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Kaufman, W. (2004). The Reparation of Don Juan. Free Associations, 11(1):1-16.

(2004). Free Associations, 11(1):1-16


The Reparation of Don Juan

Will Kaufman

Traditionally The Name of Don Juan has been synonymous with both predatory sexuality and humanistic arrogance. He is the presumptuous individualist who defies or denies Hell, the Devil, God Himself, staking his entire moral worth on his corporeality, and who, in Molière's version, equates his legendary seduction of a thousand women with the supreme exertions of history's greatest conquerors. ‘I know I could make love to the whole world’, he boasts, ‘and like Alexander the Great, I wish there were other worlds, so I could visit them and make new conquests’ (Molière, 1664, p. 26). If he springs from the same Spanish soil as Don Quixote, he appears to many without Quixote's chivalry, piety, social conscience, or his ultimate capacity for growth and self-renunciation. In his scathing damnation of humanism as ‘the wreck of western culture’, John Carroll cites Kierkegaard's Don Juan as a signal example of humanism's most degenerate strain — its paralysis, narcissism, moral bankruptcy, and spiritual emptiness. Don Juan in Kierkegaard represents the self-obsessed humanist aesthetic championed by a romanticism oblivious to its own decay. It is merely:

the sphere of pleasure, of the individual's pursuit of temporal happiness. Kierkegaard's repeated example is a love affair. The hero of the aesthetic is Don Juan, who dedicates his life to the art of arousing passion, of orchestrating seduction. An aspect of this is the psychological observation of mood and motive, in self and other. It is the sphere of Romanticism, of concentrated indulgence in feeling, in beautiful pleasures (Carroll, 1993, p. 158).


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