“Kierkegaard” and the collapsing of ironic distance?

Posted by on April 18, 2008 at 11:29 am.

In an article, Kierkegaard says that if the second edition of Practice in Christianity were being published for the first time, it would not

have been by a pseudonym, but by myself . . . Earlier, my idea had been that if the established order could be defended, this was the only way of doing so: by poetically (therefore, by a pseudonym) passing judgment upon it. . . . Now, on the other hand, I am completely convinced of two things: both that, from a Christian point of view, the established order is untenable and that every day it exists is, from the Christian point of view, a crime; and that one may not call upon grace in this manner.  Therefore, take the pseudonymity away; take away the thrice-repeated preface and the ‘Moral’ to the first section—then, from a Christian point of view, Practice in Christianity is an attack on the established order (As quoted in Joakim Garff, Søren Kierkegaard: A Biography, trans. Bruce H. Kirmmse [Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005], p. 751, emphasis mine).

Nonetheless, prior to this, Kierkegaard appended an unpaginated “A First and Last Declaration” to the end of Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments–where he ‘outs’ himself as the author behind the pseudonyms–which contains the request, “If it should occur to anyone to want to quote a particular passage from the [pseudonymous] books, it is my wish, my prayer, that he will do me the kindness of citing the respective pseudonymous author’s name, not mine.”

However, as Garff points out, when Practice in Christianity was originally sent to press, it was veronymously written by Kierkegaard.  It was only at the last minute that Kierkegaard changed the authorship to Anti-Climacus, “because Kierkegaard’s own ‘existence’ did not live up to the radical Christian requirements in the work” (p. 630-2).  As Garff points out, this change was fueled more but personal concerns regarding Kierkegaard and not maieutic considerations concerning the reader.

Even if Kierkegaard wants us to now read Practice in Christianity with the pseudonymity ‘taken away’, ultimately, Anti-Climacus’ point remains concerning indirect communication in the section on the “Categories of Offense.”  If we take Anti-Climacus off the title page and replace it with the original “S. Kierkegaard,” the case holds that we are still receiving a communication from an indirect communicator—the God-man.  Kierkegaard had exhausted—in fact literally and ironically emptied—the tool of pseudonymity of its usefulness.  Garff also states that toward the end, “Kierkegaard continually adjusted his [pseudonymous] writings so that they corresponded as precisely as possible to his own position.”  As Kierkegaard stated in the conclusion to his dissertation, “Irony as the negative is the way; it is not the truth but the way.”

[This has been adapted from part of my in-progress MA thesis.]