Jørgen Veisland (Bio)

What’s in a name. A Kierkegaardian approach to Herman Melville’s Billy Budd, Albert Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus and Paul Auster’s City of Glass

In The Concept of Anxiety (1843) Kierkegaard defines the demonic as the individual who “is in the evil and is in anxiety about the good”. This individual has lost freedom. Herman Melville’s Billy Budd (1891) explores the dynamic of evil, or the demonic, through the characters of Billy Budd and John Claggart, the latter being possessed by envy and disdain of Billy’s innocence. The character of Claggart illustrates Kierkegaard’s, or rather, Vigilius Haufniensis’ statement that the “demonic is unfreedom that wants to close itself off”. — In The Myth of Sisyphus (1942) Albert Camus states: “The mind’s first step is to distinguish what is true from what is false. However, as soon as thought reflects upon itself, what it first discovers is a contradiction”. Kierkegaard’s Concept of Irony (1838) discusses irony as a form of dialectical thought that discloses the true/false relation. Further on in the essay Camus writes that the world is foreign, possessing “something inhuman” and an “illusory meaning”, an insight arrived at also by Kierkegaard’s ironic persona par excellence, Socrates. — Paul Auster’s City of Glass (1985) employs a complex variety of pseudonyms in an encounter between truth and fiction, play and work. The protagonist Daniel Quinn is an author of detective novels and uses the pseudonym William Wilson, hiding his own identity. Quinn is part of a triad composed of himself, Wilson and the detective Max Work. In this triad, “Wilson served as a kind of ventriloquist. Quinn himself was the dummy, and Work was the animated voice that gave purpose to the enterprise”. The status of fiction versus truth is put into question here, as it is in Kierkegaard’s, or rather, Victor Eremita’s Either—Or (1843) where we witness fictions within fictions, Kierkegaard’s fictive Victor Eremita’s fictive A’s fictive Johannes.