Stages On Life’s Way

Another installment of Benjamen Walker’s Theory of Everything. 

Your host was a young man studying philosophy in a Montana college town when he was seduced by the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard.

Kierkegaard’s Either/Or filled him with a confidence that, for the first time in his life, made him feel like he was on the right track.

He quickly devoured many more of Kierkegaard’s works: Fear and Trembling, Works on Love, all of the Edifying Discourses. But most important of all was Stages On Life’s Way. It’s kind of the sequel to Either/Or, but with an extra section.

The cover page for a first edition of Stages On Life’s Way, printed in 1845.

Either/Or offers us Kierkegaard’s ideas on two stages of life: the aesthetic stage and the ethical stage. Stages On Life’s Way adds a third: the religious stage.

Your host has read the book many times in his life, but he’s never been able to make sense of this third stage. He’d always assumed that its meaning would come to him with age and experience, but it didn’t.

A few years back, afraid he would never understand the religious stage on his own, he went to Copenhagen (Kierkegaard’s hometown), to see if he could get help from the experts.

A version of this piece was originally produced for the Danish podcast Third Ear. Thanks to Pejk Malinovski and Tim Hinman.

Russians don’t have bachelorette parties, according to Dina Litovsky, but she wanted to understand what they were all about, so she started photographing them.

Dina would offer her services as a professional photographer to brides-to-be accompanying them and shooting their parties for free. In exchange, some of the photos she took became part of her work documenting the modern bachelorette party.

At first glance her photos aren’t that different from most images of New York nightlife, full of shadowy edges and flashes of skin. But if you look closely you can see all the tension, drama and emotion that’s bound up in the modern bachelorette party.

Death, according to Michael Holmes, is life’s final stage.

Michael was once a hospice nurse, and is the author of Crossing the Creek: A Practical Guide to Understanding Dying Process. When he started the job he expected that there would be questions about the dying process — what was normal and what wasn’t, what you should or shouldn’t do — that he could answer by referencing hospice literature. But it turned out there were no answers to the questions Michael was getting, so he went digging.

The answers he came up with didn’t just concern the physical processes of dying. They also had to do with the very nature of the physical body, with the purpose of life as seen from its end.

As the process of dying wears on, the social masks that we wear in life begin to slip away. Michael says dying people are amongst the most honest, and that’s a part of why he likes to spend time with them.

Landscape with Charon Crossing the Styx, Joachim Patinir