So this is a pamphlet, an insubstantial collection of softbound pages, not a book, not a scholarly article, not even an op ed piece in a newspaper. Companies trying to sell things give out pamphlets; religious tracts most often come in pamphlet form; political manifestoes and arguments are often in this form. It tends to be polemical — trying to make some point in an aggressive way — or rhetorical in the same manner, when it is trying to sell something.

The pamphlet is also somewhat disreputable, marginal, less respectable than a book or article that has been peer-reviewed. Climacus self-published this thing; the 21st century analog is a blog that anyone can post.

Climacus does not add to our trust when he writes that he does not write from good motives (more Latin, to confuse us with his erudition, which seems entirely out of place in such a sketchy product). Rather, says C, “I am a loafer … (by inclination)”. Climacus is lazy, does not want to produce a proper book or article, and so offers this ‘lazy’ form of writing, the off-handed, self-published throwaway pamphlet — and yet this pamphlet more than 100 pages in length! We get introduced to Kian irony early in the game and understand, or begin to suspect, that SK is entirely in control of the diction, of the rhetorical ‘weather’ in which we find ourselves. 

He then adds that he is a “loafer” “for good reasons”, but does not, at least not yet, tell us what those reasons are. 

We take off in a different direction, adding layers to Climacus’ self-presentation. The pamphlet is an “intervention” into “public activities”, in which one must be engaged under threat of committing a “political offense”. Again the reference is classical, to Periclean Athens, where one could lose one’s citizenship if one did not actively engage in the political process. Climacus is writing into a charged political situation, in the interval between the upheavals of 1830 and 1848. (1845) Denmark, though a stable monarchy and a stranger to revolution, was in the throes of political tugs of war between conservatives and liberals. Climacus reminds the reader that in ancient times political inactivity could even be a capital crime during such periods. This reminds the reader that this is serious business, a public intervention into a politically fraught situation, and also reminds one that if inactivity under certain circumstances could cost one one’s life, one was equally at risk if the one’s intervention was the wrong one. An ‘opportunity’ for disaster always lurks behind activity that seeks to replace inactivity; sometimes doing the wrong thing is far worse than doing nothing.

This is also a strong reminder that writing is a form of public political activity, an act into a public sphere where power is at issue, never innocent, never ‘just’ writing as opposed to doing. For Climacus, for SK, and now for us, writing is  doing. 


Climacus’ crime however is not that he might say that wrong thing in some obvious way, like a Mel Gibson rant or a Joe Biden misspeaking, but that what he says will stop the public conversation altogether by “giving rise to confusion.” Think what this means. It does not mean that someone writes something with which many people disagree — such writing is part of the ongoing ‘game’, expected if not loved, but that one writes something that at first seems as embarrassingly off the point and puzzlingly inappropriate as the awkward non sequiturs one often mutters when one is nervous or feels threatened. It is not that what Climacus writes will offend; it will cause people to scratch their heads and ask, ‘Why did he say that?”

Climacus’  point is that not everyone who writes, writes neatly into the current of discussion. He cites two classical examples. First he reminds us that the famous Syracusan Archimedes ( give me a fulcrum and I will turn the world) was not paying any attention when the Romans occupied his city, Syracuse. He was, instead, attending to the circles he had drawn and then described mathematically, which had nothing at all to do with the Roman occupation. When everyone else around him was in Occupation World he was still entirely lost in Archimedes’ Circle World. The Roman soldier who came upon him expected some recognition of who he was and what jhe was doing but instead got an Archimedes whose only concern was not the solider but his circles: “Nolite perturbare circulos meos”.This got him killed.


Climacus then is indirectly comparing himself to the greatest scientist of classical Greece and to one who was killed because he was preoccupied with something true and valuable that was no part of the day-to-day conversation around him; the disconnect between what Archimedes was doing and thinking and what the soldier was doing and thinking led to his death.

Is C suggesting that his pamphlet writing is as important and true as Archimedes’ work on circles (spheres and cylinders), and/or that it is sufficiently off the mark to place him in danger of being either literally or metaphorically killed? If either suggestion is offered with any seriousness Climacus thinks pretty highly of his own self. 

The question is — is Climacus interested in his own good or that of the public? For whom, then, is this pamphlet written? Is it like Archimedes’ circles or does it have wider application? Is the fact that it is confusing evidence that it has no reference to a larger audience or is the confusion evidence of the opposite — namely that precisely because it is  confusing this pamphlet should interest the public — but perhaps not as a ‘public’ but as unique existing individuals, as prepolitical or nonpolitical beings. Let’s see. 



Reader Comments

There are no comments for this journal entry. To create a new comment, use the form below.

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>