Category Archives: Kierkegaard

Conference: Narrative, Identity and the Kierkegaardian Self

I would love to go to this conference, but no more conferences for me until my PhD is finished. It sounds pretty exciting. Patrick Stokes, the conference organizer, has a book entitled Kierkegaard’s Mirrors: Interest, Self, and Moral Vision (US | UK) which is an excellent and fun read (I have a forthcoming review of it in The Heythrop Journal where I give it more specific praises).

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Call for Papers Reminder (deadline for proposals is next Friday, 5th August):

Narrative, Identity and the Kierkegaardian Self
University of Hertfordshire, Friday 4th and Saturday 5th November 2011

Narrative accounts of selfhood have been a major, if heavily contested, feature of personal identity theory in the last quarter-century, driven by the work of thinkers as diverse as MacIntyre, Ricoeur, Schechtman, Dennett and Velleman. In the last decade, it has further been claimed that Kierkegaard (despite MacIntyre’s controversial reading of him inAfter Virtue) also holds a narrativist conception of the self – and that his work holds valuable resources for getting to grips with the normative dimensions of narrative identity. However, Kierkegaard’s work also brings some of the serious questions about narrative identity into stark focus:

  • What makes the attainment of narrative identity normative?
  • Do selves exist prior to their narration?
  • How can the narrative self be something we both are and are ethically enjoined to become?
  • How can we understand our lives as a narrative when the ending of our
  • story – our death – is necessarily unknown to us?
  • Are metaphysically realist or anti-realist versions of the narrative selfhood hypothesis more tenable – and what of the claim that practical and metaphysical identity cannot be separated at all?
  • Are narrative conceptions of self consistent with any strong form of free will?

This conference, organised under the auspices of the EU-funded FP7 project ‘Selves in Time’

(www.patrickstokes.com/selvesintime.html), aims to address some of these problems both within Kierkegaard Studies and within the broader debate on narrative selfhood. Confirmed speakers are:

  • Kathy Behrendt (Wilfrid Laurier University)
  • John J. Davenport (Fordham University)
  • John Lippitt (University of Hertfordshire)
  • George Pattison (University of Oxford)
  • Anthony Rudd (St Olaf College)
  • Marya Schechtman (University of Illinois at Chicago)
  • Patrick Stokes (University of Hertfordshire)

We welcome proposals for papers (40 minutes reading length maximum) addressing the conference theme. Papers on narrative and selfhood that do not deal directly with Kierkegaard will also be considered. Please submit abstracts of 250-300 words to p.stokes2@herts.ac.uk by Friday 5th August.

Kierkegaard’s Upbuilding Discourses

Oxford’s Christ Church College, where the Kierkegaard Upbuilding Discourses Conference was held.

Two and a half weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending and presenting at the ‘Kierkegaard’s Upbuilding Discourses’ Conference in Oxford at Christ Church College. I’m a bit behind on posting this, but today is Søren Kierkegaard’s 197th birthday so I thought I should at least owe that to him. Sadly, the volcanic ash cloud prevented a quarter of the European/Danish Kierkegaard scholars from attending and presenting. At the last minute, conference organizers George Pattison and Matthew Kirkpatrick had to revamp the entire conference schedule to account for the disruption of the absence of a significant portion of the conference delegates.

Notwithstanding, the event itself was incredibly fun and very lively. I had the honour of meeting and interacting with some of my favourite Kierkegaard scholars, including Joel Rasmussen, John Lippitt, Clare Carlisle, and George Pattison — as well as meeting a crew of up-and-coming very passionate Kierkegaardian scholars in their own right.

George Pattison

George Pattison is one of the only scholars in the English-speaking world to write extensively on the whole of the Upbuilding Discourses (aside from say Amy Laura Hall, C. Stephen Evans, and M. Jamie Ferreira who have written specifically on the Works of  Love which Pattison places within the ‘Discourse’ Literature), and acted as the guiding voice of the conference, helpfully providing insight into just about any specific point of Kierkegaard’s writings, especially issues of translation. Pattison is in the process of translating a selection of the discourses himself, continuing in the recent tradition of M. G. Piety and Alistair Hannay (e.g., SUD, FT, and CUP) of providing new translations which correct and build upon the Hong translations with which we are already so familiar. Of all the helpful points that Pattison offered, one of the suggestions that struck me was that Kierkegaard is nearly always over-looked in 20th-century discussions of ‘the gift’. All of these writers know the pseudonymous Kierkegaard, but by overlooking his discourse literature, they have missed three discourses on gift, which are all named around James 1:17Open Link in New Window: ‘Every Good and Every Perfect Gift Comes From Above’.

Christ Church College Dining Hall, which provided the inspiration for the Hogwart’s Dining Hall in the Harry Potter films

My paper was entitled ” ‘Practising Life in Death’: Equality, Stillness, and Earnestness in Kierkegaard’s Upbuilding Discourses.” The theme for the conference was the Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses and the Three Discourses on Imagined Occasions, so my paper focussed primarily on those two texts, but brought in the work of Eastern Orthodox theologian John Behr at the end. (e-mail me or post a comment if you’d like a copy of my paper.) I had a couple of good questions, one from Steven Shakespeare who simply asked if my inclusion of John Behr was something inherent in the ‘At a Graveside’ text in the Three Discourses. The short answer is that the Christological element was my own ‘leap’, my own creative addition onto the text where I think Kierkegaard very well could have gone, especially considering that the discourses are within the ‘direct communication’ of Kierkegaard’s authorship (not to mention the fact that the previous paper delivered by Paul Martens on a couple occasions raised the very point that Kierkegaard seems vague as to where he’s actually going in this discourse). All this suggests I should have just made that blatant in my introduction.

On the final night of the conference, Dr Hugh Pyper made a presentation about a certain old text he had rebound. He shared an e-mail from the bookbinder (is he an ‘hilarious’ one?) about what all went into the rebinding of this text. The text Hugh had rebound was a first edition of Søren Kierkegaard’s Atten Opbyggelige Taler, or Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses. It was a pretty incredible text to behold. Pictures are below.

Hugh Pyper, owner of the 1st edition of Kierkegaard’s Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses

Four Kierkegaard scholars examining the text, from left to right: John Lippitt, Claire Carlisle, Jolita Pons, and George Pattison

Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses title page with owner’s signature. But who is it?

On the title page is written what looks like “P. Kierk.” Hugh thought for a while that this may have been one “P. Kierkegaard”, that is, Peter Christian Kierkegaard, Søren’s brother, which would explain why the text was in fairly good condition (Peter Christian was known to not read the books on his shelves). After consulting with Arne Grøn, however, Grøn suggested that the signature is actually written in a gothic script. If that is the case, then the signature is actually “P. Keck.”, which means we have no idea who that is.

Next year will be the second of three conference on Kierekgaard’s Upbuilding Discourses, this time focused on Works of Love and Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits. It is scheduled for 29th April – 1st of May and will be held at the University of Sheffield. I’m looking forward to another lively conference, although hopefully with some of the Danish Kierkegaard scholars we missed this time around.

Lastly, George Pattison will be posting the conference papers on the Oxford University Research Archive (see, e.g., these papers from a Heidegger and Religion conference) for the benefit of those Danish and other European scholars who could not make it. Obviously that means that anybody with an internet connection can benefit as well. As soon as George Pattison sends out that link, I’ll be posting it here.

Call For Papers: Kierkegaard’s Upbuilding Discourses

This was forwarded to our department:

CALL FOR PAPERS
KIERKEGAARD’S UPBUILDING DISCOURSES

Oxford Centre for Theology and Modern European Thought
International Conference
16–18 April, 2010

The Oxford Centre for Theology and Modern European Thought, in connection with the Søren Kierkegaard Society of the UK, is pleased to announce an international conference focusing on Kierkegaard’s Upbuilding Discourses. While often overlooked, the Upbuilding Discourses provide a rich ground for understanding Kierkegaard’s wider work, as well as his own identity. Furthermore, the Discourses offer a valuable contribution to a more general discussion of such issues as sin, love,  suffering, salvation, and personal identity.

This will be the first of three conferences on Kierkegaard’s Discourses, and will focus on the Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses of 1843-4, and the Three Discourses on Imagined Occasions. Further conferences will consider the discourses of 1847 (Århus, 2010), and Kierkegaard’s final discourses (Copenhagen, 2011).

Alongside the main speakers, there is the opportunity for the presentation of shorter papers of between 20-30 minutes. Abstracts of 300-500 words are invited on a wide range of themes related to the conference topic.

To submit an abstract or for further information, please contact Dr Matthew Kirkpatrick at – kierkegaard.conference@gmail.com. The deadline for submissions is 1st March, 2010.

For further details about the conference, including accommodation, fees, and registration, please visit www.kierkegaard.org.uk.

Speakers include:

Christopher Barnett
Iben Damgaard
Arne Grøn
Helle Møller Jensen
George Pattison
Jolita Pons
David Possen
Hugh Pyper
Joel Rasmussen
Steven Shakespeare
Claudia Welz

Helpfully, the Three Discourses on Imagined Occasions was also one of the volumes recently published in paperback.

Lastly, here’s the CFP poster if you’d like to download it: Kierkegaard Conference – Call for Papers.

On the prices of books

Sadly, after doing some clicking back and forth on my earlier post on all the paperback Kierkegaard books coming out (are now out now, by the way), I’ve noticed that in just about every case, all of the prices went up by a few dollars/pounds.  I suppose this isn’t much of a surprise as pre-order prices tend to be cheaper.

In other news, SCM Press has a pretty decent sale on some books of interest, ending on 30 Sept. 2009:

Kierkegaard & Pitying the Fool

Whenever I do Kierkegaard posts, I, like many people, do a Google image search to visually spice up the posts.  The recent post is a caricature of Kierkegaard from the Corsair, I believe.  This one is also classic.  But I think  this illustration, by John Peterson, from this book, probably takes the cake as one of my recent favourites.

Kierkegaard and Deception

On the heels of this discussion, I was reminded of this great passage from Kierkegaard’s The Point of View for my Work as an Author:

What, then, does it mean “to deceive”? It means that one does not begin directly with what one wishes to communicate but begins by taking the other’s delusion at face value. Thus one does not begin (to hold to what essentially is the theme of this book) in this way: I am Christian, you are not a Christian–but this way: You are a Christian, I am not Christian. Or one does not begin in this way: It is Christianity that I am proclaiming, and you are living in purely esthetic categories. No, one begins this way: Let us talk about the esthetic. The deception consists in one’s speaking this way precisely in order to arrive at the religious. But according to the assumption the other person is in fact under the delusion that the esthetic is the essentially Christian, since he thinks he is a Christian and yet he is living in esthetic categories.

Even if ever so many pastors will find it indefensible, even if equally as many will be incapable of getting it into their heads—although all of them otherwise, according to their own statements, are accustomed to using the Socratic method—in this respect I calmly stick to Socrates. True, he was not Christian, that I know, although I also definitely remain convinced that he has become one. But he was a dialectician and understood everything in reflection. And the quesiton here is purely dialectical—it is the question of the use of reflection in Christendom. Qualitatively two altogether different magnitudes are involved here, but formally I can very well call Socrates my teacher—whereas I have believed and believe in only one, the Lord Jesus Christ (Søren Kierkegaard, The Point of View, ed. and trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong [Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998], pp. 54-5).

Kierkegaard here is relating this maeutic form of instruction to the way his own writing has unfolded.  It’s also entirely similar to the way that Hamann’s own authorship came into being, although Kierkegaard is leaps and bounds easier to understand.

I think it’s interesting that here Kierkegaard lines up somewhat with the tradition of putting Socrates “within” the Judeo-Christian tradition in a sense.  Justin Martyr says directly that Socrates was a Christian, and Hamann counts Socrates among the “prophets” in his Socratic Memorabilia, yet here Kierkegaard takes a slightly different route and says that Socrates has become a Christian.

Blogging elsewhere

Oddly, not much blogging around these parts lately, but elsewhere, I’ve posted the third and final post of my series on Kierekgaard and Socrates here at Cynthia Nielsen’s Per Caritatem blog (the first two can be found here and here).

Bruce Ellis Benson‘s engagement with Dan Siedell’s God in the Gallery is also now up at the Church and Postmodern Culture blog.

OMGEES, this “No Pets Clause” post on Emails From Crazy People had me laughing very loudly this morning while I was eating my breakfast.  Thanks Jenn, for sending that along.

A Couple of Items

A new book symposium has begun on the Church and Postmodern Culture blog on Daniel A. Siedell’s God in the Gallery: A Christian Embrace of Modern Art.  Two posts are up already, one by Jamie Smith and the other by Matthew Milliner (who blogs at millinerd.com)  This Monday an engagement with the third chapter will be from Bruce Ellis Benson. The remainder of the schedule can be found here.

Second, I have begun a series of posts on Kierkegaard and Socrates over on Cynthia Nielsen’s Per Caritatem blog. The first post highlights Socrates’ importance for Kierkegaard at the end of his life, and the second post delves a bit into Kierkegaard’s “Sophistical” situation vis-à-vis the Danish Hegelian Christians of Copenhagen. I should have a third post up soon.

Kierkegaard, Levinas, and an Inwardness Higher Than Itself

One cannot (probably) have too much Kierkegaard on his birthday. This is a great bit from Mary-Jane Rubenstein on Kierkegaard that wraps up all sorts of Kierkegaardian themes as they work themselves out in response to a critique by Levinas:

illustrator © Archipictor Ossi Hiekkala

illustrator © Archipictor Ossi Hiekkala

Emmanuel Levinas claims that the Kierkegaardian subject, as radically inward, is egocentric: “Kierkegaard very powerfully rehabilitated the topics of subjectivity, uniqueness, and individuality.  He objected to the absorption of subjectivity into Hegelian universality, but he replaced it with subjectivity that was shamelessly exhibitionistic.” In order to demonstrate this self-important selfhood, Levinas refers to the Abraham of Fear and Trembling, the most offensive instance of “a subjectivity raising itself above the ethical to the level of the religious.”103 Yet Levinas makes such subjectivity far too easy.  The self thus constituted by repetition does not precede repetition itself, but emerges through it, and is thoroughly infused with the God-relationship. This subjectivity, then, is relational rather than identical and, insofar as the religious subject is constantly in a state of becoming, thanks to what Gillian Rose calls “the eminence of futurity at the intersection of eternity and time,”104 dynamic rather than static.  Repetition, as Deleuze reminds us, is always a gift and, as such, a scandal; the subject cannot merely summon repetition and constitute himself qua subject.  Kierkegaardian subjectivity, I would argue contra Levinas, does not raise itself above the ethical; rather, it is raised above the ethical. Between the two there is an absolute difference. And the subject that emerges through the madness of repetition is not a self-identical individual, alone in inwardness; it is rather a subject related at every turn to the eternal.  The highest form of this selfhood is only selfhood insofar as it exists in the God-relationship—inwardness, in other words, gives rise to something infinitely higher than inwardness (Mary-Jane Rubenstein, “Kierkegaard’s Socrates: A Venture in Evolutionary Theory,” Modern Theology 17, no. 4 (2001), p. 467).

Emphasizing the paradoxical nature of such an inwardness, Rubenstein says, “The very locus of the subject’s self is beyond him. In other words, this subjectivity, which cannot be considered by itself but only repeated, is profoundly ecstatic” (ibid).


103. Emmanuel Levinas, “Existence and Ethics” in Kierkegaard: A Critical Reader, Jonathan Rée and Jane Chamberlain, eds (Oxford: Blackwell, 1998), pp. 26-38; p. 34.
104. Gillian Rose, The Broken Middle: Out of Our Ancient Society (Oxford: Blackwell, 1992), p. 99.

Happy Birthday, Kierkegaard

Today is May 5th, which amongst other holidays, also marks the 196th birthday of Søren Kierkegaard.  In light of this, I thought it would be appropriate to enjoy the following piece from The Moment entitled “The Official/the Personal.”  It is the seventh and final section to part 4 of Kierkegaard’s The Moment series, which was published on July 7, 1855, about six months months before he died.

kierkegaard_circleYou who are reading this, imagine the following incident.  You are visited by someone who, quiet and earnest, yet deeply shaken (without in any way conveying to you any idea of being demented), says to you: “Pray for me, oh, pray for me”—is it not true that this would make an almost terrifying impression on you? Why? Because you yourself personally received the impression of a human personality who in all likelihood must be engaged in the severest struggle with a personal God, since it could occur to him to say to another person: Pray for me, pray for me.

When, however, you read, for example, in a “pastoral letter”: Brothers, include us in your intercessory prayers, just as we unceasingly pray for you night and day and include you in our intercessory prayers—why does this very likely make no impression at all on you? I wonder if it is not because you involuntarily have the suspicion that this is forumula, rigmarole, something official, from a handbook or from a music box. Alas! One cannot say of something official that it has a bad taste. No, what is repugnant about something official is that one thereby or as a consequence of it becomes so exceedingly indifferent because it has no taste, because it, to use an old saying, tastes like sticking one’s tongue out the window and getting spanked for it.

And now when the man whom the state has recently engaged as a shepherd to walk in velvet in order to proclaim that Jesus Christ lived in poverty and taught “Follow me,” when Bishop Martensen presumably has decided to fight with all his might—for what is official—against sects and heresies etc., and, moreover, when there are hundreds in the service of what is official—then it may certainly be made necessary that there be at least one person who concerns himself with what is official. In this regard I dare not expect any appointment from the side of the state, perhaps instead—just between us—from the side of our Lord. Believe me, there is nothing so repugnant to God, no heresy, no sin, nothing so repugnant to him as what is official.  You can easily understand that.  Since God is a personal being, you can surely comprehend how repugnant it is to him that one wants to wipe his mouth with forumulas, wants to wait upon him with official solemnity, official platitutes, etc.  Indeed, just because God in the most eminent sense is personality, sheer personality, for that very reason what is official is infinitely more repugnant to him than it is for a woman to discover that a proposal is made to her according to—a book of formulas (Søren Kierkegaard, The Moment and Late Writings, ed. and trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong [Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998], pp. 172-3).

Kierkegaard’s Hardcover-only Writings Soon in Paperback

It was recently pointed out to me by Chris Simpson that the pseudonymous authorship of Kierkegaard only consists of roughly 45% of his total writings, whereas the other 55% were signed/”religious”. With that said, it is exciting to discover that some of the harder-to-find Princeton editions of Kierkegaard’s work consisting of this signed authorship–previously only available in hardcover and therefore cost-prohibitavely expensive–are soon coming out in paperback! These volumes tend to be ignored in the popular scholarship on Kierkegaard, but these works, along with his Journals and Papers, are essential for any Kierkegaard scholar.

Looking at the paperback column below, these are clearly more affordably priced, although some are still a bit pricey. Those ones tend to be the larger volumes over 500-700 pages or so (e.g. The Moment and Later Writings), but there may be exceptions.

Here’s a breakdown with a price comparison chart where the paperback prices listed are the pre-order prices from Amazon. Hopefully it’s not too confusing. That being said, those viewing this post in an RSS reader like Google Reader, Netvibes, etc., may way to view this post on the blog itself because the styles may get munged.

Cover Vol# Title Hardback Price $/£ Paperback List $/£ Paperback Price $/£ Release Date
I Early Polemical Writings 134.95* / £138.46
$35.00 / £19.95 $29.33 / £18.95
July 09 /
June 21, 09†
IX Prefaces/Writing Sampler $56.24 / $40.00‡ / £33.00
$29.95 / £17.95 $29.95 / £17.05 July 09 /
June 4, 09
X Three Discourses on Imagined Occasions $177.50* / £47.50
$24.95 / £14.95 $24.95 / £14.20 July 09 /
June 4, 09
XIII The Corsair Affair, and Articles Related to the Writings $500.00* / £unavail.
$29.95 / £17.95 $29.95 / £17.05 August 09 /
July 5, 09
XIV Two Ages: The Age of Revolution and the Present Age, A Literary Review $67.50 / $45.50 / £32.01
$24.95 / £14.95 $24.95 / £14.20 August 09 /
July 5, 09
XV Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits $199.99* / £unavai. $35.00 / £19.95 $29.33 / £18.95 July 09 /
June 21, 09
XVII Christian Discourses: The Crisis and a Crisis in the Life of an Actress $57.00 / £64.60 $45.00 / £26.95 $37.42 / £25.60 July 09 /
June 21, 09
XVIII Without Authority $80.00 / $42.38 / £37.95 $35.00 / £19.95 $29.33 / £18.95 July 09 /
June 4, 09
XXII The Point of View $75.96 / $70.00 / £64.60 $35.00 / £19.95 $29.33 / £18.95 July 09 /
June 4, 09
XXIII The Moment and Late Writings $83.84 / £58.90 $60.00 / £35.00 $49.55 / £33.25 July 09 /
June 21, 09
XXIV The Book on Adler $95.00 / $50.00 / £44.88 $40.00 / £23.95 $33.38 / £22.75 August 09 /
July 5, 09
XXV Letters and Documents $125.00 / $85.00 / £99.14 $65.00 / £38.95 $53.59 / £37.00 August 09 /
July 5, 09
XXVI Cumulative Index to Kierkegaard’s Writings $99.50 / $90.00 / £59.95 $65.00 / £38.95 $53.59 / £37.00 July 09 /
June 21, 09

* Items designated with an asterisk mean that Amazon only has them “used and new from [x price]”, indicating that they don’t have any in stock and used bookstores or individual resellers are trying to scalp them at usually batshit crazy insane prices (e.g. The Corsair Affair).

† The Princeton site for Kierkegaard’s works only lists a release date in “Month Year” format whereas Amazon has more specific dates that don’t always align with these dates. The format will be “[Princeton Date] / [Amazon Date]”. We all know that Amazon’s release dates don’t really signify anything real, so take these with a grain of salt.

‡ Hardcover prices with two prices listed are for the “[New Price] / [Used Price]” where the used price is the best price available in the Amazon Marketplace.

Symposium on Christ, History and Apocalyptic

A series of posts has begun around Nate Kerr’s book Christ, History and Apocalyptic: The Politics of Christian Mission over on the Church and Postmodern Culture blog.  First up is Joshua Davis on the introductory chapter 1, who has just posted his engagement on Monday.  The conversation is already picking up nicely.

Here is the rest of the schedule:

  • 19 January – Chapter 2: “Ernst Troeltsch: The Triumph of Ideology and the Eclipse of Apocalyptic”, response by David Congdon
  • 26 January – Chapter 3: “Karl Barth: Foundations for an Apocalyptic Christology”, response by John McDowell
  • 2 February – Chapter 4: “Stanley Hauerwas: Apocalyptic, Narrative Ecclesiology, and ‘the Limits of Anti-Constantinianism’ “, response by John W. Wright
  • 9 February – Chapter 5: “John Howard Yoder: The Singularity of Jesus and the Apocalypticization of History”, response by Douglas Harink
  • 16 February – Chapter 6: “Towards an Apocalyptic Politics of Mission”, response by James K. A. Smith
  • 23 February – Concluding response by Nathan R. Kerr (although he has already been providing helpful clarifying comments already)

Also, Nate informs me that Cascade Books is still offering a 40% off discount if the book purchased through their site using the discount code “KERR40”, bringing the book down to $16.80 (significantly cheaper than Amazon).

Dave Belcher informs us that there will be a panel at this year’s Wesleyan Theological Society conference on Nate’s book as well.  Panelists include Scott Daniels, John Wright, Sam Powell, and Michael Cartwright, with Nate responding, and Dave Belcher at the moderating helm.

Brief Thoughts on Irony

fly_spray

It is often said by the British that Americans do not understand irony. I think this is true depending upon which swath of Americans are being referred to, but by no means is it true in my circles of friends on the West coast. If I remember correctly, though, the place I heard this generalisation uttered was referring more to American pop culture: whereas American pop culture is more defined by glitz, glorification of celebrity, explosions and violence on television on movies, British pop culture, from what I can tell thus far, seems to be more defined by–yes–irony, wittiness (or attempts thereof), and sly humour.

Having now lived in England for a short period of about six months, I’m not so sure if irony is as ‘essential’ to the culture (if there can be such a thing) as just the fact of societal indirectness. When it comes to humour, this is great. But when it comes to relationships it seems like at its worst, such indirectness can quickly become passive aggressive writ large. Although, perhaps Americans are just too direct, too aggressive.

Now, on one level, as long as it moves beyond it’s stylistic embodiments in culture, irony is perfectly fine. Heck, I even wrote an MA thesis partly on irony (“Contradiction, Paradox, and Irony: Theological and Philosophical Stances of Hegel and Kierkegaard”). Søren Kierkegaard, in more ways than one, was an ironic figure, and even extoled the virtues (so to speak) of indirectness and indirect communication. In so many ways, especially within his context of Christendom, Kierkegaard’s approach seems to me the right one — and are we not in the same context?

Yet, I am not always so sure about this. Because of it’s tendencies toward sarcasm (of the biting kind), and because real relationships don’t really seem to work very well if one person thinks they can really be a gadfly, I am reminded of when Jesus said that we should let our “yes be yes” and our “no be no” (Matthew 5:37Open Link in New Window; James 5:12Open Link in New Window). Quintilian’s definition of irony is that the “phenomenon is different from the essence”; in other words, that when one speaks, they do not mean what they say. This is the famous definition of Socratic irony.

I am not entirely sure what to make of this yet… I went to sleep last night thinking of this for some reason. Clearly, I am not going to make some banal claim such that “see, Socrates isn’t Christian” or other obviously anachronistic idiocies. Kierkegaard/Anti-Climacus is correct when he talks about the indirect communication of the God-man in Practice in Christianity, which is something quite different from one’s communication. It’s like the indirectness of the God-man was more an existential one of stance or ‘comportment’. But then, I am reminded that Jesus Christ is the Father’s communication as the Word, so then I get confused again. I’m just thinking aloud.

Absolute and the Divine

The absolute paradox would be if the Son of God became man, came to the world, went around in such a manner that absolutely no one recognized him; if he became an individual human being in the strictest sense of the world, a person who had a trade, got married, etc. . . . In that case God would not have been God and Father of mankind, but the greatest ironist. . . . The divine paradox is that he becomes noticed, if in no other fashion, then by being crucified, by performing miracles, etc., which means that he is recognizable, after all, by his divine authority, even if faith is required in order to solve its paradox.[1]


[1] From Kierkegaard’s journals as quoted in Garff, Søren Kierkegaard: A Biography, p. 265, emphasis mine.  C.f. Kierkegaard, Point of View, p. 16.

When I first read this, I missed the difference between absolute and divine. Wow. If this is a real difference, and I think it is, this is an extremely illuminating passage from Kierkegaard’s journals. I only wish that there were better citations in Garff’s biography so that I could find this passage easier for the full context. Although journals are often fragmentary, so maybe there is not much more (?).  Those are Garff’s ellipses above though, not mine, so I dunno.

“Kierkegaard” and the collapsing of ironic distance?

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.]