The “Problem” of Anxiety and Freedom: Soren Kierkegaard, Arcade Fire, and the “Promise” of “Creature Comfort”

 

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It goes on and on, I don’t know what I want,

on and on, I don’t know if I want it.

On and on I don’t know what I want,

on and on, I don’t know if I want it…

From “Creature Comfort” by Arcade Fire, “Everything Now”

A chorus from Arcade Fire that is “dizzying” in both “merry go round” style – “on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on” – and actually also in content, which this post will explore. Soren Kierkegaard wrote that “anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.” Does that mean that “Creature Comfort” for the anxious is the ultimate thing we should seek? Is our anxiety itself one of the “Signs of Life” that as a “Manifest Propensity” empirically shows that we were created for more than simply consuming (and being consumed by?) the creature comforts marketed to us constantly?

Arcade Fire’s petition to God about the “problem of freedom” is “just make it painless” with painlessness coming through the “Creature Comfort” supposedly promised and provided for through the technological consumerism of “Everything Now.”  Arcade Fire raises one of the most perennial questions of human beings regarding God. Can God, if we consider God as the One that is the creator of human life, able to make that life “painless” for a being that is created with a measure of freedom? It seems that Soren Kierkegaard thought that freedom inevitably produces a measure of anxiety for creatures endowed with that gift.

If that is true, then question becomes, what do we do with this “birthright” of anxiety? Do we try to manufacture “comfort” for the “creature,” the solution that Arcade Fire sees as the “anxiety fix” currently on offer for any and all of us willing to buy into that solution? The manufacturers of such “creature comfort” constantly bombard us with the assurance that we ought to “Put your money on me?” In fact, we all tend to buy into that solution simply because it is the given of our existence now. In a sense we have already paid for it, simply as the price of admission to the modern world.

Infinite Content.

Infinite Content.

We’re infinitely content.

All your money is already spent on it.

All you money is already spent.

On Infinite Content.

From “Infinite Content” by Arcade Fire, “Everything Now”

With nearly biblical poetical genius Arcade Fire reveals the pseudo-religious character of this captivating sales pitch which captures precisely because it tends to exhaust all our resources so that we can’t afford anything else. All our money is already spent! We’re overly invested. But that’s alright because we’re so “infinitely content!” Many or most of us will probably admit how trapped we feel in this situation. But lurking within is the anxiety of dizziness caused by our struggle between wanting and not wanting to remain sellouts to the consumerist solution of “Creature Comfort.”

Soren Kierkegaard defined anxiety as “a sympathetic antipathy and an antipathetic sympathy.” Mark A. Tietjen explains that “It occurs when one is attracted to and repulsed by the same thing.” We seem to be attracted to the comforts offered, but repulsed by the loss of freedom we pay for them.

A short alternative answer from Kierkegaard was that we shouldn’t evade our birthright of anxiety, for the sake of a false “comfort,” but rather embrace it. For in that path lies becoming the self we were created to be.

“To venture causes anxiety, but not to venture is to lose one’s self…. And to venture in the highest is precisely to be conscious of one’s self.”
Søren Kierkegaard

I think it is highly possible that Arcade Fires’s song “Put Your Money On Me” contains a double entendre regarding two different voices pleading for us to put our money on them. The first, which we all know all too well, has already been considered. The other is the anti-type of the former. Arcade Fire’s song “We Don’t Deserve Love” explicitly evokes Jesus Christ with the plea to a “Mary” to “roll away the stone” and the mention of the “Christ-types” which leave Mary (us) alone and inevitably don’t provide what we need (love) so that we are always “waiting on” them. I believe that point is that the “Christ-types” can’t give us love. The more sinister underlying narrative of the false savior consumer culture is that we are merely “consumers” and as such are less than human beings. In other words “We Don’t Deserve Love.”

So to return to the double entendre of “Put Your Money On Me” – it is actually present through the song as a complex counter-narrative wherein there is an “either/or” (Kierkegaard) regarding the identity of the one speaking throughout the song. Is it the false Christ offering us “creature comfort” through loss of our own true self or the real Christ offering us love through the gain of true self-hood?  I believe that the “counter-narrative” of the real Christ is actually stronger because of a few of the lyrics, but I still call it the counter-narrative because of Arcade Fire’s “Money + Love” video in which the speaker is obviously the false one. The section of the song that I believe most explicitly can apply to Christ, and can’t really apply to “consumerism” is this:

My mother was crying on the day of our wedding.

Trumpets of angels call for my head.

But I fight through the ether and I’ll quit when I’m dead.

If you wanna know who’ll be there in the end,

When you bury me, baby, I’ll still be your friend.

It is also important to note that the basic premise of the song is the difficult and anxiety producing struggle for freedom by the one being spoken to throughout. The song closes before the epic track “We Don’t Deserve Love” with the words, “I know it’s not easy to put your money on me, all your money on me.”

It is also interesting to think about the scenario of “venturing” for the freedom of true self, as Kierkegaard calls it, in light of the fact of the seeming unfreedom inherent in the fact all our money “is already spent.” Is it possible Arcade Fire’s narrative/ counter-narrative interplay in which money is required for everything leads one to the biblical invitation to freedom for those in bondage that does not require the soul destroying commodities the world trades in? In other words, was Win Butler who majored in Bible and Philosophy at McGill and has explicitly given credit to the Bible and Kierkegaard as constantly forming the way he approaches everything, thinking about the only commodity God “trades in” with humans, namely our anxiety producing gift of freedom of choice?

Isaiah 55 Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.

Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. (King James Version)

 

Kierkegaard saw how humans deal with anxiety as bound up with the problem of despair. His thought on that problem is more than can be dealt with at the end of this meditation. So I’ll merely add this quote in which he shows that despair can be overcome through the proper reaction to anxiety which is possible through “resting transparently” in God.

“The formula that describes the state of the self when despair is completely rooted out is this: in relating itself to itself and in willing to be oneself, the self rests transparently in the power that established it.” (Soren Kierkegaard, Sickness Unto Death)

I apologize for not taking time to add links to Arcade Fire’s songs, but I assume that for most of us, being adept with navigating “infinite content,” they are easy to find!

Thanks so much for reading!

Original Content © Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

W. H. Auden on Pascal’s “wager” and Kierkegaard’s “leap”

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“It is,” Newman observed, “as absurd to argue men, as to torture them, into believing.” However convincing the argument, however holy the arguer, the act of faith remains an act of choice which no one can do for another. Pascal’s “wager” and Kierkegaard’s “leap” are neither of them quite adequate descriptions, for the one suggests prudent calculation and the other perverse arbitrariness. Both, however, have some value: the first calls men’s attention to the fact that in all other spheres of life they are constantly acting on faith and quite willingly, so that they have no right to expect religion to be an exception; the second reminds them that they cannot live without faith in something, and that when the faith which they have breaks down, when the ground crumbles under their feet, they have to leap even into uncertainty if they are to avoid certain destruction.  (The Living Thoughts of Kierkegaard, W. H. Auden, Introduction p. 17)

BMC @ Manifest Propensity, 2013

“Vision” – by Peter Hammill (On “poetic love” with Soren Kierkegaard & C. S. Lewis)

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A simply beautiful and amazing song (video & lyrics are posted below) by Peter Hammill, from an earlier time, way back in 1971. I do not wish to diminish the song (which should become more clear as I proceed) but if we were to analyze what is the factual basis in reality for such love what would that basis be? It would be found to be a moving example of what Soren Kierkegaard called “poetic love.” Continue reading

Soren Kierkegaard on “equality in loving” which is the love that can change the world – “Works of Love” 9 (preferential love, part 2)

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In this post we will consider Kierkegaard’s positive view of the duty of loving our neighbor. Continue reading

Love as inexhaustible, indescribable, unfathomable – Soren Kierkegaard

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“These are reflections on the works of love – not as if hereby all love’s works were mentioned and described – far from it, not even as if a single one described were described once for all – God be praised, far from it! That which in its vast abundance is essentially inexhaustible is also essentially indescribable in its smallest act, simply because essentially it is everywhere wholly present and essentially cannot be described.” Autumn 1847  S.K.

(From Works of Love, Author’s Preface)

“From whence comes love, where does it have its origin and its source; where is the place, its stronghold, from which it proceeds? Certainly this place is hidden or is in that which is hidden. There is a place in a human being’s most inward depths; from this place proceeds the life of love, for “from the heart proceeds life”…

…The hidden life of love is in the most inward depths, unfathomable, and still has an unfathomable relationship with the whole of existence. As the quiet lake is fed deep down by the flow of hidden springs, which no eye sees, so a human being’s love is grounded, still more deeply, in God’s love. If there were no spring at the bottom, if God were not love, then there would be neither a little lake nor man’s love. As the still waters begin obscurely in the deep spring, so a man’s love mysteriously begins in God’s love.”

(Works of Love, pp. 26-27)

BMC @ Manifest Propensity, 2013

Soren Kierkegaard on “Keeping the two commandments” – “Works of Love” 8 (preferential love, part 1)

works of love

“Just because Christianity is the true ethic, it knows how to shorten deliberations and cut short prolix instructions, to remove all provisional waiting and preclude all waste of time. Christianity is involved in the task immediately, because it has brought the task along. There is, indeed, great debate going on in the world about what should be called the highest good. But whatever it is called at the moment, whatever variations there are, it is unbelievable how many prolexities are involved in grasping it.”

“Christianity, however, teaches a man immediately the shortest way to find the highest good: shut your door and pray to God – for God is still the highest.  And when a man will go out into the world, he can go a long way – and go in vain –  he can wander the world around – and in vain – all in order to find the beloved or the friend. But Christianity never suffers a man to go in vain, not even a single step, for when you open the door which you shut in order to pray to God, the first person you meet as you go out is your neighbor whom you shall love. Wonderful!” (Soren Kierkegaard, “Works of Love” p. 64.) Continue reading

Soren Kierkegaard’s “Works of Love” 5 (Self-love: part 2, improper self-love)

works of love

In this post I present an excerpt from Soren Kierkegaard in which he presents some examples of persons that fail to love themselves with proper self-love. This is perhaps one of the best ways to demonstrate how “natural” self-love is inadequate as a basis for neighbor-love, while also falling short of proper self-love. Continue reading