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    Soren Kierkegaard's "In Vino Veritas" from Stages on Life's Way. By: Andy Montgomery

                       E-mail: Exec-PC (414)-789-4210

    Philosophy and Soren Kierkegaard in particular will never cease to amaze
me.  Well over one hundred years old, Stages on Life's Way might well have
been written yesterday by a contemporary thinker.  It is that timeless.  I
will admit that it is not as easy to read as other Kierkegaard (hereafter
referred to as "S.K.") material I have accumulated, but after two readings and
the obligatory "other sources", I got a lot out of the Stages.
    If you read any S.K., you must read the Stages.  At first, I was worried;
many of the thoughts and characters in the Stages made earlier appearances in
another S.K. work--Either/Or, and I have to admit that E/O did very little for
me.  But as I read on, I found the Stages to be slightly more succinct that
E/O.  Yes, some of the passages got a bit long-winded, but as a whole the
Stages was a more enjoyable read.
    Because Stages is such a large work I picked one section to deal with; one
section that struck me as able to stand alone.  The section of Stages that
presented itself to me to be the most important is "In Vino Veritas": A
Recollection Related by William Afham.  This is an important section to me
subjectively for two reasons: 1) I am a man, and still mystify at women and,
2) I just split up with my girlfriend not too long ago, so I read it at just
the right time.
    Written as a contemporary companion to Plato's Symposium, the title
itself is lifted from a famous Greek proverb referred to by Alcibiades in
Plato's work: "In wine there is truth, whether there is in boys or not."  But
the Stages is not just a tale of drunkenness for the sake of drunkenness.  
Stages is S.K. voicing all of his fears, hopes, and questions regarding the
opposite sex, and as always by doing so, the feelings of all men. S.K.'s
different personalities the psudononymous characters each voice a different
opinion that S.K. has often pondered in hopes of (as with the original
Symposium) finding an answer.

The Banquet:
    After a brief (and fruitless) discussion of a banquet at a local salon,
Constantin Constantius took it upon himself to actually hold one.  Silent
through the entire salon discussion, he nevertheless was listening, and
decided to heed some of the thoughts:

        If, however, [the banquet] was going to be carried out,
      [Johannes] insisted on one condition that it be arranged so
      that it was "auf einmal einzunehmen" {to be partaken of all
      at once}.  Everyone agreed on that.  The whole setting was
      to be a new creation, and then everything was to be demolished."

    As Johannes would have it, a banquet should be a thing of passion for
those who attend it.  It should be a momentary mental and intellectual
experience that reflects passion in its very existence; birth an explosion of
hurried preparation, death a flourish of violent destruction.  But for all of
the talk, none would take on the task of throwing the fest.  All, except
    So, on a beautiful July day, Constantin's four friends; the Young Man,
Victor Eremita, a Fashion Designer, and John the Seducer (Johannes), all
receive invitations to the banquet to be held that very night just outside
Copenhagen.  The motto was chosen by Constantin himself:

        . . .In Vino Veritas, because certainly there must be
      speeches, not just conversation, but there must be no
      speeches except in vino, and no truth must be heard except
      that which is in vino, when wine is a defence for truth and
      truth is a defence for wine.

    As all arrive they are greeted by perfumes and the strains of an
orchestra playing Mozart's Don Giovanni.  Constantin and his compatriots
enjoyed themselves thoroughly, plenty of wine was had, and after a few
courses, Constantin proposed that the night end with each man giving a speech.
A few ground rules were laid down: first, the speeches should be given after
the meal, secondly no one would be allowed to speak without first having drunk
enough wine to feel its effects, but not so as to be hiccuping through the
whole thing.  All men would have to stand up and solemnly declare that they
were in this state.
    The topic of the speech would be on erotic love and the relationship
between a man and a woman.  At about midnight, the Young Man got up and said
that he was In Vino and began the first speech.

The Young Man's Speech.

    The Young Man starts by admitting that he has no first-hand experience in
the matters of love, but for this he is glad, saying that each love-gone-bad
is a death to a person.  It takes unhappy love three times to kill someone,
and he states: "how lucky am I, I who have never loved and hope that I shall
manage to die only once and mercifully not from unhappy love."  
    To the Young Man, the only thing that is worth anything is his own
thoughts.  "To me, thought is all in all. . . I refuse to be unfaithful to my
    His argument is that erotic love is not only fruitless, but comic.  He
sights many examples of the classical Greek aspect of the comic in the
contradictions and seeming madness brought about by love:

        On what principle, then, do you chose your lover?  For love
      is blind!  (This shows how ridiculous love is.)  One would be
      alarmed if, for no accountable reason, people kept falling
      down and dying.  What of falling in love, which happens for no
      accountable reason?  This is not only silly but alarming; for
      there is an affinity between the comic and the tragic. Love is
      in fact a contradiction, and ipso facto therefore is comic for
      a third party.  That is why lovers hate a third party.  What is
      it that is loveable in the erotic? i.e. what is the proper
      object of love?  It cannot bethe good or the beautiful, for to
      love these things is hardly erotic.  To argue, as does
      Aristophanes in Plato's Symposium, that the Gods made two sexes
      just to cause one to yearn for the other, is no answer.  Even
      Aristophanes goes on to ask why not three sexes.  Love is in
      fact inexplicable.

And that is the Young Man's whole problem with erotic love: it cannot be
explained.  Love can hardly be understood by the heart, let alone be
rationalized by the mind.  It's not that he's asexual, stating, "Not that I am
without an eye for beauty, not that my heart is unmoved when I read the poets'
songs," but he cannot understand love through reason.  He has no use for it.
    In the end, his worst fear regarding love is the possibility of bringing
children into the world.  He asks which brings the greater responsibility for
its action, murder or having a child?  He reasons that because murder is a
finite act--with the murdered being dead and the murderer dying thereafter--
that children bring the greatest responsibility.  A child is a link in an
ongoing chain that may go on for millennia, and as he says, "To murder
concerns time: to beget concerns eternity."

Constantin Constantius' Speech.

    Like the Young Man, Constantin is absorbed with his own ability to think.
But unlike the Young Man, who uses rationale to explore his own existence
(albeit misguidedly), Constantin uses his rationale to test ideas and theories
he has about people and life in general.  His problem is that although he sees
the absurd in life, he does not recognize it for what it is.  To him,
absurdity is nothing more than amusement.  And Constantin is amused.  He lives
for one thing: seeing women contradict themselves.  He lays awake at night
thinking of new was to look at women and their contradictions, but only in the
aesthetic, only as something to be amused by.  
    He, too, sees the erotic as the comic, for in his mind not only is love a
contradiction, but women themselves are.  He argues that because women
(supposedly) constantly contradict themselves that they cannot be viewed in an
ethical light, because, as T.H. Croxall paraphrases it:

        When one considers the difference between her words and her
      meaning, she is a bundle of gibberish.  It's a man's part to
      be absolute. . . herein lies the ridiculousness of the sex-
      situation.  Jest here is not an aesthetic category, something
      merely to feel amused at and no more.  It is an imperfect
      ethical category.  It is a mistake to subsume woman under an
      ethical category proper, because ethics are absolute, and make
      absolute demands; that is, ethics are serious.  But woman never
      is serious and permanent; she changes constantly.  There is only
      one opposite to the absolute here, and that is gibberish.

    But, like the Young Man, Constantin seems to have missed the point rather
badly, not with regards to women, but in regards to himself.  He is a textbook
A.J. Ayer student, always looking at people's words from all sides and using
that ability to condemn by literal significance women's statements.  But, as
Croxall notes, this one-sided knowledge of women keeps him from having any
meaningful relations with them because they are terrified of him.
    The tragic aspect of Constantin Constantius is that the one person he
cannot recognize in life is himself.  He is too busy watching people and
analyzing their words, and never gives consideration to his own existence.
His name means "complete fidelity" and Kierkegaard's irony is beautiful; even
if Constantin were to be with a woman, he could never be true to her, because
he is not faithful with regards to his own existence.  "He associates freely
with [people], though only as an experimenter; seeking clarification of ideas,
and never stopping to see where he stands, personally, in relation to his
    He is all objectivity.  All reflection.  No passion.  That S.K. had him
throw the banquet is a wonderful and skillful irony.  Who better to host an
evening that revolves around passion and life for-the-moment than a man whose
passion is reflection?

Victor Eremita's Speech.

    The Young Man saw the comic in love; Constantin the absurdity of their
words.  Victor Eremita sees worthlessness adored.  To Victor, as with all
who've spoken to this point, women are an enigma at best, that is, women in
the Western world.  "For my part, if I were a woman, I would rather be one in
the Orient, where I would be a slave, for to be a slave either more nor less
is still always something compared with being 'hurrah' and nothing."
    Victor, as Kierkegaard notes, is now an "existing individual," but even
as so, he is not altogether running up to speed.  While he may recognize his
own existence now as opposed to when "he" edited Either/Or, he is now having
trouble recognizing the existence of others.
    Victor sees nothing more in women than worthless pseudo-existence.
Women of the West have no reason to exist outside their function as a
receptacle for men's gallantry and adoration.  The problem he sees is that
women cannot recognize their existence:

      [Victor] believes that a woman encounters misfortune
    because at one moment she seems to have the utmost
    significance, and at the next moment she has none
    whatsoever.  Her life becomes meaningless.  Because of
    her limited intellectual ability, he believes, she cannot
    understand her situation.  What happens to her lies
    beyond her comprehension.  Her life has more to do with
    fantasy than with realism.

    Victor goes on to note that as a child, a woman is "inferior to a boy,"
as a teen-ager there is little improvement; "one does not know what to do with
her."  She finally becomes the marrying age and is now suited to be adored,
for as he states every suitor is [adoring].  The common man and the cultured
gentleman both go down on bended knee and worship this fantasy that is
"woman".  Then when she is finally married, she suddenly turns into Mrs.
Peterson from the corner of Badstustr‘de. [Bath-Street]
    But Victor's problem is that although he may now exist, it is hard to
point out what he exists as.  He touts once again that he is glad that he is a
man: "I would rather be a man and a little inferior, and actually be that,
than be a woman and be an undefinable quantity and made blissful in fantasy; I
would, however, rather be a concretion that means something than an
abstraction that means everything."  But for all of his talk, there still
appears to be some question in his mind as to who he is.  It is as if he is
struggling with his effeminate side while verbally reenforcing his

         From his speech, one might picture him as a fairly
       masculine figure. . . he thank's the gods he is not a
       woman.  And yet he is not wholly masculine, but rather
       a kind of mental eunuch.  He speaks about woman, but is
       not really interested in her.  Rather, he is inwardly
       afraid of women and avoids their company.  Not that he
       has a right relationship with men either; for most men
       fear his sharp tongue and feel uncomfortable in his
       presence.  Therefore, he has no real friends.

    I must point out here that I'm not theorizing a struggle with homosexual
realization, but more of a rebuilding process for the personality.  When one
finally becomes an "existing person" there is a re-evaluation of one's
personality, a sifting through of all the characteristics that make a person
who they are.  This is what I see Victor doing, but by ignoring or at least
severely down-playing woman's existence, he is excluding an important factor
that creates one's personality: recognition of the feminine.  Yet another
tragedy.  Victor Eremita, who now exists, faces a life of despair and
confusion by ignoring the part of him that would make him whole.

The Fashion Designer's Speech.

      If woman has reduced everything to fashion, then I will
      use fashion to prostitute her as she deserves.  I never
      rest, I, the Fashion Designer; my soul rages when I think
      about my task; eventually she is going to wear a ring in
      her nose.

    The Fashion Designer is the venting of the furry that men harbor
towards women's vanity.  There is not much worthwhile to be said about the
Fashion Designer save that it is S.K.'s comic-relief in the Stages.  His
hatred of women is so overdone that it is hard to keep from laughing.  But in
every exaggeration, there is as--an anchor--some truth.  
    The Fashion Designer claims that all a woman thinks about is being "in
fashion", and that he is the only one of them that sees woman's true weakness.
He will spend his last dollar designing clothing that makes them look
ridiculous, just to have the demonic pleasure of knowing that they look like
fools.  And often times they do.  That is the point to the Fashion Designer.  
It is true to a point that women are more fashion-oriented than men, and spend
far more time primping, farding, and froofing than men do.  What man could
read this and not smile a sly smile to himself thinking that somebody is
finally getting the better of a woman's vanity?  
    But I wonder if the Fashion Designer, too, is not tragic?  Not for his
obvious hatred of women, but for another reason.  Could it be that he is the
one being duped?  For whatever reason women chose to dress as they do, they
subjectively see themselves as "in fashion" and are pleased.  They live in
blissful ignorance of his plot.  "No one, not even a god, could dismay her,
for she is indeed in fashion.  Stay clear of erotic love. . . for your
beloved, too, might eventually wear a ring in her nose."  And, sadly indeed,
many now do.

Johannes the Seducer's Speech.

    Certainly the most likeable of all the speeches from a man's point of
view, Johannes goes about life doing as he pleases as often as he can.  To be
brief, his speech is the hardest to get anything out of.  What man could see a
problem in living a life seducing women and being able to justify it to
himself with any sense of rationale?  But there is.
    His problem is the same as Constantin's to a point: too much objectivity.
But Johannes' real trouble is that his subjectivity is almost at par with his
objectivity.  So, where is the problem?  The fact that the two are
diametrically opposed to one another with regards to his life.
    There is a schism.  Johannes is only objective about one thing: everyone
else, and women in particular.  Johannes is only subjective about one thing:
his own pleasure.  He refuses to look at women with any thought of the
consequences of his actions, seeing women only as a "workshop of
possibilities."  He acknowledges that his actions may cause pain to a woman
later, but then "she is not with her seducer."
      If you flip the coin, he refuses to see that his life is qualitatively
void.  All he puts into it is pleasurable stimulus, but there is no substance.
He is the consummate nihilist.  But in the end, nihilism leads to boredom.  
There is no doubt that one day Johannes will tire of the seduction, and then
where will he be?  He, too, is a tragedy, but he does not yet know it.

Judge William's Arbor.

    Needless to say, the banquet ended, and all headed for home in the
morning.  As the carriages were being readied, the group went for a walk in
the early morning hours and came upon a walled garden.  Looking in, they say
two figures, a married couple, and listened into their conversation.  This was
the end-point of all the philosophizing "n vino" that had gone on earlier that
    After all they said, all of the speeches, all of the reasoning, the group
looked upon the married couple in silence.  Watching the two, a silent thought
prevailed itself upon the group.  No matter how comic, irrational or ludicrous
it may be, it seems that love often does work.  
    After a moment, Victor recognized the man as Judge William, the man
whose private papers he had published as the second part of Either/Or, and his
young wife.  After the couple had left the arbor, the group started to leave,
when they noticed that Victor had crept up to the veranda of the house and had
stolen another of the Judge's manuscripts.  "If I have published the others,"
Victor states to his fellows, "it is no more than my duty to publish this
also."  As Victor goes to put the manuscript in his pocket, it is stealthily
lifted from his possession by William Afham, the shadowy teller of this tale
and silent sixth member of the group at the banquet.  He then publishes it as
"Some Reflections on Marriage in Answers to Objections" in the Stages.


    As a work of psychological analysis, Kierkegaard does a masterful job of
showing the reader the different concepts that he at one time or still
actively thinks of.  The characters, like those in Plato's Symposium are
steeped in the aesthetic life, or what Kierkegaard calls "perdition".  Each
character, by virtue of that fact, is stuck in an underdeveloped personality,
and would never grow to be a total, whole human being.  Each character is
either passion without reflection, or vice versa.  In this discourse on the
comic, we see in the end only five tragedies.  
       The negative connotation given to women is undeserved, to be sure, but
not without its basis in fact.  Be that as it may, it is important to note
that "In Vino Veritas" is only one-half of the discussion about love.  
Kierkegaard's Symposium is built on a Greek foundation, and permeated by Greek
thought that only goes up to the aesthetic.  If one were to look to religion,
another side to the discussion arises.

        In Christ, there is neither male or female [Galatians, 3:28].  
      Plato's Symposium had risen high.  It distinguishes an earthly
      and a heavenly love. . . which not only seeks eternal knowledge,
      but also glimpses the beauty of it.  But Christianity goes
      further.  It speaks of Divine love under the figure of human love.
      The Church is the Bride of Christ "adorned for her husband"
      [Revelations, 21:2].  And human love is referred to its prototype,

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