Kierkegaard mentions “love from the soul” copiously, and I think his is about the optimum discussion of the “soul” I’ve ever observed, because it explains simply: it’s just everything not having to do with sex and lust.
“Soul” has long been one of my least favorite words, though I’ve never fully understood why. One reason I might posit is that there’s little or no use for a “soul” on this earth, or at least that things other than have a greater chance of catapulting you to a place of societal prominence.
Also, if your “soul” is what emerges when you die, it stands to reason that within this life, it’s what’s been defeated, in which case it makes more sense to focus on things other than the soul, whatever they may be. The problem is, this is irreligious, and leads to invariable war and tragedy, theatrical or not.
In his full-bodied ruminative collection Either/Or, which is generally a denial of views that would yield only two options for a given situation, rather than the many he perceives, he’s discussing Don Giovanni, pitting said character’s “sensual love,” which is ostensibly just rapacious lust, against “love of the soul,” which, as I said earlier, he endorses with great integrity and energy. Part of the appeal of his discussion is his observation that “(love from the soul) has in it the doubt and disquiet as to whether it will be happy, see its desire fulfilled, and be requited” (100-101). Don Giovanni, on the other hand, argues Kierkegaard, “cuts matters short and must always be considered absolutely victorious. This might seem an advantage to him, but it is really an impoverishment” (101).
He discusses religion and preceding art with considerable detail, but his reason for expounding upon Don Giovanni is that he considers it the informing work of art for the ages. In absorbing the acts of a licentious lover, he actually comes to pity him. The element of Don Giovanni’s multiple possible interpretations emerges in the text, and this has ultimately the effect of buoying the opera’s appeal in the mind of the Kierkegaard reader. The reason is that it really is tragic, in a way, that such an unscrupulous lover should be defeated in the end, because this one’s notions are certainly human, and what’s more, pure.
One largely undiscussed idea in Kierkegaard within Either/Or, though, is the importance of the body’s particularity even in “love from the soul,” which, for the apt reader, is surely something that in all likelihood takes place in the afterlife, and so possibly wanes in value here on Earth. And indeed, the writer does sympathize with the great Don Giovanni, who exercises indefatigable, unquestionable zeal in his masquerades, so some devaluing of the “soul” certainly seems in order, if only as a pool of levity rightfully denigrated for the sake of simply earthly conquests. In other words, for all the championing of the ruthless seducing, it stands to reason that such a thing’s opposite should fall prey, at least to a certain extent, to scrutiny. And what “love from the soul” lacks is, simply, matters of the body. It’s through these that we come into this world.
I fully defend the idea that there exist two kinds of love — of the body and of the soul — but it’s also entirely possible that while one person loves another with his or her own body, the other does so with the “soul,” an instrument which can, and should necessarily, be used at a comfortable distance. For this reason, the “soul” in life is really no miracle at all, at least in the sphere of love. It’s the creative compliments — the similarly opposite sizes and shapes of necks and fingers, that constitute the earthly experience. Art is another matter.