Louie (and Kierkegaard’s concept of anxiety)

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I recently found my way back to the absurdist yet dry comedy series that is Louie and an episode I viewed today caused me to revisit Soren Kierkegaard’s theory on anxiety. In the episode Louie goes on a date with an eccentric woman named Liz, during which they wander the streets of NYC, going to a second-hand store where Liz begs Louie to try on a dress, putting up a homeless man in a hotel after buying him his expensive prescription medicine, and climbing the stairway to the top of a building with a spectacular view of the New York City skyline. There, Liz sits on the wide ledge, with her back to the city. Louie panics and implores her not to sit there. Their conversation proceeds thusly,

Liz: Do you know why you’re scared?

Louie: Yeah ‘cause falling, it’s high, so you’ll die. Just come over here where you can’t fall. I don’t want you to fall. I want you to come over here where it’s impossible falling could happen.

Liz: But the only way I’d fall is if I’d jump. That’s why you’re afraid to come over here; because a tiny part of you wants to jump, because it would be so easy (Louie, Season Three, Episode 5).

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This brought to mind Kierkegaard’s analogy of a man at the edge of a precipice, shaken by anxiety of his freedom to choose to jump or not, when writing an exegesis of the story of Adam in the garden of Eden. Kierkegaard’s point is that when we stand on the edge of a yawning gorge, what we think we feel is fear when in actuality what we feel is anxiety. While fear is of some thing, anxiety is of no one thing, thus, anxiety is of nothing and nothingness. We sense the infiniteness of our freedom, that our actions are not determined, and rather than their being a set chain of cause and effect going on and on until our demise, there is nothing before us, there is nothingness. Thus, we experience anxiety because of our freedom. In his words, “anxiety is freedom’s actuality as the possibility of possibility”.

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With this in mind, we might understand Liz to be saying that Louie is not afraid of falling, but rather, he experiences anxiety over whether he might decide to jump. To Kierkegaard, this would be an important step towards being the person Louie is meant to become, because all mankind experiences anxiety due to our freedom, and we are meant to learn from that anxiety. The thought is that in experiencing anxiety man comes to recognize the many possibilities that he faces, and realizes that any of his finite ends could have been different, but there is something about the self that is unchangeable, and could not have been different, and this, Kierkegaard holds, is the infinite, which is the true self he is meant to realize. Lets hope Louie is on the way to becoming his true self!

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