously and sometimes consciously. Of men who believe others will eventually hate them (if they see through the protective walls that they erect around them) only to provoke that hate through their actions, thus driving people to hate them and in turn validating their earlier beliefs. Self-fulfilling prophecy. Manipulation of events and others. A very forced way of proving you’re right — even if it hurts you and those around you in the end.

I would be interested to read The Seducer’s Diary in full, and try to search for answers to the question of whether or not some people seek suffering (or can’t do or create or be something without it) through this real-life story of heart-break and great accomplishment. Then again, Kierkegaard was a prolific writer, an influential psychologist and was known to be the “the father of existential philosophy.”

Yet, like many of us, despite delving so deep into human nature and what makes us who we are, he couldn’t be happy. He followed his heart. Then his mind. He hurt others. He hurt himself. He was disillusioned. He was confused. He ached. And perhaps, if my theory is correct, that was (secretly) what he wanted.

Listening to: Ahlam and Mohammed Abdu on Rotana Khalijiah
Mood: pensive, uneasy and slightly irritable

On loneliness and writing

It turns out I have been feeling this “loneliness” for far longer than I thought I did. I found some writings from a few years back, I don’t even remember writing them or the occasion, and I cringe a bit at the amount of melodrama seeping from every word. Here’s an abstract:

“Perception is a curse. Seeing through, having a breakthrough changed my life, changed me more than I can say. Words fail when I attempt to describe how alone I am, in this wretched world where my enemies are not black anymore, neither are my people all white and good. There are not many people where I am to testify to my loneliness or sing the praises of the no-knowledge land. But believe me –believe the sound of reason etching in my voice, ripping at my heart- it’s a deserted place where I am, where happiness is a thing of the past, and where peace never comes without a price.”

“Home becomes a relative thing, anyway. So perhaps it does not matter. Or does it matter? Because home becomes something abstract, something that could only be attained in struggle. Something that people dream of when they sleep; like freedom, love, right … all those beautiful, beautiful words. I guess I will be a traveler for long; me and them who see.”

I think these words were written in 2006 or 2007. However, I relate to my younger self on the subject of “home” and not finding it. And let this be a short note back to her, to the 25-year-old me: “You won’t find this ‘home’ for a long time, and yes you will be a traveller and you will cross paths with ‘those who see.’ And it’s not always good. But it’s never bad.”

Like Stephen Fry once did, I should do too: write a long letter to my younger self. Perhaps not at 25. But to the one stuck at crossroads at 19, to warn and comfort her.

They dance on my paper …

One of my drawings, this one didn't dance though. She flew!

I’m holding a shiny sword
I’m talking to three people
One of them I haven’t met since college
And two others who change faces
All of which I thought I forgot
I’m drawing figures but they’re already there
On paper
Already there
Dancing on paper
Dancing for me
Challenging me to pin them down and draw them again
I see them, I see them
And that’s why I think I can draw them with perfection

My mind tells me to write
Write what’s already there
On the paper with the drawings, dancing for me
And I see them, I see the words
And they’re already written
And that’s what my mind tells me
It tells me not to invent
But to copy the form
And to follow the form
And to forget that there is pen, that there’s paper
Only what’s already there for me to pencil and write

It’s a trick, my mind taught me a trick
And it was during sleep
Oh, it was in a dream

Now I remember the figures with hoods
And the robes
And the staffs
Dancing for me
Daring me to put my pen down
And find them
Daring me to change them
Daring me to think for my own
And I put my pen down to follow the lines
And they dance
And they dance
But I follow the lines

The voice in my head tells me to ignore it
Ignore the inventor
And become a god of lines
A god who follows the lines
As they twitch
As they switch
As they run from each other
As they rage
As they change
As they dance
Yes, they dance
On my paper

(I wrote it in 2009, after several attempts at trying to draw several comic book characters, as I saw them in my head, and failing. One night after giving up on the pen, I dreamt that someone was telling me -perhaps it was my Voice- to just follow the lines that are already there, to follow the form, to imagine that my characters were already there on paper and that I was just tracing them like kids do to learn drawing. I decided to try this the next morning. It didn’t work, but it produced this silly poem, which I like.)