Kierkegaard, on the nature of offense

From Soren Kierkegaard, Philosophical Crumbs (2009), pp. 253-254:

All offense is fundamentally passive. It is here as with that form of unhappy love just mentioned. Even when self-love […] proclaims itself in foolhardy exploits, in astonishing deeds, it is passive, it is injured, and the pain of the injury produces an illusory expression of power which looks active, but can easily disappoint, especially since self-love wants to hide its passivity. Even then, when it tramples upon the object of love, even when it masochistically disciplines itself to a state of hardened indifference and martyrs itself in order to show its indifference, even then when it surrenders itself in triumphant delirium that it succeeded […], even then it is passive.

Thus it is also with offense; it can express itself however it will. Even when it arrogantly celebrates the triumph of spiritlessness, it is suffering independently of whether the offended one sits crushed and stares almost like a beggar at the paradox, paralyzed by his suffering, or whether he arms himself with derision and aims the arrow of wit as if from a distance—he is passive and is not at a distance; even if offense came and took the last crumb of comfort and joy from the offended one or made him strong—offense is still passive, it has wrestled with the stronger and the agility of its apparent strength is, with respect to the body, like that of one whose back is broken, which does indeed give a kind of suppleness.

[…]

But precisely because offense is thus passive, the discovery, if one wishes to use such an expression, does not belong to the understanding, but to the paradox, because just as the truth is index sui et falsi, so also is the paradox, and offense does not understand itself, but is understood by the paradox. While offense, however it expresses itself, sounds from somewhere else, yes from the opposite corner, so it is the paradox that echoes in it, and this is an acoustic illusion. But if the paradox is index and judex sui et falsi, offense can be viewed as an indirect test of the correctness of the paradox; because offense is the erroneous calculation, is the consequence of error, which the paradox thrusts away. One who is offended does not speak with his own voice, but with the voice of the paradox, like one who mimics another, who does not produce anything himself, but merely copies another. The more deeply passionate is the expression of offense […], the more it reveals how much it owes to the paradox. Offense is not then an invention of the understanding, far from it. If this were the case, then the understanding would also have to have been able to invent the paradox. No, offence comes to be through the paradox.

 

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