In his great work of philosophy the Concluding Unscientific Postscript Kierkegaard ends by saying “I revoke everything! I don’t believe any of this! And if you understand me you will understand the difference between writing a book and revoking it and never writing it at all!”. I’ve been trying to understand this book, so I have to understand the difference between writing a book and revoking it and not writing it at all.
What is the difference?
On one way of looking at it — not much. Supposing you ask me to name the capital of Romania and I say “Budapest.” Then I think for a moment and say, “Sorry, I mispoke. It’s not Budapest. It’s Bucharest.” There is no difference really between saying “Budapest'” and then revoking it and not saying it at all — at least not an important one. The upshot is that I have finally answered your question correctly. It’s Bucharest.
But then I remembered an incident from eighth grade. My friend Jimmy wrote a science fiction story for our literary magazine, Argus. The basis of the science fiction story was in the future there were complicated computer programs for human development called masks. They looked like masks but were super-advanced nanotech. When children reached a certain age they would go into a cave on their asteroid and in consultation with the senior members of their society pick a mask to put on. The mask would then fuse with their brain and direct their future development. The masks included Rock Star, Scientist, Warrior, Rebel, Father, Mother, Visionary and so on.
Jimmy’s story was about a young man named X-7 who refused to put on one of the masks and instead constructed his own mask. It was the mask of Lover of the Priestess of the Archaloka. On this asteroid Priestesses of the Archaloka were not permitted to take lovers as they were tasked with tending the Archaloka and forbidden any distractions from said task.
At the end of the story X-7 was in trouble — the Mask Police were going to get him for the crime of making a new mask. In the nick of time the Priestess of the Archaloka comes in and says “He didn’t make up a new mask. I left that mask there for him to discover.”
I wondered at the time the story came out — was the Priestess of Archaloka lying to save X-7’s ass? Or had she really put the mask there to get him X-7 to love her?
I asked Jimmy what the idea was and he told me.
“I wrote the story as a love letter to Lisa Sabath. I am X-7 and Lisa is the Priestess of Archaloka.”
“Yes, Jimmy, I got that. But did the Priestess love X-7 or not? Did she make the mask or not?”
“Well, Eric, the fact is I hadn’t decided when I wrote it. If Lisa agrees to go out with me I am going to say the Priestess loved X-7, and if not not.”
For me to know what the story meant I would have to know what actually happened.
And did Lisa love Jimmy and agree to go out with him?
Actually I made both of them up — it never happened. I’m pretty sure that’s what the difference is, for Kierkegaard, between saying something and revoking it and not saying it at all.