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Kierkegaard, Aesthetics, and Selfhood: The Art of Subjectivity
 9781409470168, 1409470164

Table of contents :
Cover
Contents
Acknowledgments
Introduction
1

Kierkegaard’s Ambiguous Aesthetics
2

Becoming Christian
3
Christ and the Art of Subjective Becoming
4 Mimesis, Aesthetics, and Christian Becoming
5
Becoming amidst the Existence Stages
6
Becoming and Art
Postscript
Bibliography
Index

Citation preview

Kierkegaard, Aesthetics, and Selfhood The works of Søren Kierkegaard have long provoked and perplexed readers, and nowhere more than in the relation between his accounts of art, aesthetics, and subjectivity. In this insightful and readable book, Peder Jothen shows how for Kierkegaard coming to exist as a self is nothing other than the “art of subjectivity”. This work should be widely read by anyone interested in Kierkegaard’s writings. William Schweiker, University of Chicago, USA Criticizing common views that Kierkegaard rejects both the aesthetic and the arts, Peder Jothen portrays beautifully Kierkegaard’s aesthetically rich concept of selfhood, how the imagination, will, and passion play central roles in various ways of being in “the art of subjectivity”, particularly in the unexpected yet profound aesthetic dimensions of Christian existence. Readers will benefit too from Jothen’s stimulating reflections on the continuing relevance of Kierkegaard’s critical yet constructive understanding of the role of the arts for Christian faith in the contemporary world. David J. Gouwens, Brite Divinity School, USA In the digital world, Kierkegaard’s thought is valuable in thinking about aesthetics as a component of human development, both including but moving beyond the religious context as its primary center of meaning. Seeing human formation as interrelated with aesthetics makes art a vital dimension of human existence. Contributing to the debate about Kierkegaard’s conception of the aesthetic, Kierkegaard, Aesthetics, and Selfhood argues that Kierkegaard’s primary concern is to provocatively explore how a self becomes Christian, with aesthetics being a vital dimension for such self-formation. At a broader level, Peder Jothen also focuses on the role, authority, and meaning of aesthetic expression within religious thought generally and Christianity in particular.

Ashgate Studies in Theology, Imagination and the Arts Series Editors: Jeremy Begbie, Duke University and University of Cambridge, USA Trevor Hart, St Mary’s College, University of St Andrews, Scotland Roger Lundin, Wheaton College, USA Other titles published in this series: Scripture, Metaphysics, and Poetry Austin Farrer’s The Glass of Vision With Critical Commentary Edited by Robert MacSwain Between the Image and the Word Theological Engagements with Imagination, Language and Literature Trevor Hart Art, Imagination and Christian Hope Patterns of Promise Edited by Trevor Hart, Gavin Hopps and Jeremy Begbie An Introduction to Jean-Yves Lacoste Joeri Schrijvers Christian Theology and Tragedy Theologians, Tragic Literature and Tragic Theory Edited by Kevin Taylor and Giles Waller The Poet as Believer A Theological Study of Paul Claudel Aidan Nichols, O.P. Space, Time, and Presence in the Icon Seeing the World with the Eyes of God Clemena Antonova, with a preface by Martin Kemp

Kierkegaard, Aesthetics, and Selfhood The Art of Subjectivity

Peder Jothen St. Olaf College, USA

First published 2014 by Ashgate Publishing Published 2016 by Routledge 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN 711 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10017, USA Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business Copyright © Peder Jothen 2014 Peder Jothen has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as the author of this work. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers. Notice: Product or corporate names may be trademarks or registered trademarks, and are used only for identification and explanation without intent to infringe. British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library The Library of Congress has cataloged the printed edition as follows: Jothen, Peder. Kierkegaard, Aesthetics, and Selfhood: The Art of Subjectivity / by Peder Jothen. pages cm. – (Ashgate Studies in Theology, Imagination, and the Arts) Includes bibliographical references and index. 1. Kierkegaard, Sxren, 1813-1855. 2. Aesthetics, Modern – 19th century. 3. Faith development. 4. Christianity and the arts. I. Title. B4378.A4J68 2014 198’.9–dc23 ISBN 9781409470168 (hbk) ISBN 9781315591049 (ebk)

2014009727

Contents

Acknowledgments  

vii

Introduction  

1

1

Kierkegaard’s Ambiguous Aesthetics  

7

2

Becoming Christian  

47

3

Christ and the Art of Subjective Becoming   

91

4

Mimesis, Aesthetics, and Christian Becoming  

125

5

Becoming amidst the Existence Stages  

167

6

Becoming and Art  

203

Postscript   

239

Bibliography   Index  

249 257

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Acknowledgments

This text comes out of a deep, on-going conversation with a variety of individuals. No doubt, I cannot do justice to the debt I owe to the voices that shaped this text; there is a real giftedness underneath this project, as it represents wisdom beyond my own capacities. My Ph.D. advisor, William Schweiker, introduced me to Kierkegaard and shaped my entrance into the maze that is his thought. Further insights came through the vast community assembled through the Hong Kierkegaard Library at St. Olaf College, guided into a thoughtful, diverse, and international community by Gordon Marino and Cynthia Lund. In particular, my time as a Kierkegaard House Fellow through the Kierkegaard House Foundation gave me much needed space to reflect on this project. Colleagues at St. Olaf College, including Jamie Schillinger, Greg Walter, Torin Alexander, Jason Ripley, DeAne Lagerquist, and Ed Santurri gave time and energy at some point to help improve this project. Corliss Swain, St. Olaf ’s Associate Dean of Humanities, helped secure funding to complete the project. Finally, teaching Kierkegaard in a number of classes at St. Olaf made me appreciate the creativity of his works, especially as it brought out the thoughtfulness and artistry of my students. Yet, no project of this type is really possible without the rootedness of family. From my in-laws to my immediate family, this book could not have been written without such a supportive community. Or the kindly place I call home. Without Kaethe, Thisbe and Matteus’ love, laughter, and delight, I could not imagine caring as deeply about growing into selfhood in all of its richness and responsibility, a primary theme within this text. May we continue to become together, ever hopeful for the surprises that make life beautiful when lived well with others. Peder Jothen January 1, 2014

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Introduction Christ makes his appearance in the middle of actuality, teaches, suffers—and says: Imitate me; imitation is Christianity.1 Just as the artist says of the whole painting’s color-tone, which is composed of many, many colors, “A little bit of red has to be introduced here and there, at this little point” (and the rest of us probably could scarcely discover the red, the artist having shaded it so well, whereas he knows exactly why it should be introduced) … These are the correctives. 2 Kierkegaard, Journals and Papers

To exist is an art. 3 Johannes Climacus, Concluding Unscientific Postscript

Imagine yourself as a painter. You are taking a master class with an artistic genius. She asks you to paint a particular figure, say a young child being held in a loving embrace by a mother. Your teacher gives you the brushes, paints, canvas, and frame needed for the task. She also gives you a time limit, say a week, to complete the project. Now imagine that alongside this painterly task, a God asks you to form yourself as a particular type of self: an imitator of this God’s son, Christ. This God gives you your body as well as your capacity to love, imagine, and choose, all of which you must use for this task. This God also gives you a time limit, say one’s whole worldly life, to complete the project. Likely, uniting these two tasks will raise a number of questions in your mind. Which task is truly essential to selfhood? How might the first task relate to the second? Can one be an imitator of Christ and yet be a creator of art? Which task is the highest art, the most creative and productive act? Søren Kierkegaard, Søren Kierkegaard’s Journals and Papers, trans. Howard and Edna Hong, asst. Gregor Malantschuk (7 vols, Princeton, 1991), vol. 2, p. 368/XI1 A 391, n.d., 1854. Hereafter, this work will be abbreviated as JP. 2 JP, vol. 1, p. 332/X4 A 596, n.d., 1852. 3 Søren Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript, trans. Howard and Edna Hong (Princeton, 1992), p. 351. 1

2

Kierkegaard, Aesthetics, and Selfhood

This illustration hints at a primary theme within the varied and expansive authorship of Søren Kierkegaard: his concern about the relationship between aesthetic acts and selfhood. Grounding his idea of selfhood in a Christian idea of subjectivity, he wrote to correct views that emphasized the necessity of art in understanding the nature of selfhood. For instance, Romanticism, seen in figures such as Friedrich Schlegel and Adam Oehlenschläger, stressed artistic expression as revealing human freedom. This aesthetic concern stands alongside other critiques, including one connected to his exposition of the false image of selfhood revealed in Idealism (esp. Hegelianism). In linking art and selfhood together, he reveals as primary a concern over forms of Christianity that made becoming a self seem simple, merely a matter of doctrinal knowledge or a passive acceptance of cultural expectations. In particular, Danish Lutheranism, a part of the Danish state, made becoming Christian one component of Danish citizenship rather than a uniquely individual task. In Kierkegaard’s view, these schools of thought ignored the need for God to provide knowledge regarding the true shape of selfhood due to the sickness of human sin. They also neglected emphasizing the ethical task, of loving one’s neighbor as Christ did, as the highest worldly action. Yet, though much has been written about Kierkegaard’s relationship to Hegelian thought, his aesthetic remains a relatively fertile theme. Throwing ‘a little bit of red’ into his cultural ethos, Kierkegaard offers a corrective to the prevailing conception of the aesthetic as well as its sketch of selfhood. But rather than denying any role for art, beauty, or sensual pleasure, say in favor of a conception of selfhood rooted merely in mental cognition, he develops instead an aesthetically rich account of selfhood. Doing so means he does not create an aesthetic system, one that develops clear aesthetic norms that can be used to evaluate art in all contexts or one that covers all forms of aesthetic action, like Hegel’s Lectures on Aesthetics. Instead, he utilizes aesthetic fragments, an idea I develop in Chapter One, as a means to use art to help his readers hear anew the call to become a self; in short, aesthetic activities such as poetry and music shape, in part, one’s formation as a self for selfhood itself is a productive art. Thus, to wade through Kierkegaard’s aesthetic, though varied as it includes an existence stage, an artistic critique, an authorship style, and an account of human formation, means then that one must root these fragments within an art of subjectivity. Centrally, within this aesthetic conception, existence, and more importantly the self that lives this life, is itself a work of art. Becoming a true self is the essential human task, one that relativizes, but does not end, other aesthetic tasks such as painting, music, and poetry. Or as the pseudonym Johannes Climacus puts it, ‘To exist is an art.’ Becoming this self requires God’s action in Christ

Introduction

3

both to reveal the true possibility of selfhood but also to gracefully enable self-formation, meaning divine activity frames each individual’s ontological formation. Christian selfhood then becomes a path or journey throughout one’s life, rather than something possessed or even perfectable that shapes how one relates to existence, including artistic endeavors. This art of subjectivity has two dimensions. First and foremost, one must strive to produce oneself as an imitator of Christ. As the first two chapters argue, one must actualize the Christian possibility of self, one only available because of divine action, within one’s embodied, existing form. In short, one becomes the form of this Christian ontological content. This artistic task is both universal (as common to all of humanity) as well as particular (as each individual must respond to this call). It is a relational art, as a self must properly relate oneself to this content, not as something merely to be known, but rather to be lived through works of love in the world. Such a right relation requires each self to respond by using three formative capacities, the imagination, will, and passion, in order to actualize the Christ image as one’s ontological form. Ever grounded in a true self-understanding of oneself as a sinner, a self imaginatively envisions oneself as an imitator of Christ, a self-image willfully chosen and passionately enacted within one’s context. Through these capacities, one can perform works of love, the only true means of relating to God. As a result, moral action becomes an aesthetic act because acting morally is itself beautiful; it is the necessary fruit of one oriented towards subjectivity. The second dimension of this subjective art relates to these formal relational capacities. These capacities, especially the imagination and passion, have aesthetic dimensions. For instance, the imagination is a creative capacity in that it can create fantastical images in the mind; likewise, passion can be drawn to sensuously beautiful productions. As a result, Kierkegaard reminds his readers that each self must rightfully use these capacities to relate to human artistic endeavors as one strives to become a subject. Creating, seeing, and hearing art are ever unessential, proximate activities amidst the highest, essential task of becoming a Christian. To do so, Kierkegaard uses a variety of aesthetic means within the authorship itself in order to draw his readers into a deeper imaginative, passionate, and willful self-reflection about the true task: subjectivity. Artistic styles such as satire, storytelling, and pseudonymity, as I develop in Chapter One, are authorial tactics that exhibit the importance of the aesthetic roots of his conception of selfhood. Far from denying art, beauty, and the like, he uses such ideas deconstructively to challenge his readers to develop more fully as Christians. As a result, Kierkegaard intertwines aesthetics with selfhood. In fact, as I argue in Chapter Three, Christ has an aesthetic dimension. Christ provides

Kierkegaard, Aesthetics, and Selfhood

4

the ontological image for understanding the true form for subjectivity. Christ is an ontological pattern, the highest image of truth because Christ is the model of what a self must become, gracefully revealed through the Bible, God’s love letter to humanity. Thus, Christ is the aesthetic image par excellence. Striving to embody Christ’s love as one’s worldly form transforms a self as it includes and responds to divine grace; this action is thereby a productive act of becoming. But one cannot just choose to be Christian, a view rather common for interpreters of Kierkegaard. For example, Charles Taylor, in Sources of the Self, writes that Kierkegaard stresses selfhood as a simple choice: “In choosing myself, I become what I really am, a self with an infinite dimension. We choose our real selves; we become for the first time true selves.”4 Jacques Derrida makes a similar claim in The Gift of Death. In his examination of Abraham from Silentio’s Fear and Trembling, Derrida states, “Abraham’s decision is absolutely responsible because it answers for itself before the absolute other.”5 Both Derrida and Taylor stress self-choice as the act that decisively enables one to become a certain type of self. These accounts of selfhood as a choice are overly reductionistic. Instead, an accurate account of choice within the Kierkegaardian corpus must take into account two formal capacities with aesthetic dimensions that work alongside of the will: the imagination and passion. Aesthetically, the imagination can create images of how to exist as well as store images received from culture, experience, and education. Passion, a form of desire, moves a self towards sensual beauty and images as well as ideas of selfhood. As I argue in Chapters Three and Four, these capacities are vital then in allowing a self to mimetically respond to God’s actions in Christ. They give the will an ontological telos and the desire to embody it within the world. Thus, along with the consciousness of sin, these three capacities formally structure how a self actualizes Christ’s image within the world. But as a result, because the imagination and passion, in particular, have aesthetic dimensions, worldly artistic works become problematic for Kierkegaardian authors. As I develop in Chapters Four through Six, the imagination can create its own ontological possibilities, or it can receive such possibilities from material things such as artwork. And passion can desire the beauty within art, rather than living out Christian ontological truth. In both cases, art can move the imagination and passion in ways that may be contrary to becoming a true being.

4 5

Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self (Cambridge, 1989), p. 450. Jacques Derrida, The Gift of Death, trans. David Wills (Chicago, 1995), p. 77.

Introduction

5

That said, Kierkegaard’s thought details how art itself is not the problem, but how a self relates to art within one’s ontological formation. In reality, the self-art relation depends on the particular individual amidst that relation. For one particular self, seeing or creating art can affirm one’s becoming; for another, it can distract one from this task. Thus, Kierkegaard does not offer a universal aesthetic, as in a norm of evaluating art, but rather calls each individual to regulate the role that art plays within one’s particular formation. One can paint a portrait, just as long as one recognizes such an act as an unessential one and relates to it dispassionately. Art is a creative act that must not interfere with imitating Christ and performing works of love. Methodologically, my argument develops the basic schematics of Kierkegaard’s self through the use of primary sources. Through this move, I demonstrate how his fragmentary aesthetic arises out of this deeper concern of becoming a Christian subject. In short, my hermeneutic links his texts by focusing on his ontology and exegeting his aesthetics through this lens. But in doing so, I engage a variety of contemporary secondary sources. Scholars such as Sylvia Walsh, C. Stephen Evans, M. Jaime Ferreira, David Gouwens, Stephen Dunning, Alastair Hannay, and George Pattison are all conversation partners for my project. Yet, when examining his aesthetic, these thinkers tend to ignore the ontological moorings that tie his fragmentary aesthetics together. My argument reframes his aesthetics through the examination of how a self becomes a subject, and as a result, enables a fuller picture of his aesthetics to emerge. And in a world such as ours, surrounded by aesthetic objects, Kierkegaard’s account of aesthetics and Christian becoming offers important critical insights about the power of art to reveal ways of being in the world; his thought can also re-energize a discussion about evaluating the role that art should play within Christianity. For instance, within a context that lacks a meta-narrative, as Jacques Lyotard argues, a major movement within Christian thought has been to stress the idea of narrative as the basis for a religious existence. Thinkers such as Alasdair MacIntyre, Stanley Hauerwas, Charles Taylor, Sallie McFague, William Cavanaugh, and Paul Ricoeur all value narrative as an important element in explaining human actions. One important justification for the importance of narratives is based on an account of selfhood in which human beings are historical, and thus have a narrative basis for making sense of the world through language and action. However, such accounts of narrative are not as robust without an understanding of the importance of the aesthetic dimensions of human existence. The human imagination and passion are both aesthetic elements that provide further support for the importance of narrative, as an aesthetic genre, within

Kierkegaard, Aesthetics, and Selfhood

6

human existence. Kierkegaard’s account of the imagination can detail how a self envisions oneself as a story and imagines an ideal self-image that holds the narrative together. Likewise, reflecting upon the power of passion can offer clues as to the importance of images contained in narrative, as it is through passion that a self moves to enact a narrative. Finally, in a pluralistic, globally inter-connected world, the autonomous Western self has a seemingly endless number of ontological possibilities about what to be. A person can imagine oneself as a doctor, lawyer, airline pilot, warrior, and sports star, etc., all of which entail ideas about ways of being in the world. Many of these possibilities are conveyed through images and technology. Films and TV programs suggest what is to be valued, the internet provides a seemingly endless supply of ideas about human needs and wants, print and multimedia advertisements tell consumers what to consume, and music and sensual images are both easily available and diverse in styles. These various modes of communication use aesthetic means to express and entice a self towards such ontological possibilities. As such, the aesthetic is an important category to think about how humans ask, converse, and answer the question of what it means to be a self. Kierkegaard’s account of the art of subjectivity provides a way to critique the role that the aesthetic plays today. Though linked to an ontological conception rooted in a Christian account of the self, he calls his readers to care about how one relates to worldly activities as well as ideas about what and how one becomes a true self. As the pseudonym Anti-Climacus writes in Practice in Christianity, “this is the test: to become and continue to be a Christian, a suffering with which no other human suffering can be compared in pain and anguish.”6 Like creating a beautiful work of art, one must strive to perfect oneself as the highest artistic task, one that is an impossible possibility; one must become a Christian subject. This is one’s true essential task, a calling that Kierkegaard re-presents anew to his readers as the only art that matters.

Søren Kierkegaard, Practice in Christianity, trans. Howard and Edna Hong (Princeton, 1991), p. 196. 6

Chapter 1

Kierkegaard’s Ambiguous Aesthetics

I do not comprehend how the artist would maintain his calm, that he would not notice Christ’s displeasure, would not throw it all out, brushes and paints, far, far away, just as Judas did with the thirty pieces of silver, because he suddenly understood that Christ has required only imitators, that the one who here on earth lived in poverty and lowliness, without a place where he could lay his head … .1 Anti-Climacus, Practice in Christianity

In other words, music is the demonic. In elemental sensuous-erotic originality, music has its absolute theme.2 A, Either/Or I

Poetry and art have been called an anticipation of the eternal. If one wants to call them that, one must nevertheless be aware that poetry and art are not essentially related to an existing person, since the contemplation of poetry and art, “joy over the beautiful,” is disinterested, and the observer is contemplatively outside himself qua existing person.3 Climacus, Concluding Unscientific Postscript

In Love’s Knowledge, Martha Nussbaum argues that one cannot separate literary form from philosophical content when making and interpreting truth claims, especially those rooted in emotional experience. Weaving together aesthetic style and philosophical argumentation, she states, “literary form is not separable from Practice in Christianity, p. 255. Søren Kierkegaard, Either/Or, trans. Howard and Edna Hong (2 vols, Princeton, 1987), pp. 64–65. 3 Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 313ff. 1 2

Kierkegaard, Aesthetics, and Selfhood

8

philosophical content, but is, itself, a part of content—an integral part, then, of the search for and the statement of truth.”4 One must then pay attention to the manner in which an argument develops because form and content are deeply intertwined, requiring attention to both in order to fully understand a claim. I begin with this view of the braidedness of form and content because it is a particularly apropos concept through which to engage Kierkegaard’s conception of the aesthetic. As Eric Ziolkowski recognizes, Kierkegaard was a “literary artist, albeit one whose art served not only aesthetic but also philosophical, ethical, theological, and ultimately religious purposes.”5 Consequently, any attempt at explicating his aesthetic must pay attention to the fact that his aesthetic style is deeply ingrained within his authorial intentions. Indeed, as I argue, his aesthetics is always intertwined with becoming a Christian. This relationship makes clarifying Kierkegaard’s aesthetic a challenge, to say the least. For example, he has no specific set of lectures (like Hegel) or texts (like Kant’s Critique of Aesthetic Judgement) that develop a conception of the aesthetic as a system of artistic evaluation or judgment.6 He also does not offer a consistent use of the term, using “aesthetic” (den æthetiske) in at least two different ways. Most famously, it is the first and/or lowest of his three stages of existence, as a way a self relates to the world from an aesthetic perspective. Second, the authorship also uses the term in conjunction with a concept such as “poeticize” (digtning) that describes the act of becoming a self as a creative, and thus an aesthetic, act. Here, aesthetics beckons back to poiesis, a Greek work meaning “production,” thereby underscoring a deep ontological intention within his aesthetics. Yet, beyond these terms, Kierkegaard playfully and impishly incorporates a variety of aesthetic styles throughout his thought. He uses a cornucopia of aesthetic communication techniques, including narratives, dialogues, and thought-experiments, that call the reader to navigate a stylistic labyrinth of aesthetically rich concerns and argumentative forms when tackling the masterful provocation that is his authorship. These forms are then literary acts of provocation that lead a reader into a deeper self-reflection regarding one’s existence as a result.

Martha Nussbaum, Love’s Knowledge: Essays on Philosophy and Literature (New York, 1990), p. 3. 5 Eric Ziolkowski, The Literary Kierkegaard (Evanston, IL, 2011), p. 20. 6 Though he did not write a work specifically on aesthetics, Hegel presented a series of lectures in 1823, 1826 and 1828–29, which were collected into a volume in 1835, edited by H.G. Hotho. He also treated the subject in his Enzyklopädie der Philosophischen Wissenschaften, pp. 556–63. 4

Kierkegaard’s Ambiguous Aesthetics

9

Aesthetics then relates deeply to how Kierkegaard conceives of his authorship. For instance, he claims at one point that the whole authorship has a poetic intention at its roots, seen in The Point of View for My Work as an Author, written in 1848 but published posthumously in 1859. Yet, in The Point of View, he also describes a religious awakening that “gripped me far more deeply and in religious impatience annihilated in a certain sense what I have become, a poet.”7 But as a result, his authorship became centrally rooted in a religious task, rather than an artistic one. And explicating this tension between artistic endeavors and the religious life (and Christianity in particular), is then an important dynamic within his thought. For instance, Works of Love (1847) unleashes a number of critical barbs at any distinction between erotic and Christian poetry, thereby suggesting the near impossibility of the latter. Likewise, works such as Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments (1846), authored under the pseudonym Johannes Climacus, and Practice in Christianity (1850), authored by Anti-Climacus, as well as his journals, offer critical assessments of the value of art within human life. In these texts, a life that cares about sensuality, beauty, and artistic creativity rubs up against the singularity of purpose inherent within a life devoted to living rightly with God. All of this suggests that making sense of Kierkegaard’s aesthetic thought is of a vital importance to making sense of Kierkegaard’s authorship as a whole. It also, as Nussbaum reminds us, helps us appreciate the linkage between form and content that energizes his thought.. As such, to develop the Kierkegaardian aesthetic requires an appreciation of its ambiguity and complexity. This ambiguity, in part, reflects this diversity of terminological definitions and uses of the aesthetic within his authorship. Amidst this thicket, this chapter will strive to make sense of Kierkegaard’s ambiguous aesthetic, trying to avoid either an over-specification or under-specification of the concept. To do so, I suggest the idea of “fragment” as the means to enter into the richness that the term offers. At the end of Philosophical Fragments, Climacus writes “how shall we ever manage to begin?,” thereby reminding the reader of the difficulty of thinking about Christian faith, which must be lived to be best understood.8 Nonetheless, Climacus endeavors to develop a smuler (a “fragment” or “crumb”) of truth in order to challenge a reader to think about the ideas through which they exist in the world. Though only in the act of a reader’s response to a call to faith does the fragment become substantive, as a fragment, ever lacking a unified cognizable whole or system of truth, it provides a limited Søren Kierkegaard, The Point of View/The Point of View for My Work as an Author/ Armed Neutrality, trans. Howard and Edna Hong (Princeton, 1978), pp. 84–85. 8 Søren Kierkegaard, Philosophical Fragments/Johannes Climacus, trans. Howard and Edna Hong (Princeton, 1985), p. 110. 7

10

Kierkegaard, Aesthetics, and Selfhood

means to reflect on the inadequacy of philosophizing and theologizing amidst the reality that humans are living, acting, spiritual creatures. I suggest that there are four “fragments” within Kierkegaard’s aesthetic. These fragments are not part of a whole, unified idea of the aesthetic, that when combined, creates a complete Kierkegaardian aesthetic system. Instead, in the spirit of Philosophical Fragments, each fragment is only one manner or way that the aesthetic can be understood as a dimension within human development. And as a frame, these fragments open up an interpretive trajectory to my argument that roots Kierkegaard’s aesthetic as an ontological tactic, an idea that correlates with De Certeau’s notion of “tactic.” Here, a tactic is “an art of the weak.”9 De Certeau uses the term to describe how marginalized groups resist the power of a dominant culture, a social location that relates well to Kierkegaard’s self perception. For instance, he writes from outside the dominant intellectual stream of his era (Hegelianism and Romanticism) and the Danish Lutheran ecclesial structure; he also is not tethered to an academic institution. Rather, he writes ‘without authority.’10 Thus, rather than a clearly conceptualized aesthetic style, he intentionally used a diversity of aesthetic tactics to critique the prevailing intellectual and religious ethos of his age as well as to provoke each reader to take responsibility for one’s selfhood. Amidst this aesthetic muddiness, this chapter sketches out these four aesthetic fragments. In brief, the first fragment appraises Kierkegaard’s development of the aesthetic as a stage of existence, albeit the lowest of these ways of being in the world. A second fragment focuses on Kierkegaard’s judgment of art and beauty, especially in relationship to religion. The view here stresses how he opposes artistic expression as such expressions contradict the demands of Christian existence. A third fragment focuses on Kierkegaard’s literary style, explicating how a variety of literary styles directly and indirectly communicate Christian faith. The concern here is in exploring how his use of aphorisms, metaphors, poetry, irony, satire, and story-telling create a literary style. Finally, in a fourth fragment is the notion of “poetic” as an idea of human formation. Here, the self is itself an object of aesthetic production; it is about “living poetically” and Christian selfhood. What matters is not art per se, but producing oneself as a Christian. Each of these fragments thus has a lively and vivid coherence within its own fragmentary form; but these particular pieces are not part of a grand 9 Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, trans. Steven Rendall (Berkeley, 1984), p. 37. 10 For more on this perspective, one that occurs in a number of places in the journals and authorship, see the Hongs’ historical introduction to Without Authority. See: Søren Kierkegaard, Without Authority, trans. Howard and Edna Hong (Princeton, 1997).

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aesthetic scheme. Rather, they are each a provocative tactic which challenges a reader to reflect on one’s very being. To understand his aesthetic in this fragmentary, tactical way bears interpretive fruit in that it affirms the connectedness between aesthetic form and ontological content in his thought. Without betraying the aesthetic as a vital theme, it helps disclose a deeply embedded foundational presupposition: human becoming. Each fragment offers its own spirited, independent, and cohesive whole that yet points a reader decisively to a deeper reflection upon how one exists as a self. The aesthetic then is intertwined with critique, provocation, and upbuilding, rhetorical and theological concepts that call a reader towards a deeper consciousness of the form and content of one’s being. These aesthetic fragments, used tactically, thus express a clear consistency: the call to become a Christian. Fragment One: The Aesthetic as a Stage Most likely, the primary Kierkegaardian aesthetic idea for many readers is the three stages (Stadier) of existence or existence-spheres (Existents-Spærer) that ground a self-existence relation: the aesthetic, the ethical and the religious.11 As a tactic, the stages both provide a provocative act of self-reflection as well as an evaluative frame for a reader to reflect on how one relates to existence and God. Thus, the stages demand that a self take responsibility for how one relates oneself to the world in action, thought, choice, and desire as these elements shape one’s being. Of the stages, the aesthetic is the first and lowest stage; here, a self is not a self, as it lacks the self-consciousness of the demand to become a certain type of self through actualizing a higher ontological truth within one’s being (e.g. ethical 11 The pseudonym Frater Taciturnus from “A Letter to the Reader” in Stages on Life’s Way (1845) provides a good summary of the stages: “There are three existence-spheres: the esthetic, the ethical, the religious. The metaphysical is abstraction, and there is no human being who exists metaphysically. The metaphysical, the ontological, is, but it does not exist, for when it exists it does so in the esthetic, in the ethical, in the religious, and when it is, it is the abstraction from or a prius [something prior] to the esthetic, the ethical, the religious. The ethical sphere is only a transition sphere, and therefore its highest expression is repentance as a negative action. The esthetic sphere is the sphere of immediacy, the ethical the sphere of requirement (and this requirement is so infinite that the individual always goes bankrupt), the religious the sphere of fulfillment, but, please note, not a fulfillment such as when one fills as alms box or a sack with gold, for repentance has specifically created a boundless space, and as a consequence the religious contradiction: simultaneously to be out on 70,000 fathoms of water and yet be joyful”(Søren Kierkegaard, Stages on Life’s Way, trans. Howard and Edna Hong (Princeton, 1998), pp. 476–77).

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or religious truth). Instead, the self either relates to existence in one of two ways: merely through natural desire and passion (ex. lust) without any connection to an ethical norm or a universal truth, or through imaginatively-held possibility, in which a self merely fantasizes about but never commits to an ethical structure such as marriage. In both forms of aesthetic action, a self exists merely in immediate possibility, lacking an existence in which a self is responsible to itself, others and God, because it lacks any thought-based mediated ontological possibility. It has no ethical norm or clarity about what it means to be a self, one that it can strive to embody within its existence. As a consequent, the self is not a self; it has no power over its activities. One exists in mere immediacy, a “fantasy-existence in esthetic passion” that lacks the self-consciousness and the passionate willfullness to become a responsible self.12 It is a passive state, as one is led astray from the rigors of actuality and subjectivity by the imagination and passion as sensuous desire. The prime example of the aesthetic self living through natural passion is Either/ Or I (1843), written by A and edited by Victor Eremita. The Seducer’s Diary, written by Johannes and included in Either/Or I, offers the key development of the aesthetic stage as a largely imaginary, recollected existence. Stages on Life’s Way (1845) by William Afham, also discusses the stages, although he terms them “existence spheres” rather than stages. Likewise, the text Crisis in the Life of an Actress, which is about Johanne Luise Heiberg, the wife of the Danish poet Johan Ludvig Heiberg, contains an extensive discussion of the category of the aesthetic. Published in the newspaper The Fatherland in 1848, it was written by Inter et Inter. To delve more deeply into the form of the aesthetic self rooted within natural passion requires focusing on “The Immediate Erotic Stages or the Musical-Erotic” from Either/Or I. Here, A pointedly affirms the aesthetic genius of Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni and offers Don Juan up as the example par excellence of the natural, passionate self.13 The Don relates to existence merely out of lust and erotic, natural desire; he utterly lacks any self-awareness or concern about why he acts. Only immediate passion causes his actions, rather than any universal law or self-conscious choice. There is no self-reflection, but immediate sensual desire. Sensuousness is “power, life, movement, continual unrest, continual unrest, continual succession.”14 It is vitality and force rooted in sensual desire. A connects sensuousness with immediacy and the erotic, connoting desire as sexual, as there is a “sensuous-erotic principle,” ironically Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 253. The author A uses both Don Juan and Don Giovanni within the essay, though both represent Mozart’s opera. 14 Either/Or, vol. 1, p. 71. 12 13

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developed by Christianity.15 In order to affirm the vitality of the human desire for God, Christianity invented material, flesh-driven desire as its negation. This form of natural desire as the erotic has three levels, all exemplified by characters from Mozart’s operas. The Page in Figaro exemplifies the first level. Rather than a particular object to desire, the Page’s desire is dreamlike, enmeshed with the romantic purity of desire itself. Papageno in The Magic Flute exemplifies the second level. Desire here is about endlessly seeking objects to desire, rather than seeking satiation. The Don exemplifies the third level. As the immediate unity of the previous stages, desire here fully desires an object in its particularity, while yet combining the desire of a particular object (ex. one woman) with an endless universal desire (ex. all women). “In the particular, desire has its absolute object; it desires the particular absolutely.”16 Desire is then the principle of action, the power that moves and leads one to act, rather than any ethical system or religious principle. Endless seduction matters most for one’s life, although a type of seduction with no conscious reflection about the means of seduction, as such thinking would negate the power and vitality of desire. As erotic, it is rooted in the temporal present, endlessly unconcerned about ethical commitment or justice. Rather, once the object has been seduced, desire leads the self onto another particular object to desire, flitting about in an impossible quest to satiate natural desire. As a tactic of provocation, Kierkegaard through A is using the aesthetic self to call a reader to reflect upon the nature of ethical responsibility, something the Don lacks. To be responsible is to be held accountable for one’s actions; it is to be aware of one’s past and recognize how present choices have future consequences. But natural desire as the cause of action means that one exists only within the present moment, unconnected to the past and future. For instance, the Don has no personal responsibility; his erotic desire provides the momentum for his actions, pulling him towards an object that his desire, rather than an ethical law or religious ideal, defines as a true good. Existing within an immediate existence, he does not utilize any ideal of selfhood to guide his passion and will in relating himself to existence. In fact, if an idea such as sin were presented to the Don, it would end Don Juan’s existence. “Only when reflection enters in does the kingdom [of sensuous desire and aesthetic indifference] manifest itself as the kingdom of sin, but then Don Juan has been slain, then the music stops,” meaning self-conscious thought would decimate the Don’s very being.17 Either/Or, vol. 1, p. 64. Either/Or, vol. 1, p. 85. 17 Either/Or, vol. 1, p. 90. 15 16

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Unlike the Don’s actions, the higher form of the aesthetic stage focuses not on natural desire as the cause of action but rather human thought. However, here the aesthetic self stresses the fantastical reality of its actions, either as recollections of past actions or of imagined consequences to actions. Rather than actually committing to an ethical code or religious ideal, one attempts to live within one’s imaginative world, thus avoiding the messiness of worldly obligations. The imagined possibility of an action, rather than its actualization, is at the root of this form of aesthetic selfhood. This aesthetic existence takes shape in The Seducer’s Diary, by Johannes. In the diary, the seducer continuously imagines the attempt and consequences of his seduction of Cordelia. But rather than aiming at actually seducing her, his goal is to exist within the imaginative recollection of this possibility as his basis for relating to the world. “Actuality did not have enough stimulation (at most momentarily),” for the seducer. 18 Existing in the imagination, of reliving past events and fantastical possibilities, instead grounds his existence. Johannes presents an argument about mastering seduction in which one avoids any actual consequences or commitments within the art that is seduction. “To poeticize oneself into a girl is an art; to poeticize oneself out of her is a masterstroke.”19 Indeed, for the seducer to have mastered seduction, the object of seduction has to doubt whether the whole relationship was even real. If the seduced lacks confidence about whether a seduction occurred, then no ethical obligation exists between the seducer and seduced. As such, the seducer is so far removed from ethical responsibilities that his seduction is largely a mental possibility, rather than a relationship shaped by the worldly demands and responsibilities attendant with relating to a living, breathing person. At the root of such poeticizing is ontological possibility. Ethical existence, which demands a conscience and an awareness of one’s limitations and responsibilities, is not interesting for the seducer. Being ethical is boring, demanding a constant and repeated responsibility to others that limits one’s possible choices and actions. Instead, to poeticize is to exist through imaginative possibility such that no commitments are made, and temporality is constantly never fraught with the consequences of past choices; everything resides in the imagination and the presentness of fantasy. Moral and religious truths contain norms that establish expectations and ideals for behavior and self-formation, all of which place a burden on a person that thereby destroys an easy, unreflective life. Instead, full of disconnected moments, living within mere imaginative Either/Or, vol. 1, p. 306. Either/Or, vol. 1, p. 368.

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possibility, life is interesting, for one is not trapped by the boundaries of ethical or religious demands and responsibilities. Even the enjoyment of the love relation between the seducer and the seduced is an imagined possibility. “All this I know; I also know that the highest enjoyment imaginable is to be loved, loved more than anything else in the world.”20 Rather than any attempt to live out this loving relationship, merely imagining it is good enough. Imaginative existence makes life enjoyable for a self, a view that Climacus later critiques by noting that “the setting is not in the fairyland of the imagination” if one desires to become a true self.21 Behind this aesthetic self lie figures from the German Romantic and Idealist traditions. Thinkers such as Friedrich Schlegel and Friedrich Schiller viewed philosophy and art as intertwined means of expressing truth. For instance, Schlegel wrote, “philosophy … is the result of two conflicting forces—of poetry and practice. Where these interpenetrate completely and fuse into one, there philosophy comes into being … .”22 Unlike the rational formalism of post-Kantian philosophy, here poetry brings philosophy into fruition, thereby developing an idea of selfhood grounded in rational freedom. Schiller sees such a possibility as an “Aesthetic State” in which everyone “is a free citizen having equal rights with the noblest; and the intellect, which forcibly moulds the passive multitude to its designs, must here ask for its assent.”23 Kierkegaard was also familiar with Romanticism within the Danish contexts through poets such as Adam Oehlenschläger and Henrik Steffens. They both used poetic means to master the expression of human truth and freedom. In their view, it is not a commitment to moral norms, especially those given through Christianity, that is the good and true to which philosophy should strive. Rather it is poetic expression that best reveals human freedom as the ideal to which humans should aim. For instance, in Oehlenschläger, who wrote Aladdin and Earl Hakon the Mighty, a play about the heroic past of Scandinavia, Kierkegaard lustily saw an error in the linking of the philosophical world of Socrates with poetic expression. “This is why it is all wrong for Oehlenschläger to want to poetize Socrates. In relation to Socrates, ‘the poet’ is a completely superfluous person who can only become an object of ridicule, a laughing-stock, when he does not keep the proper distance but even wants to poetize him.”24 A similar Either/Or, vol. 1, p. 368. Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 356. 22 Friedrich Schlegel, “Athenaeum Fragments,” in J.M. Bernstein (ed.), Classic and Romantic German Aesthetics (New York, 2003), p. 256. 23 Friedrich Schiller, On the Aesthetic Education of Man (London, 1954), p. 140. 24 JP, vol. 4, p. 222/XI1 A 430, n.d., 1854. 20 21

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critique can be found in the journals regarding Henrik Steffens, who brought German Romanticism to Denmark through his Introduction to Philosophical Lectures in 1803. Kierkegaard critiqued his poetry as over-emphasizing the idea of a natural, romantic “presentiment” or a pre-mediate understanding of a thing. This type of thinking is abstract and lacks a clear connection to the actual world of commitments, ethical duties, and the reality of Christian revelation as being the true foundation for human existence. This form of poetic production “has something abstract about it beyond the vagueness which it indeed must have.”25 This notion of pre-sentiment appears, for instance, in Kierkegaard’s critique of Don Giovanni. Music itself reveals this romantic notion of presentiment. A says, “this point, of course, is none other than Don Giovanni’s initial emergence, the presentiment of him and of the power with which he later breaks through.”26 The music expresses sensuous desire in a manner that moves a listener into an erotic presentiment even before the Don arrives on scene. A listener is thus entranced, lost in her own desire, captivated by the Don’s musicality. Kierkegaard’s description of the aesthetic stage thereby showcases how the aesthetic self is not a self. In the first type, a self relates merely through wild, infinite, natural, disinterested desire, with no deeper self-consciousness guiding its actions. Likewise, in the second type, a self relates merely through imaginative possibility; rather than self-consciously reflecting and willing an actual act in the world, a self lives in the purity of the imagination. For both, the extensiveness of this lack of self-awareness also means that they lack any awareness of the vapid, despair-filled reality of their lives. In Kierkegaard’s view, despair, initially, is a positive experience, as it means that one is conscious of and concerned with one’s nature. Trapped by the constant moreness of their passionate desire or imaginative possibility, these aesthetic beings avoid realizing that desire and imaginative fantasy are never-ending, making inner peace impossible. Or they lack the understanding that time changes any object of desire or the vividness of imaginative fancy: a woman’s beauty fades, a piece of artwork ceases to reveal newness. In both instances, there is no rest in this stage; the self ’s desire and imagination drive one onward onto new objects. One is always craving, longing for, desiring, or imagining something more. JP, Vol. 3, p. 628/II A 32, n.d., 1837. As with Oehlenschläger, Kierkegaard does find some value in Steffens’ thought. “I find a good observation in reading Steffens’ De 4 Nordmœnd … I remember an example of how in such a life everything becomes engendering, how everything the children read in the classics became reflected; when they read of ostracism, they introduced it at once into their play, etc.” (JP, Vol. 1, pp. 119/II A 41, n.d., 1837). 26 Either/Or, vol. 1, p. 129. 25

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Ironically, lacking self-awareness, the Don and the seducer also lack freedom in terms of the ability to consciously desire and choose an action. They merely enjoy life as one gigantic object for their desire or fantasy, but then are trapped within desire and fantasy, unable to experience anything beyond these grounds as the basis for relating to the world. Desire and fantasy shape their lives, rather than acting intentionally as passionate, self-reflective, and willful beings. The aesthetic self also lacks a telos. There is no eternal happiness that both enables a self to evaluate one’s life and serves as the gift at the end of existence. Therefore, a self is lost, with no purpose or truth of being to become; the aesthetic self has no point to existence. Only moments within the immediacy of the present matter, as there is no future state of existence shaped by past consequences, future hopes, and present choices. Self-development only happens by accepting the responsibility of having a historical dimension. Without such temporalization, a self remains within an endless string of present moments, thus lacking any possibility of becoming a responsible self with a sense of past history and future possibility. Thus, the aesthetic self is not a true subject; one either embodies natural desire or imaginative fantasy. Within the authorship as a whole, this aesthetic self functions as a provocative tactic for a reader’s self-reflection. These aesthetic exemplars offer a reader insight into the contours of a form of life, a type of ontological possibility. As one reads, one is seduced into the sensuous, musical and erotic world of Mozart’s Don Giovanni or the fantastical setting of the seducer’s imagination. This world, ever beautiful on the surface, lacks a future. It is empty, hollow, and endless; there is no deep, authentic self at its center. And a reader is tasked with becoming more self-reflective about one’s own relation to existence while one reads. The deeper tactical theme, then, is not about perfecting one’s knowledge of the Don or the seducer, but oneself. And this fragment of the aesthetic is a common focus for later Kierkegaard interpreters. As a means to detail the reception of Kierkegaard’s aesthetic, I will examine two: Terry Eagleton’s The Ideology of the Aesthetic and Stephen Dunning’s Kierkegaard’s Dialectic of Inwardness. Both emphasize the aesthetic as a stage of existence. However, they differ regarding the view of the role of the aesthetic in the religious stage, thereby showing the complexity of even this aesthetic fragment. Eagleton asserts the downfall of the aesthetic stage in relation to the religious stage, whereas Dunning argues for the aesthetic’s culmination within the religious stage. Yet, both thinkers develop the aesthetic merely as a stage, and thus miss the deeper fragmentary nature of Kierkegaard’s aesthetic. In a chapter from The Ideology of the Aesthetic, Terry Eagleton argues that Kierkegaard’s aesthetic self is the jumping off point for Kierkegaard’s argument

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regarding authentic selfhood. He stresses that Kierkegaard’s aesthetic has no privileged or ultimate value in itself, but is merely a stepping-stone to religious commitment as the true basis for existing. Eagleton argues that Kierkegaard uses the idea of the aesthetic to argue for an extreme form of bourgeoisie individualism with the highest form being Christian individualism. The aesthetic refers to the “whole lived dimension of sensory experience, denoting a phenomenology of daily life before it comes to signify cultural production.”27 Cultural production, in Eagleton’s view, requires thoughtfilled action. Kierkegaard’s self in the aesthetic stage either has action without thought—the immediate self (ex. Don Juan)—or thought without action—the abstract reflective self (ex. the Seducer). These two types of self are grounded in an existence of aesthetic immediacy. The first type of immediacy has the self conflating all elements of existence as mere sense-impressions. The second type, which is “higher” than the first because it contains reflection/thought, has the immediacy contained within the imagination. In both instances, Eagleton argues that Kierkegaard’s aesthetic self is diseased; it lacks the proper self-awareness about how to exist, specifically a self-understanding of sin. Sin is a constant structural element to existence, one that goes beyond thought. Sin is the act of denying one’s dependence on God by trusting one’s own capabilities. As a human action, it determines human experience as it is a part of everyday existence. Eagleton argues that this idea of sin de-centers any rationalistic or transcendental system of thought because thought is trapped within sin as well. Freedom is impossible, for even in thinking one is free, one acts sinfully: in any instance that a self assumes that it is free and/ or innocent, sin is already presupposed. As such, Eagleton describes how the Kierkegaardian aesthetic self—as either an immediate or reflective self—is ignorant of the ironic nature of human existence: the inability for the commensurability between the outer and inner, between being a subject and an object. Irony recognizes the demand of seeking commensurability while also seizing upon its impossibility. The ironic self then strives for an ideal despite its unattainability. But rather than an ironic perspective, utter abstraction dominates the aesthetic self; with immediacy, the self has no unattainable ethical or religious ideal, but endless ontological possibility. Lacking irony, the self within the aesthetic stage exists by acting based on nothing. Having no responsibility, no determinant character, no history beyond the mere moment, a self acts based on infinite possibility. Such

Terry Eagleton, The Ideology of the Aesthetic (Cambridge, 1990), p. 173.

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possibility is a form of nothingness, for it is not connected to any normative truth that makes a self responsible for its actions. It is only through sin-consciousness that a self can make the transition beyond the aesthetic stage. In such a consciousness, understanding the reality of sin leads one to experience dread. Dread is the experience of the lack that is intertwined within infinite possibility and sin: the nothingness of existence. Through sin-consciousness, a self becomes aware of this nothingness within infinite possibility and its seeming freedom to act, thereby leading to the psychological experience of dread. Being free yet facing an infinite number of ways to act, an aesthetic self becomes overwhelmed because there is no normative truth guiding a self ’s choices and actions until it chooses to acknowledge the reality of sin. Sinconsciousness is thus necessary to move beyond the aesthetic stage. Without such a consciousness, aesthetic immediacy or endless imaginative reflection covers up the nothingness, thereby leaving one unaware of the need for normative truth (within the ethical stage) and divine truth (within the religious stage). As a result, Eagleton paints the aesthetic as a stage that cannot be incorporated into the religious stage: “Purity of heart is to will one thing; and an authentic existence must therefore reject the alluring all-roundness of the aesthetic, the belief that the good lies in the rich, multiple unfolding of human powers.”28 The aesthetic self can morph into the beauty of ethical intelligibility in the ethical stage, but it can go no further. A faithful individual is opaque; inner and outer cannot be read as if it were a simple children’s story of motive and act. The aesthetic self, lacking an understanding of sin and the demand of thought-filled action, can never transcend its possibility-filled immediacy. What is clear from this short summary is that Eagleton develops the aesthetic merely as an existence stage. Yet, even within Eagleton’s use of Kierkegaardian texts there are hints of the reductionism of this view. For instance, in describing the idea of beauty in Fear and Trembling (from Problema II), Eagleton uses the idea of the aesthetic in relation to the idea of beauty. However, he ignores this complexity by linking the beautiful’s importance merely to the aesthetic stage, rather than seeing it as offering an additional dimension to Kierkegaard’s aesthetic thought. Further, Eagleton’s conclusion regarding the downfall of the aesthetic is not universal among Kierkegaard scholars, also suggesting the complex nature of Kierkegaard’s aesthetic. For example, in Kierkegaard’s Dialectic of Inwardness, Stephen Dunning suggests that the stages must be understood through a Hegelian-influenced dialectic between the inner self and outer material existence Eagleton, The Ideology of the Aesthetic, p. 193.

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that serves as a dialectic of inwardness. In Dunning’s argument, this dialectic is the Ariadne’s thread that unites all of Kierkegaard’s various works. Each stage has a particular dialectical method of relating these two elements. And through this inward dialectic, the aesthetic stage, rather than being negated, becomes incorporated into the religious stage. The dialectic of the contradiction between the inner self and the outer world, as well as that between the self and other, has two meanings. The first meaning connects human consciousness with a dialectical structure of human thought: inwardness/externality, subjectivity/objectivity, and selfhood/social relations. The second meaning, rooted in Hegelian thought, arises through the systematic or holistic development within a self ’s consciousness that unifies such contradictions within human experience. Dunning argues that Kierkegaard, albeit unconsciously, provides a systematic dialectic of inwardness which ultimately stresses a Hegelian progression towards the unification of contradictions within the existing self. The dialectic crucial to understanding Kierkegaard is one that stresses how the self unifies itself inwardly with the external, objective world. Such a unity is brought about through the self ’s movement through the stages. Seeing the stages as a “systematic development,” the three stages “constitute a progression (although without any implication of logical necessity), rather than utterly discrete or diffusely overlapping spheres.”29 Consequently, all of the stages can be understood through the dialectic of inwardness, specifically in how they relate the contradiction between inner and outer. Unlike Eagleton, Dunning’s view of the aesthetic stage carries within it a contradiction that determines its contours: “Whereas a Hegelian dialectic always continues until all contradictions are overcome, aesthetic contradiction, as presented in Either/Or I and “In Vino Veritas” from Stages on Life’s Way, is itself the essential concept that develops through the complex unfolding of movements and moments.”30 Specifically, within Either/Or I, there are three moments of contradiction that must be overcome through the corresponding movement of the self towards a higher stage of existence. The first moment of contradiction is the contradiction-in-itself implicit within the concept of desire. This contradiction is between the desire for and the indifference to an object. The second moment is the contradiction-for-itself, which is explicit and concerns grief. To inwardly desire some object while outwardly maintaining the pallor of indifference negates one’s selfhood as determined by the desire. The Stephen N. Dunning, Kierkegaard’s Dialectic of Inwardness (Princeton, 1985), p. 4. Dunning, Kierkegaard’s Dialectic of Inwardness, p. 32.

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final and most important moment is the contradiction in-and-for-itself, which is the absolute contradiction. It is the ultimate attempt in the aesthetic stage to overcome (i.e. the Hegelian Aufgehoben) the contradiction between inner and outer. Dunning relates this contradiction to the tension between immediacy and reflection, suggesting that it is not a polar tension but a triadic one that includes inwardness. It is “a triadic development in which the opposition between immediacy and reflection (in whichever order) culminates in their mutual sublation within aesthetic inwardness, an inwardness that attempts to conquer every externality or otherness it encounters.”31 Aesthetic inwardness, within this dialectic of inwardness, moves to overcome all external elements. He sees such a contradiction practiced by Johannes the Seducer from “The Seducer’s Diary.” Through deception, Johannes makes the movement to internalize the contradiction between inner and outer. The movement is to deceive, rather than merely desire an object, and such a movement is a conscious move in Dunning’s view. But this attempt is a failure. Deception is based on incommensurability: the inner can never be expressed within the outer in toto. Seduction exploits this contradiction in the very act of deception. Likewise, the subject and object of the seducer and the seduced are opposed rather than reconciled: “Seduction is an absolute deception in which subject and object become interchangeable, for each deceives and is deceived.”32 A self within the aesthetic contradiction does not move towards truthful existence, but deceives itself, as it exists incommensurably as the very basis for its actions. The dialectic of inwardness, when trapped within a stage based on opposition and incommensurability like the aesthetic, lacks its fullest development. Incommensurability and the subject/object opposition do not ultimately unify the self amidst the contradictions of existence. Consequently, Dunning argues that the aesthetic self must be negated by being transfigured by an ethical resolution. The aesthetic self, grounded in a dialectic of inwardness in which deception is the highest form, must be sublated through the choice to exist outwardly through ethical norms as the basis for a higher form of selfhood. Specifically, the aesthetic immediacy of the first love must be transfigured by the ethical resolution of the vow of marriage, as described by Judge William in Either/Or II. Underneath this act is a form of self-revelation (i.e. the commensurability of making inner love an outer expression/form), which moves the self to a higher consciousness and thus a higher degree of selfhood. Dunning, Kierkegaard’s Dialectic of Inwardness, p. 72. Dunning, Kierkegaard’s Dialectic of Inwardness, p. 70.

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In marriage, a self chooses to become dependent upon another as a way to conversely define itself as a self. Eventually these ethical movements must be surpassed so that the self moves to the highest form of the dialectic of inwardness: the religious. Within this progression, the religious stage does not exclude the aesthetic stage; instead, it is its fulfillment. For Dunning, the incommensurability of inner/outer in the aesthetic stage—which is overcome in the ethical stage—returns in the religious. Addressing religiousness B, which is the Christian element within the religious stage, he writes, “in religiousness B, the incommensurability of the inner with the outer is demonstrated through a revelation that makes them commensurable! This paradoxical Aufhebung determines religiousness B as the culmination of the religious stage and the religious stage as the dialectical fulfillment of the aesthetic and the ethical stage.”33 Consequently, unlike Eagleton, with the movement of the dialectical self to the religious stage, the concepts of the aesthetic are taken up into the religious stage, rather than becoming merely atavistic elements. Yet, like Eagleton, Dunning privileges an understanding of Kierkegaard’s aesthetic as a stage. But as such, they limit the complexity of the Kierkegaardian aesthetic. For instance, both develop the aesthetic as a consistent and coherent system. But this systemization misses the problematic, playful, and complex ways such as indirect communication and imaginary constructions that Kierkegaard uses. More importantly, it also fails to appreciate the human inability to create a complete thought system; all human thought is reductionistic, especially when making sense of human existence. Climacus writes that no system to explain and model existence is possible, except for God: “Existence itself is a system for God, but it cannot be a system for any existing [existerende] spirit. System and conclusiveness correspond to each other, but existence is the very opposite.”34 The stages are about living and breathing, about choosing and willing, rather than merely how a self thinks and organizes thought into a conclusive system. And by describing the aesthetic as a system, merely one of the stages, the aesthetic is thereby reduced in its complexity, relegated to the world of logic and thought. Nonetheless, this perspective on Kierkegaard’s aesthetic is a vital, yet fragmentary, dimension to his aesthetic. It provides a heuristic concept related to an evaluation of the causes and motivations behind how a person relates to the world. As a tactic, it asks a reader to reflect on the causes for their actions in Dunning, Kierkegaard’s Dialectic of Inwardness, p. 246. Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 118. Dunning addresses this critique of his attempt to systematize Kierkegaard’s thought; he does so by suggesting that Kierkegaard unconsciously offered a system in which the aesthetic is but one point of a three-fold theory of the stages nonetheless. Though unconscious, there is then a system that can be analyzed. 33 34

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the world; human reflection, desire and willful practices are thus at the center of this fragment’s tactical critique. Self-awareness about the telos of life and the importance of a mood such as despair that provide insight into one’s relational nature are fodder for a reader’s self-reflection. But discussing music and beauty, as both Eagleton and Dunning do, reveals that there is more to the aesthetic than just its development as a stage. Fragment Two: The Aesthetic as a Critique of Art Alongside the stages, Kierkegaard develops an aesthetic fragment that critiques the purpose and importance of art within human life. For instance, Works of Love (1847) contrasts erotic poetry with Christian expression. “The poet and Christianity explain diametrically opposite things, or more accurately expressed, the poet really explains nothing, because he explains erotic love and friendship— in riddles.”35 In Either/Or I (1843), the art form is music, in which A argues that music is sensually indeterminate, rather than a clear means of accessing existential truth. “Music always expresses the immediate in its immediacy,” meaning it can never enable the cognition of truths such as subjectivity.36 Finally, in Practice in Christianity (1850), Kierkegaard contrasts imitation and admiration. In his view, imitation is the basis for the type of existence that Christianity demands; admiration negates this imitation. “Only the imitator is the true Christian. The admirer really assumes a pagan relation to Christianity, and this is also how admiration, in the middle of Christendom, gave birth to a new paganism— Christian art.”37 Even this brief summation suggests that Kierkegaard offers a critical appreciation of art, especially in relationship to ideas about how one exists and understands one’s being. And as a tactic, he is challenging his readers to think about how one relates to artistic productions. Accordingly, a number of thinkers have focused on Kierkegaard’s aesthetic as it relates to art. This focus is an important one because of the claims he makes about the relationship between beauty, art, and being Christian. Rather famously, Balthasar sees in Kierkegaard’s aesthetic critique the attempt to re-affirm the importance of the Bible within Protestant theology. Kierkegaard is then an example of “the banishment of the aesthetic from the realm of theology.”38 More Søren Kierkegaard, Works of Love, trans. Howard and Edna Hong (Princeton, 1993), p. 50. Either/Or, vol. 1, p. 70. 37 Practice in Christianity, p. 254. 38 Hans Urs Von Balthasar, The Glory of the Lord: A Theological Aesthetics, trans. E. Leiva-Merikakas, ed. J. Hessio and J. Riches (7 vols, San Francisco, 1983–90), vol. 1, p. 50. 35

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recently, Edward Farley, in Faith and Beauty: A Theological Aesthetic, examines Kierkegaard around the issue of aesthetic beauty. He defines Kierkegaard’s use of the term aesthetic as a person with “an everyday life that is driven by momentary desires and needs, in which the sense of being an existing, responsible subject has not yet arisen.”39 In such a life, there is no inwardness, no self-consciousness, no responsibility towards being a true self. Ultimately, such an aesthetic form of existence must progress—although not annihilated or destroyed—into an ethical existence. Farley thinks about beauty’s role in the movement within the stages and in distracting a self from becoming a true, religious self. Beauty has its own teleology, meaning that an aesthete is always looking at and experiencing fully the particular instantiations of beauty without thinking about any of the negative possibilities of beauty (i.e. aging, the human activity behind beauty, etc.). Beauty is the way a self avoids accepting the demands of living religiously. It is a world of desire for never-ending beauty that distracts the self from coming to the awareness of the sin, thereby preventing one from moving into the ethical and religious stages. Another interpretation of this fragment argues that Kierkegaard finds art incompatible with the religious life. For instance, Frank Burch Brown claims that even amidst Kierkegaard’s literary playfulness, “the religious as such is supposedly irrelevant to the aims of art, which are aesthetic. Religion calls for a change of life, he believes, whereas art calls for disinterested appreciation, or what later theorists would call aesthetic distance.”40 His use of Kierkegaard suggests that aesthetic moments demand admiration rather than imitation. Imitation, as the mimicking of Christ, Buddha, etc. throughout one’s life choices, is the end of true religious devotion and art distracts a self from such imitation. This use of Kierkegaard’s aesthetic helps Brown establish a normative scale to evaluate the relationship between art and religion. His goal is to develop standards that affirm a role for aesthetics within the religious life. This scale has two ends, with the incompatibility between art and religion on one end, and an integration between religion and art on the other. William Blake provides the foil for Kierkegaard. But as such, Brown’s use of Kierkegaard is not an attempt to understand Kierkegaard’s thought. Instead, he uses Kierkegaard to define one extreme of the value of art within religion, arguing that the value of Kierkegaard for any thinking about aesthetics is his explication of the incompatibility Edward Farley, Faith and Beauty: A Theological Aesthetic (Burlington, VT, 2001), p. 53. Frank Burch Brown, Good Taste, Bad Taste, and Christian Taste: Aesthetics in Religious Life (New York, 2000), p. 31. 39 40

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between art and religion. He helpful articulates how art can force one’s attention away from becoming religious, rather than expressing any form of the religious. Finally, there is George Pattison, a noted Kierkegaard scholar, who provides a rigorous interpretation of Kierkegaard’s aesthetic in relation to art. In his Kierkegaard: The Aesthetic and the Religious, he argues that for Kierkegaard, the image of Christ on the cross reveals the love of God that sets a limit to all art forms. “For in relation to the kind of scene shown in the image of the crucified one, the crucified image of God-in-human-form, aesthetic representation itself is judged to be a way of participating in the ongoing cruelty which characterizes the human rejection of divine love.”41 To participate in creating or viewing art, in finding beauty despite the crucifixion, leads a self away from God and towards an existence that is incompatible with Christian existence. Pattison understands Kierkegaard as arguing for a type of self whose selfconsciousness is shaped by the dialectic in which a self unifies its inner life by conforming itself to a world-view (ex. Christianity or Hegelian Idealism) yet still exists within everyday finite existence. Because of a human nature that is constitutionally vulnerable to outbursts of violence, this conformity is impossible. Only by striving to move beyond this violent nature through repentance does a self move towards becoming a true self. Repentance, as living in the expectation of an eternal goal, is continually necessary in order to become a Christian. It is also a required element of moving beyond the aesthetic stage of existence. Underneath the aesthetic, Pattison finds an intention behind all of Kierkegaard’s works: helping a reader upbuild oneself towards this life of repentance. Such upbuilding requires the annihilation of the self through repentance and grace. He interprets Kierkegaard’s critique of artwork as contravening this upbuilding. Connecting Kierkegaard’s critique of art to the idea of existencecommunication, Pattison argues that human art reveals a world-view. In short, it depicts images of how to exist in the world. In Kierkegaard’s view, the most dangerous existential images in art are provided by the German Romantic tradition, especially that of J. G. Fichte and the Danish poets Oehlenschläger and Steffens. Steffens, for example, believed that poetry communicated the infinite harmony of the universe that opens the eternal, self-authenticating presence of reality to a self in an immediate manner. For Kierkegaard, no form of figuration or language can communicate godliness or religious truth. Figuration is the primacy of image over language; no painter can ever depict an image like Christ’s crucifixion, which is a scene of George Pattison, Kierkegaard: The Aesthetic and the Religious (New York, 1992), p. 184. 41

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horror and abjectness. And language has no definitive authority to communicate religious truth through its own structure. Religious truth is about existing, which is only possible in the very act of existing. Further, art as aesthetic communication requires a transparency of form and content that clears an opening for a painting to make a truth claim. Both the form (ex. the image of Christ on the cross) and the content (ex. Christ dying for humanity) must relate in a direct manner so that no ambiguity exists between form and content. If there is any ambiguity, the art risks meaning nothing. An image of Christ on the cross only means something if the self understands it as a true person dying for a specific reason, a reason which demands imitation. If the art lacks this connection, the meaning-filled transparency is lost and the art becomes an image with multivalent meanings, meaning the work offers nothing to aid one’s existence. In the end, Pattison suggests that art for Kierkegaard ultimately says nothing. It cannot truthfully depict the reality of human existence: the violence, the angst and despair, and the reality of being free yet dependent (i.e. sin). Instead, it hides the nothingness that is a part of being human; it beautifies the qualitative ontological “void” between God and human. Poets deny the finite and epistemological limits of being human, something that Pattison terms the “void.” Pattison writes “instead of embracing and living the vision of the void, art seeks to conceal and to avoid that vision, giving to ‘airy nothing/a local habitation and a name.’”42 It obscures reality with beautiful words or beautiful and meaningless visual images. Art such as poetry communicates a form of existence that is a palliative understanding, one that is opposed to the Christian reflection of suffering as a constant part of Christian existence. It offers an aesthetic reflection: a truth of being in which beauty, agelessness, resolution, fortune, eternal love, etc., is its content. This illusion is quite dangerous as it cannot communicate the truth of existence in a manner that calls the self to faith within the religious stage. It is a form of aesthetic nihilism that leads a self to despair. But this illusionary aesthetic also pushes us into the further recognition of the fragmentary nature of this form of Kierkegaard’s aesthetic. On the one hand, this allows us to recognize that Kierkegaard’s critique is a tactic that asks his readers to reflect on the role of artistic production in one’s life; in short, does creating or viewing art prevent one from imitating Christ? Such a question is a dominant theme throughout these critiques. On the other hand, by understanding Pattison, Kierkegaard: The Aesthetic and the Religious, p. 61. The couplet is from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act V. Sc. 1. 42

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Kierkegaard’s aesthetic in relation to art, these thinkers largely ignore the fragmentary dimension to the aesthetic as artistic critique. For instance, they largely ignore a claim from Judge Wilhelm in Either/Or II, that upbuilding must “preserve the aesthetic even in everyday life.”43 In short, Kierkegaard’s conception of the aesthetic is more complex than these interpretations acknowledge. Yet, as a fragment, this perspective points out the importance of taking seriously the challenge of art and beauty within a religious life. Tactically, it requires a reader to critically engage and thus care about the role that artistic production and reception plays within one’s life and thinking. And as a cohesive fragment, it hints at the need for clear evaluative criteria that enable a deeper reflection about the power and authority that artistic acts and objects might carry within such a life. That said, these interpretations, especially Brown’s, also obscure any positive dimensions of the aesthetic within a religious life; in particular, they then ignore Kierkegaard’s usage of aesthetic elements as a vital dimension to his writing. This claim points to the need to regard an additional fragment of the aesthetic as a form of literary communication, thereby pushing us on to another fragment within Kierkegaard’s ambiguous aesthetic. Fragment Three: The Aesthetic as Literary Style The third fragment of Kierkegaard’s aesthetic focuses on how he conveys his ideas and therefore the literary methods used within his authorship. Here, Nussbaum’s contention regarding the inseparableness of form and content helps frame a reflection on Kierkegaard’s means of argumentation. As a ‘literary artist,’ he was deeply concerned with aesthetic style. Even his titles and subtitles playfully reflected his merging of style and content. For instance, subtitles reveal how Fear and Trembling is “A Dialectical Lyric,” Works of Love is “Some Christian Deliberations in the Form of Discourses,” The Sickness Unto Death is a “Christian Psychological Exposition,” and The Point of View for My Work as an Author is a “Direct Communication.” Likewise, a chapter from Philosophical Fragment is a “poetical venture” and Stages on Life’s Way has a section on guilt described as “an imaginary psychological construction.” All of this is to suggest that Kierkegaard cared deeply about how he communicated his ideas. Indeed, several interpreters, including Billeskov Jansen and Aage Henriksen take his literary style as foundational to understand the authorship. They argue that

Either/Or, vol. 2, p. 9.

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several of Kierkegaard’s texts should be read as novels.44 Likewise, Louis Mackey argues that Either/Or is a Bildungsroman like Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister.45 The wider historical frame for this braiding of literary style and content resides in the development of the aesthetic as a separate philosophical category beginning with Alexander Baumgarten’s use of the term in his Reflections on Poetry (1735). Though there is scant evidence that Kierkegaard was familiar with Baumgarten, it is clear from his personal library and scholarly activities that works influenced by Baumgarten, such as Gottheld Lessing’s Laocoön (1766) and J.G. Hamann’s Schriften, influenced him. Kierkegaard owned texts from Lessing and Hamann in his personal library, along with texts by Kant, Hegel, Schlegel, Novalis, and Schiller that also dealt with aesthetics. Especially important within the Danish context was Johan Ludvig Heiberg (1791–1860). As well as being a poet, philosopher and dramatist, Heiberg was a leading Danish Hegelian, particularly in relationship to the aesthetics of lyric, epic, and dramatic literature. Heiberg, as well as other Danish thinkers such as Henry Sibbern and Poul Møller, Kierkegaard’s professors at the University of Copenhagen, influenced Kierkegaard’s attentiveness to art and truth claims, at least in part. In 1833, with a short pamphlet entitled Om Philosophiens Betydning For Den Nuværended Tid [On the Significance of Philosophy for the Present Age], Heiberg responded to a perceived crisis in Danish culture in which religion and art were both being overwhelmed by philosophical relativism. In response, he called intellectuals and artists to respond through a Hegelian response that unified truth and beauty as the foundation for human activity. Though later a critic of Heiberg’s thought, “Kierkegaard seems in fact to have been something of a follower of Heiberg for a period. As a student, he read Heiberg and seems to have been anxious to win his approbation and to be accepted into the Heiberg circle of aesthetics and criticism.”46 See Billeskov Jensen, “The Literary Art of Kierkegaard,” in Howard Johnson and Niels Thulstrup (eds.), A Kierkegaard Critique (New York, 1962), pp. 11–21, and Aage Henriksen, Kierkegaards Romaner (Copenhagen, 1954). 45 See Louis Mackey, Kierkegaard: A Kind of Poet (Philadelphia, 1971). 46 Jon Stewart, Kierkegaard’s Relation to Hegel Reconsidered (New York, 2003), p. 57. For instance, In a journal entry from August 19, 1836, Kierkegaard wrote: “I now perceive also that when Heiberg transferred Hegelianism to esthetics and believed that he had found the triad: lyric-epic-lyric epic (dramatic), he was right; but [it is doubtful] that this can be carried through on a far greater scale: classical-romantic-absolute beauty, and in such a way that precisely the Heiberg-triad becomes meaningful, since the classical, as well as the romantic and absolute beauty, had its lyrical—its epic—its dramatic.” (JP, vol. 2, pp. 207–8/I A 225, August 19, 1836). 44

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Thus, Kierkegaard’s intellectual development begins with an appreciation of the power of art to communicate philosophical and theological truth. He was enamored with the power of art and aesthetic production in the mid1830s, indulging in “an aesthetic view of life before achieving clarity regarding the implications of that view.”47 Tracing the development of his authorship, his earliest writings were heavily focused on literary themes and styles, most notably his dissertation The Concept of Irony (1841) and his unfinished play “The Battle between the Soap-Sellers.” However, recognizing the ‘implications’ of art by the early 1840s, Kierkegaard’s view shifts from valuing art’s role in expressing truth to a deep suspicion over the role that art plays in human formation. His period of indirect communication, including Either/Or, Fear and Trembling, and Concluding Unscientific Postscript and running roughly from 1843–6, show a gradual movement towards religious themes, in particular Christian ones, even in these more aesthetic texts.48 These texts were also intentionally published in series with explicitly religious texts such as Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses. In short, he had a “two-handed” authorship. With his left hand, he was using pseudonyms, critiquing the philosophical and religious ethos of his age, while with his right, he was writing Christian upbuilding texts under his own name.49 During the period of direct communication from 1847–51, Christian themes dominate texts such as Works of Love, Practice in Christianity, The Sickness Unto Death, and For Self-Examination. It is during this period that he also writes The Point of View for My Work as an Author (1848) in which he claims responsibility for the authorship of the pseudonymous texts as well as asserts the religious aim of the authorship. Yet, though he moves towards specifically religious aims, Kierkegaard’s appreciation for the aesthetic and literary style remains an invigorating dimension of his authorship. Literary style, as in care and attention about how one communicates an idea to a reader, is vital to understand the purpose of his authorship as such, and thus his conception of the aesthetic. For example, within the texts themselves, Kierkegaard’s religious impulse leads to the use of a wide variety of what Climacus terms “imaginary constructions [Experimentet]” that ask the reader to imagine oneself within his argument.50 Among other elements, he also uses irony, humor, parables, satire, and story-telling, as well as other literary genres, to engage the reader in thinking about the form of one’s life. For Ziolkowski, The Literary Kierkegaard, p. 5. See the historical introduction to The Point of View, pp. xxiii—xxvii, for a visual picture of this idea that the signed and pseudonymous texts were composed in series. 49 See The Point of View, pp. 34-37, for this argument. 50 Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 114. 47 48

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example, even a quick perusal of a text such as de Silentio’s Fear and Trembling, what with “problematas” and narratives of Greek kings, mermen, and imagistic depictions of weaning children, suggests the importance of literary style to his authorship. Another key dimension to his literary style is his use of pseudonymity. There are two primary interpretive traditions regarding the pseudonyms. The first questions the relationship between Kierkegaard the historical person and the pseudonymous authors, while the second concerns the significance of a pseudonym in the interpretation of a work. In both instances, the interpretive focus is on the value of an aesthetic device as a method of communicating ontological truth. There are two major sources in which Kierkegaard makes a claim about his connection to the pseudonymous texts. The first is ‘A First and Last Explanation’ in Concluding Unscientific Postscript. The second is The Point of View for my Work as an Author. Although he also mentions his authorial intention in his journals as well as in On My Work as an Author, the above sources provide the clearest declarations for Kierkegaard about the nature and method of his authorship, especially The Point of View. His pseudonymous texts include: Either/Or I and II (A and Judge William, edited by Victor Eremita), Fear and Trembling ( Johannes de Silentio), Repetition (Constantine Constantius), The Concept of Anxiety (Vigilius Haufniensis), Prefaces (Nicholas Notabene), Stages on Life’s Way (William Afham, Judge William and Frater Taciturnus, edited by Hilarius Bookbinder), The Sickness Unto Death and Practice in Christianity (Anti-Climacus), Philosophical Fragments and Concluding Unscientific Postscript ( Johannes Climacus). In ‘A First and Last Explanation,’ Kierkegaard acknowledges that he used pseudonymity as a means of authorship. This declaration is within the final section of Concluding Unscientific Postscript, which he considered at the time to be the end of his authorship. The acknowledgment is combined with a list of the titles that Kierkegaard claims as his own work, including Either/Or, Fear and Trembling, Repetition, The Concept of Anxiety, Prefaces, Philosophical Fragments, Stages on Life’s Way and Concluding Unscientific Postscript. In so doing, Kierkegaard argues that the very nature of his audience and the content necessitated his use of the pseudonyms as it had “an essential basis in the production itself ” all shaped by a poetical need.51 In the process, Kierkegaard as the author is merely a “souffleur [prompter] who has poetically produced the authors, whose prefaces in turn are their productions, as their names are Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 625.

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also. Thus in the pseudonymous books there is not a single word by me.”52 He further acknowledges that he was the direct author of every word of the upbuilding discourses, yet claims both a closeness to and a distance from the pseudonymous works. Eric Ziolkowski, viewing the literary Kierkegaard, argues that Kierkegaard regarded the authorship as an autonomous order of meaning “existentially removed from him, their creator.”53 In this passage Kierkegaard approaches the issue of communicating a truth related to human existence through the idea that different readers approach a text differently. Unlike a figure like Schleiermacher, who argues that a transcendent basis for thought exists that allows a reader to understand the truth claims of a text, Kierkegaard is conscious of the reality that each reader has a particular consciousness and degree of subjectivity. 54 Such a particularity is related directly to the idea of Christian faith: like Abraham, each person stands before God and God alone as the ultimate ground for meaning. Through this standpoint, Kierkegaard uses pseudonymity, which he believes ‘indiscriminately’ employs issues of psychology, faith, and morality, as the means to engage the reader on one’s own terms. Thematically, the reader’s own self-awareness about how one lives their life is thus included within Kierkegaard’s argumentative intention. For example, he uses an indirect method of communicating ontological issues, particularly through the stages. Here, he represents a diversity of approaches about how a self should exist throughout the authorship; thus, no reader can avoid not reading oneself into the text at some point. Tactically, each reader should be able to relate to at least one of these types of existence, and thus be called to examine one’s own life. Thus, the method of indirect communication stresses that by having a “fake” author, there is no “real” author that distracts a reader from thinking about this ontological provocation. In short, the textual message itself is the authority, rather than the author. This is the genius behind Kierkegaard’s tactical use of aesthetic styles. Concluding Unscientific Postscript, pp. 625–6. Ziolkowski, The Literary Kierkegaard, p. 23. 54 In Schleiermacher’s Hermeneutics and Criticism, he develops “divination” as a transcendent basis for understanding the truth of a text. Each particular reader understands this truth because it shares a common, universal element with the author. “The divinatory method is the one in which one, so to speak, transforms oneself into the other person and tries to understand the individual element [of the author of a text] directly”(Friedrich Schleiermacher, Hermeneutics and Criticism, trans. and ed. Andrew Bowie (New York, 1998), pp. 92–93). See also “Schleiermacher’s Project of a Universal Hermeneutics” from Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method, trans. Joel Weinsheimer and Donald Marshall (New York, 1999), pp. 184–97. 52 53

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Second, Kierkegaard is specifically dealing with issues of existence and the truth of being, rather than beauty or philosophical thought. In his view, ontological elements can only be understood when redoubled. By redoubling (Fordoblelsen), Kierkegaard stresses the need for each individual person to take a norm or life-view of existence and live it, rather than merely understand or cognize it. To redouble is to embody an ideal; it is to unite the life view within one’s actions and relationships in the world. He writes, “I have no opinion about [the pseudonymous works] except as a reader, not the remotest private relation to them, since it is impossible to have that to a doubly reflected communication.”55 To communicate such a life-view is to recognize that an author might stand in the way of a reader’s redoubling, because the reader might focus on the author as a person, rather than focusing on the text itself. But Kierkegaard pushes himself away from the content as well. “A single word by me personally in my own name would be an arrogating self-forgetfulness that, regarded dialectically, would be guilty of having essentially annihilated the pseudonymous authors by this one word.”56 The key idea here is ‘selfforgetfulness,’ for it has an implicit double meaning. This double meaning is that both Kierkegaard the author as well as a particular reader must ‘self-forget’ and appropriate instead the ontological truth revealed in the writings. The first meaning is grounded in the need for Kierkegaard the author to forget and distance himself from his own self as he writes. Kierkegaard gives himself as an author the same status as the reader. Both must redouble the lifeview contained within the texts. Consequently, he must not lose himself in the process or craft of writing, for by so doing he will treat the content indifferently. Existence matters, and writing about existence can be dangerous for it can lead one to cease existing in the process. He is then both a forgetful author and a reader, and must find a dialectical balance between writing and living, both being involved with yet distant from his creations. Through such a dialectical self-forgetting, what matters is the content, and the author merely becomes a ‘mediator.’ In numerous journal entries, Kierkegaard views himself as a mediator, a third party that stands between a life-view and a reader. “Upon this consideration, it is not surprising that in his journal Kierkegaard wrote that concerning his activity as a writer in general, ‘a third person, the author, was constituted, which was the unity of myself and the

Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 626. Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 626.

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pseudonyms, and he spoke directly about that.’”57 The mediator does not stress his authority, as its weight rests in the message given. Such a move also gives depth to my claim about the tactical nature of his aesthetics. In his preface to Two Upbuilding Discourses (1843), his journals, and more fully in an essay entitled “The Difference between a Genius and an Apostle” from On Authority, Kierkegaard differentiates between apostolic authority—being called by God to disseminate Christian truth (like Paul)—and one who writes without authority, using merely human capacities to re-state a previously revealed truth. Kierkegaard is not the Apostle Paul, an authority for contemporary Christianity. Kierkegaard lacks this divine authority. Rather, the ideas that he mediates carry the burden of authority, for the ideas themselves were mediated previously through Paul and ultimately through God in Christ. He stands outside the text, needing to forget his role as an author in order to redouble the ideal contained in his writings within his own existence as well as call a reader to a similar task. Kierkegaard also stood outside of the power structure of institutions such as the Danish Lutheran Church and the University of Copenhagen. Though his critique of Christianity from 1854–5 seen in texts such as “The Moment” and “What Christ Judges of Official Christianity” directly attack the prevailing power structure of the Danish Lutheran Church, the vast majority of the authorship does not direct confront the power structures of these religious and intellectual institutions. Rather, he approaches these structures ‘without authority,’ from the margins rather than from within the center (though in a far different sense than contemporary ideas of the margins). Each reader, rather than an institution, must be awakened and upbuilt, provoked to a consciousness about the shape of one’s life, and the aesthetic is a tactic in this process. Though the transformation of each self will likely ripple out and change such institutions, his authorship yet centrally focuses on the individual as its targeted audience. Consequently, the second meaning involves tasking the reader with ‘forgetting’ oneself in the act of reading. The content of the reading is the truth of being, the highest possible type of selfhood. This truth is a Christian life-view and lies at the heart of these texts; this content is a matter of existential interest. It is not a view he defends, as he assumes that most of his readers share this Christian foundation. But like the author, a reader must become self-forgetful in the process of reading, moving beyond a particular conception of oneself, recognizing instead the need to exist in the world through the Christian life-view. Michael Strawser, Both/And: Reading Kierkegaard from Irony to Edification (New York, 1997), p. 92. The journal entry is X1 A 300. 57

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Ironically, in forgetting, one does not lose oneself in the realm of abstraction or fantasy; instead, one gains oneself by re-relating to a truth that calls one back to God’s original intention for creation: a right relation between God and creation. But as Kierkegaard both claims and distances himself from his work, the interpretive issue becomes how seriously to take his declaration. Is it an example of pure irony? This question is an important one, and remains true even of a seemingly more direct authorial statement within The Point of View. Unlike Concluding Unscientific Postscript, where he uses an indirect form of communication, The Point of View is an example of direct communication. He writes, “the content, then, of this little book is: what I in truth am as an author, that I am and was a religious author, that my whole authorship pertains to Christianity, to the issue: becoming a Christian, with direct and indirect polemical aim at that enormous illusion, Christendom, or the illusion that in such a country all are Christians of sorts.”58 Here he unveils his indirect, aesthetic method, and states the Christian intention behind his corpus. A number of scholars pursue Kierkegaard the person through the various pseudonyms based on this claim. Rather than giving attention to the parameters of the method or the content of the authorship, attention is placed on Kierkegaard the historical person as the author. When thinking about what Kierkegaard the historical person states when he makes claims about his authorship, this line of inquiry focuses on two issues: 1) whether there was any synchronic intent on the part of Kierkegaard, with the pseudonyms being tools to this end, or 2) if his various corpus must be understood diachronically, separate from any intent on the part of Kierkegaard. In this last fashion, his direct and indirect communication are examples of never-ending, playfully frustrating, meaningdefying irony. The stress of this inquiry is then about Kierkegaard the person, rather than an explication of the aesthetic or content of his authorship. For instance, Joakim Garff suggests that the ‘whole’ authorship cannot pertain to Christianity since works such as From the Papers of One Still Living, which is about Hans Christian Anderson, are not about existence or Christianity at all.59 Instead, Garff suggests that his authorship should be seen as being fictional. The Point of View, p. 23. Other thinkers who favor ironic reads of Kierkegaard, especially in relation to the pseudonymous works include: M. Holmes Hartshorne, Kierkegaard, Godly Deceiver: The Nature and Meaning of His Pseudonymous Writings (New York, 1990), who argues that Kierkegaard the person and the pseudonyms share no relation, and irony is then a key interpretive methodology; Henning Fenger, Kierkegaard, the Myths and Their Origins: Studies in the Kierkegaardian Papers and Letters, trans. George Schoolfield (New Haven, 1980), who interprets the religious intention skeptically. 58 59

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“The authoritative codification of ‘the totality of the authorship’ cannot, then, be realized in a unified fashion in propria persona, but must be dispersed into a series of fictive techniques … .”60 He argues that Kierkegaard left historical data, including the journals, as a way to make himself appear as a religious author and his work as religious work.61 And as a consequence, Kierkegaard the real person does not shine through the works. Rather, his aesthetic method is a form of masking and hiding, as opposed to unleashing direct statements of ontological truth. Thus any direct claims cannot be taken literally, but ironically, as in a continual deferral of meaning. Kierkegaard’s authorship is subversive within this account; it is a corpus that constantly veils meaning through irony. Such irony exemplifies the very difficulty of communicating directly, as a text’s ultimate truth and signification can never be fully articulated. Here, the pseudonymous authors have a life of their own, and to compare them to Kierkegaard the person is to eisegete a real person into the text. A reader, consequently, can never move beyond reading the works ironically; meaning is always fleeting and a text actually accomplishes engendering a meaning different from what is actually said. His works must then be read diachronically apart from Kierkegaard the person, and above all suspiciously. There can be no unified, whole authorial intention holding his works together. Contra Garff ’s suspicious hermeneutic is Sylvia Walsh, who sees a clear correlation between direct and indirect communication as the means for Kierkegaard to further an agenda.62 She argues that there is a unified theme Joakim Garff, “The Eyes of Argus,” in Jonathan Rée and Jane Chamberlain (eds.), Kierkegaard: A Critical Reader (Malden, 1998), p. 99. 61 An even more suspicious reading of the aesthetic is Adorno’s The Construction of the Aesthetic, trans. Robert Hullot-Kentor (Minneapolis, 1989). In his analysis, he uses Kierkegaard’s idea of the poetic—as in a form of communication—as a way to assert that Kierkegaard’s poetic is a mode of indirect communication: of using language to conceal, hint and reveal. But what it reveals is Kierkegaard’s depression and melancholy. Adorno writes, “thus, the interpretation of Kierkegaard’s pseudonymous writings must break down the superficially simulated poetic coherence into the polarities of his own speculative intention and a traitorous literalness” (The Construction of the Aesthetic, p. 12). Adorno sees the aesthetic in Kierkegaard as having three usages: as a theory of art, as a stage or sphere, and as a form of communication. 62 Thinkers within this pole, in which Kierkegaard’s claims about the authorship are taken more seriously as reflective of Kierkegaard the author, include: Louis Mackey, Kierkegaard: A Kind of Poet (Philadelphia, 1971), who works through the dialectic between assertion and irony within Kierkegaard’s indirect communication as the means to depict a variety of life-views and ideas of existence; Mark Taylor, Kierkegaard’s Pseudonymous Authorship: A Study of Time and the Self (Princeton, 1975), who argues for a non-ironic 60

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at work: to bring a reader closer to a religious existence. She does not stress a clear and simple connection between Kierkegaard the person and the various works, but because of this unified theme, reads his works synchronically and thus reflecting, to different degrees, Kierkegaard’s own personal commitments. “Kierkegaard’s own point of view may well concur, at least in part, with those of his pseudonymous authors. At least there is no reason to conclude that just because Kierkegaard does not claim the positions of the pseudonymous authors as his own he totally disagrees with them.”63 She does raise the caveat that a reader should not simply conflate the distinction between the author of a text and Kierkegaard, but stresses continuity over ironic distanciation. Walsh trusts The Point of View as an example of direct communication, but claims Kierkegaard uses it, along with the aesthetic device of irony, as a means to communicate indirectly about God. The main problem of Kierkegaard’s authorship for Walsh is the quality of the irony: is it total or existential? Using the idea of the existential ironist from Concluding Unscientific Postscript, she suggests that there is a difference between a total, abstract ironist (i.e. all truth claims are ironic) versus an existential ironist, who uses irony to mask his own inward views so as not to distract a reader from an attentiveness to the argument. “The problem with Kierkegaard’s authorship is not that it is ironically irreligious but rather, as Kierkegaard himself points out, that ‘it is too religious, or that the author’s existence is too religious,’ so that even in his direct communications he has felt his own weakness and inability to express his God-relation fully in a public or direct manner.”64 To speak of God is to be limited by human language; to present oneself as being able to clearly speak of divine things is a fallacy. Irony becomes necessary in order to speak of God and of the inward, religious life at all. The inner world and spiritual realms are both beyond expression through human words. To speak of the divine requires the use of indirect forms of communication. Consequently, aesthetic devices such as pseudonymity and irony are necessary for Kierkegaard’s project. Without the aesthetic, there is the very real possibility that Kierkegaard can say nothing at all about God or the Christian life. reading of the pseudonymous texts; George Pattison, Kierkegaard’s Upbuilding Discourses: Philosophy, Theology, Literature (New York, 2002), who asserts an essential unity to the whole of Kierkegaard’s writings, with the upbuilding discourses and the aesthetic works sharing the same end of Christian existence; and Strawser’s Both/And, who stresses that irony is a holistic hermeneutical principle, with such an irony being put to use to move a reader towards the higher existence of becoming a Christian. 63 Sylvia Walsh, Living Poetically (University Park, 1994), p. 11. 64 Walsh, Living Poetically, p. 14.

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Such direct statements form a comparison between Kierkegaard the author with the pseudonymous authors. Taken synchronically, Kierkegaard’s works reflect the chronological and progressive unfolding of his thought, with the pseudonymous as well as the direct authorship being consistent within the progression. This unfolding has becoming religious as the central priority throughout. In short, Kierkegaard is a religious writer, and he used various aesthetic devices, including irony, pseudonymity, poetry and the like as his method. Though Kierkegaard the person is not easily placed into these aesthetic texts, he is not absent either. Nonetheless, his focus recognizes the importance of the aesthetic as a means of communication. Without aesthetic means, Kierkegaard would have been silent. Though with starkly differing conclusions, what is shared between Garff and Walsh is the importance of literary form to understand the content. Thus, the deeper question behind these various interpretations resides with how to interpret the pseudonymous texts relative to their pseudonymous author. Broadly, there are two paradigms through which to think about this Kierkegaardian authorial hiddenness. The first paradigm sees a great deal of value to read the pseudonym as the author (i.e. Johannes Climacus) and not Kierkegaard as the author. The second paradigm sees little to gain from such a method, and instead stresses the synchronic view of seeing the whole of Kierkegaard’s larger corpus. C. Stephen Evans provides an example of the first method. He takes the pseudonymous author seriously as the author, rather than ignoring or viewing it as a mask pointing to Kierkegaard. Consequently, he suggests that a reader must bracket any questions about Kierkegaard’s intentionality. This focus comes out as he discusses Climacus’ Philosophical Fragments, which was most likely originally penned by Kierkegaard himself, with the text changed to a pseudonymous author later (along with an explanatory preface). In Passionate Reason, Evans argues that the act of ascribing the book to a pseudonymous author alters how later readers would read the book. Therefore, the pseudonymous author, as deeply connected to the text itself, is the text’s true author; indeed, “taking the pseudonym seriously as a genuine persona leaves open the possibility that the transition to a pseudonym was the result of a discovery on Kierkegaard’s part about the character of the book.”65 In focusing on the specific text, very little is at stake in terms of missing something essential about the author; nothing can be gleaned about the author because the author does not exist. Consequently, the “true” author remains hidden; any question about the nature of the author is constantly deferred. There is no Kierkegaard C. Stephen Evans, Passionate Reason (Bloomington, 1992), p. 7.

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the historical person wearing a mask, but rather a hidden author, with his own insights and intentions as Johannes Climacus, the author. The hope, in Evans’ understanding, is that the stress on the ever hidden author will help a reader focus on the worth of the argument on its own merits, independent of any authorial authority. Yet one problem with this view is that by bracketing Kierkegaard, Evans implicitly makes the authorship an issue, one that ultimately matters to how one reads a text. By “altering” how a text is received, Kierkegaard’s pseudonymous authors actually take on a great deal of import, as they become part of the prism through which one understands a text. If pseudonymity is a device designed to remove the authorial intent, it largely fails, as even Evans spends a good deal of effort trying to bracket the authorial issue, suggesting the impossibility of merely reading the content independently of Kierkegaard the person. On the other extreme is Jon Stewart. His premise is that Kierkegaard’s pseudonymity should only be taken as seriously as Kierkegaard himself took it. His work, Kierkegaard’s Relations to Hegel Reconsidered, challenges long held assumptions about the relationship between Hegel and Kierkegaard, most notably from Niels Thulstrup’s Kierkegaard’s Relation to Hegel. Stewart argues that Kierkegaard understood pseudonymity as a commonly used aesthetic convention, and not as a subversion of meaning or irony. This argument relies on four basic premises. One, there was little variation between the various pseudonyms in their critique of Hegelian themes. The same themes and approaches were consistent throughout. Second, a guiding principle of scholars who value the pseudonymous authorship is that Kierkegaard meticulously planned these forms of authorship. But as Stewart points out, this “planning” was more often than not capricious, which left a number of glaring discrepancies within certain texts. For instance, in The Concept of Anxiety, Kierkegaard at the last minute changed the authorship to Vigilius Haufniensis. Yet, there are then footnotes in the text with clear references to events in Kierkegaard’s life that were not removed. Third, philological research on the part of Kierkegaard scholars have pointed out that there is no correlation between types of authorship and how material was used in the texts, whether a work was signed or pseudonymous. In other words, Kierkegaard was not meticulous about how and where he used various materials. He did not delimit the types of themes and stylistic flourishes for each author, like a novelist writing different voicing for different characters. It was indiscriminate. Finally, Stewart points out that pseudonyms and antonyms were quite common in Denmark during Kierkegaard’s era. Copenhagen was not a large

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city and everyone knew everyone, especially within intellectual circles. As a consequence, to read a complex hermeneutical function into pseudonymity would be a mistake, in Stewart’s mind. “For all of these reasons, I have not placed much weight on the issue of the different pseudonyms for the purposes of the present study, although I do recognize that this runs somewhat contrary to Kierkegaard’s own emphasis on them.”66 In short, he does not assert the need to take seriously the issue of pseudonymity and the irony behind such names as Vigilius Haufniensis, which means “the watchman of Copenhagen.” It is Kierkegaard the playful polemicist who is behind all the works. More to the point, returning to the idea of aesthetic fragments, pseudonymity is a key piece of Kierkegaard’s aesthetic. It is an aesthetic device used by Kierkegaard to communicate his ideas. Then the question becomes why such a device is needed. As is clear from this section, the aesthetic as a method is encased within an ironic coating; different thinkers argue how thickly the religious core is embedded in such a coating. But in the process, thinkers such as Graff, Evans, Stewart, and Walsh engage Kierkegaard the aesthetic writer, the literary Loki. They present a valuation of his aesthetic method as an important part of Kierkegaard’s authorship, thereby suggesting that work must be done to clarify the necessity and intention behind the use of such a means of communication. This focus on the aesthetic as method slogs through a variety of pitfalls. Though less true of Walsh and Stewart, focusing on the attempt to bracket Kierkegaard actually heightens a reader’s awareness of the pseudonyms, thereby distracting one from the content of the writing. In reality, Garff and Evans end up emphasizing Kierkegaard the person, rather than the content of his argument. This view also sidetracks an appreciation for the value of the aesthetic within the life of Christian becoming, whether as a stage or theory of art; if Kierkegaard thought it necessary to use aesthetic means, then there must be some aesthetic, sensual, immediate necessity behind this usage. As such, like Walsh, I trust the direct communication within The Point of View as well as in Concluding Unscientific Postscript. Kierkegaard’s literary playfulness intentionally develops an account of the Christian life in such a way that it erupts out of the page into the mind and life of the reader. In order to both critique a tradition from within as well as move the focus away from the authorial intentionality or the historicity of the author, his works use aesthetic devices as a means to create hermeneutical space for the reader to become self-reflective about the shape of one’s own life. The author is not the point; instead, it is the reader. The reader cannot escape reflectively historicizing this question within her own Stewart, Kierkegaard’s Relation to Hegel Reconsidered, p. 50.

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being and existence: How do I act and exist? Am I a Christian? His style demands of a reader an attendant self-awareness of one’s own self-identity. Thus, as an aesthetic tactic, Kierkegaard’s use of the aesthetic method to communicate existential truth matters, but decisively as a means to the end of upbuilding a reader to the Christian life. Like Nussbaum’s conception of style, the form of authorship and the content are mutually correlational and interdependent. Pseudonymity is an act in hiddenness: of a veil that delimits and mystifies a reader, forcing one back upon one’s own assumptive world. It then is a tactic of self-reflection and provocation. And if Kierkegaard values aesthetic style as a means to communicate a religious end, independent of the aesthetic stage, this fragment offers a richly literary conception of his aesthetic. As a fragment, it deepens an appreciation for the variety of literary styles he used within the authorship. From the tactical perspective, it showcases that his aesthetic target for the vast majority of the authorship was the individual reader, rather than cultural institutions such as the Danish Lutheran Church.67 But it also raises questions about the need for such aesthetic richness. In this question, it moves this chapter towards the fragment focused on aesthetics as a productive endeavor. Fragment Four: The Aesthetic and Poetic Self-Production In his journals, Kierkegaard describes himself as a “poet,” a grounding selfunderstanding regarding his authorial sensibility.68 Yet as the authorship developed, this poetic self-conception was oriented towards religious aims. Writing in The Point of View, he notes how his authorship, even the aesthetic portions, were “taken into custody by the religious; the religious put up with this emptying out of the poetic.”69 And in this connection between the poetic and religion, the aesthetic as a fragment begins to narrow around the central axis for Texts collected in The Moment, including “Concerning a Fatuous Pompousness in Regard to Me and the Conception of Christianity to Which I am Calling Attention,” clearly have the Danish Lutheran Church as a target. However, these texts are late relative to the expanse of the authorship as a whole. Likewise, they further strive to push the church to acknowledge the importance of individual faith commitments, rather than mere Danish citizenship, as the basis for the life of faith. See: Søren Kierkegaard, The Moment and Late Writings, trans. Howard and Edna Hong (Princeton, 1998). 68 For instance, see JP, vol. 6, p. 400/X6 B173, n.d., 1851. See the first chapter of Ziolkowski, The Literary Kierkegaard, for a summation of Kierkegaard’s sense of himself as poet, esp. pp. 19–26. 69 The Point of View, pp. 84–86. 67

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his thought: selfhood as an aesthetic, poetic production. This poetic notion of selfhood is the fourth fragment of his aesthetic. As a tactic, it calls readers to see the formation of one’s being in existence as a poetic, aesthetic act. For instance, Joel Rasmussen’s Between Irony and Witness makes such an argument, connecting God as poet with human self-production. He argues that Kierkegaard was a “religious poet” who distinguished himself from secular poets through the thematic aims of his literary productions. Using a Ricouerian form of inter-textual reading, he looks at the authorship as a chronological whole to trace the development of Kierkegaard’s poetics. In this view, while a secular poet seeks to produce beautiful art, a religious poet seeks to bring a reader to an awareness of God as the poet who in Christ creates the world anew. Religious poetry, and thus Kierkegaard’s own work, provides an “authentic Christian “Witness” in the world according to the “Word” of the divine poet embodied in Christ.”70 The foundational text for this view, however, is Sylvia Walsh’s Living Poetically: Kierkegaard’s Existential Aesthetics. Differing from Rasmussen in that it centrally focuses on Kierkegaard’s conception of the aesthetic, she argues for an ‘existential aesthetic’ within his thought. Here, the poetic is essential to the ethical and religious life, best “exemplified in a Christian mode of ‘living poetically,’ which in his view is a possibility and a requirement for everyone, not just the poet or creative artist.”71 Central to this poetic life is the demand that a self use its imagination to represent or redouble an existential ideal in its life. The poet presents an ideal image of human existence that a self is then to imitate, with the true existential image being Christ. Fundamentally, Walsh develops Kierkegaard’s idea that there is a poetic element to human nature. The poetic refers to a broadly defined category that contains all possible forms of artistic and creative expression. To explicate this idea, she notes how in Danish, there are two words for poetry, poesi and digtning. Poesi literally means the act of writing a poem, whereas digtning refers to the creative or compositional act in general. Kierkegaard used digtning and the poetic (det digterisk) existentially, connecting the poetic to the human capacity to relate imaginatively to existence through images of ideals. Doing so is to poeticize oneself into a type of existence as one desires to become the image in their existence. At its highest, to live poetically is to relate to the Christian God as the one ideal, self-possibility. Joel Rasmussen, Between Irony and Witness: Kierkegaard’s Poetics of Faith, Hope, and Love (New York, 2005), p. 13. 71 Walsh, Living Poetically, p. 2. 70

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Drawing out the aesthetic elements that she argues are inherent within the ethical and religious content of Kierkegaard’s work, she claims that these terms have a sensuous as well as a spiritual connotation for Kierkegaard. Initially, Kierkegaard uses ‘the aesthetic’ in regard to the stage of human existence in which each human begins existence and relates to the world through the satisfaction of natural inclinations and capacities. Satisfaction of such inclinations includes the enjoyment of aesthetic creation and reception. But the term also relates to sensuality as well, and in this meaning, she develops a connection between the “aesthetic” and the “poetic.” Though similar, there is a slight distinction: “in itself, the aesthetic refers to those elements that are constitutive of the immediate, sensate life, whereas the poetic connotes sensate representation of an idea or ideal in works of art and in human life.”72 Both then are sensate categories, but the poetic uses the sensual, immediate aesthetic as the means to represent ideas and concepts. As it relates to existence, to poeticize means taking one’s sensual and immediate (and thus aesthetic) elements and ‘produce’ oneself into a particular idea. Consequently, Kierkegaard’s aesthetic is then an existential aesthetic. In such an aesthetic, the poetic is both the means to convey how to exist—through poetic, sensual means—but also the demand that one produce (i.e. poeticize) oneself into a Christian existence. Walsh argues that Kierkegaard uses aesthetic categories such as irony, humor, comedy, and tragedy to enable a self to recognize the lack of wholeness within one’s being. The idea of Christian upbuilding is an infinite striving for a wholeness dependent on the Christian God. It is to strive for God, and to exist imitating Christ. This type of striving for wholeness is different than that described by Kierkegaard’s contemporaries such as Goethe, Winckelmann, and Schiller, who describe wholeness in finite terms such as human freedom and love. This idea of wholeness points to the importance of human aesthetic capacities within the poeticization of existence. The foremost of these creative—and thus aesthetic—elements is the self ’s imagination, through its ability to think about an ideal to imitate. True selfhood is the greatest possible artistic production. Therefore, this aesthetic stresses subjective interest over disinterested objectivity, which runs counter to Kant’s idea of the aesthetic. It further stresses the need to find ways to express existential truth. With this conception of the aesthetic, Walsh argues that Kierkegaard is specifically criticizing the German Romantic tradition, rather than art in general. In Romanticism, imagination has the freedom to experiment with the infinite possibilities of human existence. For Kierkegaard, such endless freedom Walsh, Living Poetically, p. 20.

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is destructive to personhood, and it negates the demands of existing as an actual individual in relation to others in existence. Instead, to live poetically is to develop as a self through Christian truth, rather than to engage in self-creation through endless free possibility. Working exegetically, Walsh systematically examines Kierkegaard’s entire corpus. She traces the development of the poetic as a form of an existential aesthetic through three phases. The first includes: From the Papers of One Still Living (1838), The Concept of Irony (1841), Either/Or (1843), Repetition (1843), Fear and Trembling (1843), Philosophical Fragments (1844), and The Concept of Anxiety (1844). Within this phase, there is a generally positive conception of the poetic. For instance, in the The Concept of Irony, “the truly poetic is identified with the religious, aesthetically defined as a form of self-enjoyment in one’s inner infinity, and the notion of ‘living poetically’ in a Christian manner is sketched in contrast to a romantic mode of living poetically.”73 This romantic mode is a clear attack upon the German Romantic tradition as expressing human selfhood as endless possibility, dreaminess, and indeterminacy. There is also the usage of aesthetic images, such as the poet in Repetition, faith as a work of art within Fear and Trembling, and the personal commitment to marriage in Either/Or II as the highest ethical image. This phase affirms the value of images within human existence as expressing the importance of beauty in human existence, especially in relation to the aesthetic capacity of the imagination. Within the second phase, Kierkegaard is much more critical of the aesthetic, especially the creative imagination. Worried about the imagination’s ability to infinitely image possibility, in the works between 1845 and 1848, including Stages on Life’s Way (1845), Concluding Unscientific Postscript (1846), Works of Love (1847), and The Point of View for My Work as an Author (1848), Kierkegaard describes the need to recognize the dangers and limitations of the aesthetic. In Stages, for example, he links the poetic with undialectical immediacy and exteriority, as it is lacks the necessary connection to reflection and interiority. Poetry presents ideas to the imagination that transfigure actuality as it hides suffering without truthfully representing it (i.e. suffering never ends). Further, it has no use for repentance, which is necessary for self-development in relation to God. In the third and final phase, running from 1849–52, Walsh views Kierkegaard as returning to an understanding of the value of the aesthetic, especially the creative imagination in becoming a Christian. Works in this period include The Sickness Unto Death (1849), Armed Neutrality (1849), Practice in Christianity Walsh, Living Poetically, p. 16.

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(1850), For Self-Examination (1851), and Judge For Yourself (1851–52) as well as his journals. Having worked through a critique of certain types of aesthetics, Kierkegaard in this period makes use of aesthetics as a method of communication, specifically religious communication. Here, Kierkegaard consciously portrays himself as a Christian poet both in his journals and in his published works. “In line with his general understanding of poetry as a medium for expressing ideality, Kierkegaard understands his task as a poet in the later writings to be that of bringing the religious ideals once again in view for his time.”74 But he is a poet of the negative. Within his journals, there is the idea of the dialectic of inversion (Omvendthedens Dialektik). This idea suggests that to convey religious, subjective and inwardly-based elements of existence, the religious poet must use the negative as an essential and necessary method, as opposed to the positive and immediate method that characterizes worldly understanding. For example, to convey Christ as the prototype of human existence (ex. The Sickness unto Death) requires presenting Christ inversely. This model negates worldly conceptions of power (i.e. wealth, honor, strength) through Christian conceptions of the good life (poverty, lowliness, weakness) as a way to force the reader to reduplicate this model in one’s own existence. The aesthetic imagination is at the center of this reduplication. It allows a self to move from ideal to action, to bring possibility—held by the imagination— into actuality. Walsh claims that the imagination and possibility, as aesthetic categories, are crucial to moving Christian ideals inward, thereby working against the ideas of the temporal, sinful world. As such, the aesthetic, expressed in terms of the poetic, is not a mere imaginative construct, but is dialectical, moving any conception of possible ideas of existence inherent in a self into actuality, thereby bringing a self towards a Christian existence. In summary, Walsh’s existential aesthetic rests upon the argument that Kierkegaard affirms the importance of the aesthetic. The aesthetic, when connected to a poetic image of existence, provides existential ideas that move the imagination towards actualization. She rightly distinguishes between the aesthetic stage and a more broadly defined idea of the aesthetic and poetics. Both are important means to understand Kierkegaard’s idea of the aesthetic. Further, her detailed and expansive treatment of the whole of his corpus shows a masterful ability to regard his work in its synchronic entirety, rather than diachronically. In the process, she traces the development of the aesthetic and his use of aesthetic methods as a means to both directly and indirectly address the issue of how one exists. Walsh, Living Poetically, p. 225.

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Yet, there are a number of issues that hold her perspective from developing the aesthetic more fully. For example, she only uses the journals within the final phase, though they were kept for nearly thirty years. This use of the journals in a monolithic and unified manner marginalizes a major portion of her argument in relation to the journals: that there were distinct phases to his development, reflected in both his journals and his written works. Secondly, she does not acknowledge how Kierkegaard’s poetics can be used to critique artistic work. Consequently, she does not adequately address his negative critique of genres of sensuous art such as music or visual art, especially in Practice in Christianity and Either/Or I. Finally, in detailing Kierkegaard’s aesthetic in relation to human imagination, she does not fully connect the aesthetic to another human dimension: passion. Passion is a vital dimension of the aesthetic stage and the critique of art within Practice in Christianity. Faith, for Climacus, even is a “happy passion,” one that depends on a passionate, inward appropriation of Christian truth. Passion remains a key dimension to human upbuilding throughout his authorship, one that needs to be developed more fully as one capacity within human formation. That said, this fragment then offers an idea of the aesthetic as a tactic that asks a person to strive to produce oneself as a particular type of self, a Christian subject. This view is valuable, as it shifts the focus away from the aesthetic as a central concern and places it upon his consistent and primary concern over the nature of selfhood. However, this fragment only hints at robustly addressing the fragmentary and complex nature of the aesthetic as a concept. It fails also to account for why Kierkegaard also thought it was necessary to utilize such a diversity of understandings of the aesthetic. Yes, it is related to selfhood, but in particular, as I will argue, it is related to Kierkegaard’s idea that human selfhood relates to becoming as an imaginative, willful, and passionate way of living. Aesthetic Fragments These four fragments all offer important images of Kierkegaard’s aesthetic, both within his thought but also in later interpretations. Dunning and Eagleton argue that the aesthetic stage, a life driven by immediacy, is the lowest form of existence for Kierkegaard; but they do not relate the stage to a definition of the aesthetic as including art. Pattison and Brown suggest that art has no place within the Christian life because of the suffering that beauty denies. Yet this suggestion ignores claims within Kierkegaard’s authorship itself of preserving the aesthetic within one’s ordinary life. Further, the focus upon Kierkegaard’s use

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of literary devices, as interpreted by thinkers such as Garff, Evans, and Stewart, suggests that Kierkegaard himself valued aesthetic means to communicate his ideas. Finally, Walsh, in Living Poetically, provides a valuable argument regarding the complexity of the aesthetic within Kierkegaard’s thought. But she does not fully articulate how and why these aesthetic fragments relate to each other, especially through a thick description of how Kierkegaard’s concept of selfhood necessitates a variety of aesthetic means as a method to upbuild his readers. As such, in order to best interpret the aesthetic, what is needed is not a unified, systematic development of the aesthetic, but rather to see these fragments as each playing an important dimension in a greater task: to upbuild the becoming self towards a Christian existence. These fragments are all part of a rich, tactical method that seeks to provoke, awaken and enliven each reader. But to do so, Kierkegaard develops a conception of the self built upon the importance of the imagination, will, and passion as means to enact human becoming. In short, to examine the aesthetic as fragments requires making sense of his conception of selfhood, particularly through a theological anthropology that recognizes the importance of aesthetics within self-formation.

Chapter 2

Becoming Christian

But this I do believe (and I am willing to listen to any objection, but I will not believe it), that at every person’s birth there comes into existence an eternal purpose for that person, for that person in particular. Faithfulness to oneself with respect to this is the highest thing a person can do, and as that most profound poet has said, “worse than self-love is self-contempt.”1 Kierkegaard, Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits

The life of love is indeed recognizable by its fruits, which make it manifest, but the life itself is still more than the single fruit and more than all fruits together that you could count at any moment. Therefore the last, the most blessed, the unconditionally convincing mark of love remains—love itself, the love that becomes known and recognized by the love in another. Like is known only by like; only someone who abides in love can know love, and in the same way his love is known.2 Kierkegaard, Works of Love

Every human being has a strong natural desire and drive to become something else and more. 3 Climacus, Concluding Unscientific Postscript

If Kierkegaard’s aesthetics is fragmentary and tactical, then the interpretive issue becomes discerning a consistent theme throughout his authorship that affirms and clarifies such aesthetic complexity rather than negates it. Here the Søren Kierkegaard, Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits, trans. Howard and Edna Hong (Princeton, 1993), p. 93. The ‘profound poet’ is William Shakespeare, with the quote from King Henry the Fifth, Act 11. Sc. 4. 2 Works of Love, p. 16. 3 Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 130. 1

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aim is not to unify the aesthetic, thereby reducing its complexity, but rather to deconstruct the foundational assumptions underneath his development and use of these aesthetic fragments. Thus, this chapter argues that it is Kierkegaard’s idea of selfhood, and in particular, becoming a Christian self, that serves as the foundational concept underneath and within his aesthetic. Becoming is an imaginative, passionate, and willful existence, one rooted in God’s graceful actions in Christ. And through the centrality of becoming, his fragmentary aesthetic tactically serves to call an individual reader, ever a unique person, towards the particular yet universal life of Christian becoming. Becoming is then the key category to understand the nature of selfhood within Kierkegaard’s thought. Influenced in part by an Aristotelian concept of movement, his anthropology stresses that we are born only somewhat of a subject, not yet truly a responsible and whole being. Such an existence is structured dialectically in that the structure of each person contains two opposing poles (e.g. freedom/necessity, knowing/doing, actuality/possibility, spiritual/material) that must both be integrated within one’s relation to the world. At its most simplistic, this integration is a relational art, one that demands that each person consciously imagine an existential or ontological possibility, as in an idea of being human, will it, and passionately strive to embody it within one’s existence. External actions as well as an inner character, as in thought, will, and loves, then matter for one’s formation. Ultimately, there is only one true existential or ontological possibility: Christian subjectivity through the imitation of Christ. This possibility must become actualized in one’s particular existence. Such actualization allows a self to rightly become a subject, as it unites Christian content (i.e. Christ as gracegiving idea) and one’s living form (i.e. the particular self ) as an aesthetic, cocreative way of being in the world. As such, becoming is intricately related to his idea of upbuilding (Opbyggelige). Such a way of being is a lifelong process, as upbuilding occurs within a living, embodied person; one is always in process, always becoming a Christian. Further, such a choice is dependent upon God’s actions, both through Christ and within each individual’s development. Though created in the image of God and having an eternal purpose, because of sin (largely experienced as anxiety, despair, and epistemological limitedness), humans need God to reveal the truth of selfhood, as both a diagnosis of our sinful nature and a cure through Christ. Further, God gracefully supports a person in one’s striving to become a Christian. Becoming is always a co-production as such, and without God, any attempt at selfhood is misguided (towards the wrong goal) and hopeless (as forming oneself is an infinite endeavor).

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To begin to defend these claims, this chapter will develop two primary contentions. First, Kierkegaard’s conception of human becoming is the primary perspective through which to understand his conception of selfhood. As an act of theological anthropology, Kierkegaard stresses the absolute necessity of God’s action in enabling the possibility of selfhood; yet, knowing ontological truth is not all that matters, but also how one actualizes or enacts this idea within the form of one’s own life as a worldly being. In particular, it is one’s imagination, will, and love that enable a self to properly relate Christian truth through an embodied actualization of this truth in the world. Secondly, becoming means existing dialectically. Here, dialectical equates with both the tensive structure amidst which humans exist, one that includes opposing poles such as freedom and necessity, but also with a form of relating grounded in passion, rather than rational certainty. Dialectic relating is about faith in God, one that stresses passionate trust as a means to form the relational self. Existing within this structure rightly equates with upbuilding oneself towards one’s end or ‘eternal purpose.’ This form of life is to lovingly relate to oneself, others, and God throughout the various contexts of life. It is centered on mimesis, for it is by never-endingly striving to imitate Christ’s life that true becoming is possible. Possibility, Becoming, and Subjectivity Development, motion, and movement frame Kierkegaard’s view of selfhood. Each person has an essential task of becoming a self, with such self-formation requiring a movement towards actualizing or concretizing a particular ontological possibility (Mulighed) as the form of one’s selfhood. Though Platonic thought, notably Socrates’ call to live an examined life matters as well, behind the formal structure of selfhood lies a fundamentally Aristotelian concept of movement and potentiality. Humans are born with a material form, but one that is not yet fully formed. Becoming then requires formative actions, including desires, choices, and thoughts that lead a self towards embodying an ontological idea as one’s being. Kierkegaard takes from Aristotle’s thought the natural categories, especially the idea of potentiality (on dunamei) and actuality (on energeia). He owned Elementa Logices Aristotelicae, and noted Friedrich Adolf Trendelenburg’s role (1802–72) in helping him understand Aristotle.4 Having translated Aristotle’s A good example of Kierkegaard’s attitude towards Trendelenburg, Aristotle, and Hegel includes this journal entry: “It is a very strange experience for me to read the third 4

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Organon into Latin as well as authoring a German supplement, Trendelenburg read Aristotle in part to counter the influence of the Hegelian Aufhebung, which he viewed as a movement of thought rather than one within concrete existence. Picking up this focus, Kierkegaard develops the existential and ontological importance of these categories in that they expressly relate to human formation. “In his Physics Aristotle had conceived of movement in general as a transition from possibility to actuality. Kierkegaard appropriated this notion, related it to Aristotle’s conception of qualitative change or alloiõsis, and gave it a purely anthropomorphic meaning.”5 In the process, possibility and actuality become essential dimensions to human experience, particularly as the structure behind the ontological development of a self. As a category of human existence, possibility relates to ideas about human nature, existence, and worldly action that each person holds. It involves an idea, image, or thought about what it means to be a human; for instance, cultural structures such as educational, political, religious, and economic institutions offer various ideas about selfhood. Thus, there are a variety of different possibilities of selfhood that compete with each other for the attention of each person. As such, Kierkegaardian possibility is about ontological possibility. Though this term is laden with a long interpretive tradition, fundamentally, ontology asks, as Heidegger wrote for instance, about what it means to be a human self.6 And chapter of the third book of Aristotle’s De Anima. A year and a half ago I began a little essay De omnibus dubitandum, in which I made my first attempt at a little speculative development. The motivating concept I used was: error. Aristotle does the same. At that time I had not read a bit of Aristotle but a good share of Plato. The Greeks still remain my consolation. The confounded mendacity which entered into philosophy with Hegel, the endless insinuating and betraying, and the parading and spinning out of one or another single passage in Greek philosophy. Praised be Trendelenburg—one of the most sober philosophical philologists I know” (JP, vol. 3, p. 514/V A 98, n.d., 1844). 5 George Stack, Kierkegaard’s Existential Ethics (University, 1977), p. 47. 6 In particular, Heidegger writes: “Do we in our time have an answer to the question of what we really mean by the word ‘being’? Not at all. So it is fitting that we should raise anew the question of the meaning of Being” (Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, trans. John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson (New York 1962), p. 19). Heidegger scholars note the Kierkegaardian dimension to his thought: “It is no exaggeration to say that Heidegger’s attempt to formulate a ‘hermeneutics of facticity,’ or what came to be called in Being and Time an ‘existential analytic,’ which would mark out the distinctive traits of ‘factical life’-of Dasein--was inspired by Luther’s critique of medieval metaphysical theology and Kierkegaard’s critique of Hegelian speculative Christianity”( John D. Caputo, “Heidegger and Theology” in Charles Guignon (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Heidegger (New York, 1993), p. 273.

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it is this basic notion—about being and selfhood—that reflects a primary theme within Kierkegaard’s thought. Ontological possibility is a key feature of human becoming, one rooted within the imagination. In The Sickness Unto Death, Anti-Climacus connects human thinking with an imaginative act of thinking about a type of self to become. “The self is reflection, and the imagination is reflection, is the rendition of the self as the self ’s possibility.”7 Imaginative reflection about the various possibilities of what one can be is an absolutely necessary component of human existence. Without possibility, one lacks an idea about what to strive to become as well as the ability to care about the actuality of one’s being amidst worldly relationships. Alongside of possibility is the reality that humans exist in time, and are therefore in constant motion. “Inasmuch as existence is motion, it holds true that there is indeed a continuity that holds the motion together, because otherwise there is no motion.”8 This ‘continuity’ is the becoming self, which can translate ideas about existing into actual actions in the world. The self in its becoming is made up of such a translation, taking merely mental thoughts (such as the idea of loving someone) and enacting it in the world by actualizing love in a relationship with an actual person; such a translation is the movement from possibility to actuality. Movement thereby requires an embodied, living person at the center of such a movement. It also suggests the importance of temporal moments, as finitude and worldly time are existence categories that make motion possible. The highest ontological possibility for this becoming self is to become a Christian self; here, one becomes a subject. Seen in the pseudonymous works as Religiousness B within the stages, this form of being determines its ontological form through, in, and by relating to the Christian God, a God revealed through scripture alone. Christian truth, unlike philosophical truth, “makes [a believer] free; that he grasps the guilt of untruth, and then again bold confidence triumphs in the truth.”9 Truth makes one free because it changes one’s being Søren Kierkegaard, The Sickness Unto Death, trans. Howard and Edna Hong (Princeton, 1980), p. 31. Kierkegaard uses Phantasie as the means to express this “fantastic” capacity to move beyond space and time. 8 Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 312. 9 Philosophical Fragments, p. 31. Such a freedom also expresses a central theological theme within the Lutheran tradition, developed by Luther in The Freedom of a Christian. It is only through faith in God’s actions that one is made free from anxiety or worry about being right with God, thereby allowing one to freely love God and the neighbor. This claim arises out of Luther’s reading of Paul, including passages such as “for by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not the result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8–9 NRSV). 7

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as it transforms the self-consciousness about what one is called to be. Unlike an idea of truth as something merely cognized (e.g. philosophical truth), truth in this case demands enacting the truth in the world through word and deed. Consequently, Christian truth is about the truth of being, rather than merely a set of doctrinal propositions; it is ontological. It is about existing as God intended a human being to exist, as in the ‘eternal purpose’ that Kierkegaard describes in Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits (1847) that is one’s essential nature. It is to be a true being. The demands of selfhood require that a person relate to the world by emboding Christian truth. This moment-by-moment focus moves a self towards being a subject in one’s becoming. But there is one definitive moment upon which human movement must be based upon: the moment when the infinite became finite in Christ. In Philosophical Fragments, Christ is the eternal teacher of existential truth that breaks into time. Because of sin, God is moved by love to send Christ. As beyond sin, this foundational moment “must be from eternity, even though, fulfilled in time, it expressly becomes the moment, for where the occasion and what is occasioned correspond equally.”10 God loves humanity so much that God lovingly gives (as the occasion) finite humanity eternity-in-time (the occasioned). In this occasion, humanity receives the truth of existence. And as the true ontological possibility, it fundamentally transforms the self. Becoming conscious of God’s action, a self is made free to strive to become this form of being; prior to such consciousness, no such possibility is possible. Rather than the Hegelian dialectic in which cognition causes any dialectical progression, Kierkegaard develops movement as driven not by ideas alone but also by human passion. He views Hegel’s dialectic as starting not with a living, embodied person, but an empty idea, meaning that Hegel’s “first stage (the immediate) as pure abstraction is actually nothing.”11 Instead, Kierkegaard argues that becoming is related to a natural desire to be a true self. Climacus writes in Concluding Unscientific Postscript, that “every human being has a strong natural desire and drive to become something else and more.”12 Rather than merely cognition, fundamentally, desire causes the movement that is human becoming. Because becoming is connected to desire, at the core of Kierkegaardian selfhood is the demand to passionately desire to be like Christ. Selfhood is the mimetic act of imitatio Christi. To imitate is to redouble [Fordoblelse]: one’s duty is to become Christ’s double. This view is about selfhood because it is about Philosophical Fragments/Johannes Climacus, p. 25. JP, vol. 4, p. 279/I C 126, January, 27, 1837. 12 Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 130. 10

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the nature of being: of one’s whole being, thoughts, questions, actions, and interpretations from a Christian ethos and worldview. Christ is the prototype, and left “footprints for the person who wanted to join him, who then might become an imitator, this indeed corresponds to ‘footprints.’”13 In short, human development is fundamentally about the imitation of Christ. In fact, within this ontological possibility is a human response to God’s gift: being made right with God through Christ. Kierkegaard is quite clear that one can never be Christ, the paradoxical Godman as there is an abyss between Christ’s nature and our own. Unlike many ideas of virtue ethics in which habituation and practice enable a self to develop a good character such as found in Augustine and contemporary thinkers such as Stanley Hauerwas, one’s character can never properly habituated. Each day requires a similar attention to becoming like Christ. Each day demands rightly relating to God, oneself, and the world. Each day requires seeing God’s actions in Christ as the only means to be right with God. Thus, like traditional Lutheran orthodoxy regarding justification, the demand to be like Christ can only be fulfilled by Christ; Kierkegaard sees the divine expectations revealed in the Bible for humanity as constantly convicting one as being sinful. In short, he appropriates the Lutheran tradition of reading the Bible through the concepts of law and gospel. The law, and in particular the Decalogue, has both a political and a theological use.14 The political use maintains external order and peace, thereby allowing external or civic righteousness to be preserved. The theological use (usus theologicus legis) reveals the sinfulness of each person: “Luther often spoke of the ‘convicting use of the law.’ The law ‘accuses,’ ‘horrifies,’ indicating that owing to their guilt humans are not what they should be before God. Ultimately, no one can avoid this law.”15 The task of redoubling is then infinite as one is never fully the person God created one to be. Such a concern, measured by human time, is “infinite” as it must be a concern as long as a person can be concerned: unto death. This idea is not to say that Kierkegaard appropriates Luther and Lutheran theology uncritically. Though shaped by a Lutheran ethos, he views Luther’s thought contextually. Within his context, Luther’s emphasis on the law as God’s judgment upon human sin was a needed corrective to a dominant worldview that stressed human works, rather than faith in God, as making one right with Practice in Christianity, p. 238. For instance, Luther’s Small Catechism altered previous Catechisms by placing the Decalogue first as a means to lead a believer from the diagnosis (i.e. I am not loving God) to the cure (Christ as known through the Creed and the sacraments). 15 Bernhard Lohse, Martin Luther’s Theology, p. 271. 13 14

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God. Such theology ignored the gospel, which reveals how God’s actions in Christ make the God-human relation right.16 Yet, numerous journal passages show how Kierkegaard viewed Luther and his thought as being not “dialectical” enough.17 Here the critique is that Luther’s polemic against works undid its dialectical connection with faith; both faith and works are necessary and related. Yet by seeing Luther as correcting his age, Kierkegaard critically appropriates the Lutheran tradition as a corrective for his own age. He believed that Danish Lutheranism focused too much on the gospel rather than the law, rather than an emphasis on both faith and works. As a result, he places a clear emphasis on the necessity of the law to diagnose the human sickness of sin throughout the authorship.18 But unlike Luther, most notably at his polemical best in his argument with Erasmus, Kierkegaard emphasizes the vital human role in such becoming.19 Each person must take the responsibility to actualize this gift of possibility as the very form of one’s being, particularly through one’s imagination, will, and passion. To become is therefore a co-creative act, though it is God who creates its very possibility and enables its actualization. God’s gift in Christ universally calls each person to respond though faith as in an act of trusting in God’s actions in Christ to restore true selfhood and thus being right with God. Faith is trust (Danish Tiltro) in divine action as the basis for action and self-understanding.20 And faith in Christ brings God’s grace-filled love, which thereby cooperates with each person to enable the possibility of one’s becoming.

JP, vol. 3, p. 83/ X3 A 217, n.d., 1850. For instance, see: JP, vol. 3, p. 65 (2467)/IX A 11, n.d. 1848; JP, vol. 3, 67 (2470)/ IX A, n.d. 1848; JP, vol. 3, pp. 67–68 (2474)/IX A 433, n.d. 1848; JP, vol. 3, p. 75 (2502)/ X1 A 651, n.d., 1849; JP, vol. 3, p. 79 (2512)/ X2 A 448, n.d., 1850; JP, vol. 3, pp. 83–84 (2521)/X3 A 217, n.d., 1850; JP, vol. 3, p. 104 (2556)/ XI2 A 266, n.d., 1855. 18 He develops the corrective nature of his thought in his journals. For instance, see: JP, vol. 6, p. 358 (6693)/X3 A 565, n.d., 1850. 19 Luther stresses that God in Christ transforms the natural, sinful self, thereby making a person both a sinner and a saint. But in the process, it is God’s actions that make one into a Christian, not one’s own. In On the Bondage of the Will, Luther writes, “free choice without the grace of God is not free at all, but immutably the captive and slave of evil, since it cannot of itself turn to the good” (Luther and Erasmus: Free Will and Salvation, ed. E. Gordon Rupp and Phillips Watson (Louisville, 1969), p. 141. 20 There is a much closer connection between the words belief, trust and faith in Danish than in English. In Danish, all three share the root Tro, meaning all three are intertwined etymologically. Consequently, in the Kierkegaardian corpus, there is a deep linguistic relationship between the three that emphasizes the non-rationally certain nature of the truth of being. 16 17

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Actuality, Temporality, and Worldly Existence Intertwined dialectically with ontological possibility is actuality (Virkelighed), the reality that human existence includes a context ontologically structured by temporality and the existing world. The becoming self has a temporal, finite existence as its domain of action and reflection. The fact that the self is constantly grounded within existence as its mode of being, rather than pure thought as in a system like Hegel’s, makes becoming a type of self difficult. Being in the world, existence places the human within a temporally delimited sphere of relations that necessitates human action. A self then is constantly within a web of relations that demand that a self act ethically towards others. And as such, fundamentally, worldly existence as motion is the actualization of an ontological possibility within the temporal world. This actualization is both a doing and a knowing in which these elements are held together by the self performing the action; thus, both knowledge and action matter as they imperfectly embody the ontological form of the self performing the action. There is a broader goal: eternal happiness (evig Salighed). But this telos is unachievable in time and is not the primary cause of subjective movement; rather, one’s desire to become a true self leads a self down this ontological path. Becoming then is a matter of faith, as in trusting in God’s actions as one strives to become a self. To start with, Kierkegaard grounds selfhood in embodied desire as a vital dimension within human nature. In Concluding Unscientific Postscript, Climacus describes how becoming a subject is the most difficult task for a person. He views his age as full of people who believe that subjectivity is a waste of time, rather than valued as a component of an examined life. But in seeing it as a waste, one thinks that subjectivity is “no art,” ignoring that “it is already so difficult” in part because each person naturally desires becoming some particular kind of being.21 This idea of the subjective dimension to desire relates to self-definition. “The whole of Kierkegaard’s writings can be seen as one sustained attempt to isolate and define reality as the internal self-definition of the personality. If this self-definition is successfully carried out, he believed, a person is ‘real,’ and is in charge of the inner life of the soul as well as of his or her domestic, civic, and private affairs.”22 Striving to become a subject then means to be aware of what type a self is, even amidst conflicting desires about what to become. The starting point of subjectivity then is the natural reality that humans desire to become some type of self. Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 130. Jørgen Bukdahl, Søren Kierkegaard and the Common Man (Grand Rapids, 2001), p. 3.

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This self though is temporal and thus never finished. Climacus states that a self “is temporal and in temporality [one] cannot endure to lead uninterruptedly the life of eternity.”23 To be eternal is to be a completed, pure being. Climacus’ point is that the possibility of being a pure being is an impossibility because of human temporality. A self exists amidst worldly time as the sphere in which to act, think, and relate. The further point is that existing in time means to exist amidst contingent relations and things. And because of the wealth of things and possibilities within existence, the task of becoming a subject, seemingly a trivial and simple process, is infinitely difficult. For instance, an individual exists within a complex web of relations: to oneself, to others, to the world, and to God. Kierkegaard and his pseudonyms “view the self as essentially relational, first to God and then to neighbor.”24 In order to be a self, one must make choices both about what to relate to and how to relate; indeed, one can never escape the demands of choosing how to live. This web of relations demands that a self acts, wills, and consciously understands itself as an ethical creature. To avoid choosing how to live a good life, how to relate, how to be, one does not live; instead, one avoids becoming a subject at all. To enact an ontological possibility requires that one consciously act in the world. Only in responding to others through a moral choice does one attend to one’s ‘eternal purpose.’ Ontological possibility is important because existence itself is actuality; to be in the world of time and existence means one always exists as an actual acting, embodied being. One is constantly making choices, having desires, and thoughts that link possible ways of being within the actuality of the temporal world. Actuality relates dialectically to possibility; humans must act, but in the capacity for thought, a self has numerous possibilities about how to act. Both then are an ontologically necessary part of human existence and experience. In fact, one cannot hide behind thoughts or ways of acting, for even these mental games are forms of actualizing a type of possibility. Yet, though it includes both thought and action, actualizing a way of being in the world lies between the purity of thought and the finished nature of pure being. “Actuality is an inter-esse [between being] between pure thinking and pure being in the hypothetical unity of abstraction.”25 True human action requires a self is conscious about the action, and the type of being that acts in such a certain way. Consequently, a self must have reflectively abstracted (as in ‘hypothetically’ united within the imagination) the connection between a possibility of existence Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 491. Merold Westphal, Becoming a Self (West LaFayette, 1996), p. ix. 25 Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 314. 23 24

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and the being that does the action. But as actuality includes temporal existence and a self always exists in the temporal world, one is never pure possibility (as in pure thought) or pure action (as in pure being). One is in between thought and being, ever in motion; essentially, a self is always abstracting, in part, about what type of being it is, and thus is never concrete, pure, nor permanent in its being. The ethical task of selfhood is the highest act for an individual. Ethical acts, as caring about good action and the causes for such actions, “have an irrefutable claim upon every existing individual, an irrefutable claim of such a nature that whatever a person achieves in the world.”26 Amidst the betweenness of actuality, one lives amidst neighbors, and to be a self demands that one acts neighborly. To be ethical is to take the demands of becoming a self upon oneself. For Climacus, it is not merely what one accomplishes (e.g. knowing the Apostles Creed), but how one acts in the world as a conscious being that is at the root of selfhood. As a meta-ethical task, Kierkegaard thus argues for the linkage of doing and knowing. Both are necessary, which provides another example of the dialectical nature of his thought. “But the ethical is not only a knowing; it is a doing that is related to knowing, and a doing of such a nature that the repetition of it can at times and in more ways than one become more difficult than the first doing.”27 Being ethical requires both thinking about acting and actually acting. It requires ethical norms and ontological possibilities as means to understand how to act. These norms are universal in their applicability, an implication rooted in the fact that they must be repeated. But more importantly, the ethics of knowing and doing is about one’s being: only a good being can do good acts. One’s action (i.e. one’s doing) arises out of one’s intention (i.e. one’s knowing), with one’s formal nature, as in the powers of thought, choice, and desire, formally structuring the possibilities behind any ethical choice. By nature, one must be responsible for one’s actions, recognizing that one’s has a nature that requires one to think, will, and desire in accord with the true ontological possibility. “Ethically, what makes the deed the individual’s own is the intention,” where ‘owning’ an act thus unites the cause and the consequences.28 The qualities of one’s character, including goals, intentions, and actions that are the moral content that guide one’s actions matter. But the self ’s formal nature must be transformed by God in order for truly good action to occur such that one rightly knows why one acts the way that one does. A good character is only possible after an ontological shift. Such a form of being Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 134. Concluding Unscientific Postscript, pp. 160–61. 28 Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 155.

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embodies Christ’s love as one’s ontological content, thereby becoming a work of divine love that does works of love in the world. Accordingly, locating Kierkegaard’s ethics within traditional ethical theories such as the teleological, deontological, eudaimonistic, or virtue ethics is difficult. Interpretations vary. For example, C. Stephen Evans develops both deontological and teleological elements in his Kierkegaard’s Ethic of Love. He views Kierkegaard as emphasizing a divine command ethic within a larger teleological frame; each person has a moral obligation to obey God’s command to become loving, and thus like God. Stressing the inability to separate the deontological and teleological dimensions in Works of Love, Jamie Ferreira’s Loves Grateful Striving develops an “ethic of absolute indebtedness” in which God’s love is a radical gift that is always prior to any human act of love. The model of God’s love calls a person to love the neighbor as an act of mutuality and impartiality that is a response to God’s loving action in Christ, one made explicit through the ethical commandments in the Bible. The commands are not, however, ethical imperatives but rather indicators both of the human task and need to rightly love oneself, others, and God. Finally, there is John Davenport, who in Kierkegaard After MacIntyre argues for an existential virtue ethic. Here, authenticity is the telos and highest good of practices that form one’s character. The highest or first virtue is earnestness, an inner volitional virtue based on honesty, courage, and justice that allows for the truthful integration of inner willing and outer action. Social virtues such as patience and neighborly love then freely flow out from this earnest ground, thereby emphasizing how a virtuous character is the fundamental essence to one’s selfhood. To examine Kierkegaard’s ethic theory using traditional ethical categories is then to enter into a dense thicket. Yet like Luther before him, though appreciating Aristotle’s thought on possibility, Kierkegaard did not appropriate the Aristotelian virtue tradition as the foundation for ethics; indeed, the term virtue (Dyd) is rarely used within the authorship, especially in relationship to an Aristotelian ethic in which happiness is the end of human action. And though there are important deontological aspects to Kierkegaard’s ethics, his ethics is centered teleologically, though like most other Protestant accounts, it is not connected to happiness, as true happiness is not possible within this world. For instance, though Kierkegaard uses “virtue” as a noun in texts such as Two Ages, his most sustained engagement of virtue ethics is in Concluding Unscientific Postscript. Though used minimally relative to the length of the text, Climacus affirms a nominal idea of virtue ethics, yet largely critiquing it in light of his focus on passionate Christian becoming. Positively, he describes how passion is the primary material for ethical formation. Quoting Plutarch’s claim that “Ethical

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virtue has the passions for its material, reason for its form,” he uses virtue as a means to stress the importance of passion at the root of ethics, rather than merely reason. 29 Later, he suggests that striving to be virtuous is a vital path in human life. Yet, his focus is on sermons that merge together pleasure and virtue, trying to seduce one to link worldly happiness with virtue. This linkage is a mistake, as the Christian path is “narrow, stony, and thorny until the very end.”30 Instead, becoming a subject requires that one hold on to the absolute telos, as in an eternal happiness through the passionate faith in God’s action in Christ, despite such suffering. Passionately grasping God thus matters more than striving to be virtuous as an end. In fact, “it is a sorry error literally to want to become like God through virtue and holiness” rather than faithful humility.31 It is also the case that someone admired for their virtue points to the deceptiveness of external actions; just because one appears to be virtuous does not make one such. Virtue is then not a reliable test of one’s nature. As a consequence, though there are elements of virtue in his thought, Kierkegaard does not use the terminology of this tradition as the primary ground of his ethics. Moral growth matters, but it is a matter of subjectivity, rather than the focus on habits, dispositions, and happiness. Instead, the end is ontological: it is about becoming a particular type of being (a faithful Christian subject), relating lovingly to God and others at all times.32 Happiness does enter in as an eternal, hoped for goal. But happiness is not a telos in the sense of a worldly good to be attained, for it is possible only after death. It is also more than an existential ethic, in which how one exists matters for selfmastery.33 Indeed, Kierkegaard’s ethics is about being good, meaning one is able to do good for only if one is good by nature can one live a ‘life of love recognizable by its fruits.’ Such a being includes having right normative principles, intentions, habits, dispositions, and ends, yet goes beyond these quantifiable ethical categories to embody as one’s true nature Christ’s love within existence. Any ethical rules, attention to habits, dispositions, and descriptive theories are secondary, merely Concluding Unscientific Postscript, pp. 161–62. Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 404. 31 Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 565. 32 Reading Kierkegaard in this manner also connects him to later Lutheran thinkers such as Paul Tillich and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, both of whom emphasize the ontological dimension to human existence. For instance, see Tillich’s Systematic Theology and Bonhoeffer’s Act and Being, both of which use ontological concepts as fundamental to their arguments about human action. 33 For this view, see Stack’s Kierkegaard’s Existential Ethics. Avoiding this term also reflects a critique of the post-Sartre appropriation of Kierkegaard as an existentialist, seeing in his thought merely a life solely determined by a choice to exist. These views ignore the role that God plays in making true selfhood possible. 29 30

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tools, to guide one’s form in becoming a certain type of person: an imitator or redoubler of Christ. One’s formal capacities, such as reason, imagination, will, and passion must be transformed by the true ontological possibility to enable this mimetic movement. God’s actions are then necessary. Imitation is thus at the root of Kierkegaard’s ethics, for it is such a redoubling that enables one’s becoming. Further, redoubling is the aim of the divine commands as well as of the gift of Christ, for in Christ, human sins are forgiven and Christians receive the model and prototype to existence. Human becoming as an ethical act is decidedly mimetic. It is also why being good is impossible, requiring one to life through faith by trusting in God’s actions, for one is never able to be Christ. This ontological ethic also provides an explanation as to why there is such a diversity of descriptions as well as later interpretations of his ethical theory. Like his aesthetic thought, Kierkegaard is tactically addressing each person in one’s particularity, forcefully calling each person to care about who one is as a moral being. On the one hand, in Christ, each person receives the universal truth of selfhood; on the other hand, each particular self must actualize this possibility within the particular context and personality traits that make up one’s particular person. Each person is unique in some way; as a whole, his readership has different ethical needs, with some needing clarity about ethical principles, some a focus on habits, some need stories, and some need commands. Recognizing this diversity of personalities, Kierkegaard’s authorship reveals a diversity of ethical delineations in order to call each reader to that person’s particular and highest task: subjectivity. More to the point, true being is connected to a becoming actualized in the world because of Christian faith. As an ethic, there are deep connections then to Luther, including his “Two Kinds of Righteousness” from 1519, as both argue that human action, notably virtuous action, “is not possible as a human achievement; it cannot be thought of in terms of self-mastery.”34 Luther argues that through faith in Christ, the human mind and spirit are replaced by an alien spirit and mind: that of Christ. In the process, one can properly do good works, because it is Christ united to each person through faith that enables truly loving actions to be accomplished; it is Christ’s mind and spirit within a Christian that enables moral action, rather than any human dimension. And for Kierkegaard, to actualize one’s embodied form with the Christian ontological possibility is thus a similar art in that it creates or produces a particular type of person, a Christian

Gilbert Meilaender, The Theory and Practice of Virtue (Notre Dame, 1984), p. 117.

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subject. This act then has Christ’s love replacing the natural love of a self within each individual, thereby enabling the right love of self, neighbor, and God. Yet, to return to the notion of corrective, unlike Luther, Kierkegaard’s notion of imitation stresses that though God provides the ontological possibility that enables imitation, human capacities make a self responsible for co-producing one as a subject. Rather than a man of practical wisdom, it is grace-giving Christ that makes becoming true possible, seen in Philosophical Fragments. But dialectically correcting Luther, who de-emphasizes the human role in his argument with Erasmus, Kierkegaard sees both divine activity and human responsibility in subjectivity, most notably in Works of Love and For Self-Examination.35 Actualization through mimetic action requires that a self imaginatively, willfully, and passionately strive to become such a being. God lovingly relates to one’s becoming throughout one’s life, yet each particular person has a responsibility to unify Christian possibility within one’s existing form to rightly become. Both Christ, as one’s possibility, and the self, as one’s actuality, must rightly relate; both are dialectically necessary amidst an ontological embodying of both human and divine that enables human becoming. As an ontological ethic, this actualization means fundamentally de-centering one’s ego and constantly discovering one’s neighbor. One’s duty is then to enact Christian love towards others. In Works of Love, Kierkegaard writes, “that everyone is the neighbor.”36 Each person has an eternal dimension created in the divine image. This dimension is love for “just as Christianity’s joyful message is contained in the doctrine of humanity’s inherent kinship with God, so is Christianity’s task humanity’s likeness to God. But God is love; therefore we can be like God only in loving.”37 To love others is a Christian mimetic moment as it embodies Christ but it also sees the inherent imago dei in each person. The repetition of loving action is difficult for a number of reasons. Humans, living within temporal existence, can imagine numerous possibilities of acting. In particular, the imaginative faculty becomes engaged, as it allows a self to fantasize about what type of person to become. Here, the human imagination is a capacity that is exposed to or creates possible ways of being and acting. In this sense, there are important Kantian dimensions to Kierkegaard’s idea of the imagination. Kant writes within the Critique of Pure Reason how the imagination 35 For instance, the Epistle of James, which Luther in his Preface to the New Testament called an “epistle of straw” because it emphasizes human works (thereby clouding the gospel), is the primary text for For Self-Examination. (Martin Luther, Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings, ed. Timothy Lull (Minneapolis, 1989), p. 117). 36 Works of Love, p. 44. 37 Works of Love, p. 62.

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is a productive faculty. Within the transcendental unity of apperception, it is an a priori condition for knowledge as it unites the sensible with the understanding, making the imagination, “the ground of the possibility of all knowledge, especially of experience.”38 The imagination synthesizes concepts and intuitions; as reproductive, the imagination can reproduce an intuition of a thing even when the thing is not present to a self. The Kantian imagination is also a free faculty, meaning it does not merely unite sensuality and understanding, but also can freely create an image or thought within the mind, one that does not necessarily correspond to a thing in the phenomenal world. For instance, in The Critique of Judgement, the free play of the imagination, as the faculty of the intuition, enables the “I” to judge something as beautiful. The beautiful allows an individual to move beyond mere sensuous appearance to delight in imaginative possibilities, apart from interest and purpose. Consequently, Kant’s imagination is productive: “If, now, imagination must in the judgment of taste be regarded in its freedom, then, to begin with, it is not taken as reproductive, as in its subjection to the laws of association, but as productive and exerting an activity of its own (as originator of arbitrary forms of possible intuitions).”39 As free and productive, Kant’s imagination serves a vital role in perception, aesthetics, and human action. Kierkegaard takes this idea of the imagination, and at least in part, uses it to connect ontological possibility and human actuality. Anti-Climacus views the imagination as “the capacity for all capacities,” a claim that echoes Kant’s idea of the imagination as the “ground of all possibility of knowledge.”40 With this foundation, Kierkegaard then develops the imagination as the reflective capacity that allows a self to imagine actualizing an ontological possibility. And like the Kantian conception of the imagination, it is a capacity that is exposed to or creates possible ways of being. In short, the imagination allows the Kierkegaardian self to think about self-possibility. The imagination is a reflective capacity, as it contains ideas; it links one’s actuality as an existing being with ontological reflection. For example, Anti-Climacus, in The Sickness Unto Death, writes, “The imagination is the possibility of any and all reflection, and the intensity of this medium is the possibility of the intensity of the self.” 41 In particular, the imagination can relate a self to future. It can reflect on future possibilities. Consequently, in 38 Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, trans. Norman Kemp Smith (New York, 1965), pp. 142–43/ A118. 39 Immanuel Kant, The Critique of Judgement, trans. J.C. Meredith (New York, 1952), p. 86. I follow his British English spelling of “judgement.” 40 The Sickness Unto Death, pp. 30–31. 41 The Sickness Unto Death, p. 31.

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this passage, Anti-Climacus links thought—as reflection—and the ground or foundation for any human capacity (action especially) to imagination, but does so in service to human becoming. This imaginative possibility is vital because it allows a self to have some mental picture of what to become as the end or telos of one’s becoming. The brambles of the imagination, however, are such that it can endlessly fantasize about types of ontological possibilities to become; doing so makes one unable then to actualize one possibility. It may also hinder one’s recognition of the neighbor, as in one’s neahgebur [near-dweller]. Kierkegaard, in Works of Love, is concerned about how “at a distance the neighbor is a figment of the imagination,” meaning one uses the imagination to avoid seeing one’s neighbor in the people around oneself.42 In both cases, the imagination is misused for it prevents loving, imitative action as such, instead stressing an imaginative distance from worldly demands. Repetition is also difficult because the true ontological possibility, Christ, existed throughout his life in a perfect relation to his nature, the world, and God. There is then an objective, universal, ever-present event that demands that one always, in every situation, act per this example. No mistakes, no mitigation, and no semi-standard action is allowed. Thus, “the ethical becomes exceedingly long, because it begins with making this discovery first of all. The more profoundly one makes it, the more ethical one becomes” through the recognition of its crushing and impossible demands.43 Actualizing such an ethical nature must be one’s embodied reality. To do an ethical act once is easy enough, but to do it at all times is truly difficult. It is a constant duty, one that is the only path to becoming a true subject. Duty here has some overtones with Kant’s conception of duty. Kant’s view is that duty means following the categorical imperative, grounded in one’s free will, making each reasonable being an end in itself. Kierkegaard likewise stresses duty, but as the need to dutifully follow the path given by God in Christ. Writing about the categorical imperative in his journals, he stressed the reality of sin that both makes knowing the moral law and doing ethical action problematic as the “only way to move beyond sin is via the uncertain faith in a God who has decisively entered history.”44 In Works of Love, he writes, “If it were not a duty to love, the concept ‘neighbor’ would not exist either; but only when one loves the neighbor, only then is the selfishness in preferential love rooted out and the equality of the eternal preserved.”45 A Kantian autonomous ethic is impossible; 44 45 42 43

Works of Love, p. 79. Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 162. Ronald Green, The Hidden Debt: Kierkegaard and Kant (Albany, 1992), p. 204. Works of Love, p. 44.

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rather, it is lovingly doing one’s duty based on the gift of righteousness offered through Christ that is determinant. But duty is not about obligation, but a response to God’s gift in Christ, itself an act of love that frees one to dutifully love. It is about seeing the neighbor, each person an image of God, throughout one’s existence. Just as important, one also discovers one’s sin. Socrates made this discovery. “By means of [Socrates’] ethical knowledge, he discovered that he had a disposition to all evil.”46 In striving to love, one notices neighbors but also one’s failure to actualize this love that then leads to the discovery of one’s own evil nature. It is this consciousness of an ethical and thus ontological failure that is yet the basic starting point for ethical action as well as Christian becoming. Being able to see one’s true nature leads to a humbling of one’s own power, confronting the self with a need for some transcendent source for truth and assistance. As a consequence, humility becomes vital. Humility stresses the importance of the recognition of an “absolute difference between God and man” that is the basis for truly existing.47 Merely becoming, never fully a being, a self is always dependent upon a being that is eternal, permanent and thus the true being; in short, a self is nothing without God and the truth of being that God reveals. God, being beyond existence, is absolutely different from one within existence as God is being rather than becoming. Consequently, because of this distance, God cannot be the truth of being for humans. “God is the absolute difference, so not directly the ideal for being a human being.”48 Alongside this divine distance, one’s consciousness of one’s disposition to evil makes a self aware of the impossibility of attaining ethical perfection. A self must be humble before God as the foundation of true subjectivity. Indeed, in the never-ending motion of one’s actuality, the true ontological possibility exists as an historical moment that is unchanging and permanent. In Philosophical Fragments, Climacus describes the teacher of the eternal truth that matters for being (a thinly veiled image of Christ), who enacts the fullness of time within human time. This ontological reality offers a transformative moment to each self that is encased within temporality. In human time, moments of time pass, “as the moment is, past, as the moment is in the next moment,” linking the past-present-future.49 There is no rest to existence; it is always past, always in the next moment. This idea of time is unlike that of speculative thinkers, such as Hegel, who exist in the realm of pure thinking. In their pure thought, one rests 48 49 46 47

Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 162. Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 492. Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 412. Philosophical Fragments/Johannes Climacus, p. 18.

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in the idea, and thus can be unconcerned about acting or existing. “There is a rest for every doubt; here is the eternal positive truth and whatever else one cares to say.”50 But within Climacus’ conception of existence, there can be no rest, for creation is always in motion. Existence is then a test. “To be a human being, to live here in this world, is to be tested.”51 The answer to the test is to become a true subject. This decidedly embodied, material element to Kierkegaard’s thought is a pointed critique of the Hegelian Idealism of his day. Hegel argues that true reality is the Ideal contained in thought, expressed in material particularity, rather than the material reality surrounding a person going about a busy day. The self-consciousness of this real idea could move a self to the self-awareness of the spiritual reality of all things. Yet, in the hands of Climacus, Hegelian speculative thinking is an avoidance of existing; possibility becomes more important than actually relating to temporal existence. Hegel conflates thinking and being, which is a mistake. “A human being thinks and exists, and existence [Existents] separates thinking and being, holds them apart from each other in succession.”52 For instance, Climacus argues that the uncertainty of death is understood generally and abstractly within Hegelian thought. “But if the task is to become subjective, then every subject becomes for himself exactly the opposite of some such general thing in history.”53 The general is an ideal and is thus a form of possibility, but subjectivity is the form of actuality: it is actually acting that connects the form (as in one’s particular embodied being) and the content (the truth of being) within existence. Subjectivity is a unique action for each self, as each self must seek to become true for itself. As an action, subjective existence itself is movement. It is the motion of temporally enacted, self-conscious actions, rather than thought possibilities and abstract, general ideals. Subjective existence, understood through an example such as death, particularizes each individual within the existential web of time and relationality. By particularizing, a self is isolated in relation to the demands existence places upon it to act, for a self can never think itself out of actuality. Being within existence is then illusive, unable to be clearly controlled or delimited by thought; it is “the illusiveness of existence, when I grasp it, isolates me.”54 It makes every person an actor on the stage that is life. 52 53 54 50 51

Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 314. Practice in Christianity, p. 183. Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 332. Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 167. Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 83.

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Through Christianity, a self has a telos in both a worldly and eternal sense. In the world, a self must strive to become an imitator of Christ, loving one’s neighbor. In the eternal sense, it is eternal happiness that serves as the ultimate end of human existence. But such happiness depends upon an act of faith. The issue for a self is that “the individual’s eternal happiness is decided in time through a relation to something historical that furthermore is historical in such a way that its composition includes that which according to its nature cannot become historical and consequently must become by virtue of the absurd.”55 Through Christ, the possibility for eternal happiness is made available to everyone. This eternal happiness requires that a self infinitely strive to actualize it, and do so within temporal existence. As infinite, this striving is never-ending, meaning human existence is always a form of temporal becoming. It is not a speculative mental game. Though happiness is not a clearly defined concept for Climacus, it nonetheless begins as a possibility through one’s relationship to God. Because the ultimate basis for selfhood is God, Climacus’ eternal happiness requires a direct relationship between a self and God, meaning it clearly must address sin as negating this relation. At its highest, this relationship cannot be mediated, as in based in thought. Instead, faith is a form of direct, immediate relating: “faith itself must be the new immediacy that can never be canceled in existence, since it is the highest, and by cancelling it one becomes null and nichts.”56 Though not using terms such as righteousness or sanctification, there is the implication that eternal happiness is then a form of being in a right or holy relation with God. This eternal happiness lacks an objectively good character. Happiness-initself is not a good. Instead, it is through the mode of attaining it that gives its quality of goodness. “Eternal happiness, as the absolute good, has the remarkable quality that it can be defined only by the mode in which it is acquired, whereas other goods, are defined by the good itself.”57 In short, an existing self must have a particular type of relation towards eternal happiness in order to attain it. In many ways it is then a gift from God, as it is not an end, but a reward for a self, one that paradoxically does not motivate or cause a self to act. Instead, one acts ethically because one is a true subject, rather than because one is thinking about the consequences of an action. Thus, to acquire eternal happiness is to have lived a certain type of existence, one based on striving to become a true being, yet paradoxically not because one desired this consequence (as the cause behind any Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 385. Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 347ff. 57 Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 427. 55 56

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good action). He has a delayed eudaimonistic dimension to his ethics, possibly echoing Kant’s development of happiness as only possible beyond the mortal world. And like Kant, this idea of happiness matters, but not as an end or cause of action within this life, except for as a hope. Climacus writes how he assumes “that a highest good, called an eternal happiness, awaits me just as it awaits a housemaid and a professor. I have heard that Christianity is one’s prerequisite for this good.”58 Happiness is not a part of the physical world of temporal change and suffering, but ‘awaits’ one who strives to become a true self. By striving to actualize Christian possibility, one’s ontological nature changes as one’s capacities are transformed beyond the corruption inherit in one’s sinful nature; to gain eternal happiness is only attainable through such becoming. Thus, the telos of being a Christian subject, in which eternal happiness is an end, is both a goal and a measure of one’s formation. And this idea of eternal happiness provides a measuring stick through which to understand one’s own development within the present. To be unhappy provides a self with evidence about the state of one’s existence, as worldly happiness implies that one is not living faithfully. The world’s idea of happiness is opposed to eternal happiness; worldly success such as wealth, honor, and fame are ephemeral and finite. Therefore, issues such as despair, suffering, and unhappiness provide ontological clues about the self in its becoming. Behind becoming lies the reality that the human self itself is synthetic. A self is “an existing infinite spirit.”59 A self has both an infinite, spiritual element and a temporal, material element. As such, the difficulty is rightly relating to both of these dimensions. Ultimately, “it is the God-relationship that makes a human being a human being,” meaning this relationship is the right way to hold together opposite elements.60 This relation is never static, as the self must always be striving to relate to God at all moments, thereby changing one’s selfunderstanding, actions, and worldly relations. Unlike Hegel, it is not merely thought that matters. Nor is it the will. Nor is it the desire for happiness that is the direct cause of human becoming. Instead, passion serves as the dominant capacity in forging a proper God-human relation. In Kierkegaard’s writings, passion has various meanings, including emotion, energy, and concern. As a dimension of human becoming, however, it is passion that is the primary cause of moving a self towards a right God-human relation, thereby actualizing the highest ontological possibility. To relate passionately to Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 15. Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 82. 60 Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 244. 58 59

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God is to stress that one’s highest interest is in relating to God. Climacus terms this highest interest “faith,” which is the highest and happiest passion. At times, he uses the Greek pathos in describing this mode of relating, a term which refers to feeling and an emotive state as well as the idea of interest. In being interested in relating to God, all elements of one’s existence and thus nature are transformed. “The pathos that corresponds to and is adequate to an eternal happiness is the transformation by which the existing person in existing changes everything in his existence in relation to the highest good. In relation to possibility, words are the highest pathos; in relation to actuality, actions are the highest pathos.”61 The God-self relation within existence is a form of interested action. As humans desire to be true, one must order self-interested passion towards the joyous desire for God.62 And by existing in such a relation, one actualizes a right relation between creation and God. Although Climacus does not use this term, this idea of “right relation” has clear similarities to Luther’s idea of justification. Luther notes, “in faith the Christian accepts the judgment of God in order thus to share the righteousness of God.” 63 In such an acceptance, a self recognizes that God created and sustains creation, but sin has broken the original right relation between creation and God. Christ’s life, death, and resurrection is a divine act given to humanity that restores this theocentric way of being in the world. Through faith, one shares in God’s actions, thereby becoming justified, as in made right, before God. All actions, things, and proximate relations are understood, prioritized and incorporated then into this right relating to God. Kierkegaard, however, stresses the importance of human responsibility in such a relation, especially because passion is what pulls the self towards actualizing it. It is also the case that this transformation, in which Christian happiness and God re-forms one’s existence, requires a change in one’s self-consciousness. Though it depends on God’s prior actions, this change makes a person responsible, in part, for one’s becoming for it requires rightly seeing oneself as a sinner. This is strongly opposite Hegelianism, which calls one to become a shaper of world history. Yet, “neither by willing the good to the utmost of his ability nor willing evil with diabolical callousness is

Concluding Unscientific Postscript, pp. 389–90. Kierkegaard frequently uses pathos as synonymous with passion. Pathos, from the Greek, meaning “suffering,” “feeling” and “emotion,” conveys the idea that passion has a desirous, emotive element. 63 Bernhard Lohse, Martin Luther’s Theology, trans. Roy Harrisville (Minneapolis, 1999), p. 60. 61 62

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a person assured of becoming world-historical,” as humans cannot either know the thing-in-itself nor act commensurably with any one intention.64 This disconnect between thought and being affirms a limit within human capacities. Though gifted with spiritual, creative, infinite, and critical dimensions, humans are finite creatures, enmeshed in a temporal world. There is then a clear need for God’s actions to both reveal true ontological possibility but also to enable a self to actualize such a way of being. Ever aware of one’s sinful nature, each individual must respond to God’s truth, trusting that this truth will be transformative for one’s being. The Dialectic Amidst this ontological formation, a further key concept is his idea of the dialectical (Dialektik) form to human experience. Kierkegaard’s thinkers use the term in two distinctive ways, both of which provide the ontological structure that enables the human responsibility for becoming. The first relates to existence. The existing self has an ontological structure that is dialectical in nature. Such oppositions as temporal/eternal, objective/subjective, despairing/hopeful, and finite/infinite are determinant of the way a self experiences existence. These dialectical oppositions qualify existence; they determine how a self experiences existence and also comprise the self. Such a tensive existence is the reality for a self that exists and never is. Unlike Hegel’s dialectic, a self must never negate one pole of a dialectic, for in doing so, a self denies the dialectical nature of selfhood. As such, the will, which is both bound and free, must choose to exist by relating to both dialectical qualifications. Secondly, Kierkegaard, particularly through Climacus, views the self ’s mode of relating to God as dialectical. To relate to Christian truth is to “venture to believe against the understanding (the dialectical).”65 To relate to God is to do so through inward passion—a relational form that is beyond mere rational understanding— rather than epistemological certainty; indeed, Christian truth, as revealed by the paradoxical God-man Christ, is never certain. Thus, faith is a type of dialectical passion, a passionate confidence in God’s actions to make selfhood possible. This idea of dialectical relation is an important one, and will require that I explain the roles that despair, sin, and truth play within his becoming.

Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 134. Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 429.

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Dialectic as an Existence Qualification Creation itself, including humanity, is qualified within oppositional tensions that condition how a self experiences existence. In short, human existence is comprised of a polar structure. Take, for example, the dialectic of infinite/ finite. “Existence is composed of the infinite and the finite; the existing person is infinite and finite.”66 In addition to infinite/finite, immediacy/reflection, actuality/possibility and knowing/doing (all described in the previous section), qualities such as universal/particular, saved/sinner, spirit/material, freedom/ necessity, and inward/outward structure how a self experiences the world. To deny one element is to negate or avoid the fact that these dialectical elements continually qualify human existence. The self itself is comprised of dialectical qualities. This composition points again to the idea that conceptually, a self is a synthetic being. One’s very being holds together these oppositional poles in a tensive relation. Anti-Climacus writes, “A human being is a synthesis of the infinite and the finite, of the temporal and the eternal, of freedom and necessity, in short, a synthesis.”67 Here, a self must essentially maintain, and not unite or negate, these dialectical oppositions. Having already discussed possibility/actuality and knowing/ doing, I will emphasize two additional important dialectical relations. The first is freedom/necessity and the second is immediacy/reflection. Freedom/ necessity will be examined heuristically as the means to exemplify the dialectic as existence qualification and the synthetic nature of a self. As it is important for the Kierkegaardian conception of faith, immediacy/reflection offers key insights into the nature of the becoming self. Freedom/Necessity Kierkegaard, like many of his contemporaries, gives an important and determinant role to the human will, the seat of choice. In addressing human development, he wrote from within the Augustinian-infused Protestant tradition as well as Kantian-grounded modernism. Unlike Augustine’s idea of the bonded will as either sinful cupiditas or converted caritas, both of which are forms of love, or Kant’s idea of the free will, which connects a priori freedom and a posteriori desire and volition as a kind of causality, the Kierkegaardian will exhibits both Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 391. The Sickness Unto Death, p. 14.

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freedom and necessity dimensions. Unlike Luther, who generally de-emphasizes human agency in the God-human relation, Kierkegaard attempts to develop a dialectical relationship that views human becoming as both a necessarily divine and a free human activity. Timothy Jackson’s “Arminian Edification: Kierkegaard on Grace and Free Will” elucidates this necessary/free tension. He explicates the Kierkegaardian will in relationship to Augustine’s bound will as well as to that of Jacob Arminius, the sixteenth-century Dutch Calvinist who stressed that human beings were free to reject or accept God’s offer of salvation. Jackson asserts that without having a degree of freedom of the will, Kierkegaard’s will would be utterly dependent upon God’s grace. Accordingly, his self would be determined solely by God, which would make him a predestinarian like Augustine. Instead, Kierkegaard argues that each person must take responsibility for selfhood. “The key point of similarity between Arminius and Kierkegaard is the kenotic nature of divine grace, its self-emptying quality: True omnipotence and omnibenevolence generate freedom in creatures, not necessity or servile dependency.”68 Thus, ontologically, Kierkegaard’s idea of will requires a degree of freedom in order to ensure that a particular self has a responsibility for its becoming. Yet, responsible agency is dependent upon having both the freedom of choice (i.e. the will) and true freedom through which God’s actions can complete this process. “Coming to faith is not a matter of Promethean selfcreation (since grace is required), but neither is it mainly a matter of accurate cognition or preordained experience. True freedom is, for Kierkegaard, a highly individualized libertas in which voluntary consent to grace takes the form of a passionate leap,” thereby making a self responsible for its development.69 In short, Jackson asserts that Kierkegaard’s self has both freedom of choice (liberum arbitrium) and true freedom (libertas). Jackson’s argument rightly points out the necessity of an agent having the capacity willing to be a certain type of self, but that because of sin, God’s grace is necessary to complete the process. Becoming is both a God and human co-creation as such. Anti-Climacus offers more insights into this claim as The Sickness Unto Death offers a clear development of the Kierkegaardian will. The will has a specific function: to move a self towards a chosen end. This will is both bound, with the passive capacity for being acted upon through God’s actions, and free, with an active capacity for self-intention and volition. Further, the will must Timothy Jackson, “Arminian Edification: Kierkegaard on Grace and Free Will,” in Alastair Hannay and Gordon D. Marino (eds.), The Cambridge Companion to Kierkegaard (New York, 1998), p. 238. 69 Jackson, “Arminian Edification: Kierkegaard on Grace and Free Will,” pp. 252–53. 68

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recognize that it is created, and thus by necessity, is dependent. If not, it will despair, which is a mood in which a self experiences a passionate frustration with its inability to freely determine itself. Consequently, as necessarily bound/free, the will’s potential for choice is decidedly dialectical in its structure. The will is the basis for a self ’s relating to both external, finite things as well as to eternal, infinite things. In short, the will chooses and holds onto an object, which the self ’s passion desires. It can even choose to hold onto a particular idea of the type of self. The sincere purpose of life “is to will to be, to will to express the perfection (ideality) in the dailyness of actuality,” making a willful life a vital foundation for existence.70 To take acting and developing as a human seriously, is to ensure that the will is focused on choosing the truth of being and actualizing this truth within everyday life as its being. Through this act of will, a self chooses to take responsibility for its selfhood. Behind the will’s action is the recognition that true selfhood only comes as a gift. “The formula that describes the state of the self when despair is completely rooted out is this: in relating itself to itself and in willing to be itself, the self rests transparently in the power that established it.”71 In this formula, Anti-Climacus demands willful choice, but a choice forged within a dependent, necessity-rooted relation. In short, the true object for a willful choice is not derived from human knowledge. To seek to become a self from a truth developed through human means is to deny sin. Such a denial is a form of despair, as one is not rightly willing and thereby becoming a self. To will to be ‘itself,’ is then to will to be this self as God created. Each particular individual, however, must acknowledge this truth of divine dependence and moral agency enacted through one’s own will. In this type of relationship, the self finds rest. The will is active, but true selfhood is ‘rest.’ Consequently, the active will must move beyond willing to a state of passivity. This passivity is to acknowledge the ‘power that established it.’ It is to willingly accept that the ultimate truth through which to understand oneself is not given by a human capacity. Actively willing matters, but so does passive dependence. As a result, God decisively provides the condition through which a self can choose the truth of being. Climacus puts it this way: “The understanding cannot come to know [God] by itself (since, as we have seen, it is a contradiction); if it is going to come to know this, it must come to know this from the god.”72 Only through an action of God does one have the possibility to choose the truth Practice in Christianity, p. 190. The Sickness Unto Death, p. 14. 72 Philosophical Fragments/Johannes Climacus, p. 46. 70 71

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of being. Consequently, human ability to choose is delimited by God’s actions to enable any possibility of choice. The becoming self dialectically experiences willful choice, as freedom and necessity (and human and divine action) qualify any possible choice. Immediacy/Reflection A further ontological structure that shapes how one becomes is the dialectic between reflection and immediacy. This dialectic is closer to Hegel’s dialectic in that it includes a higher movement, as the movement to faith is the transition from immediacy to reflection and then onward into a second immediacy. Reflection is thought, contained and/or created through the imagination, and immediacy rooted within an inward passion. Faith is then a movement, an inner passionate struggle to accept a truth that is beyond being fully grasped reflectively. The importance of this dialectic cannot be overstated. Climacus connects faith to an existence that unifies both reflection and immediacy within a second immediacy. Writing about how Idealism negates immediacy, Climacus writes in a footnote, “if one wants to speak of an immediacy that is canceled, this must be an esthetic-ethical immediacy,” as faith is the ‘new immediacy’ that cannot be negated within existence since it is the ‘highest’ and to do so would negate one’s very being.73 In his journals, faith itself is a post-reflective experience, as “faith is immediacy or spontaneity after reflection.”74 A self must relate to Christian truth through faith, a form of relation that requires then both thought (as in sin-consciousness) and action, both reflection and immediacy. Taken as a whole, these dialectical qualifications encapsulate the ontological structure in which a self experiences existence. What is crucial then is that each self inwardly holds together these various opposing dialectics. To become means to accept that it is only in the form of one’s being that seeming opposites can be rightly related. To unite, ignore, distend, and unbalance these poles (as Hegel’s Aufhebung attempts through a unification of the poles), avoids fully and rightly understanding the qualifications underneath any movement and becoming.

Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 347ff. JP, vol. 2, p. 594/VIII1 A 649, May 11, 1848.

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Dialectic as a Mode of Relating A self is infinitely engaged in the movement of becoming within an existence qualified dialectically. Becoming entails accepting this structure, rather than striving to move beyond it, as Hegelian logic stresses. But as such, Kierkegaard also uses dialectic to describe the means of moving from a form of being based on relating to untrue possibilities to one centered in the true ontological possibility. This idea of dialectic is different than Hegel’s progressive dialectical moving towards Geist and true self-consciousness; its center is the self ’s worldly existence, rather than a progressive synthesis of ideas leading towards a total systemization of thought and being. That said, the connection between Hegel and Kierkegaard is a major debate amongst Kierkegaard scholars. On one hand, Niels Thulstrup’s Kierkegaard’s Relation to Hegel argues that Kierkegaard engaged in an anti-Hegel polemic throughout the authorship, and largely viewed Hegel negatively throughout. On the other hand, John Stewart’s Kierkegaard’s Relationship to Hegel Reconsidered suggests that there are three distinctive periods in terms of Hegel’s impact on Kierkegaard. In the first, from 1838–43, he viewed Hegel’s thought positively. The second stage, from 1843–46, most notably in Concluding Unscientific Postscript, developed a polemical critique of Hegelian thought. The final stage, from 1847–55, and including The Sickness Unto Death, openly used Hegelian concepts. Of the two, Stewart’s argument is the stronger, as he takes greater care in analyzing the whole of Kierkegaard’s works. Yet, the need for such a debate points to the importance of Hegel’s thought, whether from Hegel himself or Danish Hegelians such as Heiberg and Hans Lassen Martensen, for Kierkegaard’s development. In reforming Hegel’s thought, Kierkegaard centers becoming as the pivot point for the dialectical relation. Unlike Hegel, there is no “higher” form of selfconsciousness that is the self ’s movement into a consciousness in which subject and object are united, for example. Because of sin and human temporality, a self is never a true self; there is no simple progression or development, just the struggle to become subjective in the art of selfhood. To be dialectical is thus rooted within an existing self, ever acting within the world. Part of the centrality of the becoming self arises because the true ontological possibility—God-made-human—is a rational paradox. As a self within existence is constantly becoming, striving to unify Christian possibility within one’s existence, this movement can be blocked by rational thinking, which seemingly can give a valid ontological truth to a self (e.g. Kantian rational freedom) or offer the possibility to move beyond dialectical oppositions (e.g. Hegelian logic).

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However, as Anti-Climacus argues, ultimately trusting in this rational freedom is self-defeating, as it leads a self to despair.75 Despair might then actually be necessary for a self, for in the acknowledgment that rationality falls to reveal ontological certainty, the movement towards subjectivity becomes possible. Through despair, a self begins to recognize its sinful nature and develop a selfconsciousness that recognizes one’s dependence upon God for the truth of being. One sees oneself as guilty and thus nothing before God. Through such a movement, though never completed, a self begins to exist dialectically. Here, echoing Socrates’ call to examine one’s life, through sin-consciousness, a self understands that because the true ontological possibility cannot be understood rationally, one must relate to it dialectically. In its purest form, to relate dialectically is to relate to the true possibility beyond understanding through inward passion. It is to ‘venture to believe against the understanding (the dialectical).’ The aim of this movement is the impossible possibility of faith as in trusting in God’s actions in Christ to free one from sin so that one can rightly relate to self, others, and God. Faith as one’s form is the truth of being, and a self ’s existence must be determined by the dialectical striving to actualize Christian truth as the highest ontological possibility to become. The dialectical as a relational mode then means desiring to become like Christ, despite doubts and uncertainty. Behind this form of the dialectic lies Kierkegaard’s idea of the synthetic self. Selfhood depends both upon what one relates oneself to (i.e. ideas of what to be) as well as how one relates to such ideas. Again, as Anti-Climacus notes, by holding together the infinite and the finite, the temporal and the eternal, of freedom and necessity, in short a synthesis, “the self is a relation between the two.”76 There is no fully unified self at the heart of selfhood, but rather a self that is itself formed by how it holds dialectically the various oppositional poles, neither conflating nor sublimating them. The dialectical relation itself then determines a self; how a self holds together such tensions matters. Yet, not just any relation itself makes the human being, as “the human being is still not a self.”77 Instead, being self-conscious about how one is relating oneself to the poles that is decisive for selfhood. One must care and be intentional about the mode of relation that shapes one’s being. Behind this form of relation is Kierkegaard’s concept of truth, expressed particularly within Concluding Unscientific Postscript. There are two different Like the linguistic relationship between faith, belief, and trust, doubt (Tvivle) and despair (Fortvivle) are closely related in Danish. 76 The Sickness Unto Death, p. 13. 77 The Sickness Unto Death, p. 13. 75

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ways of relating to a truth claim: objectively and subjectively. On one hand, an objective truth relation sees a truth in which the content is merely an objective idea; conceptually, it must be related to as a rationally accessible object of mental cognition. One’s relation to it is not important beyond knowing it as a mental object. Truth then is comprised of an epistemological, cognizable object. “What is reflected upon is not the relation but that what he relates himself to is the truth, the true.”78 For example, if God is merely an idea (say ∏), rather than an active spiritual force in the world, to relate to God requires that one relate to it as merely something to understand and know; to objectively relate to God as ∏ truth is thus to relate to God as an intellectual proposition, cognizable fact, or dogmatic creed that one knows. By implication, some types of truth, say mathematical proofs for example, are objective in nature. To rightly relate to a math proof (as an objective what) is then to relate to it objectively (as the how). The form of the right relation is thought-based as it is merely about what one knows. On the other hand, there is the subjective relation to truth. This form of the truth relation includes thought, but more fundamentally is about the type of person one is within the relation to the truth claim; as ontological, it is about one’s loves, thoughts, and choices. It is about one’s being, one’s very nature as a living, embodied subject within the world. “When the question about truth is asked subjectively, the individual’s relation is reflected subjectively. If only the how of this relation is in truth, the individual is in truth, even if he in this way were to relate himself to untruth.”79 Here to know God subjectively requires the transformation of one’s loves, actions, and thought in order to rightly relate to this truth. Also, by implication, unlike a math proof, the what of Christian truth is essentially subjective. To merely know this God as a cognized idea rather than to be subjectively changed is thus to wrongly relate to this type of truth. Within truth as subjectivity, the mode of relation is then decisive, even if one relates to an untrue (meaning un-Christian) transformative idea of being. It is about desiring to be a certain type of subject, both internally and externally, that shapes how one relates to such a truth. Truth as subjective thus is about a self ’s very ontological existence; it is about being shaped by what it relates to as the possibility of being (e.g. philosophical truth, Christian truth, pagan truth, etc.) and how one relates to it (e.g. through disinterested thought, through erotic love, through action, through contemplation, etc.). Kierkegaard and his authors are asking about an ontologically-formative relationship between thinking and existing being and how a self synthesizes the Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 199. The italics are mine. Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 199. The italics are mine.

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two within one’s existence. Thus, it reflects a correspondence theory of truth, in which truth is the unification of a truthful account of selfhood (the content as ontological possibility) and one’s embodied, existing form (within the actuality of the world). This unification of content and form is the art of subjectivity, one that is dialectical in its relational dimension. Amidst Kierkegaard’s romantic sensibilities, Climacus writes how “To exist is an art. The subjective thinker is esthetic enough for his life to have esthetic content, ethical enough to regulate it, dialectical enough in thinking to master it.”80 The desires, actions, choices, and thoughts of each person matter to the form of life, and to strive to become a self as God intended, one with an eternal purpose, is an artistically productive act. To become a subject is an art. And Christianity essentially communicates this truth as subjectivity, one that is not cognizable, for Christ, as both God and man, is a paradox. It can never be an intelligible object of thought. Instead, Christian truth asks that a believer become the truth, with the relation to this truth enacted through love, thought, and choice. In short, as a spiritual being, one becomes a different type of subject by truthfully relating through one’s inner thoughts, choices, and loves to God, thereby changing all other forms of relation as well (to oneself, neighbor and the world). “Christianity is spirit; spirit is inwardness; inwardness is subjectivity; subjectivity is essentially passion, and at its maximum an infinite, personally interested passion for one’s eternal happiness.”81 Doing so is both subjective in terms of a particular individual relating as the particular individual (the means) and also the end (to be a subject, a Christian self ). This task is never ending. “Christianity, therefore, protests against all objectivity; it wants the subject to be infinitely concerned about himself.”82 Such a concern, measured by human time, is “infinite” as it must be a concern as long as a person can be concerned: unto death. Eternal happiness is not yet, but always a future hope for an existing self. The Dialectical Mode of Relating and Christian Becoming The will plays an important role in the dialectical mode of relating. For example, Anti-Climacus equates consciousness, as in self-understanding, with the will. “A person who has no will at all is not a self; but the more will he has, the more self-consciousness he has also.”83 To understand oneself is to recognize oneself 82 83 80 81

Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 351. Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 33. Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 130. The Sickness Unto Death, p. 29.

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as willful being that makes choices in the world. But to choose properly is to recognize that a self desires to be some type of self and that a self can relate itself to various ontological possibilities. Fundamentally, a self must then be conscious of the fact that as relational, it must be determined by something outside of itself. This idea is a clear critique of Kant and Hegel, and thus modern thought. As synthetic, the self by necessity is not complete nor can it complete itself through its own capacities. A self is created and thus contains a passive dimension, in that it originates independently of any willful choice. And as creation is ongoing, though the will has a degree of freedom, this freedom by necessity must open up a self to God’s actions as its creator. “Such a relation that relates itself to itself, a self, must either have established itself or have been established by another.”84 In order for a self to be a self, it must be established and thus created by God; this also means that one must be conscious of its selfhood some universal, heteronomous truth of being that affirms this created dimension. But this understanding is not easy as Kierkegaard suggests that there are two extremes in which a self can understand itself. One, the self is freely able to define itself through its own actions, choices, will, and thought. This idea reflects the type of ontological possibility given to the imagination within the Kantian and Hegelian-infused Idealist and Romantic traditions; it is a material, human account of the self. Or two, the self can be established in itself by an ontological truth of being given to it by something beyond the material world, as in God. It is this second type of possibility that Christianity reveals; in the process, God also assists each individual development through this truth. In Philosophical Fragments, Climacus writes that in learning the Christian ontological truth, an “assisting love but also a procreative love” are given by the divine teacher to a learner.85 As such, God’s grace assists in a manner similar to the ideas of prevenient and operative grace. This assistance is needed because though a material creation, the self is also “spirit.” Understanding this idea requires detouring through Hegel’s thought. Alastair Hannay suggests, “what Kierkegaard wants us to understand by his idea of a self as a self-relating relation is something that coincides to a considerable extent with what Hegel says about soul, consciousness and spirit, yet departs radically” in that it is about one’s embodied, existing being.86 Hannay argues that Hegel is concerned with a form of self-consciousness, which through science The Sickness Unto Death, p. 13. Philosophical Fragments, p. 30. 86 Alastair Hannay, Kierkegaard and Philosophy (New York, 2003), p. 65. 84 85

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(Wissenschaft), connects thought and being. To see life, ethics, selfhood, the world, etc., scientifically is to understand a unity or harmony between being and thought that then gives self-consciousness “the status of ‘the principle of right, morality, and all ethical life.’”87 In such a self-consciousness, a self has the complete awareness of the mind’s essential connection to the objective external world. Spirit both animates the self but also is the end to which the self is to become. As spirit, thought and being are then unified. Hegel’s idea of the natural world is phenomenal as distinct from spirit. “In Hegel’s use of the distinction, nature is what appears to consciousness as external, [and these natural, external appearances are] replaced in the standpoint of science—of spirit—by true knowledge.”88 To become spirit as spirit, a self must acknowledge that nature, as an external idea for consciousness, is not essential. If oneself as spirit does not move beyond external ideas towards the reality of spirit in itself as the essence of self-consciousness, then the spirit experiences despair, doubt, and the loss of self-consciousness. Without the scientific vantage point, for Hegel, spirit is trapped in the idea of the reality, rather than the phenomenal appearance, of nature, external ideas, and things. Hannay relates this view to Anti-Climacus by emphasizing his Hegelian dimensions. “[Hegel’s development of spirit and consciousness] sounds remarkably like Anti-Climacus’s account of the individual’s path to despair, in light of the failure of people even to ‘make so much as an attempt at this life.’”89 Though Hannay is right in pointing out the clear Hegelian connection, it is also quite true that Anti-Climacus’ idea of spirit represents a movement beyond Hegelian thought. For instance, Jon Stewart argues that the real move “beyond” that Anti-Climacus makes is not directed towards Hegel, but towards Hans Lassen Martensen. “Whereas for Anti-Climacus the emphasis is on the single-individual ‘before God,’ [for Martensen] the emphasis is on ‘the human race before God’ and on an ‘objective justification.’”90 Here, Kierkegaard gives spirit a different end than Hegel and Martensen: rather than a unified selfconsciousness or a collective body, it is the particular faithful individual. To be a faithful being, the positive relation that is the basis for spiritual selfhood, is to lack the negation or dialectical pole of faith: despair. In The Sickness Unto Death, Anti-Climacus explicates the experience of despair as 87 Hannay, Kierkegaard and Philosophy, p. 66. The quotation is from Philosophy of Right, p. 21. 88 Hannay, Kierkegaard and Philosophy, p. 67. 89 Hannay, Kierkegaard and Philosophy, p. 67. The Anti-Climacus quotation is from Søren Kierkegaard, The Sickness Unto Death, trans. Alastair Hannay (New York, 1989), p. 8. 90 Stewart, Kierkegaard’s Relations to Hegel Reconsidered, p. 569.

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a mood which offers a clue to how one relates to oneself, existence, and God. Despair is a consequence of human freedom as well as the responsibility of a self to will and choose to become a self. “From the relation in which the synthesis relates itself to itself, inasmuch as God, who constituted man a relation, releases it from his hands, as it were—that is, inasmuch as the relation relates itself to itself.”91 Again, a self is synthetic, and God has given each self the responsibility to develop relationally, and it is this responsibility over which a self despairs. What drives a self to despair arises out of Climacus’ grounding assumption that each self desires to be something. Again, a presupposition of Kierkegaard is that a self desires to be a true being. “Consequently, it is an existing spirit who asks about truth, presumably because he wants to exist in it.”92 Climacus assumes that a self values truth as the means to understand oneself and one’s place in the world. He also assumes that the modernist project fails, as certainty about the world and ontological matters is impossible. But in the search for a solid ontological foundation, a self experiences despair through a misrelating or a conflating of the qualitative dialectics, leading to the failure to become a true self. In fact, because becoming true is an act within existence, life always has some form of despair within it. For example, for a self, to lack finitude and only hold onto the infinite is a form of despair, just as the opposite is as well. To exist as a Christian in the truth of being is to balance these dialectics by willing oneself to relate to the Christian God. But although the experience of despair is universal (or for everyone but Adam and Eve according to The Concept of Anxiety), not all humans are conscious of such freedom and responsibility. “The ever increasing intensity of despair depends upon the degree of consciousness or is proportionate to this increase: the greater the degree of consciousness, the more intensive the despair.”93 The greater one is aware of the demand of becoming true and the desire to become true, the greater the despair. There are then qualitative degrees of despair. The lower form of the sickness of despair is to lack the consciousness of the responsibility of willing to be oneself. As Stephen Dunning writes, “the self is consciousness that is conscious of itself as a synthesis of opposites.”94 But here, one is not aware of this synthetic self and the demands to relate properly with the dialectic structure. This lower form of despair also equates with the least intense experience of despair, as one does not even know that one is despairing for one is not conscious that one is a spiritual creature. One does not have an awareness of the synthetic self as a The Sickness Unto Death, p. 16. Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 191. 93 The Sickness Unto Death, p. 42. 94 Dunning, Kierkegaard’s Dialectic of Inwardness, p. 215. 91 92

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relation between the infinite and finite poles. In a slightly higher form, with the consciousness of what it means to become a self, one may not will to be oneself, but instead may wish to establish oneself by seeking to be someone else. To relate oneself to someone else in the hope that one becomes that other self is an utter misrelating for Anti-Climacus, and ignores the depth of consciousness of despair. It ignores that one must become oneself by rightly relating to a true account of being. The opposite of the mood of despair is when a self rightly relates itself dialectically to the Christian God. “The formula that describes the state of the self when despair is completely rooted out is this: in relating itself to itself and in willing to be itself, the self rests transparently in the power that established it.”95 To be a true self, one must fully be relating oneself to God as one’s creator, amidst such qualitative dialectics of infinite/finite, necessity/freedom, and actuality/ possibility. In Climacus’ terms, this mode of relating is dialectical, in which a self ’s how, as the subjective mode of relating to this truth, and the what, as the content of this truth that is itself only knowable through a subjective relation, are rightly oriented. To return to Anti-Climacus, despair is thus a mood through which to understand one’s existence. Despair can never be overcome by one’s own actions; it is a constant part of life. In fact, when in the grip of intense despair, a self wants and even hopes to die, but does not, making the despair worse. Although on the surface one may be in despair because of an external object, what really is the root of despair is one’s very being: “An individual in despair despairs over something. So it seems for a moment, but only for a moment; in the same moment the true despair or despair in its true form shows itself. In despairing over something, he really despaired over himself, and now he wants to be rid of himself.”96 Indeed, the true sickness unto death is the fact that the existing, relating self is constantly becoming a self: one can never be a true being. Being responsible for oneself means being responsible for all actions in the past as well. It means to acknowledge responsibility for one’s past. The only way to truly free oneself from the responsibility of becoming a self is death; a part of despair is then the reality of the inability to die, as a self always exists. Only in death is one released from the demands of becoming a self. Here my view is opposite that of Dunning, who argues that even a “spiritual death results in being condemned to one’s despairing self for all eternity.”97 On The Sickness Unto Death, p. 14. The Sickness Unto Death, p. 18. 97 Dunning, Kierkegaard’s Dialectic of Inwardness, p. 216. 95 96

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the contrary, I understand Anti-Climacus as arguing for death ending despair through the movement from existence to non-existence. In the passage Dunning quotes, Anti-Climacus discusses that “death is not the end of the sickness, but death is incessantly the end. To be saved from this sickness is an impossibility, because the sickness and its torment—and the death—are precisely this inability to die.”98 Anti-Climacus’ concern is that death frees a self from the despair associated with trying to become a self. Despair is essentially a temporal experience of a self in a dialectical motion, rather than an aspect of the eternal. In this release, despair is no longer an issue; the inability to die corresponds with lived existence, not the state beyond. But this release is an impossibility as to die is to succumb to the demands of the eternal and thereby to stop existing; it is to cease being dialectical. Thus, despair is a consequence of the self as being a spiritual and material creature. These elements demand that one lives conscious of one’s more-thanmaterial nature. Here, the self is conscious that it is essentially different than the external world; a self can transcend temporal goals, material things, and the world.99 Yet, as existing, a self can never permanently attain such a state. One is always between pure possibility and pure actuality, between being and non-being. The impossible striving for selfhood is a constant feature of one’s life, reflecting the “claim of the eternal upon” a self.100 And because one cannot be freed from it within life itself and despair is not a condition after death, essentially, this inability to die and thus ceasing to have to attempt to relate dialectically, is despair. A self in despair misunderstands how or what to relate to, both of which are untrue forms of relating. For Hannay, Anti-Climacus’ relational selfhood can then be understood as describing a crisis. “Spirit is not to be equated with the true self but with the self aware of the options of health and sickness from the standpoint of either, though initially from that of sickness, that is, from the standpoint from which conforming to the true self is a task.”101 A self, in relating itself to itself, has become conscious of being qualified by a dialectical structure to existence: both infinite and finite, both free and determined by necessity. But spirit-consciousness then only adds to the depth of the task related to becoming. The Sickness Unto Death, p. 21. Hannay also makes a distinction, out of his understanding of Hegel, that spirit/ self are different than the soul. Anti-Climacus does not make such a distinction, instead focusing on selfhood as determined by how a self relates itself to existence itself, and, more importantly, God. 100 The Sickness Unto Death, p. 21. 101 Hannay, Kierkegaard and Philosophy, p. 70. 98 99

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Even as a spiritual being, “despair is itself an action of the spiritual subject unwilling to conform to its true self,” meaning even with the awareness of oneself as a spiritual creature, despair remains a problem.102 Because of the impossibility of truly being a self, one is always sick, never able to find rest amidst its relation to material and spiritual elements. Yet, in describing the self ’s movement through despair, the dialectical mode of relating has a progressive nature, a progression related to the movement towards the faith relation that should center one’s self-consciousness. Such a progression is an example again of Anti-Climacus’ familiarity with Hegel. Thus, Stewart sees hints of Hegel’s dialectical logic from Phenomenology of Spirit in this argument. “There is more at work than simply the replacement of individual categories with others. There seems to be a determinate linear progression, and the order of the stages cannot be changed or revised without harming the developmental movement of thought.”103 The movement from the lower to the higher forms of despair includes a three-stage movement prior to the highest self-understanding: sin-consciousness. The lowest stage revolves around one’s ignorance of being despair; like A’s Don, one lacks the knowledge of the need to desire to become. The middle stage stresses a self-world relation rooted in earthly desires. Here, one chooses to determine oneself as a self in relation to the movement towards external things, finite things that denigrate the self as a spiritual, infinite self. In the process, the self no longer has (or never had) the consciousness of oneself as an eternal, spiritual self. The third stage is an active, defiant willingness to ignore one’s eternal nature. To will oneself in defiance, within which Anti-Climacus includes the Stoics, is to hold the consciousness of the self as a spiritual, infinite self, but gives the willing over to imaginary constructions, to ideas of selfhood like the pre-fall Adam and Eve. But such ideas are not a form of self-consciousness about true selfhood; “the self in despair is always building only castles in the air, is only shadowboxing.”104 To will to be oneself in defiance is a defiant act because it ignores the true depth of sin within human existence. The will is bound and cannot rightly relate itself to oneself without relating to the Christian God. Accordingly, moving beyond despair means that a self must become conscious of itself as a spiritual and temporal being, a recognition that depends on the imagination. Reflecting the modern idea of the importance of the imagination, seen in Kant and Hegel, this self-consciousness depends on the imagination. “In Hannay, Kierkegaard and Philosophy, p. 71. Stewart, Kierkegaard’s Relation to Hegel Reconsidered, p. 581. 104 The Sickness Unto Death, p. 69. 102

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order for a person to become aware of his self and of God, imagination must raise him higher than the miasma of probability, it must tear him out of this and teach him to hope and to fear—or to fear and to hope—by rendering possible that which surpasses the quantum satis [sufficient amount] of any experience.”105 Imagined possibilities are needed in order to see oneself as spiritual, though too much imagination leads one to relate to fantastical possibilities, as in ‘building only castles in the air.’ A balance must be found, one grounded in the truth of being and the recognition that existence is qualified dialectically. And by imaginatively seeing oneself as more than a material body, despair begins to attain its highest form because this spirit-consciousness is rooted in the Christian conception of sin. It is standing before God, ever aware of God’s law and thus the brokenness of the God-self relation that is then the highest form of despair. The fundamental definition of sin, in an existence comprised of motion, is to not properly will oneself to be a true being before God. “Sin is: before God, or with the conception of God, in despair not to will to be oneself, or in despair to will to be oneself. Thus sin is intensified weakness or intensified defiance: sin is the intensification of despair.”106 Sin is to either defiantly will oneself to be despite God, or to not attempt to be true at all. In both cases, a self experiences despair to its greatest degree of intensity. Consequently, a self ’s despair comes from the fact that both weakness and defiance are examples of willing gone awry. Willing in defiance avoids acknowledging that one is dependent upon God for becoming a true being; willing in weakness avoids acknowledging that one must choose to strive to become true. Consequently, sin relates to the tension between absolute freedom and absolute dependence within the Kierkegaardian framework. A self must will both in freedom and in dependence in order to properly will to be. And in the end, it is only by knowing oneself as a sinner—as one who untruthfully wills— that a self can begin to will truthfully. Sin, as such, is itself a form of misrelating, as opposed to a genetic condition in this instance. An additional implication is that despair is an experience based on either ignorance or a lack of confidence regarding God’s actions on behalf of humanity through Christ. Without this awareness and confidence that God has given humanity the true ontological possibility, a self either strives through its own will to become a true being, or does not try at all, both of which are relational modes that intensify the experience of despair. Though Anti-Climacus suggests the impossibility of a complete freedom from despair, a right relational orientation The Sickness Unto Death, p. 41. The Sickness Unto Death, p. 78.

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towards ending despair requires that a self freely will both a dependent relation to God as the source of ontological truth but also an active confidence that God has freed a self from the sickness of sin. Through such a relation, a self becomes a particular individual. Each self stands before God through the demand and failure of being a true self: “Thus offense is related to the single individual. And with this, Christianity begins, that is, with making every man a single individual, an individual sinner.”107 In order to become a true self, through the freedom and responsibility given to a self by God, a self must recognize one’s status before God; one is a sinner and stands alone before God. It is from this self-consciousness that becoming a true self begins. But this idea, of lacking truth in one’s being, suggests another element to the definition of sin: a state of ignorance. Climacus, never explicitly writing as a Christian, develops this dimension of sin. Sin is ingrained within the self to the depth that the self does not have the capacity to even recognize sin without something from outside of human capacity providing the standard for which humans should be. Consequently, there is a distinction between Christian and non-Christian self-understanding. Sin is thus both willful action, as AntiClimacus develops it, and a state of being. Climacus uses Socrates as his interlocutor in order to develop this idea of sin as an ontological state. In Philosophical Fragments, he argues that there is a distinction between the thought-worlds of Socratic epistemology and Christianity. Although he is obviously discussing Christianity and the decisive role that Christ plays in bringing salvation to humanity, Climacus never makes an explicit reference to Christ, preferring to use terms such as “teacher,” “savior,” “redeemer” and “the god.” Presumably, writing as someone who never claims to be a Christian and who takes Socrates as his conversation partner, the thrust of his argument is to coach a decidedly Christian argument within a decidedly non-Christian framework of terms. Socrates answers the question, Can truth be learned?, by arguing, “that all learning and seeking are but recollecting.”108 In the Socratic method, a self engages in a dialectical process in order to recollect the truth of being from within oneself. In the human capacity to re-collect this truth, Socrates presupposes that one already has truth within oneself and has merely forgotten it. Ergo, the truth of being, of what type of self to become, can be recollected through the dialectical, dialogical process of questioning and answering; this method then engages the pre-existing ontological structure dormant within human nature. Epistemologically, humans within Socrates’ The Sickness Unto Death, p. 122. Philosophical Fragments, p. 9.

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understanding have the condition to discover and know existential truth within their being. To not understand is a form of ignorance, as one should understand for one has the condition to understand. This method is the basis for Plato’s Socrates describing himself as a midwife and his dialectical method as a maieutic method. In the Socratic form of recollection, any formative moment is accidental or contingent. As Evans writes, “the teacher on this view will only be an occasion, a midwife who helps the learner discover his or her own self-sufficiency [to know truth]. The moment at which this self-realization occurs thus has no essential importance, for the moment at which I acquire the Truth is also the moment that I did not acquire it, but have always possessed it.”109 The Socratic moment is a mere temporal and spatial frame that allows a soul to recollect its true nature. Climacus writes of a different conception of human understanding, one grounded in a terminologically veiled, yet clearly Christian worldview. In this view, humans lack the condition to be true; in fact, through sin, humans exist as untruth. “But this state—to be untruth and to be that through one’s own fault— what can we call it? Let us call it sin.”110 Humans have lost the condition to understand God and to know true existence and thus connect truth and being. Because sin was an act of free will, a self cannot will itself to be free unless it knows that it is bound. But to know that it is bound to sin requires that one have the pre-condition that it understands that it is bound, and thus can will itself to be free. Here, Climacus argues that humans lack the will to free themselves because they lack an awareness of their sinful condition. Yet it is not a matter of ignorance, as ignorance is only a possibility if one already has the potential to know. This potential is based on having the condition within oneself to know the essential truths of life, including the truth of being. Yet, before Christ as a teacher of truth, however, such a condition was lacking. Christ, as both God and human, thus becomes decisive for becoming a self. Climacus covertly depicts his discussion of Christ within Philosophical Fragments and the idea of an ‘eternal teacher,’ one that instructs humanity on how to exist. But more to the point, this teacher is in its very being the moment that is of decisive significance for eternal happiness and subjectivity. Such a moment provides the very condition for the possibility for understanding the reality of sin for human existence and thus the truth of being. As such, Climacus develops the decisive significance of the Christ moment: a teacher from beyond time who breaks into time. It is a decidedly temporal yet Evans, Passionate Reason, p. 26. Philosophical Fragments/ Johannes Climacus, p. 15.

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non-temporal moment. Rather than a mere accident or an experience in which a self can recollect what one forgot, the decisive moment is necessary for the very possibility of selfhood. This moment decisively allows a self to realize that one lacks the very possibility of being a self. “A moment such as this is unique. To be sure, it is short and temporal, as the moment is; it is passing, as the moment is, past, as the moment is in the next moment, and yet it is decisive, and yet it is filled with the eternal. A moment such as this must have a special name. Let us call it: the fullness of time.”111 The teacher is the moment and therefore gives the very condition for understanding the truth of being as well as giving this truth.112 Again, he also gives transformative grace along with this truth of being, a truth that contains an ‘assisting love but also a procreative love.’ This truth of being includes the revelation that a human has an eternal element. This element points to the reality that humans are spiritual creatures that exist both beyond yet within time and space. His being, consequently, reveals sin, leading to sin-consciousness. “The teacher, then, is the god himself, who, acting as the occasion, prompts the learner to be reminded that he is in untruth and is that through his own fault. But this state—to be untruth and to be that through one’s own fault—what can we call it? Let us call it sin.”113 Ultimately, Climacus suggests that sin is being untrue, unlike Anti-Climacus’ view that stresses sin as a matter of will, meaning his stress is on sin as a state of being. And within this description of sin and despair is an affirmation that the human self has a degree of freedom. This idea suggests that the Kierkegaardian authors are at least partially influenced by the modern tradition, post-Kant, rather than merely a traditional Lutheran account of sin and grace. For example, Climacus writes, “all coming into existence occurs in freedom, not by way of necessity.”114 Humans have the responsibility to become a self; if a self became something by necessity, then there would be no human responsibility, no point in striving, and thus no freedom. But this freedom is not total, pure freedom, as developed within Modernity.

Philosophical Fragments/ Johannes Climacus, p. 18. An interesting parallel exists between Paul and Climacus on the nature of human and divine wisdom. For instance, in 1 Corinthians, Paul writes, “Where is the one who is wise? Where is the Scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation to save those who believe”(1 Cor. 20–21 NRSV). 113 Philosophical Fragments/ Johannes Climacus, p. 15. 114 Philosophical Fragments/ Johannes Climacus, p. 75. 111 112

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Behind Kierkegaard’s development of the sickness of sin lies his concern that sin has been ignored by his age. And in re-forming and correcting his age through a rich account of sin, he tactically calls his readers to a deeper sinconsciousness. In his view, sin has corrupted humanity such that humans cannot even know they are bound and unfree. “And yet he is indeed unfree and bound and excluded, because to be free from the truth is indeed to be excluded, and to be excluded by oneself is indeed to be bound.” 115 To truly be free is to live through truth, and sin has made this possibility impossible. There are clear resonances here of Luther’s Freedom of a Christian, a text Kierkegaard owned.116 For Luther, a Christian is made free from anxiety and inner struggle through God’s promises and Christ’s action on the Cross. This true freedom does not end the importance of ethical actions, but calls a Christian to recognize that the anxiety that is a part of striving to make one right with God through one’s works is fruitless. God has already made one right through Christ. Kierkegaard reads this claim as a type of antinomianism, especially as practiced within his context where being a Danish citizen “made” one into a Christian. Thus, in Works of Love and For Self-Examination, he stresses the need for works to make faith active. Yet, he nonetheless recognizes the transformative power of God’s actions in Christ. Despair can only be ended through a faithful, trusting, God-self relation. Second, although without using the terms, Climacus re-forms the concepts of assisting and procreative grace that a self receives by learning this divinelyrevealed truth, by emphasizing a human role in accepting divine activity within one’s life. Therefore, a self is both free to act and yet bound, making the self partially responsible for rightly becoming. As dialectical, both human freedom and divine determinism are necessary. Here, Kierkegaard diverges from Luther, stressing the importance of free choice in order to ‘correct’ Luther by stressing becoming as both a human and divine activity, both about faith and works. This argument runs counter to Luther’s thought, especially in Bondage of the Will, as he argued for complete divine transformation of a self in order for one to become a Christian. Kierkegaard thus sought to properly restore these dialectics Philosophical Fragments/ Johannes Climacus, p. 15. He owned Philipp Marheineke’s Geschichte der teutschen Reformation from 1816, which includes excerpts from Freedom of a Christian, a text he took notes on in his papers (see I C 1 in Papirer). Beginning in 1847, he also read Luther’s Church Postil, a collection of Luther’s sermons covering the church year, and extensively studied Luther’s Small Catechism. For instance, he writes about telling a scientist “that any man has all he needs in his conscience and in Luther’s Small Catechism” as the basis for selfhood (JP, vol. 3, p. 243/VII1 A 186, n.d., 1846). 115

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as such, seeing the Danish Lutheran church as ignoring the true depth of sin as well as the need for a willful response to God’s activity to become a Christian. Finally, unlike modern thinkers such as Kant, freedom is deeply intertwined with sin for Kierkegaard, which thereby ‘corrects’ the intellectual tradition of his age. In The Concept of Anxiety, Vigilius Haufniensis asserts that sin was brought about by anxiety over the abyss of freedom that faced Adam. Although Adam did not necessarily have to sin, as he existed in a state of posse non peccare [possible not to sin], the anxiety that he experienced over how to act when faced with freedom was the contributing factor to the origin of sin. But Haufniensis also describes sin as rooted in the universal psychological reality of anxiety. Humans, generations removed from Adam and the first sin, experience anxiety over their own freedom. The anxiety that led to Adam’s sin is repeated anew in each person; thus, sinfulness is experienced and personalized anew within each individual. This sin-consciousness enables a self to have the possibility to become a true subject. It also connects Kierkegaard’s thought again to the Lutheran conception of the theological use of the biblical law for human understanding. In short, humans are ignorant of being guilty before God, and God must then diagnosis this sickness. Ultimately, through the law, the diagnosis leads to a sin-consciousness that recognizes one’s guilt. Guilt is hidden, within one’s inward nature, a realm that only God can judge. Fundamentally, it arises out of the fact that a self does not relate at all times to the truth of being. It is also uniquely a religious concept, as philosophical truth has no such concept. As religious, to be guilty means that one constantly misrelates to God, a determinate reality for an existing self. “Because it is an existing person who is supposed to relate himself to it [truth], but guilt is the most concrete expression of existence, the consciousness of guilt is the expression for the relation.”117 To have learned the truth of being is to recognize that one is not properly relating to it because of sin. But even more deeply, through despair, one should examine one’s life (echoing Socrates’ task) and discover one’s failure to be the self as God intended, thereby leading to a relational re-orientation towards becoming a self. Conclusion In the arc of my argument, this chapter develops two claims. One, the becoming self is at the center of Kierkegaard’s account of selfhood. His primary aim is to Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 528.

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address ontological concerns; it is about one’s ontological nature, something including yet beyond thoughts, choices, actions, and passions. Becoming is about possibility and actuality, a dialectic that demands that a self rightly relate to both within a historical context. It is an infinite process as God created each person with a task: to become a self. This movement towards true selfhood begins with the divine act of Christ’s incarnation. Second, existence is dialectical in that there are numerous oppositional poles that one must relate to rightly in order to become. Dialectic is also a mode of relating; it is about becoming a faithful being, desiring to be right with oneself, others, and God. Much of this chapter is descriptive; it describes ideas such as becoming, sin, despair, and the like. What this chapter does not do, however, is develop the particular Kierkegaardian account of how a self, as a free yet bound being, uses its capacities to actualize Christian possibility. In particular, amidst an existence framed by the dialectics of freedom/necessity, possibility/actuality, and the material world, the imitation of Christ is the relational mode that is decisive in terms of properly orienting one’s thinking, choosing and desires towards subjectivity. Making sense of how this orientation happens is thus the next step in my argument. This orientation is an art, making human formation a Christocentric act of ontological formation. It enables a person to live a loving life ‘recognizable by its fruit.’ And as an art, human becoming relates to the aesthetic ideas of form and concept: to be a true being, a self must unite Christian truth as its content within its particular existing, embodied form. The question then about how one actualizes content and form within this ontological art is a vital next step.

Chapter 3

Christ and the Art of Subjective Becoming

Christ came to the world with the purpose of saving the world, also with the purpose of being the prototype, of leaving footprints for the person who wanted to join him, who then might become an imitator, this indeed corresponds to ‘footprints.’ 1 Anti-Climacus, Practice in Christianity

Let us not forget this: if the paradox does not provide the condition, then the learner is in possession of it; but if he is in possession of the condition, then he is eo ipso himself the truth, and the moment is only the moment of occasion. 2 Climacus, Philosophical Fragments

Then, my listener, then—then comes the life-giving Spirit. When? When this has happened, when you are dead to, for just as it says, “If we have died with Christ, so shall we also live with him,” it can also be said: If we are to live with him, then we must die with him. First Death—then life. 3 Kierkegaard, For Self-Examination

To exist is an art. The subjective thinker is esthetic enough for his life to have esthetic content, ethical enough to regulate it, dialectical enough in thinking to master it. 4 Climacus, Concluding Unscientific Postscript Practice in Christianity, p. 238. Philosophical Fragments/Johannes Climacus, p. 59. 3 Søren Kierkegaard, For Self-Examination/Judge for Yourself !, trans. Howard and Edna Hong (Princeton, 1990), p. 81. The Hongs link this quote to II Timothy 2:11. 4 Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 351. 1 2

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This chapter is about the nitty-gritty work of becoming subjective. Amidst the dialectical structure that orients human becoming, Kierkegaard offers an artistically-rich concept of how such a formation is possible, a view that then adds depth to his development of the aesthetic as an fragmented authorial tactic. It is not a surprise, given his predilection and appreciation for aesthetic playfulness, that such becoming is an art form; ‘to exist is an art.’ Each person has the responsibility to creatively produce oneself (albeit with God’s assistance) as a Christian. This production requires rightly relating to oneself, others, and God. God provides the content (Christ) and each person provides the existing, embodied form. The art of subjectivity is a relational art; to rightly relate form and content within one’s existence orients oneself towards becoming a Christian subject. Within this aesthetic of becoming, the concepts of content and form are the primary analytical categories that frame his argument. Having developed the formal shape of becoming in the previous chapter, my argument in this chapter offers clarity about the precise ontological content that lies at the heart of becoming. It also describes the human capacities that each self, as a particular form, must use to actualize this content. Rather than some vague notion of authenticity or a self-generated idea of selfhood, the true ontological possibility as the subjective content for becoming is Christ; his very nature and lived historical reality universally gives each particular person the content to actualize as one’s being. Christ is decisive in three ways. One, he is a historical event that atoned for human sin. This past moment, ever an unexpected and undeserved gift of God, erupted into human time; through his death and resurrection, he restored the right relation between God and human as a soteriological act. Further, Christ is always a present moment for each person. Because of sin, there should be no possibility of knowing what it means to be a true self as humans are unable to understand such ontological truth through merely human capacities. Yet, Christ, as a paradoxical teacher, gracefully offers each person the condition for understanding the truth about the human condition, one that sets limits on human thought. Finally, Christ’s life as the true image of being human is the third element to Kierkegaard’s Christology. He is a prototype, the true human form and content for an imitator (as in a ‘redoubler’) to become. Though being Christ is impossible, here Christ serves as an ever hoped for future mimetic possibility, thereby revealing the ontological content for each person to actualize as one’s living form. Delimiting Christ, however, also means dealing with Kierkegaard’s perspective on biblical interpretation. He makes a clear distinction between Christ (as the way) and the Bible (as a sign), meaning the Bible is not a perfect

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text. Rather, it is the means to hear about God’s action in Christ (as the gospel) and the truth about the human condition (as the law). Though universally revealing to every person such truth, the Bible is also a love letter from God, directed at each person as a particular individual. And as a love letter, its primary theme—the reality of yet freedom from sin through faith in Christ—is clear and does not require special skills, teachers, or books for a hearer to understand. Indeed, rather than striving for historical truth or a clearer understanding of the sources and social structure of the biblical books, in the Bible one hears the call to become a true subject. It diagnoses the human sickness and its cure in Christ that makes true mimesis an actual possibility for a self. With Christ being the content, God’s activity is always an element in producing a self, as a type of poesis; yet, as becoming is a dialectical action, human activity is also necessary. Thus, each person, as a particular embodied, temporally existing form, must actualize this content. Though grounded in a sin-consciousness, actualizing this content within existence requires three determinate, formal capacities: the imagination, will, and passion. A person’s imagination can grasp the image of Christ, offering clarity about the type of self one is called to become. The will, ever able to choose other ways of being, must yet stridently choose this Christian content, no matter the worldly consequences. Finally, and in a number of ways most importantly, a self ’s passion moves one towards actualizing this content in the world. Passion, with faith as its highest form, is the direct cause of becoming. An existing self must use these capacities to strive to rightly relate to Christ by striving to enact Christ’s life as the content to one’s form of life. This actualization of Christian content within a person’s material form is a productive art, for it produces a certain type of self: a subject. It is a form of poesis, a making of the self. As an art, Kierkegaard uncovers then a Christian account of ontological formation rooted in an aesthetic framework. Overall, this aim lies behind Kierkegaard’s stress on upbuilding (Opbyggelige) oneself to become a Christian self throughout the authorship. Partially it is an art made possible by God, as only through God’s transformative actions can a self by nature properly relate to God through faith. But also in part, it is one’s subjective, embodied form, experiencing life within a dialectical structure and ever conscious of sin, that strives to become through a form of life that is imaginative, willful, and passionate. In this art of subjectivity, Christian truth is decisively an ontological type of truth, rather than propositional in nature. Christianity, rather than merely a set of epistemological creeds, transforms one’s existing being, as in loves, actions, thoughts, habits, rules, etc. that thereby allow for one to develop a certain kind of essential nature. It is subjective, both in terms of what it reveals but also

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how one is to relate to it. To rightly relate to Christian truth is about knowing intertwined with doing, about being and acting. Ever dialectical, it is a self that is both free and determined, both form and content. Framed by Christ and divine revelation, it yet creatively appropriates the Socratic focus on knowing oneself as well as the Aristotelian wisdom about actualizing possibility. Each opposite is necessary, and holding these poles in tension is therefore what comprises the self in its becoming. And in the process, one becomes it, thereby transforming one’s nature into a subject: responsible, loving, neighbor-focused, Christ-like. It is this act of self-production, always grounded in divine love and grace that is the art of existence; it is the task of becoming a subject. True Becoming: Subjectivity Like the Socratic examined life, Kierkegaard stresses right understanding as a formative moment for each self. It is only through the consciousness of the human sickness that makes one ready for the cure in Christ. This cure is decisively God’s action, as in the incarnational event of Christ. An ever-present occasion, Christ makes the impossible possible: human transformation into a Christian subject. Such a right formation describes the idea that “truth is subjectivity.”5 Becoming the truth makes one into a true subject. And with this intertwining of truth and being, Kierkegaard’s thought reveals a conception of human formation derived from the world of aesthetics. His development of subjectivity arises out of an analogy between ontological formation and artistic creation, particularly around the relationship between form and content. Like art, created by uniting form and content, becoming a subject is about the knitting together of content (as ontological possibility) and form (as one’s actual existing being). For example, in Either/Or I, A discusses the connection between form and content. Though the Homeric ages understood the need to integrate form and matter, A’s age refuses to combine these two. Instead, thinkers, particularly Hegelians, focus merely on form, rather than content, ignoring the reality that “both parts [form and matter/content] belong essentially together” as elements of human becoming.6 Though A also uses form and content to describe an artistic classic (Mozart’s Don Giovanni), his account provides an entry point into recognizing Kierkegaard’s idea of selfhood as a matter of rightly relating content and form within one’s worldly existence.

5 6

Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 189. Either/Or, vol. 1, p. 50.

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Climacus expresses this perspective most succinctly. “The subjective-thinker is not a scientist-scholar: he is an artist. To exist is an art. The subjective thinker is esthetic enough for his life to have esthetic content, ethical enough to regulate it, dialectical enough in thinking to master it.”7 True selfhood is about subjectivity, but it can only take place within existence, rather than merely in the mind or in pure thought. Pointedly then, existing as a true being is an art. This art has two primary elements. One, becoming a subject is a creative act, a form of poesis, as in the Greek idea of “making.” Second, it is about the art of rightly relating to, as in dialectically, the various poles of one’s ontological structure, such as freedom/ necessity, knowing/doing, and divine/human action. Though this task is universal, each particular person is responsible for how one relates to this structure, meaning each self is responsible for embodying a right relation as its unique calling. Rightly relating means that one is oriented towards truthful becoming. Within both elements, this art means rightly linking content and form in which a self redoubles dialectically the proper normative way of being in the world (ex. the universal Christian content as Climacus’ what), inwardly (ex. through interested, inward passion as the how) that leads to actualizing this content in one’s existing form. As Climacus puts it, it is about: “An objective uncertainty, held fast through appropriation with the most passionate inwardness, is the truth, the highest truth there is for an existing person.”8 This truth is both an objective, universal understanding (i.e. its content) and a subjective, particular way of relating to this object as an existing form. As a co-production, it requires God’s actions in Christ and the human response to these actions through an imaginative, willful, and passionate imitation as the right means of relating form and content. Doing so, though impossible, places one on the ontological path to becoming a subject. Subjectivity’s Content Thinking about becoming in this way requires first recognizing Kierkegaard’s critical appropriation of the Idealist and Romantic notions of truth, aesthetics, and subjectivity. As described earlier, he was influenced by thinkers such as F.W. J. Schelling (1775–1854) and Friedrich Schlegel (1772–1829), along with Danish figures such as Heiberg, Oehlenschläger, and Steffens. Schelling, for

7 8

Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 351. Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 203.

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instance, viewed philosophical truth and sensual beauty as essentially related. “Truth that is not beauty is also not absolute truth, and vice versa.”9 As a result, in the aesthetically beautiful, the true and absolute form of a thing is presented; art then presents ideals, as its content, in their truest form.10 Again, Schlegel was an important influence on Kierkegaard. Schlegel’s aesthetic works, which included novels and poetic-philosophical commentaries, aimed to combine transcendental philosophy with poetry. Here, poetry is actually a higher form of philosophic discourse than that offered by philosophy. In fact, it better expresses Kantian truths than Kant’s works. In particular, it reveals the subjective, rational self as the center of value and truth. This self has a specific telos: to become like God. Becoming God-like means progressing to a state of mystical experience, where one moves beyond materiality into the realm of the imagination. It is in the imagination where true freedom, like divine freedom, exists. This move is also a moral move, as mystical experience is an act of pure freedom, thereby actualizing the highest human good. The poetic form best brings about such a progression, as it best reveals the truth of selfhood as its content. Poetry uses imagination to put into practice pure freedom, as ‘there philosophy comes into being.’ It moves beyond all forms of social, political, aesthetic and religious traditions and expresses the historical and temporal elements of human existence. But in so doing, poetry is never fixed; like human subjectivity, it is always becoming, never restricted to a specific form or hierarchy of values. The aesthetic then teaches a self about the truth of transcendental freedom. In reaction to these affirmations of aesthetics, Kierkegaard gives a decidedly different conceptual definition of truth, though like Schelling and Schlegel, one deeply embedded within self formation. But in the process, he critically disrupts these truth claims in order to allow Christian truth to flourish. Hegelian pure knowing or thinking, a view resonant with Schlegel and Schelling, ignores sin: “pure thinking is a phantom.”11 Climacus’ point is that human reason is limited, affected by sin. For example, to think that one understands the being of God relates fallen reason with divine being that denies one’s sinful reality. Human existence F.W.J. Schelling, The Philosophy of Art, trans. Douglas W. Scott (Minneapolis, 1989), p. 31. Kierkegaard owned a large number of Schelling’s works at the time of his death, including Philosophische Schriften (1809) and Erste Vorlesungen in Berlin (1841). He also visited Berlin in 1841 in order to attend Schelling’s lectures on Philosophie der Offenbarung, though he was disappointed with the lectures. These lectures have been collected and included in Hong’s translation of The Concept of Irony (Søren Kierkegaard, The Concept of Irony, trans. Howard and Edna Hong (Princeton, 1989). 11 Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 316.

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is permeated with sin, and human reason cannot know “pure truth.” This fallen reason necessitates the role of the teacher within Philosophical Fragments, who provides the moment and the possibility for true self-consciousness, grounded in sin-consciousness, to develop. Further, aesthetic perception, as in receiving sensate input, is also error-ridden. “The trustworthiness of sense perception is a deception.”12 Like thought, natural evidence received through the senses about how to act and relate to existence is false. Human knowing is corrupted by sin, a fact that humans cannot even know without a teacher from beyond time and creation. Thus, unlike the philosophical truth of Schelling and Schlegel that can be seen in sensual beauty, it must be divinely revealed. Yet, like Schelling and Schlegel, Kierkegaard’s making way for Christian truth requires that one rightly relate both content and form. In this sense, he appropriates aesthetic metaphors and a conceptually rich tradition to re-present the Christian call to become a self. But rather than stressing sensual art works, it is the human subject that is the greatest artistic creation. Aesthetics, at its highest, relates to subjective truth: subjective production arises when a self (as the ontological form) actualizes an ontological possibility (as one’s content) that then determines one’s being. As a result, truth in the subjective mode is not propositional, as in some form of adequate correlation between a term and definition or between sensual beauty (form) and conceptual idea (content). Rather, it is a ‘redoubling’ or imitating of the truth of being within one’s existence, thereby embodying Christ’s love in the world. Kierkegaard must then clarify the ontological content as one element of this truth. Unlike the vapid truth of pure freedom, it must have some objective and universal element while at the same time be able to be subjectively appropriated, unlike a math proof. It cannot be entirely subjective for if it were so, it would only be a relative truth, not the ground to base one’s existence upon. This truth must come from beyond human capacities; otherwise, it too would be laden with sin. He thus points to the being and life of Christ as the content of the truth of subjectivity. And to rightfully relate to this truth is to become it as one’s embodied being; it is to actualize Christ as one’s form. Christ is paradoxical, an impossibility that nonetheless reveals the majesty and loving character of God in the process. God is the sole orderer and sustainer of the world. Humans live, love, change, and receive their being from this God. But ultimately God’s being is radically “other” from creation, including humanity. “But between God and the human being (just let speculative thought

Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 316.

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keep humankind to perform tricks with), there is an absolute difference.”13 As different, God is thus not ontologically enmeshed or dependent on creation. In The Moment, Kierkegaard writes, “God is changeless. Omnipotent, he created this visible world—and made himself invisible. He put on the visible world as a garment; he changes it as one changes a garment—himself unchanged. So it is in the sensate world. In the world of events, he is everywhere present at every moment.”14 Such presentness occurs because God is present in creation through love. As the absolutely different and radical other, God’s being can never be fully known or understood by the finite, becoming human, at least through natural human capacities, post-sin. Humans do have, as Kierkegaard describes in Upbuilding Discourses of Various Spirits, the capacity to understand that there is a simple, essential good: God.15 But this knowledge does not reveal the true loving, giving nature of God; only Christ does. Plus, these claims are also framed by a Bible verse ( James 8) about the call to be single-mindedly focused on a good, a task that logically necessitates there being one highest good. Thus, knowing God without divine action is impossible as there is an infinite qualitative distance between the human and God. Any attempt to know God’s being surpasses the sin-framed, epistemological limits of human reason. For example, Climacus in Philosophical Fragments critiques proofs of God’s being, including one based on the assumption that creation is an act of God. Such a method depends on positing a cause and telos for creation and then moving from the cause/end to an interpretation of God’s being through a deduction of the need for a causal and sustaining being. But for Climacus, only God can truly understand and thus know divine works, meaning any postulations do not provide definitive content about God’s nature. Being sinful, temporal creatures, humans can never truly know what is or is not a work of God. “But I still do not demonstrate God’s existence from such an order of things, and even if I began, I would never finish and also would be obliged continually to live in suspenso lest something so terrible happen that my fragment of demonstration would be ruined.”16 Because humans cannot know with certainty anything more than a fragment or crumb [smuler] of God’s works or any divine cause behind human events, any attempt at deducing the nature of God through works, perceived as the cause and telos for the order of Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 412. Søren Kierkegaard, The Moment and Late Writings, trans. Howard and Edna Hong (Princeton, 1998), p. 271. 15 See Upbuilding Discourses of Various Spirits, pp. 24–44. 16 Philosophical Fragments/Johannes Climacus, p. 42. 13 14

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nature, surpasses the capacity of human reason.17 God as changeless fully knows beginnings and ends, causes and effects; only God can fully comprehend creation, truth, experience, time, space, and the various categories of human existence as these categories do not effect—and thus—change God. Accordingly, Climacus denies the possibility of any teleological argument for understanding the divine. It is this limit to what humans can know, this epistemological boundary of human thinking that Climacus apologetically uses to correct speculative philosophy. Climacus writes that the unknown “is the absolutely different in which there is no distinguishing mark. Defined as the absolutely different, it seems to be at the point of being disclosed, but not so, because the understanding cannot even think the absolutely different,” as being sinful, humans cannot imagine something other than objects based on human experience.18 Humans don’t directly experience God’s being, and as the completely different, imagining God’s nature is impossible. In one’s becoming, this limit is important as it reveals a divine “no” towards human epistemological foundations, instead offering God’s revealed truth as the sole foundation for self-understanding. And any self misunderstands itself if it believes that it has the capacity to think of selfgenerated ontological possibilities; such ideas are imaginary sandcastles of beingness and ideal ontological possibilities that are mere mirages amidst the historical and temporal nature of human existence. In fact, this type of thinking is dangerous to selfhood, as to think of ways of existing (i.e. possibility) is to negate existence (i.e. actuality). A becoming self strives to actualize Christian possibility, rather than daydreaming about various ontological possibilities. “To conclude existence from thinking is, then, a contradiction, because thinking does just the opposite and takes existence away from the actual and thinks it by annulling it, but transposing it into possibility.”19 To think is to imagine possibilities about how one exists. Yet, merely to think is neither to act nor to put one’s selfhood within actuality by acting or relating to existence in a particular way. This imaginative possibilizing is a danger for selfdevelopment as it does not require its actualization.

In The Hidden Debt, Ronald Green argues that Kierkegaard had likely read, or at least was familiar with, Kant’s Critique of Judgment, which includes a reasoned argument for God as the teleological purpose of creation. Kant’s argument rests in the idea that there is an ultimate telos to creation, and he moves from the lower life forms—animals, plants, nature— to the higher life form that is created to understand and manipulate creation through these life forms—humanity—to posit a teleological being. 18 Philosophical Fragments/Johannes Climacus, p. 45. 19 Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 317. 17

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Humans can only grasp an empty, infinite void in regards to thinking about or knowing the Christian God, independent of God’s action. Arnold Come writes, “before this Other the human self must stop and wait in silence and impotence, waiting to ‘hear’ or sense affirmation and encouragement from the eternal, from beyond one’s self.”20 God, as the other and absolutely different, defies any attempt at being understood in any positivistic sense. But humans are not left in the dark: God acted in Christ. That said, despite Climacus’ apophatic theology, Kierkegaard elsewhere suggests that humans have religious dimensions within human experience, that do not explicitly denote God, but maintain an experiential connection to the divine. For instance, he develops the conscience as one link between the human and divine. Echoing Paul’s view of the conscience from Romans 2:14–5, he writes how the conscience is “installed eternally” in each individual such that it has an “eternal right to be the only voice” that should guide the individual as it acts in the world.21 This divine echo in each self, as a key dimension to enacting Christian possibility, must then be earnestly heeded, even amidst a world that honors wealth, power, and material success as a counter to this voice. There is also the consciousness of transcendence. As Come writes, Kierkegaard “believes that at the depth (or height) of human subjectivity, every human is capable of an awareness of a structure or dynamic that is ‘other’ than human being, that must be called infinite and eternal, that even manifests itself as ‘all-things-are-possible.’”22 Although the human still cannot know God’s being, one can become aware of something ‘other’ within one’s experience of temporal existence that is suggestive of a being that is eternal and beyond, mysterious but nonetheless ‘there.’ Kierkegaard’s God as other is a conscious part of self-understanding. Finally, there is the immanent, individual experience of human love, a relational form that is a primary, grounding link to God. Just as humans are created in, through, and by God’s love, within the very experience of love, one experiences the religious dimension of their consciousness. For instance, in Fear and Trembling, Johannes de Silentio makes mention of the “eternal consciousness” of a self. The Knight of Infinite Resignation resigns his love for the princess, a love that is impossible. But as a means to find peace and rest relative to this impossible love, he transforms the love from the particular sensuous object (i.e. the princess) to God, thereby awakening the spiritual element within his consciousness. In Arnold B. Come, Kierkegaard as Theologian (Buffalo, 1997), p. 69. Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits, p. 128. 22 Come, Kierkegaard as Theologian, p. 69. 20 21

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the act of resignation, the youth grows into his faith by submission until his “eternal consciousness” expresses the “love for God,” an experience that is the “highest of all.”23 Love within human consciousness is the actual experience of God within one’s being. Another example comes from Philosophical Fragments. Climacus’ teacher, as the God-man, lowers himself to the status of the human through love as the way to bring to human consciousness the true ontological possibility. Doing so brings forth the condition to see God as a loving deity. “But the god gave the follower the condition to see it and opened for him the eyes of faith.”24 This consciousness is still epistemologically limited, but love, like a light from God, allows a human to experience the divine. In such an experience, God as loving is revealed, ensuring that God is thus worthy of being the object of human understanding. Divine love is then a clear conduit between creation and God. “What is it, namely, that connects the temporal and eternity, what else but love, which for that very reason is before everything and remains after everything is gone.”25 Creation is a manifestation of God’s love. It is through love that God created material reality and love connects God’s nature, as the infinite and eternal, with creation. God’s love is the bond of the eternal with temporal creation, and the very raison d’etre of creation. This love, though, recognizes human freedom. God must both reveal love, yet do it in such a way that allows a self to have the possibility of freely willing, as in choosing, God. Climacus writes, “This was indeed the god’s concern, for the shoot of the lily is tender and easily snapped … Who grasps the contradiction of this sorrow: not to disclose itself is the death of love; to disclose oneself is the death of the beloved.”26 The issue is that the direct disclosure of divine love (as in some theophanous experience) would offend human freedom. By showing how much greater God is than the human, such directness would make a self obligated to obey God, rather than to relate lovingly. Because God is a loving God, God wants love in return, rather than obligation. In the metaphor of kingship that Climacus uses, only a king in the disguise of a servant is an appropriate form of communication as it enables the loved to return the love freely, rather than through obligation. Thus, God becomes incarnate, thereby lowering the divine nature. 23 Søren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling/Repetition, trans. Howard and Edna Hong (Princeton, 1983), p. 48. 24 Philosophical Fragments/Johannes Climacus, p. 65. 25 Works of Love, p. 6. 26 Philosophical Fragments/Johannes Climacus, p. 30.

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Having this dialectical freedom, Kierkegaard yet does not want a self to fall into the trap of nihilism and extreme skepticism. Rather, he reminds each self of God’s actions prior to the human attempt at becoming, while calling each person to respond to God’s living action. To respond rightly then includes human thinking; he is not denying this capacity as a crucial one for human selfhood. Just because one is corrupted by sin and cannot know God’s being does not mean that skepticism is the answer. As he argues in Johannes Climacus, doubting everything is a logical contradiction as it assumes that there is no truth, which itself is a universal truth claim. Plus, doubting only leads to endless despair, rather than a Cartesian affirmation of thinking.27 There must be some epistemological or ontological content that serves as a universal and true foundation for human becoming; for Climacus and Anti-Climacus, this truth must come from beyond human time. Thus, Kierkegaard reminds each self that to rightly use one’s reason is to hold onto divine truth, but that such a grasping onto requires more than limited, sinful reason. Through one’s whole being, and particularly passion, enables one to rightly relate to the true ontological content: Christ. Christ: Subjectivity’s True Content Both the condition for truth and truth itself is the incarnation of God in Christ. As the finite-infinite combination as his being, Christ is the universal, objective content of truth yet one that must be related to subjectively. He perfects the relation between ontological content and form. This relational perfection is also the paradox that eviscerates any trust in one’s reason alone, an idea that then calls a self to understand the Christian God by moving against understanding as an act of passion (i.e. faith). Conceptually, as a paradox, the logic Climacus uses is heavily indebted to the Hegelian idea of Begriff (concept). Though he does not take this logic further into the realm of the Hegelian dialectic, the very conceptual truth of the God-made-Man as a concept negates the role of reason in providing the true ontological possibility. Rather than mere knowing or pure thought, the end of one’s learning of Christian truth is faith as a belief and trust in God’s actions in Christ, thereby shaping one’s being.28 Christ offers a subjective truth claim, though objective and available to all, that re-forms the self through one’s relation to it. Climacus engages in a play on words within this text. Here, doubt in Danish (Tvivl) is etymologically linked with despair (Fortvivlelse). 28 Again, in Danish, these words are all connected etymologically. In Danish, “belief ” (Tro or Tiltro), “faith” (Tro) and “trust” (Tiltro) all share the root Tro. 27

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As the content of subjectivity, Christ is decisive for the human becoming in three ways. The first is as the historical, incarnational gift of God’s very being. This element of Christ emphasizes the past moment of God’s action to free humans from the clutches of human sin. In Christ’s very nature, as both God and man, humans are made right with God independent of any human action or work; by becoming human, God shows the depth of divine love for humanity, a love expressed most fully in the atonement in Christ’s death and resurrection. The second element relates to each human present, as in the very idea of Christ, each person is offered the condition that enables humans to rightly become; in short, as a paradox, Christ sets a limit to human thinking and ideas of ontological possibility, and thereby calls each self to a life of faith. As a third dimension, Christ’s life becomes each person’s future, as in the imitative ontological model that each person God calls one to become. None of these dimensions suggest that Kierkegaard’s Christology is merely functional. As David Gouwens rightly points out, Kierkegaard views the nature of Christ as paradoxical God-Man as the primary divine act, with the sotierological elements of making humans right with God being the consequence of Christ’s nature.29 Christ was not just the means for human fulfillment, but an end in itself: an act of divine love that decisively offers each person the possibility of subjectivity. As divine gift, relating to this subjective reality shapes how each person should experience temporal existence. Thus, there is a past, present, and future orientation to how a self relates to this Christology, making Christ the true content for each person’s embodied form as it transforms how the temporally existing self exists in time. As the past moment, Christ is the historical event. In this action, each particular person universally receives the possibility to become a true subject. Again, Climacus analogically describes a king’s act of lowering himself to be an equal to the peasant woman he loves. God, as the king, lowers the divine nature through Christ to be a sign of divine love. In Christ, God expresses love. “Thus does the god stand upon the earth, like unto the lowliest through his omnipotent love.”30 God became human. Thus, as Gouwens and Murray Rae point out, Kierkegaard affirms the basic Christological framework according to the Nicene and Chalcedonian definitions.31 In the least, this theological presupposition stresses the historical reality of Christ as both fully divine and fully human. See David Gouwens, Kierkegaard as Religious Thinker (New York, 1996), pp. 144–

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Philosophical Fragments/Johannes Climacus, p. 32. See Gouwens, Kierkegaard as Religious Thinker, p. 142 and Murray Rae, Kierkegaard and Theology (New York, 2010), pp. 58–60. 30 31

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As such, Christ was not the invention of speculative thought or a postulate of practical reason, but rather the only objective foundation for selfhood. Indeed, Concluding Scientific Postscript is a dense explication of the question: how “can a historical point of departure be given for an eternal consciousness”?32 How can a fact from the past thus relate to one’s present and future? To strive to become a subject is thus dependent upon God’s gift to creation in Christ. As the first dimension of this gift, and the crucial distinction between Christ and other forms of learned thought, is the very nature of Christ. Sin destroyed the proper relationship between God and humanity. Because each person makes sinful, anxiety-ridden choices, each individual is guilty as a sinner. As Vigilius Haufniensis notes in The Concept of Anxiety, facing the abyss of his freedom, Adam experienced anxiety before his sin. As a component of creation, sin did not exist, but through Adam’s choice to sin, “sin came into the world by a sin.”33 Like Adam, each individual person faces an abyss of freedom, and an anxiety about using such freedom as a consequent; each individual thus does not inherent sin from Adam. Rather each individual makes choices in the world because of this anxiety, and in doing so, becomes a sinner. Sin then becomes a particular yet universal quality within each individual, and only a qualitative leap through faith can experience the transformation of one’s nature. As a past, objective event, Climacus argues that Christ offers this restoration, as he is a savior, deliverer, and reconciler. Christ atoned for human sin, thereby giving humans the possibility to rightly relate to God and thus the world. Accepting the view that once a person has sinned, they are held captive to sinful choices and possibility, Christ is a savior who “does indeed save the learner from unfreedom, saves him from himself.” 34 As a deliverer, Christ does what sinful human power is unable to accomplish: escape from sin. Because God demands that the penalty for sin be paid, Christ is the substitutionary reconciler “who takes away the wrath that lay over the incurred guilt” as such.35 But this is only possible because Christ restores the relationship between God and creation through his nature, a nature that makes possible the crucifixion and resurrection as ending incurred guilt. As redeemer, this Christ therefore brings God’s forgiveness despite one’s inability to actualize true subjectivity. It is this nature that matters soteriologically, and thereby becomes one element making subjective becoming possible. Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 15. Søren Kierkegaard, The Concept of Anxiety, trans. Howard and Edna Hong (Princeton, 1985), p. 32. 34 Philosophical Fragments/Johannes Climacus, p. 17. 35 Philosophical Fragments/Johannes Climacus, p. 17. 32 33

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As a present moment, the second element to Christ is that he provides each individual the condition for understanding the true possibility of being. Sin has ruptured the ability to understand or possess truth. Consequently, there is the need for some restorative act on the part of God to enable humans to understand the human condition (sin) as well as the true form of human existence. Like traditional Lutheran dogma on sin, humans are trapped within an epistemological circle regarding their true nature. Because of sin, we do not know the proper form of humanity; and because we do not understand that our form is tainted with the sickness of sin, we don’t realize that we lack a true understanding of human nature and assume our form of life is true and good. To break this circle, and thus come to know that one is a sinner, requires that a sinless divine teacher reveal the problem of human understanding as sin-filled. “But in order for the teacher to be able to give the condition, he must be the god, and in order to put the learner in possession of it, he must be man. This contradiction is the object of faith and is the paradox, the moment.”36 Christ is such a sinless teacher who brings awareness of sin to humanity. And it is not a cushy, comfortable life that this sin-consciousness offers: “Very simply and, if you wish also, very Lutheranly: only the consciousness of sin can force one, if I dare to put it that way (from the other side grace is the force) into this horror.”37 This ‘horror’ is Christianity as a strenuous, never-ending practice; it is the true way of being in the world. True to its Lutheran roots, here the stress is on Christ as convicting each person for not being the person God called one to be. In this ‘very Lutheranly’ way, there are clear echoes of Luther’s idea of the usus theologicus legis, the theological or convicting use of the law; essentially, to disrupt sin, this statement of divine expectation “must come to me from the outside, must be said by another.”38 From the outside, it speaks to one’s inner nature being in sin, thereby making this conviction point directly at the particular individual. As the teacher, Christ also fixes a limit upon human thinking, thereby pointedly critiquing any speculative thought system. Christ is both God and human, infinite and finite. This idea is paradoxical. Reason is tainted by sin, and the highest truth of existence, Christ, contradicts reason. God is that which is absolutely different from humanity, and it is only through God’s love that humans have the condition to think about truth. “The thesis that God has existed in human form, was born, grew up, etc. is certainly the paradox sensu Philosophical Fragments/Johannes Climacus, p. 63. Practice in Christianity, p. 67. 38 Oswald Beyer, Martin Luther’s Theology: A Contemporary Interpretation, trans. Thomas Trapp. (Grand Rapids, 2008), p. 61. 36 37

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strictissimo, the absolute paradox.”39 The very ability to think of the eternal becoming temporal is impossible for human reason; the ability to think of the being of God and thus to literally relate thought and being is impossible. One cannot think being into actuality, for humans cannot think the highest truth. Further, there is also a disconnect between thinking about possibility and acting upon it; for an existing self, thinking does not relate to being directly as there is the constant issue of incommensurability between the external and internal dimensions of life. Just because one acts lovingly to another does not mean that one actually is inwardly loving. Bringing this difficulty to the reader’s attention is at the heart of his indirect method of communication, as well as Kierkegaard’s wider affirmation of the need for truth from beyond human reason as the basis for being. As a result, a true ontological possibility must then relate to the subjective self, as one who externally acts but also internally thinks, desires, and chooses, rather than at the level of mere rational thought. Christ as the content thus addresses the inward, subjective individual, calling one to accept the limits of reason but also to care about one’s choices and desires. “Christianity, on the other hand, is subjective; the inwardness of faith in the believer is the truth’s eternal decision”40 To believe is to go against the understanding—as the believer can never be objectively certain; to believe is to trustingly stake one’s life, particularly one’s inner dimensions, on such a truth, despite doubt and uncertainty. The very concept of Christ, as the paradox, thereby delimits the role that reason is to play in human existence. Human reason cannot make sense of the God-in-Time. Instead, to know the truth is to use understanding to move against itself. Thus, unlike the first dimension of Christ, which is solely God’s actions, human response is required here; like Socrates, it is to examine one’s life, though solely in relation to divinely revealed truth that then negates mere human thought as the basis for selfhood. Rather, one must ‘venture to believe against the understanding (the dialectical),’ returning again to the idea of dialectical as a mode of relating to truth. Human reason must move into the realm of faith and thus passion in order to possess the truth of Christ. And it is this condition that Christ makes possible. In rightly understanding the paradox, “the understanding and the paradox happily encounter each other in the moment, when the understanding steps aside and the paradox gives itself, and the third something … is that happy passion … We

Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 217. Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 224.

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shall call it faith.”41 Being true yet paradoxical, to have faith in Christ is to go against rational understanding, thereby sharply placing a limit on reason. “To believe against the understanding is something else, and to believe with the understanding cannot be done at all.”42 God-in-Time is the objective content of truth, and provides the very condition for and the content of this truth. It is this condition that God in Christ gives to each person no matter one’s context. As Christ’s third dimension, he is also the true image of worldly being, the perfect relation between form and content within existence, and thereby the teleological end for human becoming. He is the pattern or moral form that becomes each self ’s future as it is the true aim, in a worldly sense, of human becoming, one that is never reachable. This image is not directly recognizable, as it is a hidden God, masquerading as a simple servant rather than a glorious king. Rather, God “poeticized himself in the likeness of a human being,” with Climacus playing with our expectations about poetry (as a human creation) and God (as a heavenly, lofty being).43 Such a poeticization serves to lovingly give to humanity the ontological pattern. In Practice in Christianity, Anti-Climacus writes, “Christ came to the world with the purpose of saving the world, also with the purpose—this in turn is implicit in his first purpose—of being the prototype,” thereby leaving ‘footprints’ for an imitator to follow.44 For a Christian self, what matters is the imitation of Christ, thereby leading one to actualize the love of one’s neighbor. To imitate is to redouble: to enact within one’s own actions in time the existential actions of Christ. To be ethical is to imitate the suffering, debased Christ. Christ’s “life was the truth, and his life was designed to require imitators.”45 Christ provides an example of suffering and love towards all of humanity. Accordingly, Christ’s life provides the example of how to relate to others, God and oneself. This truth is then the truth of being within existence; Christ is the life pattern that is the true ontological possibility for humans. This pattern demands much of a self, particularly that each person’s imagination, will, and passion must be oriented towards Christ’s content. And because of the nature of the imagination, relating to this dimension of Christ is decidedly an imagistic one. One cannot rationally conceive of Christ’s nature; instead, one forms a mental picture of his actions through the imagination in which one 43 44 45 41 42

Philosophical Fragments/Johannes Climacus, p. 59. Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 233. Philosophical Fragments/Johannes Climacus, p. 36. Practice in Christianity, p. 238. Practice in Christianity, p. 245.

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imaginatively places Christ’s existence alongside one’s own. Redoubling means imagining one’s own form through the image of Christ’s content. This imaginative appropriation of Christ’s human nature must then become the dominant image for one’s becoming. It calls one to imitate Christ, though in an ever limited and impossible form. Unlike Christ, who could perform miracles, there is a clear difference between Christ’s divine nature and human nature. There is an “infinite chasmic difference between God and man” that can never be fully removed.46 Here, miracles serve a communicative purpose, in that they remind humans of the cognitive contradiction between Christ’s divine and human nature. Basically, humans should not be able to do what Christ does, thereby pointing to Christ’s human, yet ever divine, nature as a contradiction that leads to greater recognition of Christ’s nature as truth. Though God’s actions in Christ are necessary, to relate rightly to this dimension of Christ stresses human responsibility. God calls each individual to earnestly “imagine yourself contemporary with him,” with this contemporaneity seeing the image of Christ’s life as a life of lowliness, abasement, suffering, and death shaped by the love of others.47 But this image is in tension with worldly expectations of the loftiness of God as well as the comfortability of worldly life, as Kierkegaard understands it. The world strives for rational certainty, worldly success, and power. Christ’s lowly nature and life is offensive to the wisdom of the world, meaning that Christ’s image carries a counter-cultural demand as a corrective to a worldly ethos. Rightfully understanding God’s soteriological act and the human condition, it is this offensive, suffering, love-rooted life that Christ calls each person to become within the world. Such a call asks each person to strive to imagistically appropriate Christ as one’s own thoughts, loves, choices, and actions; it is to redouble Christ as the content of one’s existing form, thereby including the human capacities of passion, willing, and thinking as determinants of one’s life. This is a daily activity, a practice that shapes the future development of a person. It is an artistic task, one that thereby produces a certain type of self: a Christian subject. Becoming subjective then is a form of striving, activated by one’s faithful trust in God’s actions through Christ. Faith makes the strenuous effort to become a true subject possible, as believing “that nothing at all is demanded from me should in itself make it possible that I begin to strive, that I do not collapse under impossibility but am encouraged and refreshed, because it has been decided I am Practice in Christianity, p. 63. Practice in Christianity, p. 52.

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saved, I am God’s child by virtue of faith.”48 Such a striving gives a self an end, and thus a future, shaped by the presentness of Christ. Further, because the self exists in the sensual world, this three–fold Christology addresses the self in one’s full, temporal reality. For one, the objective, historical reality of Christ as a past event gives a certain foundation for human becoming, one that is universally available to each particular person. This dimension is strictly an act of God. Secondly, as a present moment, the very nature of Christ is a paradox for rational thought. Here a self must recognize sin and this boundary point; doing so also provides the condition for faith as a passionate move beyond rational thought to a life that strives to become Christian truth. Finally, this content can be imagined, not in terms of Christ’s nature, but as in his lowly, loving life that becomes the ontological determinant for how each becoming self strives to act, think, love, choose, and thus exist, in the world. Here human action is vital, as one must respond by relating imaginatively, passionately, and willfully to this truth. And because humans are always becoming, a full imitation of Christ is each person’s future, ever close yet ever impossible. These Christological dimensions, as a whole, thus affirm that human becoming is a divine and human co-production. To exist artfully dialectically requires both actors, though always rooted first in God’s action that enable a human response in the first place. As human reason is fallen, there must yet be a means to hear this true content: the Bible. In Kierkegaard’s view, the Bible provides an accessible description of Christ’s nature and worldly life, one narratively expressed that reveals the ontological content to Christian subjectivity. As a whole, the Bible is universally understandable without commentaries and scholarship. Though one can readily picture Kierkegaard himself, rather than Frater Taciturnus, write, “the Bible lies on my table at all times and is the book in which I read the most,” addressing Kierkegaard’s method of reading and using the Bible is a thorny thicket as he does not sketch out a clear system of biblical interpretation.49 For instance, Timothy Polk sees him as a canonical-critical reader. Here, Kierkegaard interprets biblical texts intratextually by placing individual texts within the biblical canon as the wider whole that reveals the meaning of each text. This canon is then the meaning-making tool for the church, the Bible’s interpretive community, who hear God’s action in Christ throughout the books of the Bible.50 Jolita Pons develops another view, one that uses ideas of JP, vol. 2, p. 19/X3 A 322, n.d., 1850. Stage’s on Life’s Way, p. 230. 50 See Timothy Polk, The Biblical Kierkegaard: Reading by the Rule of Faith (Macon, 1997). 48 49

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hermeneutics influenced by Hans-Georg Gadamer and Paul Ricouer. She argues that the Bible’s role in his authorship is like an “invisible omnipresence” centered in the paradox of the incarnation that forcefully invites a reader to become an imitator of Christ.51 Finally, Joel Rasmussen develops Kierkegaard as a biblical exegete who stresses a “hermeneutic of imitation” that links an imaginative freedom to rework Bible passages dialectically alongside of a “fixation” with the paradox.52 Amidst this difficulty, one way into his view is to examine Kierkegaard’s provocative claims about how not to read the Bible. Working negatively reveals, on the one hand, that Kierkegaard was heavily critical of biblical scholarship, especially those of his professors such as Henrik Nicolai Clausen, a rationalist who emphasized nothing beyond a moral significance for any of Christ’s miracles.53 For instance, one journal entry describes “the evil of scholarship.”54 Here, he argues that the quest to understand more about the author or the historical and social context of a text is never-ending, thereby leading a reader to endlessly postpone deciding about becoming a Christian. A trust of scholarship and biblical commentaries is problematic because it sees the Bible as an objective text, both in terms of the type of truth it reveals (merely facts to be rationally verified) as well as how one relates to it (as in a quest to be certain about the how, what, and where of the Bible). This rational, speculative historical-critical approach is problematic as it endlessly defers meaning, thereby leaving a reader unable to see the Bible as a text essentially about and for subjectivity. On the other hand, Kierkegaard also critiques any purely literal strategy that takes the Bible uncritically, say as an accurate history book. He does affirm a literalism, but the literal is not about a historical one-to-one correspondence between words and an event or rule. Rather, the Bible’s literalism is ontological; it is about the literal call to become a Christian, thus transforming one’s being. It literally reveals God’s endless love and hope for each person by revealing the human sickness (sin/law) and prescribing its remedy (Christ/gospel). Kierkegaardian literalism has to “do with the text’s performative power, its

Jolita Pons, Stealing a Gift: Kierkegaard’s Pseudonyms and the Bible. (New York, 2004), p. xv. 52 Joel D.S. Rasmussen, “Kierkegaard’s Biblical Interpretation: Imitation, Imaginative Freedom, and Paradoxical Fixation,” in Lee Barrett and Jon Stewart (eds.), Kierkegaard and the Bible: Volume I, Tome II: The New Testament (Burlington, 2010), p. 253. 53 See Henrik Nicolai Clausen, Det Nye Testaments Hermeneutik (Copenhagen, 1840). 54 JP, vol. 3, p. 657/ XI2 A 376, n.d., 1854–55. 51

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capacity to occasion a transformation within the reader.”55 For instance, Silentio writes in Fear and Trembling about the call that a follower of Christ must hate his family (Luke 14:26). After describing how this passage is seldom heard in church and that commentaries turn this idea of hate into the claim that one should love one’s family less, he writes that “it is easy to see that if this passage is to have any meaning it must be understood literally. God is the one who demands absolute love.”56 Thus, reading the Bible is about hearing, seeing, and appropriating the ontological possibility contained within it; it is about becoming a God-lover as the central, determinant relation in one’s life. Thus, a reader must see in the text both the diagnosis of human sin and its cure. Rather than revealing historically verifiable facts or a literal rulebook, it reveals God’s ontological call; any critical reading (i.e. the quest for rational truth) or overly simplistic way into the text (i.e. the quest for simple facts or rules) ignores the subjective content of the Bible. Indeed, the Bible provides an immediate, clear, and obvious expression of Christ’s loving, lowly actions, practices that each individual must follow in order to become a subject. It is an understandable divine revelation of God’s gift of freedom from sin that calls a reader to respond through a faithful striving to become a subject through imitation. Decisively, “the Holy Scriptures are the highway signs: Christ is the way.”57 There is no need for an overly developed biblical interpretation strategy, years of education, or an arrogant confidence in the literal truth of each story or rule. These methods are ways of relating to the Bible objectively—as a book of facts or rules. Rather, the Bible is the universal revelation of God’s actions in Christ that provide redemptive truth and the ontological pattern for each individual. More constructively, as a ‘sign’ pointing towards Christ, the Bible is then relevant for becoming in three distinct ways: as a testimonial to God’s paradoxical nature, as a divine love letter to each individual, and as a mirror to critically see one’s becoming. Kierkegaard assumes his readers are familiar with the Bible such that his indirect communication is linked to the directness of the Bible as revealing God’s call, especially within his period of direct communication (1848-51). Writing without authority, as he claims in For Self-Examination among other texts, he plays with biblical texts as a means to ask each reader to hear anew the directness of God’s Word as ontologically formative.58 55 Timothy Polk, “Kierkegaard’s Use of the New Testament: Intratextuality, Indirect Communication, and Appropriation,” in Lee Barrett and Jon Stewart (eds.), Kierkegaard and the Bible: Volume I, Tome II: The New Testament (Burlington, 2010), p. 242. 56 Fear and Trembling/Repetition, p. 72. 57 JP, vol. 1, p. 84/ VIII1 A 50, n.d., 1847. 58 For Self-Examination, p. 17.

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On the first account, the Bible testifies to Christ as redeemer and pattern, the central theme of the Bible. This truth is paradoxical, while yet pointing to sin and God’s gift of the condition to rightly understand human nature through Christ. As a ‘sign,’ it points to the true ontological possibility, thereby showing the way to actualizing this as the content through one’s form. Here, unlike rational thought, Christianity “fastens the end by means of the paradox,” thereby firmly planting the Bible in the fertile soil of Christ’s nature.59 To read the Bible is to hear the call of God given to each person as an individual; this call convicts and frees. And any hearer or reader is thus asked to make a decision: should I or should I not accept and thus strive to imitate this God-Man? It also is directed at each person as a historical being. As a book of narratives, a letter that reveals God’s love, it speaks to the narrative dimension to an individual. Everyone has a past, present, and future, and to see God’s love expressed as a narrative enables each person to redouble Christ’s narrative as one’s own historical narrative. The temporal moments of existence, ever unfolding, are understood as an embodied Christian narrative. But as paradoxical, the Bible points to this truth as negating reason’s claim about providing a sure ground to understand human nature. For instance, not only is Christ paradoxical, his reality (particularly his suffering on the cross) is unable to be experienced by another through reason, the imagination, or even the text itself. “No, however great the efforts of imagination to make this imagined image actual, it cannot do it … it lacks something—the suffering belonging to actuality or the actuality of suffering.”60 Human knowing cannot think the reality of the divine within actuality. Here, the issue is that Christ, through the crucifixion, suffered on the cross. But suffering is not an object of thought or narrative plot device. Instead, it is an object of experience; and to strive to imitate Christ requires moving beyond the comforts of reason into embodying Christ in the world. And in revealing the epistemological content of the Christian ontological possibility, it also gives the condition that enables truth to be understood. As Climacus argues in Fragments, in order for one to know about God, one ‘must come to know this from the god.’ Though the Bible doesn’t give this condition, it points to it as Christ, thereby opening up a self to God’s transformative action. As objective, this truth is universal, open and available to all humanity. All humans are the recipients of this gift of truth. The Bible, though valuable in detailing Christ’s life, then matters less for a self ’s existence than the paradoxical The Sickness Unto Death, p. 93. Practice in Christianity, p. 189.

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idea of Christ. It reveals and teaches, but it is not the object of faith; only Christ is this content. The Bible’s second dimension reveals God’s ever-present love and continued support of an individual’s becoming. In this case, the Bible is God’s love letter to each particular person. “Imagine a lover who has received a letter from his beloved—I assume that God’s Word is just as precious to you as this letter is to the lover.”61 In Kierkegaard’s view, love letters are relational, in that each letter is for a particular person within a particular relationship, and expresses both affection and a wish on the part of the sender. It is not a communal text as in having an audience that is a wider community. Rather, it is directed to a lover from a beloved and is a sign of commitment that contains hopes, expectations, fears, promises, and above all nurturing love for the relationship. Though it can be read communally (e.g. in church), the Bible then is essentially directed at each individual, lovingly affirming the relationship between God and that individual. No special training or scholarly resources are needed for the recipient to read it. No third party should step in between God as sender and recipient as its audience as this would impact how the recipient understands it, thereby breaking the intimacy and directness of the relationship that the letter expresses. Even if one needs a dictionary or special skills to read the text, there is a difference “between reading with a dictionary and reading the letter from” one’s beloved.62 Finding the perfect translation, and the quest to properly translate something, misdirects a reader away from the loving wish that is clearly expressed in the letter. With the Bible as this love letter, it reveals God’s loving wish that each person become a subject. Kierkegaard believes that this wish is clear in the text. This does not negate the difficult and complex passages in the text. But clarifying these passages is not as immediately pressing as the clear aim of the love letter: to call one to subjectivity. This call is the central focus that asks that each reader/ hearer for an immediate response, meaning that if one understands it “then you must do that first of all, but you do not first have to sit down and ponder all the obscure passages.”63 In short, God’s Word reveals a love, including the example of true subjectivity that is life forming. The hermeneutical strategy is then to read the text as a letter lovingly directed at one’s particular selfhood. Finally, the Bible is the mirror upon which one is able to understand and selfreflectively evaluate one’s becoming. In For Self-Examination, Kierkegaard uses For Self-Examination, p. 26. For Self-Examination, p. 27. 63 For Self-Examination, p. 29. 61 62

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the first chapter of James to establish the text’s theme. It asks a Christian: “But be doers of the Word, and not only hearers of it, whereby you deceive yourselves.” In using James, he is pointedly critiquing Danish Lutheranism, meaning he sees it as a corrective to this context. Luther viewed James as a book that emphasized good works over faithful trust in God’s actions as the basis for being Christian. He even said that he almost felt “like throwing Jimmy into the stove” because of its conflict with faith, rather than works, as the basis for justification.64 Kierkegaard, however, seeing an apathy towards works in his context, finds in James’ demand for actualizing the ethical demands of faith the basis for correcting this undialectical faith-works relationship. As both are necessary, James offers a biblical call to each individual to faithfully practice Christian love in the world. Consequently, he uses James’ analogy of a mirror to argue for the importance of the Bible as the means to self-evaluate how one embodies Christ’s love. One sees in God’s Word the truth about sin and how one should form as a Christian. This ontological content reflectively stares back at each individual, meaning one must not forget or ignore God’s call. Reading the Bible should be a daily practice. Looking in the ‘mirror’ by reading the Bible becomes formative in that it both convicts a person of one’s sinful failings but reminds one of God’s ever-present love. Both law and gospel in the Lutheran tradition appear in the mirror as it reveals that one is not yet the person God calls one to become, but that God loves one nonetheless. Finding both the sickness and the cure even in James underscores his corrective stance towards Danish Lutheranism. The Bible, though vital to enabling one’s relationship to God, is merely the ‘sign’ that points to Christ. Both the historical reality as well as the idea of Christ make faith possible, as his nature contains in it an objective event, a rational paradox, and a worldly image of the good life. To move towards an artful existence is then the demand that each individual strive to relate to this truth of being for itself. In mocking theological scholars and stressing biblical knowledge, Climacus examines those looking for a certainty of and within faith, places someone in a “precarious position” and confuses “knowledge with faith” such that “passion is taken away, faith no longer exists, and certainty and passion do not hitch up as a team.”65 To read the Bible is to be challenged in the way one exists, rather than to be challenged to know more about the history of the Temple Mount, for instance.

Martin Luther, Luther’s Works: Career of the Reformer IV, trans. and ed. Lewis Spitz and Helmut Lehman (Minneapolis, 1960), p. 317/ Weimarer Ausgabe 39II, p. 199. 65 Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 29. 64

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But as one part of the art of subjectivity, it is God’s actions in Christ that provide the content of the Christian ontological possibility that God calls each Christian to become. Such a truth gives the ground and condition that enable this truth to be understood, despite sin. It also provides the content—as in the image—of how to exist in the world. As objective, this truth is universal, open and available to each person in one’s particularity; but as transformative, it can only be understood within a subjective relation. That said, ever dialectical, this content only provides one part of ‘truth is subjectivity.’ The further move that a self must make is to actualize this truth of being within its own being, thereby making subjectivity an art. Subjectivity’s Form: The Existing Self In the art of subjectivity, the impossible possibility is to actualize Christian content as one’s ontological form. Grasping this truth imaginatively, each individual in its particularity must will to make its never-ending desire for this truth subjective so that one relates to existence through this passion. It is subjective, not as a type of moral or intellectual relativity, in that it universally calls each particular self to accept this truth by striving to live it as one’s form. ‘Truth is subjectivity’ is thus not a mere propositional assent, but a self-interested (as a passionate) decision that allows for one’s being to change. “Christianity has itself proclaimed itself to be the eternal, essential truth that has come into existence in time; it has proclaimed itself as the paradox and has required the inwardness of faith with regard to what is an offense to the Jews, foolishness to the Greeks— and an absurdity to the understanding.”66 The Christian ontological content, as paradoxical, must be lived through a life of faith, rather than merely known. It is about one’s embodied, natural form as a Christian subject. The issue is then about how Christian possibility—as the content of this ontological truth—is actualized by a self—as the form of this truth. As an art, it is how a self relates one’s form to this content that is ontologically productive. Such an actualization must occur through inward, passionate appropriation, one determined through the imagination and will as well. These are the formal characteristics, essential by nature to each individual, that shape how a self relates to Christ. At its highest, the subjective relation redoubles this truth within a self ’s hidden inner nature. It likewise makes one an earnest, incommensurable self, defined solely by the God-self relation, rather than worldly expectations. Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 213. See I Corinthians 1:23 for the Paul reference.

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Imitating Christ makes one into a servant in which “the form of a servant is the incognito.”67 And it must be done dialectically, as in a ‘venture to believe against the understanding (the dialectical).’ This art then also includes reason, especially the recognition that one is sinful and limited. It includes an understanding that being a certain type of self matters to how a self involves itself in the world. Consequently, a self ’s existence has a constant moral dimension. As Christopher Hamilton writes, “Kierkegaard clearly thinks that all religious knowledge is partly ethical, for in his claim that truth is subjectivity he speaks of ethical and ethico-religious knowledge.”68 Truth as subjectivity leads a self into a certain type of being, one that accords with a Kierkegaardian conception of the good life as a whole. It is about one’s ontological form, ever relating to a true content that exists in the world as a Christian subject. There is no greater task for a self, as it shapes how one relates to temporality (by being good one can do good) and eternality (as in the orientation towards eternal happiness as divine gift). “Consequently, to become subjective should be the highest task assigned to every human being, just as the highest reward, an eternal happiness, exists only for the subjective person or, more correctly, comes into existence for the one who becomes subjective.”69 It is a task that is never ending, as it “should give a person plenty to do as long as he lives,” meaning it is always a part of the life of an existing self.70 Thus, this section explicitly demands making sense of the form that must be shaped by Christian content. Formally, there is a reflexive element within each existing person. According to Climacus, reflexivity is a form of selfunderstanding that allows a self to decide how it will relate and to what it will relate. As a human capacity, reflexivity is intertwined with his account of reason, ever tainted by sin that needs a teacher beyond Socrates to reveal the truly examined life. But without reflexivity, the self would not be responsible for its choices and existence. Again, as an artistic co-production, his becoming self includes both a free and determined dialectic, meaning each self is partially responsible for how it responds to God’s gift in Christ. Yet, in order then for reflexivity and reason to shape how one relates to Christian truth, there must be a moment in which a self consciously grasps a true understanding of the human condition. Socrates’ demand that one must “know thyself ” from Apology, is not a self-generated possibility for a self. Sin Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 599. Christopher Hamilton, “Kierkegaard on Truth as Subjectivity: Christianity, Ethics and Asceticism,” Religious Studies, 34/1 (1998): p. 64. 69 Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 163. 70 Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 163. 67

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has pervaded all human understanding, including the possibility of any true self-understanding. Anti-Climacus writes: “That is why Christianity begins in another way: man has to learn what sin is by a revelation from God; sin is not a matter of a person’s not having understood what is right but of his being unwilling to understand it, of his not willing what is right.”71 At the root of this lack of understanding is the will. It is the sinful will that prevents true selfunderstanding. It is the will that looks away when divinely instructed regarding one’s sinful nature. The sinful will refuses to accept the demand to “know thyself.” The will, without sin-consciousness, will choose some way of being other than as God intended. Accepting this account of the sinful self requires willing ‘what is right.’ It is to have examined (and to continue to examine) one’s life through Christian truth, echoing his appreciation of Socrates, though from a Christian perspective.72 It further means that one is striving to rightly relate to Christian truth. Here, how one relates to Christian truth becomes vital. Critiquing Hegelian Idealism in part, a self can relate to ‘truth’ as an objective, speculative notion. Again, returning to Climacus, this type of truth relation is an objective relationship. Again, ‘what is reflected upon is not the relation but that what he relates himself to is the truth, the true.’ Objective relating in a disinterested manner stresses knowing the what over being the what. As objective, the self does not change in relating to truth as an object; it does not transform one’s subjective form. The other mode of relating to truth is subjective. It is reflexive as a mode of relating that transforms a self through the relation. Rather than knowing truth as an object, it is one’s selfhood that is the primary locus point of truth within this relation. In some sense, one’s subject becomes the object of understanding, rather than something outside of oneself. The question, “How does this truth relate to my being?” is a subjective means of relating. ‘If only the how of this relation is in truth, the individual is in truth,’ stressing the subjective relation in that one’s nature changes in relation to the truth. As a type of relating, the subjective relation fundamentally is based in self-interest in that one’s self is altered because of the relation. In this mode of relating, a self stakes one’s selfunderstanding, loves, choices, thoughts on this truth; being, rather than mere knowing, is stressed. Human action here is heavily involved, alongside of God’s actions; a self must strive to care about becoming the truth.

The Sickness Unto Death, p. 95. As its subtitle ‘in Continual Reference to Socrates’ shows, among other texts, The Concept of Irony reveals this appreciation for Socrates. 71 72

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It is also about one’s inward nature. Kierkegaard is aware that one’s external actions (ex. helping the hungry) may not be caused internally by the best intentions (ex. gaining social capital). Here again is the issue of incommensurability. Consequently, he stresses the inner dimension as the fertile soil that each self must tend to in one’s becoming. Relating subjectively is about becoming a type of being that exists in a form of “hidden inwardness” towards the world.73 It is hidden as it is internal and particular to each person and can never be communicated externally directly nor is it directly commensurable with external actions; it is inward because it is about the faculties of the imagination, the will, and the passion as a means to actualize the Christian ontological possibility as the very form of one’s life. By nature, through these human capacities that are essential dimensions to each particular human form, one can create a subjective mode of relating. In short, relating to Christian content rightly requires that a self use its imagination, will, and passion, to redouble this content as one’s form. These are essential, formal capacities to each person, and each must be used rightly to relate subjectively to Christian truth. Dialectically, subjectivity is then a human art, at least in part, though always involving God as the starting point (i.e. Christ), in one’s present (i.e. lovingly support each becoming self ), and as one’s end (i.e. redoubling as well as offering an eternal happiness after death). To relate subjectively to Christian truth is about the call to actualize Christ’s love in the world as one’s living form. It is then an art form that produces a type of self: a Christian subject. Subjectivity as an Art: Actualizing Content and Form To put these pieces together, the human responsibility in becoming is to utilize three formal capacities to relate to Christian possibility, thereby determining one’s ontological form: the imagination, will, and passion. As a particular being, each person has a unique combination of these capacities; some have more imagination than passion, while others have more will than imagination, etc. But as formal dimensions of becoming, these three capacities are interrelated and interdependent, as formation depends on the proper inward relationship between the capacities expressed outwardly in embodied action. Specifically, the imagination grasps images of ontological possibilities. It allows one to redouble an image of Christ, thereby reflectively seeing in Christ’s life one’s own life. The will chooses an ontological possibility to redouble, though it is only because of Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 511.

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the imagination that any choice is possible. Finally, passion, when formed by this chosen normative image, moves the self towards redoubling it outwardly within one’s existence. Doing so artistically produces, as in uniting form and content, a Christian subject. As interdependent, all three capacities must rightly be related to Christian truth and each other in order for a self to become a Christian. Rightly relating these capacities is thus a never-ending art, one that also requires rightly relating to the true ontological possibility. Because different individuals have unique degrees of these capacities, this account is not a mathematical formula or simple plan. Indeed, as a component of his authorial tactic, by focusing on all three, he is calling each person to care about how each reader uses these capacities; but in the end, as an art, each self is responsible as a particular individual to use these capacities rightly. This subjective relating is ontologically creative, and it details the need for everyday practices that strive to artfully hold in a right tension the dialects that structure becoming. To start with, as an element within each individual’s existing form, the imagination formally grasps an ontological content. Anti-Climacus claims, “Whatever of feeling, knowing and willing a person has depends upon what imagination he has, upon how that person reflects himself—that is, upon imagination.”74 In short, the imagination allows a self to think about the ontological possibilities for one’s life; it contains images, ideas and thoughts about what it means to be. More importantly, in grasping an ontological idea, the imagination places one’s own thoughts, choices, desires, and actions in relationship to this normative idea. In fact, the imagination can mentally place one’s form into the content of another person’s life, thereby ‘redoubling’ that life as one’s own. With Christ being the true ontological content, a person striving to become must imagistically redouble his image, thereby filling one’s form with this Christological content. It must determine one’s being, and thereby one’s existence. Yet, the imagination is a free faculty, one that can also fantasize about a wide variety of ontological possibilities. Behind Kierkegaard’s view stands Kant and Hegel, both of whom value the imagination as the capacity to self-create ideas and move beyond time, space and the material world. For instance, in Critique of Judgement, Kant’s imagination is the faculty of intuition; it receives sensate impressions which cognition connects to a concept. It can produce ideal images, rather than merely reproducing sensual images in the mind, for it creates images of a priori truth that extend human thinking beyond the material world. As a The Sickness Unto Death, pp. 30–31.

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creative capacity, it does not need a sensible or material base for its creations, meaning it exerts “an activity of its own (as originator of arbitrary forms of possible intuitions).”75 Likewise, the Hegelian imagination focuses on the production of ideas as “the creative imagination has power to launch out beyond inexhaustibly in productions of its own.”76 This creative, self-productive capacity suggests how the imagination can be misused in that it is not oriented towards Christian truth as its determinate content. Even if one’s imagination redouble’s Christ’s image as one’s form, this activity does not directly lead to becoming, however. Alongside the imagination lies the will as choosing the Christian ontological possibility to redouble. Returning to Anti-Climacus, the will matters to selfhood as it is how a self chooses to relate to truth. The will is the capacity for decision, thereby making a self responsible for how it relates to the world. It is also connected to self-consciousness, as “a person who has no will at all is not a self; but the more will he has, the more self-consciousness he has also.”77 Thus, one’s will holds onto the ontological possibility grasped by the imagination; it makes the content one’s own, as an ever-present, constant attentiveness to the form of life that the content gives. The danger becomes then, as I described in Chapter Two, willing two extremes: one either wills something other than Christian truth or doesn’t choose at all. Both are forms of misusing the will as such. But even if one wills a truth, it is not the will alone that enables this truth to be actualized as one’s form. Instead, the direct, inward cause of embodying this content is through passion. “At its highest inwardness in an existing subject is passion; truth as a paradox corresponds to passion, and that truth becomes a paradox is grounded precisely in its relation to an existing subject.”78 One’s passion is about self-interest, though not in the sense of an egoistic drive rooted in self-fulfillment; rather, passion is about one’s natural desire to be a certain type of person. It is intensely particular to the person as love and passion are individual acts; a person’s love is one’s own. And being one’s own, passion towards redoubling Christ moves one towards making Christian truth one’s form. Consequently, passion is the dynamic of movement within the Kierkegaardian corpus for it moves a self towards actualizing subjectivity. He connects passion to a number of different ideas, including inwardness, self-interest, possession and truth. But most importantly as it relates to ‘truth is subjectivity,’ passion is about inward appropriation: “When subjectivity is truth, the definition of truth must Kant, The Critique of Judgement, p. 86. G.W.F. Hegel, Aesthetics, Lectures on Fine Art, trans. T.M. Knox (New York, 1988), p. 5. 77 The Sickness Unto Death, p. 29. 78 Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 199. 75 76

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also contain in itself an expression of the antithesis to objectivity … Here is such a definition of truth. An objective uncertainty, held fast through appropriation with the most passionate inwardness, is the truth, the highest truth there is for an existing person.”79 To appropriate is to desire that one’s form be transformed by the highest truth of Christ, thereby conforming one’s inner passions through the content of this truth. It is to make one’s highest love the attempt to possess truth in one’s being. And the greater the appropriation, the greater the degree of inwardness, for it affirms the intensity through which one’s passion is moving one towards redoubling Christ. To become a true self then is to practice actualizing this relational form in relationship to Christian content throughout the contexts of life, amidst the temptations of worldly success and material beauty. Yet, it is also the case that each person has a particular will, imagination, and passion. Some have stronger imaginations than will or passion; some have fiery passions, but little imagination. The universal demand to become a true subject is a constant, but each individual brings a unique inner world to bear within this act of production. Consequently, each particular self must uniquely respond to this faithful task. What is demanded of being subjective? To become a Christian self means to love one’s neighbor; one cannot be a Christian without loving the neighbor, thereby imitating Christ. This action is ethically beautiful, as to act as the highest image is to engage in beautiful action for it perfectly actualizes content and form. Such a form of love is a duty, though it is not an external demand or obligation, as in a divine command. Instead, similarly to Kant’s understanding of the autonomy of the will, to love is what it means to be a Christian ontologically; it is to embody one’s true nature. Wanda Warren Berry writes, “In seeing oneself as free, one sees oneself as obligated, as having a duty.”80 If one is not loving the neighbor as oneself, one is not a Christian. Thus, to do one’s duty, to love, is not an external demand outside of the Christian life, but the very definition of what it means to be a free Christian within each present moment of existence. As a consequent, Kierkegaard is not sketching a simple formula for selfdevelopment. It is not a simplistic, “imagine this, choose this, and desire this,” three-step plan. Instead, the task is highly particular to each individual, thereby making it an infinite task that requires daily practices as a means to form one’s inwardness. Conceptually, like other arts, Kierkegaard suggests that this ontological art is about practicing (Indøvelse) becoming such a subject. Each Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 203. Wanda W. Berry, ‘Kierkegaard’s Existential Dialectic: The Temporal Becoming of the Self,’ Journal of Religious Thought, 38/1 (1981): p. 33. 79 80

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day shares the same struggles to rightly relate these formal capacities to Christ, and thus enact Christ’s love in the world, described particularly in Works of Love. And in Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits, it is confession that allows a person to find the quiet of the present to critique and stand before God as an individual striving to will one thing. In Practice in Christianity, it is finding the offensiveness of Christ for faith without passion and for institutional religion that stresses loftiness and worldly power over daily, Christ-like practices. In For Self-Examination, it is reading the Bible and reflecting on how one falls short of the call to be a subject. To strive to produce oneself as a Christian is to practice rightly relating; one must practice living passionately for others, de-centering the ego while redoubling Christ’s image. It is about performing works of love each day. This daily practice makes each person’s life a test, as every moment is an eventful part of forming rightly. Thus, his anthropology leads to an account of ethical formation that is an imaginative and passionate artful existence, rather than the obedience to a deontological system or a virtue theory. Though there are clear elements of the virtue tradition, it is an ontological task; virtue, especially one directed at eudaimonia, is not a worldly end. True selfhood comes as a gift, not self-mastery. Like Luther before him, Kierkegaard, who rarely uses the term, sees in the virtue tradition an undialectical account of human formation. The formal, essential dimensions, such as reason, imagination, passion, and the will must be transformed from without; virtuous perfection is not possible either, as this is an infinite form of becoming. Subjectivity is then a joint production, a co-creation of God and each person, rather than the process of self-habituation. God and the self are artistic partners. And for Kierkegaard’s authorship, it also necessitates a variety of aesthetic tactics to provoke some, encourage others yet lead each person to the deeper recognition of what it means to be a Christian. Writing from outside of educational and ecclesial authorities, and thereby ‘without authority,’ Kierkegaard uses numerous tactics in service towards upbuilding, of producing a type of self that does “‘everything in love.’”81Again, a tactic is an ‘art of the weak,’ one that uses wit, trickery, and tricks and the like, in order to create “cross-cuts, fragments, cracks and lucky hits in the framework of a system.”82 For an individual reader, he then asks one to reflect upon the prevailing ethos of the age as well as a reader’s own idea about the human condition. Tactics of direct and indirect communication, imaginary construction, and pseudonymity, among others, all Works of Love, p. 213. Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, p. 38.

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serve then as means to move a self towards becoming a true subject. Included in these tactics is the re-writing of biblical passages that propel before a reader the task of discovering “how the narratives challenge the reader and seek to bring about a transformation of the reader’s vision.”83 His aim is to ask each individual to hear God’s call to upbuild oneself towards a life of Christian becoming. A further point is that these authorial tactics depend on Kierkegaard’s conception of subjectivity as an art. For one, he uses artistic means to call a reader to a deeper, daily self-reflection, particularly in relationship to sin and despair. Doing so affirms that the self has aesthetic dimensions that can be appealed to through artistic means. The imagination, for instance, is a creative capacity. Passion can easily be moved to a greater interest in something through sensual beauty. His tactics engage these capacities by using fairy tales, personal narratives, and the like. But unlike Schiller and Schlegel, this engagement is not for the sake of freedom or even beauty; rather, it is to call one to find one’s highest truth and the beauty of art in Christian becoming. It is about becoming a true subject, enacting Christ’s love in the world as a redoubler. Such a way of life is yet impossible though. The demands of subjectivity never end as there are ever new contexts and opportunities that require a Christian response. A self is continually tempted by other ontological possibilities upon which to base any becoming. Likewise, one can will to be oneself per the demands of the earthly/finite or in defiance of one’s true spiritual nature. Or one’s passion can be entangled in sensual beauty or the love of a lower form of ontological truth. It is seemingly too easy to turn away from the truth that matters than for subjectivity. Further, one can never rightly relate to God through one’s own capacities; one can never be the person God called one to be because one is a sinner. Yet, in Christ, God has already made one right nonetheless, making each person a subject. And in relation to Luther’s dialectical notion of simul peccator et justus, Kierkegaard re-forms this understanding as including the task that each person should practice subjectivity each day to a context that has made being Christian simple, as in merely an element of being Danish. Indeed, this faithful relating is never independent of God’s actions. True to the Trinitarian tradition he inherits, Kierkegaard affirms that God’s grace and spirit support a self in its becoming. The never-ending crush of actualizing Christian content with one’s life form, as an act of faith, includes the gift of God’s spirit. In the process, rebirth and transformation become actualized: “‘If Iben Damgaard, “Kierkegaard’s Rewriting of Biblical Narratives: The Mirror of the Text,” in Lee Barrett and Jon Stewart (eds.), Kierkegaard and the Bible: Volume I, Tome II: The New Testament (Burlington, 2010), p. 207. 83

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we have died with Christ, so shall we also live with him,’ it can also be said: If we are to live with him, then we must die with him. First Death—then life.”84 This spiritual life includes faith itself, which is placing all trust in God, experiencing hope against worldly hope and Christian love as self-giving love. In actualizing Christian content within one’s form, this type of life is an art, the art of subjectivity. Through faith, one understands the paradox of Christ as the definitive moment of truth erupted into human time. This eruption gave a self the condition and knowledge to exist truthfully within human temporality. But it also calls one to recognize that this type of life is the greatest adventure that any human can take. “Therefore venture, says the ethical, dare to renounce everything … dare to become nothing at all, to become a single individual from whom God ethically requires everything, but without daring for all that to cease being enthusiastic,” for it is only in relation to God that one can become a true subject.85 Conclusion This chapter develops Kierkegaard’s conception of becoming subjective as enveloped in a richly aesthetic framework. ‘To exist is an art’ is thus a key conceptual tool to understand the Kierkegaardian self. On the one hand, there is God’s action in Christ, the true ontological content for humanity. Christ, as a historical reality, is the objective soteriological foundation that shows to humanity God’s gift of freedom from sin. He is also the paradox that forces human thinking to recognize sin and human limits, thereby making faith possible. Finally, Christ is the true ontological possibility, the loving, moral example that one is called to redouble. The Bible is a ‘sign’ that points to Christ, thereby ensuring that he is universally available to all no matter one’s education or social status. On the other hand, to rightly relate to this content requires a subjective relation. Such a relational mode asks that each person freely use one’s formal capacities, particularly, the imagination, will, and passion, to redouble this content within one’s life. Actualizing Christian content as one’s form is then an artistic act as it, along with God’s activity, produces a Christian subject. It is this artistic account of selfhood that can then be critically used to engage his fragmentary aesthetic.

For Self-Examination, p. 81. The Hongs link this quote to II Timothy 2:11. Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 149.

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But the more passion and imagination a person has—consequently, the closer he is in a certain sense (in possibility) to being able to believe … .1 Anti-Climacus, The Sickness Unto Death

Then he called the royal coachman. He drove them for a month. In the whole countryside there was not a team of horses that carried their heads so proudly, whose eyes were so fiery, whose gait was so beautiful; there was no team of horses that could hold out running as they did, even thirty miles in a stretch without stopping. How did this happen? It is easy to see: the owner, who without being a coachman meddled with being a coachman, drove the horses according to the horses’ understanding of what it is to drive; the royal coachman drove them according to the coachman’s understanding of what it is to drive. So also with us human beings.”2 Kierkegaard, For Self-Examination

The presence of God is the decisive element that changes everything.3 Kierkegaard, Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits

Though impossible, striving to embody Christ’s love must determine one’s being within Kierkegaard’s vision of selfhood. This actualization of Christian content as one’s form is the highest artistic endeavor; it produces one as a true subject. That said, humans are constantly a part of the aesthetic world; here, I point to the root meaning of the term (the Greek aisthētikos) that relates to worldly human 3 1 2

The Sickness Unto Death, p. 86. For Self-Examination, p. 87. Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits, p. 125.

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perception through the five senses. As embedded in an aesthetic world, humans act within sensual culture, one full of material temptation, beautiful creations, and delightful feasts for the eyes, ears, and body. It is also a world of sagacity, of wealth, and of striving for social status. But as such, this world also reveals a variety of ontological possibilities. And it is this issue of competing ideas of selfhood that makes the world a challenge to Christian becoming. For instance, Kierkegaard, in one of his aesthetic analogies, uses the image of a horse-drawn coach to describe human becoming. Inwardly, the human capacity to develop as a subject is like the horses that pull a carriage; like horses without a trained coachman, when humans are left to their own ideas and powers about what to become, they will cease to pull the carriage properly. Being part of the world, it is easy to be “governed, educated, and brought up according to mankind’s conception of what it means to be a human being.”4 Ever a part of the world, there are always competing ontological possibilities, seductive beauty, and tempting choices that entice the self away from Christian possibility. And with this concern about the sensual world we begin to tread more closely upon the issue of aesthetics in the more common sense: as an account of art and beauty. How can one relate to these worldly aesthetic productions while yet becoming a subject? Answering this question returns us to the importance of the formal human capacities that shape a self ’s becoming. Accordingly, this chapter builds off the subjectivity sketch I painted last chapter, thereby shifting the argument to focus on the self-art relation that lies, at least in part, behind his fragmentary aesthetic. The purpose of this chapter is then three-fold. For one, it deepens an analysis of Kierkegaard’s conception of the formal dimensions of subjectivity and the determinate role they play in actualizing Christian subjectivity. These capacities are the imagination, will, and passion. To do so, I will use a specific example of how these capacities can be used to enact or prevent the faith-filled movement towards Christian becoming amidst aesthetic productions such as visual art. Anti-Climacus tells a story about the development of a youth, a story that shows how the youth’s formation begins with a moment of seeing a visual image. In the passage, the role of the faculties of the imagination and the will provide the conditions for grasping and choosing the ontological possibility the image presents. It also details how passion, as a self-interested love, causes the youth to strive to become this truth. Thus, it shows how ontological possibility can be communicated through aesthetic means, thereby giving depth to the idea



4

For Self-Examination, p. 87.

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that these formal capacities have an aesthetic dimension that necessitates a fragmentary aesthetic. As sensual perception, aesthetic here means that these capacities form the self ’s relation to the sensual world. Though the imagination, will, and passion are not directly sense organs, they regulate how the senses perceive certain ideas and sensual things and manipulate these perceptions. A self can use these capacities to relate to Christian content, and also to become enmeshed in worldly forms of art. Thus, these capacities, especially the creative imagination and the sensuous passion, are linked to aesthetics in its more common usage: as related to artistic creation, beauty, and pleasure. Second, Kierkegaard assumes the aesthetic dimensions to these human capacities; in fact, he uses aesthetic means within the authorship to enmesh each reader’s aesthetic elements within his account of Christian possibility. He tasks each reader to imagine oneself within the conceptions of selfhood in his corpus, thereby tempting one’s desire and will towards becoming reflective about the shape of one’s subjectivity. At a tactical level, Kierkegaard then takes this assumption about the aesthetic structure of selfhood and uses aesthetic means (ex. literary style), sensual ontological possibilities (ex. the aesthetic stage), a critique of art, and the idea of the art of subjectivity in order to represent Christian subjectivity to his readers. In doing so, he deconstructively engages these capacities, all in the aim of leading a reader to recognize the false ontological possibilities and merely sensuous objects of desire that reside within worldly productions. Artistic production reveals ontological possibility, meaning it is an important context for critiquing the power of art to shape subjectivity. Such a recognition tasks his reader then with willingly orienting oneself to Christ’s activity, even if expressed through artistic means, as the only solid ground for subjectivity. Finally, though I have developed becoming as dialectical in the sense of a productive act of both God and each individual, further depth to Kierkegaard’s argument shows how God is constantly involved in becoming. To ignore God’s activity is thus to misunderstand how subjectivity is actualized. This chapter, then, will develop the determinant role God’s love plays as a constant partner within human becoming; to become a subject is a movement within a life of faith, and faith is only possible with God’s assistance. As such, this chapter examines Kierkegaard’s Christian becoming amidst two broader notions of aesthetics: in relation to the perceivable, sensual, and material world as well as the world of art. Doing so affirms that rather than a solipsistic focus on inwardness or an ascetic account of self formation, Kierkegaard strongly asserts each self ’s responsibility to fully engage in one’s

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social and political context. For example, Works of Love is an extended argument about the need to respond to one’s worldly neighbors through loving actions. Upbuilding Discourses of Various Spirits argues that all occupations, whether a servant or a King, have an eternal responsibility to be done in a loving manner.5 In short, the ‘aesthetic’ world of the senses and art is a determinate context for human becoming; it is not a monastery that one must flee to in order to strive to become Christian. Rather, one’s particular contextual location itself is imbued with God’s call to become an imitator of Christ. And rather than denying aesthetic involvements, his driving concern is to task each person with the responsibility to properly relate to artistic, perceivable things amidst the true art of rightly forming as a Christian subject. It also asserts the value of picturing Kierkegaardian selfhood as an imaginative, willful, passionate action on the part of each individual in response to God’s prior and ongoing activity. A number of Kierkegaard scholars, including M. Jaime Ferreira, David Gouwens and C. Stephen Evans, have not been careful enough in delineating the role that all three capacities play in a self ’s becoming. His fragmentary aesthetic emerges out of his theological anthropology; he sees being human as rooted in an aesthetic context and structured by aesthetic capacities that orient one towards a way of being in the world. In response, he tasks his readers with developing an abiding practice of regulating how one relates to the world and art amidst one’s true artistic task of becoming a subject. Anti-Climacus’ Youth and Artistic Becoming In Practice in Christianity, Anti-Climacus tells a story of a youth’s education, one that falls short of the childlike faith that is needed to attain heaven.6 He describes a youth’s examination, with life the examination and God the examiner. To pass, one must move beyond worldly understandings of selfhood towards a childlike faith modeled on the suffering, paradoxical Christ. In short, “the supreme examination is: whether one will in truth be a Christian or not.”7 In this exam, the youth fails. But the story provides a good entry into an example of how the capacities of the imagination, the will, and passion enable becoming See Upbuilding Discourses of Various Spirits, pp. 138–39. For this section, the focus is on pp. 186–92 from Practice in Christianity. There is an additional story about a youth, one in which the youth becomes a Christian, that builds off this first account that directly follows it. I emphasize this first story as it more clearly develops the imagination, will, and love in relationship to worldly possibility. 7 Practice in Christianity, p. 186. 5 6

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and the mimetic redoubling of Christ, particularly in relation to worldly artistic production. Propelling the narrative is the claim that “every human being possesses to a higher or lower degree a capability called the power of the imagination, a power that is the first condition for what becomes a person, for will is the second and in the ultimate sense the decisive condition.”8 ‘The ‘decisive condition’ here equates with moving a self from a form of worldly life based on human capabilities to one based on childlike faith. To exist with the faith of a child is to be a being who, despite the reality of suffering in the world, is concerned with spiritual things, rather than material possessions and rationally-derived truth (such as Hegelian Idealism). It is to strive to become an imitator of Christ, and thus a subject. At this task, the youth fails, largely because he refuses to let go of a false ontological possibility. Yet, the backbone to the narrative is about the conditions and movements necessary to become a Christian. As the first condition, the imagination perceives and inwardly holds onto an image or thought about human existence. The will then chooses to follow the image as the second, and decisive, condition. This decisiveness develops fully when the will properly chooses to understand existence as dependent on divine revelation. Through this choice, the self develops agency; even if this choice is flawed, the will makes the youth ripe for divine action and love. Consequently, the will has both an active component (the youth wills) and a passive component (God completes his act of willing). There is one final condition: loving passion. Without some form of desire, a mere choice of the will does not cause a self to act. Only through the desiring capacity of love can a self move towards embodying the image. And in this case, the youth’s perception of an image propels the act of becoming, thereby affirming to a degree the importance of artistic images. This description is not to suggest that this is a mechanistic process, however. Instead, it is an art, one that tasks each person with rightly regulating the use of one’s particular imagination, will, and passion amidst one’s relational context. Different contexts and different individuals will have to forge this right relation through these capacities in unique and new ways. Yet, only when all three of these capacities artfully work together does a self move towards childlike faith, and thereby subjectivity. Tactically, being a narrative, the story is deeply suggestive of Kierkegaard’s literary playfulness and authorial intention. Like many sections within his authorship, whether the story of the King lowering himself to love the lowly

8

Practice in Christianity, p. 186.

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maiden in Philosophical Fragments or the merman in Fear and Trembling, his authorial method includes a willingness to use a variety of aesthetic tactics to engage a particular reader. The youth’s story is not a dogmatic or philosophical treatise. The story has literary elements, including a plot and an ending. AntiClimacus is thus using aesthetic means to both portray ontological truth and model the possibility of human becoming. Its power then rests upon an assumption that the imagination and passion have aesthetic dimensions. A reader can redouble oneself amidst the youth’s story, imagining what one might do in the same situation and reflecting on the desires that shape one’s life. Consequently, the story is designed to entice the imagination and passion towards a subversive end: the reader’s recognition about one’s own mode of relating to subjective truth. The Youth’s Ontological Possibility: Redoubling a Worldly Ideal Ever part of the sensual world, the youth’s story begins with a clear focus on the aesthetic, here meaning artistic, visual images. “With his imagination (Indbildningskraften) he perceives some image (Billede) of perfection (ideal).”9 In this case, the youth’s imagination grasps some ontological ideal, one that the imagination redoubles by connecting the ideal to the youth’s conception of his life. This image comes either from the sensual world or the creative imagination. For instance, just prior to this story, Anti-Climacus asks his readers to imagine a child who sees the images of Napoleon, William Tell, and the crucified Christ. All three are historical, and thus had an actuality of being, making them material, sensual images, able to be seen by the eyes. However, the youth craves a perfect image, suggesting that he misuses his imagination, because this ontological ideal exists in the purity of the imagination. And this misuse provides a key example through which to examine the role of the imagination in relation to subjectivity and the sensual world. The Imagination: Mimetic Possibility This focus on the perfection within imaginative reflection points to Kierkegaard’s critical appropriation of the idea of the imagination within modernity. Again, thinkers such as Kant and Hegel develop the imagination as a creative and

9

Practice in Christianity, p. 186.

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productive human capacity. Like Hegel, Schiller links the imagination to spirit as it is the faculty that best grasps the Ideal. And within the Romantic tradition, in thinkers such as Novalis and Schlegel, the imagination is where human freedom exists; the imagination is all about possibility, especially the possibility to unite the human and the divine. Consequently, these various conceptions of the imagination shaped Kierkegaard’s thought, a reality that is made clear in his journals and texts in his personal library. Interacting with this thought-world, the Kierkegaardian corpus both acknowledges the importance of the imagination to create ideas and grasp ontological possibility, while at the same time critiques this ability when misused to grasp worldly possibility as a seemingly true ontological content. Basically, he critiques thinkers such as Kant and Hegel as giving the imagination too much authority. Imaginative freedom, expressed either through Romantic possibilities or Idealistic speculative thought, is never tethered to a true account of human being, rooted in the reality of sin. It also avoids the suffering attendant to striving to embody the true ontological possibility. Rather, when misused, the imagination can lead a self into a dreamlike non-actuality of imaginative thought by correlating worldly success with ontological formation; for instance, it can rationalize a comfortable, middle-class lifestyle as perfecting Christian existence. For example, Kierkegaard critiques the Hegelian Idealist tradition as being entirely abstract, existing only in the realm of imaginary construction. As imagined, pure thinking uses the imagination to develop a rationally-rooted ideal of selfhood, but this rational basis, as ignoring sin, is untrue. Thus, it begins with nothing and ends with nothing. Imagining a conversation with a Hegelian about the foundation underneath human becoming, Climacus asks about the starting point for becoming. And with this question, “alas, at this point a Hegelian, deeply moved, perhaps would collapse on my chest and blissfully stammer: With nothing.”10 The imagination on its own can only create a nihilistic ontological foundation. Beginning with nothing, it creates a mere imagined, pure, and perfect starting point for human-derived truth, one entirely abstract and unreal, that then leads the self into an infinite regression into nothing, never moving towards being. That said, like Kant and Hegel, the imagination is an important capacity for Kierkegaard. As Anti-Climacus describes in Sickness, it roots thinking, feeling, and willing. Within subjectivity, it redoubles an ontological possibility, placing a self in a relationship to an idea of being that then allows a self to critically evaluate the form of one’s life. Yet, correcting this modernist tradition, one must Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 114.

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use the imagination critically by understanding its power through a true account of being, one that demands existing within the material world and acknowledges the reality of sin. Thus, primary for his development of the imagination is that it must be rightly related to existence by actualizing Christian ontological possibility. This relation develops by dialectically relating thought and passion through the imagination such that a self ’s desires and thoughts, connected within an imaginatively-held concept of self, actualizes this possibility within existence. “If thinking makes light of imagination, then imagination in turn makes light of thinking, and the same with feeling. The task is not to elevate the one at the expense of the other, but the task is equality, contemporaneity, and the medium in which they are united is existing.”11 The imagination allows the self to make thought and passion ‘contemporary’ with the world through this imaginative ontological connection. This richness and complexity of Kierkegaard’s imagination, though, has opened up a variety of differing interpretations of this capacity. For one, its power has some connection to the will. In fact, Julia Watkins argues that the will is an element of the imagination, rather than an independent capacity.12 Yet, Jaime Ferreira sees them as inter-related but independent capacities; to understand the imagination thus requires understanding the will. For instance, she argues that viewing Kierkegaard as affirming an intentionally chosen, simple, and willful ‘leap’ into faith fails because of the paradoxical nature of faith. To choose faith is to choose ideas paradoxical to human understanding, such as the idea of Christ. As such, this choice is essentially grounded in the imagination as it goes beyond what is rationally possible, meaning the will works alongside an imaginative component in a faith-choice. The concept Ferreira uses to describe the connection between the will and the imagination is “corrective.” This idea, similar to Kierkegaard’s understanding of the dialectical mode of relating, is based on the nature of Christian truth as a paradox. As paradoxical, the movement to faith includes both active and passive willing. The highest paradox is faith, as a dialectical relation between the dialectics of infinite/finite, contrary to/dependent on rational knowing, and active choice/grace-filled gift. Faith is then a type of passion, which is generated by paradox as a self seeks to hold together two contrary elements. It is the imagination that allows for the recognition of faith as being paradoxical, and thus “corrects” any conflation of the movement to faith as being either active/ Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 348. For instance, see “Imagination” in Julia Watkins, Historical Dictionary of Kierkegaard’s Philosophy (Lanham, 2001). 11 12

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free or passive/bound. The imagination is important in this transition, as holding elements in tensive unity is an imaginative activity. Ferreira argues then “that the role of the category of passion in qualifying the leap (or, equivalently, the willing of the downfall of understanding) can be fruitfully read as an attempt to highlight the activity of imagination—either in contrast to a simplistic notion of decision or as part of an enriched understanding of willing itself.”13 As a result, in moving towards faith, a self must will against understanding, thereby allowing imaginative activity to effect the transition to faith. The imagination fills the rationally uncertain void left by choosing the paradox, thus opening the will to divinely revealed, grace supported faith. Imaginative activity therefore is decisive for faith, and is a will-filled activity that moves a self beyond the need for truth as certain into the truth of faith. Though she does not emphasize the importance of passion as a prior capacity to the faith leap, there is much to commend in this perspective through its description of how the will and imagination combine to make faith possible. Unlike Ferreira, David Gouwens stresses Kierkegaard’s imagination as having capacities beyond the will, suggesting that in order to best understand it, one must see it as “a central human capacity basic to being a person.”14 He has a wide-ranging definition of Kierkegaard’s idea of the imagination, arguing conceptually that the imagination is a dialectical capacity. Though not developed into consistent concept, the imagination can be used in widely different contexts and in a multiplicity of roles. For example, the stages present different ways to understand the role of the imagination as “the stages exhibit the relations among diverse ways of being imaginative, the aim is to show the overarching dialectical relations within this diversity.”15 The roles of the imagination include: as a medium between possibilities, a state of being, an activity of creating thought, a capacity for thought itself, a disposition towards an object/end, and a passion. All of these sub-roles affirm that the imagination plays an important role in the development of a self; always dialectical, its abilities must never be dominant, but dialectically related to passion and existence. To add to this interpretive breadth, there is also Sylvia Walsh’s view that it is an aesthetic capacity. For example, she states that the final stage of Kierkegaard’s authorship, in which she includes his journals and religious writings, “views imagination and possibility as necessary for poetically presenting and striving toward a spiritual form of existence through imitation of Christ.”16 To be a poet M. Jaime Ferreira, Transforming Vision (New York, 1991), p. 10. David Gouwens, Kierkegaard’s Dialectic of the Imagination (New York, 1989), p. 1. 15 Gouwens, Kierkegaard’s Dialectic of the Imagination, p. 6. 16 Walsh, Living Poetically, p. 17. 13 14

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is to use the powers of the imagination as an aesthetic method to communicate ideas as well as the means to receive ideas. A self must move beyond temporal experience to spiritual possibility; the imagination provides this ability. Here the stress is on the imagination as a creative faculty: to imagine is to engage possibilities about what to become. As creative, the imagination is the power that shapes art, music, and poetry. These creative activities point to the self ’s aesthetic element, and thus affirm the value of the imagination’s ability to move beyond temporality. Consequently, Walsh views the imagination as a vital part in self-development. A self ‘poetizes itself,’ creating itself as an aesthetic-ethicalreligious self primarily through the aesthetic capacity of the imagination. Amidst these diverse views, my argument stresses the imagination’s primary role as a mimetic one, and thus as intertwined, yet separate from the will and passion. Yes, like Ferreira, the imagination relates to the will, but I argue that passion is the cause of actualizing a choice of being, thereby intertwining the imagination, will, and passion as capacities of subjectivity. Though Gouwens roots the imagination within self-formation, he does not clarify how it works alongside of the will and passion to shape such formation. Finally, though Walsh’s view is linked to imitation, she does not clearly develop its essential relationship to passion within the mimetic act. The imagination must always be connected to the will and passion as necessary dimensions for human becoming. That said, Kierkegaard’s development of the imagination is not a rigid or formulaic one; instead, his stress is on its importance and role as a relational capacity that shapes how one develops amidst the artistic project of becoming a Christian. To understand the imagination is then to see it as a capacity that is ever rooted within the process of subjectivity. The key feature of the imagination is that it is the reflective capacity of a self: it contains mimetic possibility. In its broadest definition, it is the capacity for thought itself, able to connect a finite self to the realm of reflection, infinite possibility, and spirit. Thus, it is the ground for any possible choice of being. More narrowly, it has creative powers, as it can create for itself a telos for a self to become; with this creative power, the imagination holds a normative image, as in a truth of being, that a self is to become. Further, this power clearly makes the imagination an aesthetic, as in a creative, capacity, as Walsh argues. Accordingly, the imagination is a vital capacity in that it holds reflection and possibility. Yet, used rightly, its aesthetic, creative power is oriented through the divinely-revealed ontological possibility. As mimetic, a self must decide to move beyond its creative power to imaginatively actualize a truth from beyond the finite: the image of the suffering, lowly, and loving paradoxical Christ.

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As rooted in subjectivity and mimesis, the imagination carries a number of responsibilities. One, it is a foundation for self-knowledge about oneself as being more than a material being. It is about seeing oneself as infinite, rather than merely finite: “As a rule, imagination (Phantasie) is the medium for the process of infinitizing; it is not a capacity, as are the others—if one wishes to speak in those terms, it is the capacity instar omnium [for all capacities].” 17 Secondly, it is the basis for understanding the types of thoughts, choices, and feelings that one has, as in the basis for ‘whatever of feeling, knowing and willing a person has.’ Indeed, the degree of willing, feeling, and knowing are dependent “upon how that person reflects himself—that is, upon imagination,” meaning it is rooted in one’s imaginative self-reflection.18 But as such, to detail the contours of the imagination gets to the heart of Kierkegaard’s view of human becoming. First, the imagination is connected to feeling, knowing, and willing. As a result, it can relate these elements to itself in a way that is merely imaginary. In short, one can imagine feeling a certain way such that the feeling exists only in the mind, rather than within an actual temporal experience. One can feel, know, and will merely in thought alone; one can live there consequently. This ability of the imagination is a danger for Anti-Climacus. Anti-Climacus in this instance uses Phantasie as the means to express this “fantastic” capacity to move beyond time. Second, the imagination enables a self to infinitize one’s being. Infinitization is the imaginative act in which a self moves beyond mere material existence to see oneself as something beyond the temporal world. As it relates then to becoming, to infinitize is to imagine and envision oneself through a variety of possible forms of selfhood. It is to think about what one is and can be, over and beyond what one is at a particular moment in time. Thus, it plays a vital part of redoubling as it links the ontological possibility (as an image) to one’s self-reflection (as one’s self-image). “The self is reflection, and the imagination is reflection, is the rendition of the self as the self ’s possibility. The imagination is the possibility of any and all reflection, and the intensity of this medium is

The Sickness Unto Death, pp. 30–31. Kierkegaard did not attempt a systematic development of the imagination, and thus uses various terms for the imagination. In this case, he uses Phantasie; he also uses Indbildningskraften. It is not clear why he favored one over the other. One possibility is related to his concern over the imagination’s capacity to remove a self from actual, temporal existence. Phantasie thus is also much more critical of this detemporalizing capacity than Indbildningskraften as it is clearly connected to the idea of fantasy. Indbildningkraftten literally means “the power to make images.” 18 The Sickness Unto Death, pp. 30–31. 17

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the possibility of the intensity of the self.”19 A further dimension to infinitizing means that the imagination relates a self to future possibility. Such a reflection never ends. “One who is existing is continually in the process of becoming; the actually existing subjective thinker, thinking, continually reproduces this in his existence and invests all his thinking in becoming.”20As one never is a being, a self is always trapped in the need to be reflecting on becoming. But third, to be infinite is to recognize oneself as having a spiritual nature in addition to one’s material nature. Humans are the synthesis of the finite and infinite, but it is all too easy to get stuck within a merely material existence. The imagination allows a self to recognize oneself as infinite and spiritual, beyond the finite and material dimension of selfhood. As Anti-Climacus writes, “a human being is spirit. But what is spirit? Spirit is the self.”21 To imagine one as infinite is part of the activity of becoming a self; it allows oneself to begin to and continue to care about what one is as a self. Consequently, as a formal capacity, one that is universal to all humans, the imagination is the ground upon which becoming a self is possible. By using the word ground here, I claim that the imagination, as the capacity that contains any idea, image, and feeling, holds the ontological foundation upon which a self strives to become. It cannot in itself determine how one relates to the world, as relating is also a passionate, willful, conscious activity; further, as a self is always in the aesethetic world, the imagination is continually exposed to a diversity of ontological possibilities. Yet with this redoubling and infintizing power, its mimetic role is that it contains the range of ontological possibilities to which a self can relate itself to as it is the ‘capacity for all other capacities’ (the capacity instar omnium). By capacity (Evne), Anti-Climacus is not talking about a faculty, as in a Thomistic faculty or power of the soul that must be habituated properly. Nor is he truly wedded to the category, an idea suggested by the ‘if one wishes to speak in those terms’ tagline. For instance, Anti-Climacus, in Practice in Christianity, also refers to the power (Kraft) of the imagination. Instead, the imagination, in addition to the will and passion, are determinate powers through which a self can move towards subjectively actualizing a particular truth. They are means through which a self relates to sensual existence; when used rightly, they determine the actual, worldly mimetic movement towards embodying the true ontological content of Christ as one’s form.

The Sickness Unto Death, p. 31. Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 86. 21 The Sickness Unto Death, p. 13. 19 20

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As relational capacities, they influence the art of existence, and thus selfhood as ‘truth is subjectivity.’ Thus, a capacity, as I interpret Anti-Climacus, is a determining power that relates to what and how one strives to become a self. Whatever form of relating that arises, whether through feeling, willing, or thinking, is dependent on the imagination, as such. As the ground of feeling, knowing, and willing, it is the ground of self-awareness as in the fact that it provides the basis or foundation of any mood, self-awareness, and movement. Tearing one out of a daily grind, the imagination thereby enables self-reflection. A self must acknowledge the possibility of being something beyond mere chance, material existence, or statistical probability. Primary to the imagination’s power as the ground of becoming is that it enables one to grasp ontological possibility. “To lack possibility means either that everything has become necessary for a person or that everything has become trivial.”22 Possibility enables a self to imagine oneself as free, full of endless possibility of forms of self to become. It is then necessary for a self, for “to pray is to breathe, and possibility is for the self what oxygen is for breathing.”23 There are limits to possibility, though, as “possibility alone or necessity alone can no more be the condition for the breathing of prayer than oxygen alone or nitrogen alone can be that for breathing.”24 Something outside of one’s own reflection of possibility is needed—the God-in-Time. This truth is essentially the main theme of Climacus’ Philosophical Fragments. Consequently, the life of faith is intertwined with the imagination. “Faith has, namely, two tasks: to watch for and at every moment to make the discovery of improbability, the paradox, in order then to hold it fast with the passion of inwardness.”25 To become aware of God is to imagine possibilities, even to the point where some true possibilities, such as the God-in-Time, seem impossible for reason and the wisdom of the temporal, material realm. In fact, without such an imaginative move toward improbable possibility, faith is not possible. It is within the imagination where a self reflects on the paradox of the Christian truth of being. As a grounding capacity, it formally grasps, contains, or holds this truth, thereby allowing the self the possibility of passionately moving towards it as in the willful response of faith. By implication, imaginative self-reflection is also necessary for religious communication. Climacus writes, “The religious speaker ought to be distinguishable by his knowing how to manage with pathos the enthusiasm of 24 25 22 23

The Sickness Unto Death, p. 40. The Sickness Unto Death, p. 40. The Sickness Unto Death, p. 40. Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 233.

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suffering and jestingly to peek into the imagination-passion of the infinite.”26 Such a speaker is far different from a poet, who serves illusion and sympathy. Instead, Christian possibility should be the imaginatively rooted subject of religious communication. In particular, communicating this truth reveals the reality of sin. Again, correcting the modernist and Romantic traditions as well as the antinomianism of Danish Lutheranism, Kierkegaard constantly returns to the claim that a true account of human reality requires accepting one’s sinful nature. This truth then must be grasped imaginatively, and in particular, redoubled to the point where it becomes one’s consciousness. Thus, as Climacus notes in Fragments, the teacher “must develop the consciousness of sin as the condition for understanding” within the learner such that this idea is held as one’s ‘deepest self-reflection.’27 As imaginatively held, through this true possibility, a self recognizes its limits and need for something beyond itself for the truth of being. It also includes the selfawareness that one can think infinite possibility without its actualization. Here again is the divine “no” to the creative imagination as the basis for selfhood. Anti-Climacus presents a similar connection between the imagination and passion within The Sickness Unto Death. Both capacities are related to despair, particularly over things in the world. “When the self despairs with infinite passion over something of this world, its infinite passion changes this particular thing, this something, into the world in toto; that is, the category of totality inheres in and belongs to the despairing person.”28 Anti-Climacus links the imagination to despair, holding the material object before passion in such a way that a self chooses to despair over the world. As such, the imagination is the ground for despair, a necessary experience before moving towards the inward appropriation of Christian truth. That said, Kierkegaard asserts several negative potentials of the imagination as a formally determinate capacity. For one, the imagination has the potential to infinitely imagine. There is an infinite realm of imagined possibilities available to a self: as a famous professor, a sports hero, Superman, etc. The imagination, though able to think about what it might be, potentiality may never stop selfreflecting within the purity of reason and the imagination. Yet, subjectivity is an activity in which the ‘setting is not in the fairyland of the imagination.’ The use of the imagination must rightly be oriented by a truth that reforms its sinful nature and demands real world action. Thus, the Christian paradox Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 440. Philosophical Fragments/Johannes Climacus, p. 93. 28 The Sickness Unto Death, p. 60. 26 27

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eviscerates this issue in that the imagination cannot be used to understand a rational truth; rather, passion must be the capacity effecting the transition to a faithful actualization of this truth. Further, the will must be used to properly choose to stop imagining oneself as a type of self; a willful decision to accept that limits to imagination and human capacities is also then necessary for the proper relational use of the imagination. Second, ideas and images other than those that contain a form of the true ontological possibility may lead the imagination astray.29 Anti-Climacus makes a distinction between one who admires and one who imitates. Although he does not explicitly use the idea of the imagination, his definition of admiration— when understood through the idea of the imagination developed in The Sickness Unto Death—is dependent upon the imagination. In viewing beautiful images of art, “the admirer … keeps himself personally detached; he forgets himself … and precisely this is what is beautiful, that he forgets himself in this way in order to admire.”30 To admire is to lose oneself in something else, a forgetfulness that suggests that the imagination, as the basis for such a relation, focuses on enjoying the sensual, rather than imitating Christian love in the world. Here, the self ’s imagination has an aesthetic dimension, as it is clearly concerned with the fantastical creations of art and beauty. And as a capacity with an aesthetic dimension, the imagination can also be too creative. “At times the ingeniousness of the human imagination can extend to the point of creating possibility, but at last—that is, when it depends upon faith— then only this helps: that for God everything is possible.”31 The imagination can by itself create ontological possibility, apart from any worldly involvement. Here, the concern suggests a critique of the Romantic tradition. Figures such as Schlegel, Steffens, and Oehlenschläger see in the creative imagination the means to upbuild a self towards rational truth or the power to make existence less insufferable through beautiful creations. Such a power, though necessary for subjective reflection, ignores the need for this creative activity to be determined by God’s seemingly impossible possibility in Christ. In The Concept of Irony, Kierkegaard is heavily critical of Schlegel’s Lucinde for exemplifying the Romantic tendencies to present human existence as dreamlike possibility. “This (letting fantasy alone prevail) is repeated throughout Lucinde. Who would be so inhuman as not to be able to enjoy the free play of fantasy, but that does not imply that all of life should be abandoned to imaginative intuition. When fantasy alone gains the upper hand in this way, it exhausts and anesthetizes the soul, robs it of all moral tension, makes life a dream”(The Concept of Irony, p. 292ff ). This Romantic imaginary dream lies at the heart of his critique of art. 30 Practice in Christianity, p. 242. 31 The Sickness Unto Death, p. 39. 29

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Climacus makes a similar point. A poet’s work is to present ideals to the imagination, but in so doing, these ideals are aesthetic in that any imagined action resolves in a beautiful comic or heroic end. “The reason a religious poet is a dubious category in relation to the paradoxical-religious is that, esthetically, possibility is higher than actuality, and the poetic consists in the ideality of imaginative intuition.”32 For example, Don Juan never has to deal with the consequences of his seduction; he is always able to move onto another seduction. These ontological ideals reveal beautiful, simple imaginative images of possibility, and thus lead a self away from the endless, difficult task of becoming. Poets are then using their imagination to create an untrue possibility, rather than pointing to Christian possibility as the true form of being. The imagination, as tempted by art and beauty, then has an essential connection to the aesthetic, material world, one that demands a willful response from each self to use it rightly. Consequently, Kierkegaard stresses both the vital necessity of the imagination as holding mimetic possibility but also a concern that it may be misused. He both affirms and critiques modernity’s development of this power, whether in the Idealists or Romantics, as such. Without the imagination, a self is trapped merely in the world, and even with it, a self may be determined by something other than Christian possibility. It is the ground upon which feeling, knowing, and willing are possible; it also contains reflection. A creative capacity, it can endlessly create ideals to understand oneself, yet is needed for such self-reflection. And most importantly for Kierkegaard’s project, it is the power through which a self imagines itself as the embodiment of an ontological possibility; it is a redoubling capacity. Thus, what matters is rightly using it to imagine oneself becoming like Christ; all other imagined possibilities lead a self towards a chimera, a false image of selfhood. To return to Anti-Climacus’ example, this critical affirmation of the imagination is a vital theme in the story of the youth. The imagination is the first condition of becoming a person in this case. And here, unlike in Sickness, the imagination is a ‘power.’ Yet, it is helpful to remember that it is not a passive power to be determined merely by dogmatic thought, but rather the ground of possibility in a self. It is the ‘capacity of all capacities.’ Also, AntiClimacus differentiates the will and the imagination quite clearly, giving the will the more decisive power of the two. As the first condition, the crucial ability of the imagination is to perceive an object or thought. In this case the object perceived is an ‘image’ of ‘ideal’ ontological perfection. The imagination perceives something, either a thought or the mental representation of a material Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 580ff.

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body. Accordingly, it is the imagination that has the capacity to grasp external or internal things and present them inwardly to other capabilities, most notably the will. The youth showcases the imagination’s power to grasp both ideals and images. Ideals are ideas, though related to a worldly image, that become imaginative representations in the mind. Yet, the ideal does not necessarily have to come from the world, as the imagination has the capacity to create images independently of an aesthetic perception. The word imagination in English as well as the Danish Indbildningskraften literally means “the power to make images.” In both words, the idea of ‘image’ forms the substantive basis for the word’s construction. In this creative power, images can correspond to mental representations of actions, say of courageous action, as well as of material forms, such as a table. And as creative, it gives this power universally to all humans; anyone can create fantastic images in one’s mind. It is also then an aesthetic capacity, as in being artistically creative and productive. As the youth demonstrates, the importance of the imagination for becoming is that this ideal image provides a normative ontological possibility. Indeed, it is about the “image of the perfect one” that a self is to strive to become.33 Such an imaginative act is connected to redoubling, in which the youth self-reflects about his form of life in relationship to this ideal ontological possibility. Therefore, it serves as the telos through which the youth can critically understand himself throughout his life. It is about selfhood, and thus provides an image of how to actually exist in the world, say as a Christian, a philosopher, an artist, etc. It provides the ideal ontological content for one’s form, calling one to redouble or conform to it within all of one’s endeavors. This formation demands that one attempt to live out the ideal within one’s existence, to be as perfect in everyday life as the image is within the mind. In particular, in the case of the youth, the ontological content revealed by the image has either been provided by human history or is a product of the youth’s imagination itself. “It could have been handed down by history, thus from a time past; therefore it has been actual, has had the actuality of being. Or it is formed by the imagination itself, so it has no relation to or determination by time and place but has only thought-actuality.”34 In both cases, the image is a product of human capability rather than divine revelation. By history, Anti-Climacus is referring to various traditions that educate a self through a particular idea of perfect existence, say religious saints, political leaders, or sports heroes. It is likely Practice in Christianity, p. 187. Practice in Christianity, p. 186.

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that visual images form part of the educational process, as in seeing an artistic image of a famous hero who once roamed the earth. There is also the possibility is that he is criticizing Hegelian Idealism. This tradition provides an ideal that is far removed from actuality and existential truth, focusing merely on mental ideas rather than temporal action. The second means by which the youth could have received the image is through the creative power of the imagination itself. As an aesthetic capacity, it can create its own normative ideal image. It can create, through its own power, an imagined telos of perfection for the youth. This image removes him from the messiness of actuality, ever rooted within time and becoming. It is helpful in this instance to recall German Romantic thinkers. An example is Schlegel, with his focus on the power of the imagination to reveal divine truth and the sacred truths that run counter to divine revelation. In this process, the image becomes merely a human-created image of ontological perfection. The ease with which the imagination creates the image gives the image a persuasive power. It seems only too easy to become the image, because it was so easy for the imagination to create it. It is then perfect and pure, distant from the muddiness and guiltiness of the temporal world. No matter where it comes from, as not being Christian possibility, the youth “has not watched his step, has not paid attention to where he is” by following an ideal given to him by the world.35 Herein lies the problem with the imagination: as something that can produce images of ontological possibility or endlessly imagine such possibilities, it is distant from existence. Anti-Climacus views the imagination, though necessary, as a power that is removed from the demands of acting, choosing, and living within the material, finite world. He describes “the imagination’s infinite distance from actuality.”36 In a way similar to Kant’s “pure” reason and Hegel’s “pure” thinking, the imagination is not restricted by material boundaries and thus can move a self into a realm of infinite, abstract thought. In particular, in this rational purity, the imagination lacks something: the ability to depict suffering that is part of the actuality of imitating Christ. Taking a swipe at Hegelian Idealism, Anti-Climacus’ point is that to imagine giving away all of one’s possessions or leaving a well-paying job to work for justice is not the same as doing it. Imitation requires both, in which one knows the true image but relates to this image by existing ontologically through it by imitating Christ’s action in one’s actions. Without a relation to passion, the will, and the

Practice in Christianity, p. 189. Practice in Christianity, p. 187.

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Christ image, it lacks the dimension to independently redouble the subjective self within a sinful world. This lack is because the imagination is perfect, for in its distance from actuality, it has the capability to think beyond material existence; “in other words, the imagination is in itself more perfect than suffering in actuality.”37 True perfection is that of “the suffering belonging to actuality or the actuality of suffering.”38 To suffer each day throughout existence is, for Anti-Climacus, the highest ideal, the imperfection of perfection that corresponds with the reality of Christian possibility, ever striving to redouble Christ. Further, it is something that can only be experienced to be rightly understood, rather than imagined. Living in a sinful, changing world means hearing God’s affirmative ‘yes’ that the world is a good gift from God; but it also means hearing the ‘no’ that the world as one wants it to be, perfect and pure, is not humanly possible. For God, all things are possible, but for each person, only through faith can one participate in such a re-formed possibility. Suffering cannot be imagined, except “in a mitigated, toned-down, foreshortened depiction.”39 Any ideal that does not depict real existence offers a false idol regarding the human condition; and for the youth, his ideals are too clean, pure and thus distant from the messiness of human finitude and sinfulness. Consequently, on the one hand, the youth’s story demonstrates the necessity of the imagination within human becoming. The imagination is the first condition for the movement of a self as it perceives an ideal image of what to become. It is a formal capacity, one each person has as an essential feature of being human that can then allow a self to see oneself as other than a material being. It grasps images that become reflectively normative, as in an ontological possibility for a self to imaginatively redouble. But on the other hand, this image may be too perfect, impossibly distant from actuality, or merely a product of the human imagination. It also may become merely an imaginative fantasy, rather than an image that calls one to live its truth within the world. What one imagines oneself to be then matters, and only Christian possibility offers the means to rightly use one’s imagination.

Practice in Christianity, p. 187. Practice in Christianity, p. 188. 39 Practice in Christianity, p. 187. 37 38

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The Youth’s Will: Mimetic Choice For the youth, the will is the ‘decisive condition’ for becoming. Behind this notion, rather famously, lies the common interpretation that Kierkegaard’s thought revolves around an idea that the “purity of heart is to will one thing.”40 Indeed, as Ferreira’s Transforming Vision points out, one common misunderstanding of Kierkegaard is that faith is merely a ‘leap,’ as an act of the will. The will carries a heavy burden if this is the case; yet, as the youth’s story develops, the will is always interrelated with passion and the imagination in the mimetic act. The will provides a self with the power of choice, though gracefully guided, in human becoming. The imagination is the prior condition as it holds the ontological content, and the will provides the secondary, decisive condition that enacts a choice to move towards becoming the particular ontological possibility. In the third section of this chapter, I argue that the passion is the direct cause of the actual movement of a self towards a particular end. The will then stands in the middle, weaving together the imagination’s image of ontological possibility and the passion’s loving interest in such a relation. The will must choose to hold onto or to let go of any image; it also chooses to actualize an image, rather than let the imagination infinitely imagine other possibilities. And as the youth’s story shows, through an act of will, a self takes responsibility for becoming a particular self. In the youth’s case, even if the act of willing is oriented towards an untrue ontological image, the choice yet creates the possibility of divine action. As I described in Chapter Two, the will is an important component in ontologically pointing one to external, finite things, leading to despair, as well as to eternal, infinite things, leading to faith. In the process, the Kierkegaardian will enacts a tension between being both free and bound, thereby offering further evidence of the art of subjectivity being a co-production both of God and a self. Again, he wrote from within an Augustinian-infused Protestantism and Kantian Modernism. Kierkegaard’s will exhibits elements of both traditions, as it has continuity with Augustine’s idea of the bonded will and Kant’s free will. And though dialectical, Anti-Climacus provides clarity that the right use of the will means that one wills to rest ‘transparently in the power that established it.’ Within this dialectical structure, one must freely will, yet recognize that it is a dependent self as only God as creator and redeemer reveals the true ontological possibility. Mimetically, because of the importance of the human capacity to ‘will to be itself,’ the will is that power that thus chooses a particular type of

Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits, p. 24.

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relation to seek to actualize. This choice shows how each self must play a role in creating oneself as a subject. That said, Kierkegaard is clear that it is God’s actions that make any willful choice possible. To become a subject is based on a divine gift, a reality that affirms two Kierkegaardian essentials. The first is that the ontological truth that matters for true selfhood, including the knowledge of sin (from The Sickness Unto Death) as well as Christ, come not from human reason, but divine revelation. God reveals the truth of sin (described by Climacus in Philosophical Fragments and Anti-Climacus in The Sickness Unto Death) and the paradoxical moral exemplar (the suffering Christ in Practice in Christianity) that makes loving action (from Works of Love) possible. This revelation is the means to give the self the potential to exist within a right relation to others, oneself, and God. It is the truth that can restore humanity to a state that predates sinful existence, to the self as originally created in the divine image. To will to be ‘itself,’ then is to will to be this self as God created. But consequently, ‘the power that established it’ is a divine power, with God as creator restoring fallen creation. This idea of gift also affirms that the highest image of perfection is the loving and suffering Christ. To will truthfully is to focus one’s intentions towards becoming a person like Christ, as in an imitatio Christi. As being the normative what as the content of subjectivity, Christ’s existence provides a self with an image to imitate; a self is an imitator of Christ. “An imitator is or strives to be what he admires,” and to will here is to make such a mimetic choice.41 In the process, one takes responsibility for oneself, thereby developing as a human agent towards true being. Through the will, a self chooses what type of self it wants to become. Hence, its relational role is that it leads to the personal investment into striving, despite what the world might want from a self. It is about avoiding “double-mindedness,” of wanting worldly success and spiritual perfection. Instead, by choosing to become the person God calls one to be, as in a person of faith, God’s “intimacy surrounds you everywhere; it is offered to you at every moment: in this intimacy in the decision you are with the good.”42 To decide to strive to be a subject, despite the consequences, brings God intimately into one’s inner being. Each particular individual must acknowledge these truths of human agency and divine dependence. Consequently, a self must move beyond willing to a dialectical, active state of passivity. This passivity is to acknowledge the ‘power that established it.’ It is to willingly accept that the ultimate truth through which Practice in Christianity, p. 241. Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits, p. 107.

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to understand oneself is not given by a human capacity. Choosing against reason and human ideas of being, for example Hegelian Idealism, one chooses to live according to paradoxical divine revelation. In this type of willing relationship, the self finds rest, which ends despair. As it relates to the youth from Practice in Christianity, the youth’s will chooses the image to strive to redouble in the self ’s development. Therefore, the will’s capacity to choose serves as the second condition; in freely choosing the image, the youth takes responsibility for becoming a particular type of self. Exemplifying the free/bound tension, within the free element, the youth can freely choose to exist based on a particular ontological image. The sincere purpose of life “is to will to be, to will to express the perfection (ideality) in the dailyness of actuality” as the basis for becoming.43 To take seriously acting and developing as a human is to ensure that the will is focused on some ideal ontological possibility, some perfect norm of being, imaginatively held; this focus should lead to willfully trying to become it. In this act of will, a self chooses to take responsibility for its actions and its particular being. This choice is decisive as the second condition for the movement of a self towards an ideal. Anti-Climacus’ will thus has the power choose to actualize the ontological content. That said, the youth can never choose the image of Christ independently of Christian revelation nor move towards it without grace, exemplifying the bound dimension. Only through God is there a true account of the human condition and ontological prototype, meaning the youth misunderstands human freedom as being total if he creates and strives to become a self based on his own ideas or human images (ex. Napoleon). The reality of Christ as revealed in the Bible is thus absolutely necessary. Further, as one can never be a Christian because of sin, God’s grace is needed to enable a self to continue to strive to become true despite never succeeding. Without God’s hopeful possibility, the dialectical tension of trying yet failing might lead one into despair. Here again the will is necessary, as by choosing to exist through the truth that selfhood only comes from God roots out this despair. In the youth’s case, as the imagination presents an untrue account of ontological perfection as an unattainable ideal, the youth’s will is deceived by the imagination. Again, the youth’s imagination perceives an ideal given by worldly understanding or the imagination itself. Rather than choosing the true ideal given through Christian revelation, the will chooses something opposed to true existence. “Look, there is a youth who has let himself be enticed by his

Practice in Christianity, p. 190.

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imagination to go out too far … .”44 Yet, Anti-Climacus argues that as long as the youth wills, the error lies not with the will, but with the imagination’s ideal, at least initially. Indeed, all is not lost for the youth. The simple act of willfully choosing an ontological possibility opens up the self to the possibility for God’s actions. By willing, he expresses agency, one that then stands alongside divine action within becoming as a co-creative activity. “In a certain sense the youth’s imagination has deceived him, but indeed, if he himself wills, it has not deceived him to his detriment, it has deceived him into the truth; by means of a deception, it has, as it were, played him into God’s hands.”45 As such, even if the image is flawed, by taking responsibility through willing to become a self, the self is ripe for God’s actions to move the self towards faith. “Yes, the very act of choosing makes the self responsible: God says: Good for you! Now the earnestness of life is beginning for you” meaning what also matters is that the youth choose to try and become some type of self.46 The youth, though he does not will Christian possibility, nonetheless is earnest in his choice; he is sincere about the need to strive to become a self, even if the image is flawed. The will, however, still has the power to block the movement of a self towards faith. Before God moves the self towards faith, there must be the recognition that the imagination’s seemingly perfect image is not the highest ontological possibility. At some point, a self must recognize that perfection is unattainable by human means alone, and that the image itself must come from something other than human capability. Existential realities, including sin and the dialectical nature of selfhood, make ontological perfection impossible. As a result, the will must will against itself to a state of passive dependence. It must choose the true image of selfhood, available only through divine revelation, rather than a humanly created truth. In the case of the youth, the enthusiasm of the youth’s will towards his image of perfection only intensifies the ontological value of the image. His willful agency refuses to acknowledge his divine dependence. Thus, together with the youth’s love of the ideal, the will is trapped by the intensity of its willing. It is as if the youth is saying, “I am going to achieve my perfection because I will it.” Though God constantly supports him during his willing, the youth suffers because he holds onto this flawed perfection. In the process, because of its ideal perfection, the youth moves away from actuality and the ethical demands of Practice in Christianity, p. 189. Practice in Christianity, p. 190. 46 Practice in Christianity, p. 189. 44 45

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living within the temporal, material world. And because of this willful intensity, the will does not open the self fully to God’s action. The youth must freely recognize human dependence on the divine in order for God to act. He does not, and the will is trapped willing merely human ideals, meaning the youth fails at his responsibility to be a co-producer of his selfhood along with God. Overall though, the will’s decisiveness comes from its ability to make a self responsible for choosing to move towards a type of self. The imagination may perceive ontological possibilities for a self to become, but it is only when a self chooses such a perfection that a self develops agency. Yet, as exemplified by the youth, the will can aid or stand in the way of becoming faithful. On the one hand, it makes the youth responsible for becoming a type of self. This responsibility is necessary, for it is only through such an act that a person has the potential for fully receiving God’s grace. On the other hand, the power of the will may stand in the way. By zealously willing one’s flawed image of perfection, the will restricts the movement of Christian becoming. The Youth’s Passion: Mimetic Possession For the youth, the image of perfection is his love, showcasing that the final ontological determinant capacity in Kierkegaard’s anthropology is passion. Passion has various meanings, including emotion, energy, and concern within the authorship.47 And as noted in Chapter Two, Kierkegaard, particularly in Climacus, uses pathos as synonymous with passion. Pathos, from the Greek, meaning “suffering,” “feeling” and “emotion,” conveys the idea that passion has a desirous, emotive element. As a mimetic capacity, it is the dynamic of movement towards faith, a type of being as possibility held by the imagination and chosen by the will. Passion is then a form of self-interest in which one desires to be a true self, an intense interest that leads one to actualizing a possibility in the world. For example, the youth from the story loves his idea of perfection; passion then, as this example suggests, is a form of love. Passion relates to ideas such as appropriation, possession, inwardness, and subjective truth, as it is through a passionate interest that a particular self comes to possess an ontological possibility as one’s subjective form. And within subjectivity, through passion, a self makes Christian content one’s form of being in the world; it is also about See Robert Roberts, ‘Existence, Emotions and Virtues: Classical Themes in Kierkegaard,’ in Alastair Hannay and Gordon D. (eds.), The Cambridge Companion to Kierkegaard (New York, 1998), pp. 177–206. 47

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the passionate trust in God’s actions in Christ, that despite one’s inability to be a Christian, makes becoming a Christian a faithful art. In probing passion, inwardness is a central feature. “At its highest inwardness in an existing subject is passion; truth as a paradox corresponds to passion, and that truth becomes a paradox is grounded precisely in its relation to an existing subject.”48 Climacus views true existence as moving from the inner self outward, with an attendant understanding that one’s particular inner relation to the truth of being is incommensurable externally (see Fear and Trembling). Universal ethics only go so far in grounding one’s relation to a truth that demands that one be a certain type of self. Thus, passion as interestedness is to inwardly care about what one is and what one might become within the external world. Through passion, one’s ontological content becomes actualized in the world, because desirious passion moves one to become a certain form of self within a subjective relation. Equally important, passion is an immediate, rather than thought-filled, experience, for passion, not thought, is the basis for the movement to actualize possibility. As immediate, passion moves a self to act in the present moment. It is interestedness, a pathos that is beyond a type of reason that values objective knowledge and certainty. Passion is needed because the imaginative capacity and the desire to know the highest ontological truth fail when faced with the logical absurdity of the God-in-Time. In the process, this paradoxical truth must move from an object of the understanding to an object of inward passion, thereby becoming a form of the subjective, as opposed to objective, relation to existence. Essentially, Christianity reveals such a content, as it must be related to passionately in order to properly relate to its truth. Thus, through passion, one transforms oneself as one’s form of life changes as one actualizes the ontological possibility with the world. At its highest, passion is faith. Faith is the movement from imaginatively held possibility to inward passionate Christian existence that embodies Christian love in the world. Faith is a ‘happy passion’ as it is a trust or confidence in God’s actions in Christ that opens up selfhood to becoming a subject. Through the inward desire to become like Christ, one experiences the limits to human responsibility; one can never be Christ as one’s lived possibility, but even so, one is yet loved by God. Faith, as passionate trust, is also a way of life then. It embodies Christ’s love in the world through acts that practice works of love towards one’s neighbors. In the process, one is on the way of becoming, as in actualizing Christian content as one’s form. It leads to an artful existence, a form Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 199.

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of being in which one is oriented towards becoming a subject because one exists through Christ’s ontological content. That said, within Kierkegaardian scholarship, passion has a number of interpretations. One view stresses passion as an element of reason, as C. Stephen Evans does in Passionate Reason. “From Climacus’ perspective, human reason is not a disinterested quest for a godlike view of things, but the expression of a very interested human being. It is only in the context of viewing human reason as itself the expression of human passion that the more striking claim begins to make sense.”49 The ‘striking claim’ is that reason desires its own downfall. Rather than being neutral, reason is connected to human interest and desire. For example, in Philosophical Fragments, Climacus argues that reason desires to discover something that cannot be thought. As such, Evans argues that human reason has a passionate, interested character. Ferreira, rather than explicitly connecting passion to reason, connects it to imaginative activity in Transforming Vision. Using Philosophical Fragments and Concluding Unscientific Postscript, she argues that passion is a form of interest and self-involvement. “The realization of passion, in other words, is an exercise of imaginative engagement which illuminates the category of ‘surrender,’ and hence illuminates what is involved in transitions.”50 Because faith, which is the highest passion, is based upon the paradox of the God-man, it is only through passion that one is able to make the qualitative ‘leap’ to faith that Climacus describes in Postscript.51 Ferreira views Kierkegaard as using passion as the means to describe the connection between the active (imaginative possibility) and passive (imaginative suspension) states within Climacus’ self. In both of these interpretations, in the least, passion is a form of interestedness. Yet, though helpful, these perspectives miss the essentially subjective, mimetic character of passion. They also avoid seeing passion as the very cause of human becoming, as in Climacus’ view that each person has a ‘natural desire’ to become a true self. In short, it is not thought or will that causes human development, but passion. And somewhat like Aristotelian desire and Augustine’s caritas before him, passion’s key power is as a mimetic faculty: it moves a self towards becoming a certain type of being. Accordingly, it is an independent capacity, though Evans, Passionate Reason, p. 61. Ferreira, Transforming Vision, p. 16. 51 See Concluding Unscientific Postscript, pp. 93–106, in which Climacus uses G.F. Lessing to explain this qualitative leap. “Lessing said that contingent historical truths can never become a demonstration of eternal truths of reason, also that the transition whereby one will build an eternal truth on historical reports is a leap” (Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 93). 49 50

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necessarily related to both the imagination and will within subjectivity. For instance, Climacus himself frequently describes passion as independent of the imagination and will. “Ethically the highest pathos is the pathos of interestedness (which is expressed in this way, that I, acting, transform my whole existence in relation to the object of interest).”52 Here, a self determines the highest form of ethical action through its relation to passionate interest. With this definition, to be interested in something is transformative; one’s ontological being changes, and thereby one’s actions in the world, develop and are altered by what one is interested in and how one relates to this interest. In short, what one loves as the highest ideal of selfhood matters for one’s being. And for Kierkegaard, one must love God in Christ, a type of love that can only be possessed by actualizing Christ’s love in the world. With this idea of passion as self-interest, Kierkegaard critiques modernity’s stress on disinterest and objectivity as the manner to best understand truth. Ironically, this view starts with the Romantic stress on the value of interest, one that has its roots in Kant’s view that art is “purposeless.” In his Critique of Aesthetic Judgement, Kant notes that relationality, the third moment of the beautiful, has no purpose. In having no purpose, art has no point or utility other than purposelessness and the free play of the imagination.53 Art delights the faculties of imagination and understanding within the representation of an object. There is “then a distinctive frame of mind, one of ‘distanced’ contemplation that should be adopted in appreciating the aesthetic character both of nature and art, the aesthetic attitude.”54 This attitude equates with a disinterested perception on the part of a knowing subject towards an object. Later Romantic thinkers use this idea to suggest that aesthetic works have a power beyond one’s interest. Friedrich Schlegel, for instance, connects the spiritual power of art to move the rational self towards an understanding of rational freedom.55 Self-interest in this case is a form of passivity, as the self should let go of any pre-conceived notions of truth and selfhood. “Only calmly and gently, in the sacred tranquility of true passivity, can one remember one’s whole ego and contemplate the world and life. How does any thinking and writing of poetry take place, if not by complete dedication and submission to

Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 391. See Kant, Critique of Judgement, sections §23–§29. 54 Stephen Davies, The Philosophy of Art (Malden, 2006), p. 52. 55 Interest, in this instance, also reflects a Kantian idea of aesthetic judgment as a disinterested contemplation, with art being purposiveless (Critique of Judgement, pp.10–11). 52

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some guardian genius?”56 Poetry uses the imagination as the means to express human freedom, and human passivity (as passionless) allows a self to find sacred tranquility. Art must help restore “the soul to the imagination, and not disturbing the sweet dalliance of the young mother and her baby.”57 To be interested is to think passively and to be open to genius and the divine through the imagination. In reaction, Kierkegaard views this idea of interest as actually a disinterested, objective mode of relating to becoming, a view made most forcefully in Climacus’ critique of the objective form of truth. Kantian and Romantic interest is actually disinterested in becoming because it does not task the passion with subjectively relating to existence by actualizing ethical demands or becoming faithful. For example, for ethical action to occur, “the setting is not in the fairyland of the imagination, where poetry produces consummation,” but rather, “the setting is inwardness in existing as a human being.”58 To become requires actualizing Christian content as one’s form within the world. Similarly, his critique of the Hegelian Idealist tradition is that it never actualizes one particular ontological possibility. It traps one within thought and reflection, rather than existential action; one then lacks passionate self-interest. He writes of Schelling, “Schelling got rid of the Ding an sich with the aid of the Absolute … But Schelling stopped with the Absolute, with indifference, with the zero point, from which he really did not proceed, which simply signified that beyond the absolute is nothing.”59 To be indifferent in this instance is to lack the attempt to strive to actualize a truth of being. Here, the imagination becomes more important than passion as such, as one must take a flight into the fantasyland of the creative imagination in order to truly exist, an act that is nihilistic. He saw in Schelling a thinker who expressed thoughts that were empty, thoughts that were about a vapid, merely imaginatively oriented life. Existence, for Schelling, is passionless, a fleeing from the world, rather than actualizing Christian love in time. As a critical response, Kierkegaardian passionate interestedness stresses caring about what one is and what one might be as a living, breathing, thinking, acting self. Through such care, itself a form of desire, one is both aware of and responsible for what type of self one is becoming. Passionate interest then is a form of subjectivity; it is not itself an object or idea but a mode of relating to something. It is an activity of the subject in which the self acts because it Friedrich Schlegel, Friedrich Schlegel’s Lucinde and the Fragments, trans. Peter Firchow (Minneapolis, 1971), p. 66. 57 Schlegel, Friedrich Schlegel’s Lucinde and the Fragments, p. 128. 58 Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 357. 59 JP, vol. 2, p. 223/ VIII1 A 14, n.d., 1847. 56

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connects one to one’s very being. “Lest this seem to be a verbal dispute, let it be said that Christianity explicitly wants to intensify passion to its highest, but passion is subjectivity, and objectively it does not exist at all.”60 Passion is a mode of being: it is being self-interested in being a true self. This idea of self-interest is not related to ethical egoism or hedonism; it is not about self-actualization, authenticity, or worldly happiness. Instead, it offers the recognition through despair and sin that one is dependent upon a higher power for true selfhood; the subjective way to relate to this power is not through thought, though, but rather through passion. To seek to become true, ever dependent on God as one’s creator as well as one’s imaginative ideals and willful choices, is then passionate self-interestedness in actualizing this truthful relation as one’s worldly being. When used rightly, passion is about being infinitely self-interested in becoming infinite. Climacus uses “infinite” as both a noun (as in one element of a self ’s dialectic in which the self has an eternal, spiritual element) as well as an adverb (as in “infinitely” concerned). For an example of the first instance, he writes, “an eternal happiness relates itself with pathos to an essentially existing person within the dialectical structure of existence.”61 A self is dialectically infinite and finite, but by living passionately, at each moment holding onto the eternal truth of being, though not negated, the finite is relativized. However, this relation makes a self concerned about expressing its infinite being within the finite. And as connecting the finite with the infinite, there is also an aesthetic dimension to passion, both in terms of impacting sensual perception but also in artistic creation. Passion may be moved by things within the finite realm. Beautiful artwork and sensual images can call a self to desire to know more about the artist, to see a human created ontological possibility, or to just plain cease to care about what one is becoming in the world. One desires what is in the beautiful image rather than embodying Christ. Though this connection will be developed more fully in the following chapters, suffice it to say that passion, as interested, can be tempted by aesthetic creations. It can be deeply enmeshed with the aesthetic, especially beautiful and erotic artistic works. The finite realm contains an inexhaustible number of such aesthetic creations. Passion must move a self beyond such sensuous things to infinite passion, the infinite interest in actualizing content and form in one’s existence. As an adverb, such a holding is infinite in nature; one is always becoming, never is a true self and subject. “Christianity, therefore, protests against all objectivity; Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 131. Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 391.

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it wants the subject to be infinitely concerned about himself.”62 Christianity reveals subjective truth, a form of truth that must be related to not as something to cognize (like a math proof ), but rather something that transforms one’s being through the relation. Relating subjectively, when measured by human time, is thus an infinite task. The relational demands are never ending for the neverfinished self and hints at one’s true, infinite nature after death. And this subjective relation returns us to the idea of inwardness. Inwardness suggests that to relate and act through passion is particular for each self. Though an essential part of each person’s form (and thus a universal quality), each person has a unique degree of passion. It is not an external action, though inwardness does entail that one’s relation to the world is transformed. Inwardness is striving to passionately ground one’s external actions within an inner relation to God. It is a universal task, as all humans are called to such a passionate form of life; but it is particular, because each self must orient its passion subjectively towards this form of relation. Doing so also might make one’s external actions unintelligible within the external world, as Fear and Trembling describes. This inner action particularizes, as ontologically, each solitary individual’s form is transformed through such a mode of relating. Passionate inwardness is then a type of appropriation and possession. “The subjective thinker as existing is essentially interested in his own thinking, is existing in it. Therefore, his thinking has another kind of reflection, specifically, that of inwardness, of possession, whereby it belongs to the subject and to no one else.”63 Passion relates to thought as interested thought, in which a self is seeking to unite truth and being in its own existing self. To exist passionately is to desire to become a unique, true subject. In the process, in the art of existence, a self then actualizes Christian content as one’s form. In order for this inwardness to be a possibility, however, requires the downfall of reason through sin-consciousness. This self-awareness means willfully accepting God as creator and the restorer of human selfhood. Thus, to be infinitely interested is to relate through passion to the divine. Essentially, Christianity is a divine, spiritually-grounded truth. “Christianity is spirit; spirit is inwardness; inwardness is subjectivity; subjectivity is essentially passion, and at its maximum an infinite, personally interested passion for one’s eternal happiness.”64 It expresses a truth that can only be appropriated or properly related

Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 130. Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 73. 64 Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 33. 62 63

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to through subjective passion. It is through love, desire, and self-interest that one can actualize Christian content, thereby becoming it through one’s passion. In short, as ‘truth is subjectivity,’ to become a true self requires a certain type of relating as the basis for existing. Because faith is a way of life in which one orients oneself to God-given ontological content, passion is itself the highest truth in that it transforms one into a true subject. Christian passionate relating is this true form of dialectical relating, one that points oneself rightly towards God, oneself, and the world. Desiring God as a form of life is a good that is beyond measure “since the highest price is precisely to will to do everything and yet know that this is nothing (for if it is something, the price is lower) and yet to will it.”65 Christian passion is itself the subjective truth, rather than just the means to the truth because it itself is the true way to be in the world. Such a relation is a clear indicator of truth being connected to how one relates to an object. Yet, as is clear, the object, as the what of truth, must be true as well. Thus, through subjective passion, one rightly relates to the what and the how within subjectivity. This connection between passion and truth does not imply that this capacity is truth itself or that truth is merely an emotion. Instead, the true ontological possibility is being passionately interested in becoming a true being. It is only by being true that one can fully know truth as more than an object; to know as a subject is to be transformed, a transformation that is determined by selfinterestedly relating to the truth by desiring to become it. Subjectivity is then about the self-truth relation; such a relation is not to merely imagine the truth of being, cognize it, or merely choose it through the will. Instead, the highest ontological possibility is to be desired and moved towards through infinite passion, a passion that never ends because existence never ends. And the only way such a relationality is possible is through passion. Consequently, passionate relating is the truth of subjectivity. This logic leads back to passion as the key capacity to rightly relate to the paradox. There is a void, an abyss, a frontier that reason cannot go beyond. It is the unknown: the absolutely different. “The understanding does not go beyond this; yet in its paradoxicality the understanding cannot stop reaching it and being engaged with it, because wanting to express its relation to it by saying that this unknown does not exist will not do, since just saying that involves a relation.”66 A self passionately desires to know what is the absolutely different from the human: God. Any attempt at knowledge of this different is arbitrary, a murkiness, a fantasy; yet, the self craves this knowledge. Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 231. Philosophical Fragments/Johannes Climacus, p. 44.

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Here the will returns. Subjective passion relates to the will, but in a way that is beyond a mere decision. In The Sickness Unto Death, Anti-Climacus writes, “Whether a person is helped miraculously depends essentially upon the passion of the understanding thereby he has understood that help was impossible and depends next on how honest he was toward the power that nevertheless did help him.”67 Anti-Climacus connects passion with understanding, in that understanding has some desiring or interested element. Yet he is arguing for the willful acceptance of the impossible as the object for one’s interest and thus passion. To desire God and Christian possibility goes against a mere rational choice based on certainty and propositional truth. It requires God’s ‘power’ to ‘help’ one make a true decision. Here, there are echoes of the theological importance of God’s grace as calling a self towards such a transformation. Climacus, in Philosophical Fragments, makes a similar point, more explicitly in regards to the will. “It is easy to see … that faith is not an act of will for it is always the case that all human willing is efficacious only within the condition.”68 As described earlier, the ‘condition’ relates to the possibility of truth, one untainted by sin and human existence. Faithful existence, as relating to Christian truth, cannot be merely an act of self-will, for it comes from beyond material existence. Again, this act does not negate the value of the will, for the will, once the condition has been received by a self, gives one a degree of responsibility to choose truth, as the previous section argued. Climacus writes, “once the condition is given, that which was valid for the Socratic is again valid.”69 Christianity, as revealing the true ontological possibility, can become the object of a self ’s choice. Yet, the will, in matters of the possibility of faithful existence, is only valuable as far as Christ has given it the potential to choose this truth of being. As such, Climacus’ paradox is the logical consequence of passion, which seeks the highest truth; it is as a consequence of passionate interest that pushes reason to its limits. Through an act of passion, a self must acknowledge the downfall of reason. “The understanding certainly cannot think it, cannot hit upon it on its own, and if it is proclaimed, the understanding cannot understand it and merely detects that it will likely be its downfall.”70 A self ’s imagination, the ground of reason and understanding, tries to know the unknowable. Again, understanding is intertwined with passion, in that a self desires truth. But desiring the truth of being and of God, reason goes beyond its capacities, thereby negating its abilities. Thought reaches an end; knowing is not possible. To think of an 69 70 67 68

The Sickness Unto Death, p. 39. Philosophical Fragments/Johannes Climacus, p. 62. Philosophical Fragments/Johannes Climacus, p. 63. Philosophical Fragments/Johannes Climacus, p. 47.

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ontology of God is impossible just as thinking oneself into being is impossible as well. Instead, through passion, the point of contact between the divine and the human is possible, as it includes understanding but goes beyond it. Passion, as such, is dialectically linked with understanding through the paradox. “But the paradox, too, wills the downfall of the understanding, and thus the two have a mutual understanding, but this understanding is present in the moment of passion.”71 The paradox, as thought which cannot be thought, is an element of the understanding. As a consequence, the understanding recognizes the nature of the paradox (as the unknowable). This willful nonunderstanding, however, is the beginning of faith. Faith is the highest passion of subjectivity, both an understanding and a passion. Faith is the third step, a happy passion that enables the self ’s unification of the downfall of understanding with an unknowable truth of being. “We shall call it faith. This passion, then, must be that [understanding of the paradox] condition that the paradox provides.”72 To understand the paradox as the absolutely different is to become aware of the limits to knowing. Yet the paradox, as in the divine revelation of the very being of the God-man, then provides the very possibility for such an understanding. Without the paradox, a self ’s imagination and reason would still try to know the truth of God, a truth which Christianity makes possible in its impossibility. Faith, as a happy passion, is a form of immediacy. In a subtle critique of Hegelian logic, Climacus writes that faith “itself must be the new immediacy that can never be canceled in existence, since it is the highest, and by canceling it one becomes null and nichts.”73 It is not then a system of knowledge or merely a deep self-reflection, but an inward, immediate experience, built off Christian truth held imaginatively. Being inward, passionate interest is key, as in the desire to become a certain type of self. It also combines other forms of passion. All forms of existence, whether aesthetic, ethical, or religious involve passion. Therefore, within the subjective relation, one has ‘esthetic content,’ is yet ‘ethical,’ while dialectically passionate enough so that one rightly relates in thought, desire, and choice to one’s true end. This form of relation is an art, meaning ‘to exist is an art.’74 Which returns us to the youth from Practice in Christianity. He cannot make this move to subjectivity. Yet, his example showcases the key role that passion (as in love) plays in becoming. Alongside of the imagination and the will, passion shapes how the imagination and will relate to his ideal image of perfection. AntiClimacus repeatedly describes the image as the youth’s love and divine action Philosophical Fragments/Johannes Climacus, p. 47. Philosophical Fragments/Johannes Climacus, p. 59. 73 Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 347. 74 See Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 351. 71 72

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as arising out of this human love. As such, it is love that works in concert with the imagination and the will to cause movement towards an ontological image. And the love of “governance” guides the youth as he relates to the ontological image; this love never abandons him, even as he cannot make the move towards a faithful existence. Thus, the imagination has the capacity to hold the end of human existence and the will has the ability to chose that end, but ultimately, love causes subjective action and movement. Specifically, for the youth, love has two dimensions—human and divine. Within human love there are two types, one which pushes him towards an image and the other that refuses to let go of this object. First, love moves a particular self towards an image. “So this image of perfection is his love.”75 In this case, love moves the will, the seat of choice, towards the particular image. This love has such a hold on the youth that it makes him sleepless. “He becomes infatuated with this image, or this image becomes his love, his inspiration, for him his more perfect (ideal) self.”76 His love of the image has such a power that a self can think about nothing else. Through this love, the will develops the clarity to choose it. In short, love moves the image within the purview of the will. Love, as infatuation, pulls the will towards the ideal, demands its attention and a decision on its value. The second form of human love holds onto the ontological ideal and refuses to let go of it, despite any attendant suffering associated with it. The youth “perseveres, and by persevering in this way he is strengthened, as one is strengthened in suffering—now he loves that image of perfection twice as much,” thereby showing the power of love.77 Here there is a correlation between loving and choosing. The will and love ‘persevere’ together, thereby strengthening the youth’s focus on the image. But the act of having chosen it, despite suffering for it, only intensifies the love and vice-versa. In the end, loving the image with such intensity prevents the youth from recognizing it as humanly derived, rather than divinely revealed; it is merely aesthetic and sensual. In these instances, passion has a clear aesthetic dimension through its desire of images. There is a deep connection between the passionate perception of material images, an artistic image itself, and desire. The youth lovingly moves towards these imaginatively held images to the point that his life is determined untruthfully. Affirmatively, redoubling in this case can begin through art, as it can be a sensuous, worldly image that first provokes the passion to imaginatively reflect Practice in Christianity, p. 189. Practice in Christianity, p. 187. 77 Practice in Christianity, p. 191. 75 76

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on an ontological ideal. His passionate, inward interest moves him towards his loved image; this aesthetic pull is the reality of existing within the finite realm, and the passion thus has an aesthetic dimension. Art, as in aesthetic productions, thus has the potential to lead one to question one’s nature and lived reality. Further, there is a clear and important divine component of love within the youth’s life. God constantly is lovingly involved in the youth’s life. Divine love supports him in its willing, despite the fact that the self may will towards untruth. The youth’s suffering is made more palatable through God’s love. “Now he is probably able to bear it—yes, he must be able to, since Governance does it with him—Governance, who is indeed love.”78 Governance here is divine governance. In this case, it is God’s actions to love a self despite that self ’s striving for an ideal apart from God. As such, human and divine love both play a part in moving the self. Love pulls a self towards an object or idea of the imagination, which a self then chooses through the will. Even if this choice is flawed, it is God’s love that supports the self in its movement. Love works with the imagination and the will in making movement possible. Becoming a True Subject in an Art-filled World In the art of subjectivity, each self must actualize Christian content as one’s life form. Such actualization includes a reason-driven recognition of sin consciousness, but actually living out of this ontological possibility is determined by three formal capacities. The imagination is the ground of ontological possibility; it also mentally redoubles this truth by relating oneself to the truth’s form of life. The will chooses it as a possibility, thereby making this ideal an object for one’s subjective relating. A self ’s passion then desires to actualize it within one’s life, possessing it as the form of one’s life. As this movement is infinite as becoming is infinite, this description is then about a life of faith. Being a faithful being, like eternal happiness, is not humanly possibly because of the finite and temporal nature of creation. Nor is this inter-relational movement between the imagination, passion, and the will a formulaic, mechanistic process. Rather, one here practices this artful relational way of being in the world throughout all of the contexts of one’s life. Each day is then a day of such becoming. Conceptually, this idea of becoming is an art, for it relates to what one is creating oneself to be. Each individual person must actualize content and form Practice in Christianity, p. 191.

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differently as each person is unique and particular; one person has more passion than imagination while another has more will than passion, and so forth. It is an art that then includes finding the proper relational balance within one’s inner and outer form in relation to the Christian ontological content and one’s worldly context. Though he fails, the example of the youth further deepens the claim that the imaginative, willful, and passionate redoubling of Christ’s example is at the heart of subjectivity. Each person must care inwardly, using these relational powers, as the means to enact Christ’s love outwardly in the world. This form of life includes material, artistic endeavors; the youth does not exist in the monastery but is part of his cultural context. To reproduce Christ’s love as one’s very form is then an act of self-production, though always a making brought out through a divine gift. As lived, faith is a way of being in the world, the foundational dimension within human thinking, doing, and being. Faith has “two tasks: to watch for and at every moment to make the discovery of improbability, the paradox, in order then to hold it fast with the passion of inwardness.”79 Faith is to both acknowledge impossibility and uncertainty yet hold onto the possibility of being a Christian, of embodying Christ’s love in the world as a sign of God’s love for creation. Consequently, faith, is a passionate form of dialectical relating; it is a form of “thought-passion” as one does “not to want to understand it but to understand what it means to break in this way with the understanding and thinking and immanence, in order then to lose the last foothold of immanence, the eternity behind, and to exist, situated at the edge of existence, by virtue of the absurd.”80 Faith is a passionate knowing/unknowing, held reflectively and immediately. It is an imaginatively held truth of being, freely chosen, and passionately moved towards in its immediacy. Through faith, one seeks to become such subjective truth by going beyond mere knowledge towards one’s inward nature and thus formal being. Accordingly, the consequences of worldly action are not the basis of ethical deliberation. One also does not obsess over self-mastery and character habituation as the worldly aim of one’s acts. Rather, intentionally striving to actualize Christ’s love is the self-consciousness that produces oneself accidently. One does not act ethically because one wants a certain character but because one wants to imitate Christ within one’s present context. “But, humanly speaking, consequences built upon a paradox are built upon the abyss,” meaning actions Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 233. Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 569.

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based on such a truth are never predictable or objects of calculation.81 To exist passionately is to exist despite the unknowable nature of the truth that one is interested in becoming. One can never rationally predict the consequences of human action; one can never be certain that one is a true being. That said, this view raises important issues related to the communication of Christ’s existence through art. For example, to see Christ in a painting may lead only to admiration. It may tempt the imagination to care about the artist or the passion to be drawn to a state of passivity. To admire is to be drawn passionately into the world constructed by the colors and brushstrokes of a painting of Christ. One can love a sensuous image of Christ as merely sensuously beautiful. There is also the complexity of Christ’s existence, which cannot be depicted by any artwork; Christ’s life was a life of service and action. But at its core, Kierkegaard argues that subjectively relating to any art, even Christian art, must ever be relative to the highest art of becoming an imitator. To rightly see Christ then is about self-transformation. As such, his view affirms that art matters in self-formation. Indeed, Kierekgaard’s method of authorship suggests that the worldly, aesthetic dimensions of beauty, of arts, literature, music, and drama, are constant dimensions to the self ’s context. One lives in the material world; never can one remove oneself from this aesthetic context as well as the art world. Further, the self itself is fundamentally structured by formal capacities with aesthetic dimensions. The imagination is creative, thus giving this capacity an aesthetic quality. Passion desires sensuous things, both broadly construed as material objects but also more narrowly as beautiful artistic works. Both capacities then connect the finite with human elements, whether the infinite (i.e. the imagination’s existential possibilities) or the external with the inner (i.e. passionate interest). As such, his use of numerous aesthetic tactics such as pseudonymity, irony, parables, stories, lyrics, and imaginary constructions (like the youth’ story), suggest that he seeks to engage these aesthetic dimensions. The aim then, unlike Romantic thought, is not admiration, passivity, and distance, but to provoke, reveal, seduce, upbuild and call out to each self the true ontological possibility—not through dogmatic arguments—but through aesthetic means. This idea of selfhood is a co-production then, framed by God yet actively willed by each self. For instance, Anti-Climacus emphasizes the human element of Christ as the ‘prototype’ for human becoming. God is not the ideal, being absolutely different; though divine as well, Christ’s human element can be redoubled, as in a subjective object of the imagination, will, and passion. Christ’s Philosophical Fragments/Johannes Climacus, p. 98.

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existing form, biblically-revealed, is then the ontological content/normative what for each self. His image is the opposite of sensuous beauty; he is “the sign of offense and the object of faith, the lowly faith, yet the Savior and Redeemer of the human race who out of love came to earth to seek the lost, to suffer and die,” rather than sensually beautiful.82 To imitate Christ is then to recognize his existence as offending the human desire for glory, loftiness, and material comfort for both individuals and communities. Rather, Christ’s existence is the ontological image par excellence that the passion is to love, the will to choose, and the imagination to grasp, a type of relation only made real through imitation. More to the point, as the highest image of ontological possibility, Christ’s existence is the existentially beautiful image. As such, Christ is a subversive aesthetic, one that reveals the beautiful form and content of selfhood while yet limiting the power and authority of artistic expression as the highest form of human expression (i.e. Romanticism). In this case, to be drawn passionately to the Christ image is to imitate and redouble it. As being the normative what as the content of existence, Christ’s existence is an image to imitate, for ‘an imitator is or strives to be what he admires’ in which an imitator appropriates the normative image of subjective truth inwardly. Through passionate appropriation, the self-God relation transforms the self-world relation, as well as the self-ideal self-relation. Each moment of existence then becomes a moral moment, as each act, through desire and choice, must reflect this subjective relation. This way of life is then a difficult one on a variety of levels, yet is the essence of Christianity.83 “Christianity has itself proclaimed itself to be the eternal, essential truth that has come into existence in time; it has proclaimed itself as the paradox and has required the inwardness of faith with regard to what is an offense to the Jews, foolishness to the Greeks—and an absurdity to the understanding.”84 It is a life of faith, based in the how of subjectivity as the form of life that likewise contains the true subjective content as the what that matters to being. As a consequence, ethical action is only possible by a being embodying and possessing this subjective relation. It must include the comprehension of “the Practice in Christianity, p. 10. Climacus also argues that this type of existence is one of suffering, rather than despair. Despair precedes the move to faith, which is transformed into the experience of suffering. Climacus writes about the point of religious homiletics over and against poetry: “Essentially, the religious address has [the task] of uplifting through suffering. Just as the faith of immediacy is in fortune, so the faith of the religious is in this, that life lies precisely in suffering … For immediacy, poetry is the transfiguration of life; but for religiousness, poetry is a beautiful and amiable jest, whose consolation religiousness never rejects, because it is precisely in suffering that the religious breathes” (Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 436). 84 Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 213. 82 83

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ethical only in himself, because it is his co-knowledge with God.”85 Unpacked, Climacus is suggesting that although it is limited knowledge, a self ’s actions are shaped ultimately by how one is relating to the Christian God. If one acts per a self-awareness that the truth behind the action is purely human or purely an action through one’s own individuality, one is not acting truthfully, and thus not ethically. Instead, through the awareness that one is dependent on God for the true image of being, one can begin to act truthfully (ethically). Being true leads to good actions. As passion individualizes action, faith is unique to each person as well. Each person has a particular quality of passion, will, and imagination; though Christ’s content is universal, each self must relate as a particular self to this truth. “In other words, although in a certain sense the ethical is infinitely abstract, in another sense it is infinitely concrete, indeed, the most concrete of all, because it is dialectical for every human being as this individual human being.”86 An individual self must hold both elements—inward passion and imagined norm—dialectically together through the will in order to be a Christian. As a result, a self becomes particularized. A self lives through its unique hidden inwardness, a subjective relation that is a relation of faith. As hidden, inward, and passionate, this faithful relation cannot be communicated or related to another person intelligibly. “Absolute passion cannot be understood by a third party;” rather, it is between God and a self. 87 By implication, through faith, the self holds together aesthetic, ethical, and religious dimensions, ever held within a dialectical relation. Yet, living this subjective relation is impossible. Faith is only fleeting, as sin is always present within temporality and one’s being. Through the intensity of passion, however, as orienting one towards God-self relation, a self experiences moments of faith. For instance, in critiquing Fichte’s “I-I” as a merely speculative word game, Climacus writes, “only momentarily can a particular individual, existing, be in a unity of the infinite and the finite that transcends existing. This instant is the moment of passion.”88 Only through inward passion, does one experience a fleeting experience of truly being oneself. In holding together passionately the dialectic of infinite and finite, a self experiences the possibility of being true. More to the point, as fleeting, such an existence is never finished. A faithful existence is the constant need to yet failure to relate as a true being to God and 87 88 85 86

Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 155. Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 155. Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 509. Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 197.

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others at all times. And this failure makes Christian existence a life of suffering. Thought, including imagined thought, is never as real as the actuality of suffering. To suffer is to be aware of one’s sin, guilt, and a constant misrelation with God. It includes turning away from the desire for worldly success, honor, and wealth. The truth of Christian existence is that “the Christian must suffer or about how a person in order to become and remain a Christian must endure sufferings that he consequently can avoid simply by refraining from becoming a Christian.”89 To be a Christian is to live without certainty, to always be striving, never at rest, always in the motion of becoming with the movement of temporality. One’s character can never be mastered or habituated perfectly. One is ever concerned with practicing works of love throughout the various contexts one inhabits. Ironically, faith makes “suffering the essential expression of the existential pathos, suffering as dying to immediacy, suffering as the distinctive mark of an existing person’s relation to the absolute telos.”90 To relate to eternal happiness is to know and believe it is an end beyond one’s finite life, but to not have it within the ‘now’ of existence as well as to recognize that the drive for happiness is never a right cause for worldly action. Accordingly, this suffering is an experience rooted in moving closer to a truthful relation to God. It is the experience of passionately being self-interested in becoming a subject, and the sin-consciousness to understand that one is not true nonetheless. So rather than a worldly telos, Christian truth contains an absolute telos, one which every action within a self ’s existence should express as the gift that one receives despite one’s success at becoming subjective: eternal happiness. “Christianity wants to give the single individual an eternal happiness, a good that is not distributed in bulk but only to one, and to one at time.”91 Amidst all of the Kierkegaardian authors’ various discussions of despair, sin, and the radical demands of Christian selfhood exists the kernel of hope in the idea of an eternal happiness. But in the knowledge and trust in the reality of this divine gift, one must also recognize that one lacks such a form of being throughout one’s existence, making this gift even more gratuitous. Climacus, in both Concluding and Philosophical Fragments, explains the relationship between such a telos and the present reality of human existence. Climacus’ goal is not to give an accurate or speculative depiction of what this eternal happiness might consist of (far from it, as such speculation would contradict his notion of sin and the limits to human capacities). Rather, he Practice in Christianity, p. 63. Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 526. 91 Practice in Christianity, p. 130. 89 90

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develops the self-consciousness behind human hope, rooted in a faithful trust that God, despite human sin, made things right in Christ such that an eternal happiness is the absolute end of human existence. First, what is needed is the awareness of oneself as a sinner, and such consciousness can only come from beyond human capabilities: from a teacher outside of finite, limited, and accidental history—as the infinite—but also within history—as part finite. Only when one experiences sin-consciousness as the condition for understanding the truth of being, can the expectation of eternal happiness arise.92 To exist in the idea of eternal happiness despite the suffering of existence is to live in hope. Such hope is about future possibility. In a marginal entry on a draft of Concluding Unscientific Postscript, Kierkegaard writes that, “but the dialectic of hope goes this way: first the fresh incentive of youth, then the supportive calculation of understanding, and then—then everything comes to a standstill—and now for the first time Christian hope is there as possibility. The fact that ecclesiastical chatterboxes have confused this as well as all Christian speech is none of my business.”93 Hope relates to possibility; it is the reality that through God, all things are possible, a defining theme in Fear and Trembling. Though impossible, the art of subjectivity includes a life grounded in a relation to an impossibility yet an ever-present, divine love that reveals a hope that the impossible is possible. As possible, it relies on the power of the imagination to envision the existence that Christian truth gives to a self. It is to hope that despite life’s imperfections, an eternal happiness is the end divinely-given to a Christian, an end given to someone who exists as such, even if imperfectly. It is to live out one’s ideal possibility. “That is, all idealizing passion is an anticipation of the eternal in

92 One concern over this perspective is its implication that a self can “know” one’s condition in a positive sense, thereby giving reason/understanding a greater standing than he does in relation to thinking theologically. Yet I suggest that Climacus’ overriding concern is similar to Augustine’s: pride. Like Augustine, Climacus is suggesting that human thinking naturally assumes that we are and can be something that we are not: in control of our destinies, aware of the meaning that is veiled behind human existence, that we are worthy of focusing our love on ourselves, independent of God. Climacus and Kierkegaard are offering a corrective, demanding that the tendency to self- love be tempered the only way that human reason can receive it: from outside of human existence through God. But unlike Augustine, part of Kierkegaard’s solution to the problem of self-love is relating self-love to self-denial through proper neighbor love. In Works of Love, Kierkegaard asserts that Christianity teaches proper self-love: “To love yourself in the right way and to love the neighbor correspond perfectly to one another; fundamentally they are one and the same thing” (Works of Love, p. 22). 93 JP, vol. 2, p. 247/ VI B 53:13, n.d., 1845.

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existence in order for an existing person to exist.”94 It is to trust in God’s love revealed through Christ. Conclusion At the end of the youth’s story, Anti-Climacus states, “To be a child and to be a youth when one is a child or a youth is easy enough, but a second time—the second time is what is decisive.”95 To be like a child is to live through paradoxical faith rather than rational certainty. As one develops and ages, such a form of life is impossible. Yet, by rightly using the formal capacities of the self ’s imagination, will, and love to subjectively relate oneself to the true ontological possibility, one starts anew each day on the path of faith. As intertwined, the use of these capacities formally determines how a self becomes and produces itself as a subject, ever alongside of God’s love; they allow a self to relate its form with Christ’s content. All three work in concert to effect this movement. All three, however, when based merely on human capability and truth, fall short of attaining this ideal. In the end, the youth himself provides an example of such a movement that falls just short; but despite this failure, God remains constant in a loving relationship towards the youth. These capacities, and in particular the imagination and passion, affirm an aesthetic dimension to the human self, one that Kierkegaard, in his various authorial methods, provokes by challenging his readers to recall the reality of sin while yet enticing each particular reader to hear afresh the Christian ontological possibility. To fully explicate his authorship thereby requires recognizing these deep assumptions. And at a tactical level, it provides markers that showcase how his authorship thus rests upon an idea of selfhood as having aesthetic qualities such as the imagination to redouble and create images, as well as the passion to desire sensuous things. Yet what matters now is to use this thick conception of subjectivity to detail how this anthropology, rooted in these capacities, can offer clarity to his aesthetic fragments. Doing so will show how his critique of artistic production and reception arises out of his conception of becoming as a life that is comprised of imaginative, passionate, and willful Christian practices. And by implication, other arts must always be relativized to the highest art: subjectivity.

Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 313. Practice in Christianity, pp. 191–92.

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Chapter 5

Becoming amidst the Existence Stages

I consider it is of importance for me to show that it is possible to preserve the aesthetic even in everyday life.1 Judge William, Either/Or II

Having gone through phantasmal, nebulous images, through the distractions of a luxuriant thought-content (the development of which, if it is good for anything, is the author’s chief merit), one comes to a very specific human being existing on the basis of the ethical. This is the change of scenery, or, more correctly, now the scene is there; instead of a world of possibility, animated by imagination and dialectically arranged, an individual has come into existence—and only the truth that builds up is truth for you—that is, truth is inwardness, the inwardness of existence, please note, and here in ethical definition. 2 Climacus, Concluding Unscientific Postscript

But the more passion and imagination a person has—consequently, the closer he is in a certain sense (in possibility) to being able to believe … .3 Anti-Climacus, The Sickness Unto Death

In Chapter One, I critiqued a number of interpretations of the Kierkegaardian aesthetic as offering only a partial, and thus limited, explanation of Kierkegaard’s aesthetic. Rather than a unified conceptual system, he playfully offers aesthetic fragments, developing the aesthetic as a developmental stage of relating to the world, an artistic critique, a communication style, and an account of human formation. As such, these interpretations provide pieces through which to 3 1 2

Either/Or, vol. 2, p. 9. Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 254. The Sickness Unto Death, p. 86.

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understand the complexity of Kierkegaard’s aesthetic. Yet, it is unclear how these fragments, though each a coherent and consistent interpretation, can best be understood in relation to each other. In short, what is the common thread amidst these aesthetic fragments, one that does not paint these frgaments into one systematic, unified aesthetic? This thread is Kierkegaard’s concept of the becoming self, and in particular, the capacities of the imagination, will, and passion in formally determining how one relates to the world, oneself, and God. This becoming self is the key interpretive tool to understand Kierkegaard’s aesthetic, fragmented though it may be. In this chapter, I make an exegetical move, and use this anthropology as the hermeneutical lens through which to understand the aesthetic stage of existence amidst the stages. To strive to become a true being, a self must properly relate one’s imagination, will, and passion to the Christian truth of being amidst a diversity of cultural contexts. It is an art, as in actualizing Christian content as one’s form, thereby producing oneself as a subject, ever alongside of God’s activity. Kierkegaard’s argumentative concern is then to use these existential stages as categorical tactics that lead a reader to a greater awareness of the type of relation that determines one’s selfhood. And through this idea of becoming as an art, this chapter will then explore the role that the imagination, will, and passion play in the stages. Though these formal capacities impact the aesthetic stage, it is also the case that these capacities are also vital to understanding the ethical and religious stages as well; they shape how a self relates to ethical norms and God. The will, as the capacity to freely choose an ontological content, is especially important in the movement to subjectivity; one needs the strength of will to have faith in God’s actions despite the paradoxical nature of Christ. For example, in Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits, one strives through the act of confession to become pure in heart, which itself is an act of the will. And in The Sickness Unto Death, without a willful choice to become a self, selfhood is not possible. The will is thus crucial. Yet, the imagination and passion are particularly vital within the stages as these two capacities determine the options given to the will to choose and also determine the actual temporal movement towards redoubling an ontological possibility. Therefore, Kierkegaard expends a great deal of authorial energy assessing how the imagination and passion can sabotage or enable true becoming. For instance, within each stage, the Kierkegaardian authors present a different understanding of the role that the imagination and passion play. In the aesthetic stage, the aesthetic self relates to the existence through natural passion—as in the desire for sensuous things alone—or imaginative possibility—rather than

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any ethical system or religious idea that must be actualized within existence. The ethical stage requires that a self limit the imagination by focusing on ethical duty and passion that is crimped to become dutiful love. Finally, there is the religious stage. This stage, particularly Religiousness B, tasks that a self imaginatively hold fast to the non-rational truth of Christ, redoubling this Christological image through the will and passion. Thus, becoming a self through such forms of relating is dependent upon how each particular individual uses its determinate capacities—the imagination, will, and passion. In all three stages, then, the stress Kierkegaard places on these powers suggests the necessity to follow this conceptual stream in order to better understand the contours of each stage. More to the point, this interpretive method is helpful in two distinctive ways. One, it connects the aesthetic stage to the other aesthetic fragments by centering its conceptual roots within the becoming self. Two, more broadly, it orients the existential stages as authorial tactics that provoke, challenge, and upbuild a reader to a deeper consciousness about the content and form of one’s relation to existence. It asks a reader to examine how one relates to oneself, the world, and God. Ever brilliant conceptually, the stages offer ontological possibilities that can be imaginatively redoubled by a reader, a sort of trying on of a type of self, that offers both a critical moment (as to one’s actual life) as well as an end (as in redoubling Christ) for a reader. They tickle a reader’s imaginative, willful, and passionate dimensions, all in the attempt to upbuild one towards Christian subjectivity. A Sketch: The Self amidst the Stages One aesthetic tactic that Kierkegaard uses is his three stages (Stadier) of existence or existence-spheres (Existents-Spærer): the aesthetic, the ethical, and the religious. Within Kierkegaard’s idea of indirect communication, these stages provide a heuristic tool to present to the reader a conceptual means to understand how the reader is relating to existence. These imaginative existence possibilities task a reader with the critically necessary act of self-reflection: What type of relation do I have to myself, the world, and God? My neighbors? What do I desire and why? How do I use humor and irony? What do I imagine myself to be? As a tactic, it asks a reader, ever existing with a limited degree of freedom, to take responsibility for determining oneself through a relation to God and thus the world.

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The stages are key themes within texts such as Either/Or, Repetition, Philosophical Fragments, Concluding Unscientific Postscript, The Sickness Unto Death, and Practice in Christianity, all examples of pseudonymity as an authorial tactic of indirect communication. Merold Westphal writes: “In either its shorter or its longer form it has the theory of the stages at its center. In its simplest form it distinguishes the aesthetic, the ethical, and the religious as stages on life’s way; but that simple schema gets complicated by refinements, especially in Postscript.”4 These texts span different authorial periods, and include his indirect method (ex. Either/Or (1843), Philosophical Fragments (1844), Concluding Unscientific Postscript (1846) and direct method (ex. The Sickness Unto Death (1849) and Practice in Christianity (1850), edited by S. Kierkegaard). Likewise, they were written alongside the “parallel” authorship, as Jamie Ferreira describes it, one focused on Christian upbuilding in the various “discourse” texts, or as I noted in the First Chapter, a “two-handed authorship.”5 This interweaving of pseudonymous and signed texts, of direct and indirect communication, the existence stages, and the discourse of religious upbuilding establishes a deep continuity within this authorship. On the one hand, Kierkegaard thus offers a reader a way into critically reflecting on how one relates to existence, while, on the other hand, he offers insights into deepening one’s faith. There is then both a diagnostic tool and a description of the cure for the sickness that leads a self to misrelate to existence. Each stage is qualitatively different, in that one within each stage uses the formal capacities to relate to the dialectical elements that structure existence differently. For example, the ethical stage privileges reflective, mediate imagination, as in imagining oneself as embodying a culturally rooted ethic, over immediate (as in non-reflective or self-conscious) passion, whereas within the religious, one holds understanding and passion dialectically in tension within one’s existing being. There is an infinite qualitative distance between the lower stages and the religious stage, particularly Religiousness B. To be religious requires that a self will to relate to the true ontological possibility through faith in the paradox, rather than through a poetic possibility or rationally intelligible ontology offered within Romantic and Idealistic thought. The lowest stage of human relating and thus subjectivity is the aesthetic. Climacus writes: “It is a fantasy-existence in esthetic passion, therefore paradoxical and running aground on time. At its maximum, it is despair. Consequently, it is not existence, but existence-possibility oriented towards existence, and brought Westphal, Becoming a Self, p. 20. M. Jamie Ferreira, Kierkegaard (Malden, 2009), p. 4.

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so close that one almost feels how every moment is wasted in which a decision has not yet been reached.”6 This stage is the stage of immediacy, of either desire disconnected from any self-reflection or consciousness (ex. Don Juan) or actions rooted in an imaginative recollection (ex. The Seducer’s Diary). In both instances a self is not actualizing a subjective relation, instead relating to existence through natural desire or imaginative reflection. Between the aesthetic and the religious lies the ethical. The ethical form of life is of a reflective, mediate existence in which one acts in time through a universal ethical system. To become ethical means that one has willed to act in the world despite the never-ending inner world of imaginative ontological possibilities. In relation to the aesthetic stage, becoming ethical then is ‘a change of scenery,’ because one attempts to exist under an universal code of ethics, rather than from passion or imaginative possibility. Here, a self has a mediated, inward self-consciousness: it knows that it must act ethically in order to become a subject. The imagination is not luxuriating in imaginative possibility, but is acting through universal laws and norms. Yet, this inwardness is not immediate, as in a non-conscious, post-reflective, passionate desire to be a true self; therefore, it lacks passion and love. Rather, one focuses on justifying one’s actions through the wider ethos of one’s culture; to relate to existence here requires a constant attention to duty or worldly reward rather than the hidden inwardness of a passionate love of God. The highest form of existential relation is within the religious stage, and in particular Religiousness B. As an artistic co-production, this movement requires divine assistance as well as human decision. “It is in this moment of decision that the individual needs divine assistance, although it is quite correct that one must first have understood the existence-relation between the esthetic and the ethical in order to be at this point—that is, by being aware there in passion and inwardness, one indeed becomes aware of the religious—and of the leap.”7 Here, leap does not mean an irrational, simple fideism; rather, as a number of scholars argue, it is seeing the limits to reason in relation to infinite things, and moving beyond the search for rational certainty through the passion of faith.8 Doing so bases one’s existence upon God’s paradoxical actions in Christ, an action only available through a passionate self-God relation, actualized anew each day in one’s becoming. Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 253. Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 258. 8 In particular, Ferreira’s Transforming Vision, pp. 6–10, offers a helpful view of the leap as an imaginative, passionate transition that is not a simple volitional act. 6

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The basis of this movement is the higher form of immediate existence. Here, a self exists subjectively by relating to the paradoxical Christian truth of being through inward passion, a relation that is post-mediate as one knows that one cannot comprehend the Christian God. “To exist subjectively with passion (and it is possible to exist objectively in absentmindedness) is on the whole an absolute condition for being able to have any opinion about Christianity.”9 In such an existence, a self relates through inward passion constantly desiring to redouble the paradoxical suffering Christ. Imagination must both hold onto this ontological content, recognizing its impossibility, while trusting in its future actualization. The future then is oriented towards the hopeful possibility of being a subject, one that includes a belief in an eternal happiness based on Christ’s actions that tempers the suffering that is a part of Christian existence. Suffering is an experience related to the impossibility of being a Christian subject, but also about the reality of choosing an existence decidedly different than worldly expectations to desire honor, wealth, and sagacity. A religious self accepts the reality of sin within one’s loves, thoughts, and actions, while yet hoping to move beyond such a state. It is to be earnestly striving to become a subject. As a whole, the stages offer an aesthetic tactic that aesthetically entices each reader with the task of imagining oneself as existing through the type of relationality that each stage presents. As Climacus writes, “later a new pseudonym, Frater Taciturnus, showed the place of the imaginary construction in connection with the esthetic, ethical, and religious productions.”10 The stages offer imaginary constructions that help a reader reflect on the type of relation that shapes how one relates to existence, and thereby the type of person one is becoming through the embodiment of this relation. He assumes that a reader can redouble oneself into these stages as such, deepening the relevance of aesthetic dimension of the imagination for subjectivity. Within the stages, though the will as the seat of choice, the imagination’s capacity for thought, and the passion’s capacity for movement ground any choice and movement towards actualizing an ontological possibility. Indeed, in Sickness Unto Death, Anti-Climacus writes, “But the more passion and imagination a person has—consequently, the closer he is in a certain sense (in possibility) to being able to believe,” affirming the importance of self-reflection and the temporal actualization within a type of existential relation.11 Both of these capacities have an aesthetic dimension, as they determine how one relates Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 280. Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 264. The reference is to Stage’s on Life’s Way, p. 340ff. 11 The Sickness Unto Death, p. 86.

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to the sensual world, suggesting an additional connection to Climacus’ idea that ‘to exist is an art.’ Not only is the task of becoming a subject an artistic endeavor, rightly relating imaginatively and passionately to the sensual world is an art. The stages then offer a tactical tool for Kierkegaard’s thought to speak to each reader individually. To deepen these claims, I will exegetically examine each stage separately. The Aesthetic Self: Natural Passion or Infinite Imagination The aesthetic is the first and lowest stage of selfhood. As a relational self, the aesthetic self exists merely in immediate possibility, lacking any concern about becoming ethically (i.e. cultural norms) and religiously (i.e. Christian neighbor love) responsible to itself, others, and God. This lack is because the aesthetic self is absent a self-consciousness that cares about what it is becoming as a living being. As a result, the aesthetic self ’s imagination does not contain any ontological possibility, meaning there is no possibility for willing a type of relation that puts a self onto the path of subjectivity. The aesthetic self has no past or future, for it merely exists in the presentness of natural passion or imaginative recollection. As a consequent, the self is not even a self; it has no power over its activities. It is mere immediacy, as it lives through an insatiability of desire for things in the world or the fantastical, infinite realm of the imagination. The aesthetic self is thus passive, never attempting to become responsible for its subjectivity, ever enveloped in the splendor of worldly desire or the purity of the imagination. The primary description of the aesthetic stage comes from Either/Or I (1843), written by the pseudonym A and edited by Victor Eremita. Discussion of the aesthetic stage is also found in Stages on Life’s Way (1845) by William Afham, although he terms the stages “existence spheres” (Existents-Spærer) rather than stages (Stadier). Likewise, the text Crisis in the Life of an Actress, which is about Johanne Luise Heiberg, the wife of Johan Ludvig Heiberg, contains an extensive discussion of the category of the aesthetic. Written by Inter et Inter, it was published in the newspaper The Fatherland in 1848. As an ontological possibility, the aesthetic self relates to the world in one of two ways: through natural desire (ex. erotic lust) without any connection to an ethical norm or a universal truth, or through imaginatively-held possibility, in which a self merely imagines worldly actions and committing to an ethical institution such as marriage. The first account lies in A’s examination of Mozart’s Don Giovanni in “Immediate Erotic Stages or the Musical Stage” and the aesthetic life of wild infinite desire of the Don for erotic conquests, unrestricted

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by any ethical concerns. The second account focuses on an existence based on imaginative possibility, as is the case of The Seducer’s Diary, written by Johannes. My analysis will detail how both forms of the aesthetic stage develop out of Kierkegaard’s account of becoming. Within the aesthetic stage, passion and imagination, independent from any reflective content, lead the self to act in the world, ignoring the necessity of a willful choice as an element in human becoming. Further, there is no role for the will, as the will requires a self to actively care about its becoming, a concern that is lacking within the aesthetic self. The first account of the aesthetic self is A’s analysis of Don Giovanni/Don Juan from Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni.12 In A’s analysis, insatiable desire for erotic conquest motivates the Don’s actions in the world. There is no selfconsciousness on the Don’s part; rather, the Don inhabits his desire, ever infinite, such that his form of self is based on embodied erotic passion as its content. Only immediate, unreflective passion causes him to act, rather than any universal law, religious beliefs, or a concern about worldly consequences. The imagination plays no part in his life, either; there is no self-reflection or even an attempt at an imaginative redoubling about possible types of self that he could become. Instead, it is only immediate sensual desire, a passion that the Don understands and claims as his very nature. In order to autopsy the Don’s aesthetic self, A intricately intertwines music, an aesthetic form, with life as a means to demonstrate this aesthetic type of existence. Music expresses sensuousness, and A stresses how sensuousness is ‘power,’ ‘life,’ and ‘unrest.’ It is vitality and force. It is the origin of life and a product of desire. He connects sensuousness with immediacy and the erotic, connoting desire as sexual, as there is a “sensuous-erotic principle,” which was ironically developed by Christianity as it sought to negate material, fleshdriven desire. 13 To negate sensuality, thereby emphasizing the spiritual nature of existence, Christianity invented the principle. As sketched briefly in Chapter One, there are three forms of sensuous desire that motivates the aesthetic self. The Page in Figaro exemplifies the first level. The Page’s desire lacks any clarity about the object of desire; he exists within a dreamlike consciousness, flittering about rather than focusing upon an object that he intentionally desires to possess. “Desire possesses what will become the object of its desire but possesses it without having desired it and thus does not possess it.”14 It is not fully developed in the sense that his desire lacks the ability to determine The author A uses both names throughout the essay, though connects Don Giovanni to Mozart’s opera. 13 Either/Or, vol. 1, p. 64. 14 Either/Or, vol. 1, p. 76. 12

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any objects to desire. Thus, the Page hungers for something, but he is never able to direct his desire towards any object as a means to satiate the hunger. Papageno in Mozart’s The Magic Flute exemplifies the second level. Desire here leads a self to seek an object, meaning “desire awakens, and just as we always realize that we have dreamed only in the moment we awaken, so also here—the dream is over. This awakening in which desire awakens, this jolt, separates desire and its object, gives desire an object.” 15 Papageno is conscious of his motivational desire and the object, but they are intertwined. He has not mastered his desire yet, such that he can focus it upon one particular object. Rather, he sees objects to desire everywhere, an overwhelming prospect. Don Giovanni exemplifies the third and highest form of desire. The Don can harness his desire and use it to attain a particular object; but the particular represents the absolute. He wants absolutely (i.e. all women) experienced through a particular object (i.e. one woman). Natural desire, rather than cognition or desire for the good, causes his worldly actions, as it is the principle that moves him to act. “Don Juan is a downright seducer. His love is sensuous, not psychical, and according to its concept, sensuous love is not faithful but totally faithless; it loves not one but all—that is, it seduces all. It is indeed only in the moment.”16 The Don’s erotic passion can never commit to loving one particular person or God; to do so would negate the desire that causes his actions in the first place. Rather, even amidst the seduction of one woman, he desires an infinite number of other women to yet seduce. The Don only cares about the immediate present, rather than the consequences of past acts or future possibilities. Being in the present, the particular act can never be repeated. It must move on to another particular object in order to desire absolutely. Lacking any connection to the past and future, the aesthetic self in this state has no responsibility. To be responsible is to bear the burden of one’s past actions and choices. The Don loves his desire even more than his conquests, ever infinite; and like an addict, he cares little about being responsible towards others or crimping his erotic desire as the basis for his actions. As a model to redouble, the Don’s mode of relating to existence (i.e. the how of subjectivity) is passion as in a sensuous, erotic desire. He desires romantic, erotic love and sensuous food and art; he exists through his natural inclinations. He has no telos; rather, the Don passively is inhabited by his desire, and he lives a thin, unactualized life as such. The Don exists solely within an immediate existence, as in acting self-consciously. He does not utilize self-reflection, as in an Either/Or, vol. 1, p. 79. Either/Or, vol. 1, p. 94.

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ontological possibility, to think about his existence and the cause of his actions. He strives to be amoral, unaware of any ethical axioms, as any awareness of moral codes or religious passion would negate the vitality and power of natural desire. In short, he lacks reflective possibility, grounded in the imagination; he lacks any what, as in a consciously held idea of selfhood. In fact, if an idea such as sin, ever a part of Christian truth, were presented to the Don, his existence would end. “Only when reflection enters in does the kingdom [of sensuous desire and aesthetic indifference] manifest itself as the kingdom of sin, but then Don Juan has been slain, then the music stops” as it would cancel the immediate, nonreflective way of life that the Don embodies.17 Any mediated account of human existence would make the Don responsible for becoming something other than erotic desire, some other type of being than one driven by immediacy, lacking any ontological depth and richness. And devoid of any consciousness of the need to become, he has no will for the will needs some awareness of what to choose in order to make a choice about selfhood. Whereas the Don relates the world through natural passion, Johannes the Seducer, from The Seducer’s Diary, relates to existence through the imagination. Like the Don, he has a desire for a woman (Cordelia), but the actual act of seduction is less important than imaginatively recollecting the seduction as well as imagining Cordelia’s experience of these events. So where the Don’s relational form is mere natural passion, Johannes’ relational form is determined by the imagination, a capacity that he uses to disconnect from any wider cultural ethos or religious ontological content. The various imaginative possibilities of the affair themselves make Johannes’ existence worth living, rather than ethical duty or religious love. To commit to Cordelia, thereby ending the imaginative seduction, would limit Johannes’ freedom and recollected enjoyment. In his view, life would then be boring and uninteresting, all experiences that are to be avoided by the aesthetic self. Like the Don, lacking any reflective content, this form of the stage is also an immediate existence, though one based on imaginative flights of fancy, rather than erotic desire. Consequently, there can be no act of will, of a deliberate choice to become a self, as there is no consciousness of a higher, truer self to become. All that Johannes has driving his relation to the world is the immediacy of imaginative possibility, a pure fantasy. The form of this text is crucial; it is a diary, meaning its aesthetic genre is itself an imaginative retelling of the seductive acts, one that can be read over and over, no matter how distant in time or place from the recorded acts. In fact, rather than a concern for the actual living girl as the object of seduction, Johannes’ Either/Or, vol. 1, p. 90.

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life embodies a relation to existence rooted in the imaginative inner world of seductive possibility. The recollection of memories, a narrative of seduction, determines the relation to existence, and thus his selfhood. The world of the imagination, rather than actual temporal existence, becomes the present for the seducer; ‘actuality’ lacks ‘stimulation.’ He lacks any concern about actually becoming a responsible self; the ‘fairyland’ of his imagination is his preferred dwelling place. Johannes’ seduction is a two-part act. The first part requires him to imagine and enact actions that build up Cordelia’s self-confidence, until she is erotically interested in Johannes; the second part has him seducing himself out of the relationship. In short, he abandons the seduction just as she is most passionate about him. The point of these two moves is to avoid any recognition of ethical commitment or responsibility that might negate the later enjoyment of imaginatively recollecting this seduction. Seduction is an art, as its highest form is to avoid actual consequences or involvements from this act. Again, ‘poeticizing’ oneself out of the seduction is the skill that Johannes strives to master. And for the seducer to have mastered seduction, the object of seduction has to doubt that the whole relationship was even real. If the seduced is not confident whether a seduction occurred, then there is no obligation between the seducer and seduced. The point is that a self is so far removed from existence that a seduction exists as an imaginative game, rather than an actual relationship shaped by the worldly demands and responsibilities attendant with relating to a living, breathing person. All that determines this form of selfhood are the infinite number of imaginative possibilities and recollections relating to the seductive act. At the root of such poeticizing is imaginative possibility. Ethical existence, which demands a conscience and an awareness of one’s limitations and responsibilities, is not interesting for the seducer. Being ethical is boring, demanding a constant and repeated responsibility to others that limits one’s possibility. Religious life, one that orients desire towards God, is much too strenuous and unenjoyable. Thus, Johannes lives within an imaginative poetic relation. He poetically recollects the seduction through his imagination. Here there are hints of his critique of the Romantic tradition. In the journal entry about Oehlenschläger’s work and Socrates, Kierkegaard notes that to poeticize is to ‘contribute ideality’ as opposed to the actual duties and responsibilities that are a part of actually living in relation to others and God. As an imaginative existence, poetic life is enjoyable and interesting as one can re-imagine a situation in ever-new ways. With imaginative possibility, life is interesting, for one is not trapped by the boundaries of an ethical or religious existence. Moral and religious ontological

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truths contain norms that establish reflective boundaries, thereby restricting the imagination’s ability to think about what could have happened. The seducer inhabits a primary poetic imaginative world that finds the greatest enjoyment not in an actual relationship or act of seduction, but his own free and pure recollection of the possibility of being loved. Remembering that one was loved by another, rather than repeating the love within a committed relation is then primary. In Johannes’ view, there is nothing more enjoyable than imagining erotic love, ever clean, romantic, with none of the messiness of an embodied, actual, and committed relationship that negates the new and interesting. Rather than any attempt to actualize within existence this loving relationship, merely imagining it is good enough. It makes life enjoyable for a self, as imaginative freedom is all that matters. But in this poetic actuality within the imagination, grounded in an erotic desire, the aesthetic self lacks any connection to becoming a subject. The seducer does not have a will, at least in the sense of a willfulness to care about the relation one has to existence. His imagination is disinterested in becoming a type of self, meaning the will does not play an active part in his relation to existence. Seduction, as an imaginative activity, rather than any higher ontological possibility, determines the seducer’s relation. Indeed, the text ends with Johannes wondering if it is worth knowing whether “one could poeticize oneself out of a girl in such a way as to make her so proud that she imagined it was she who was bored with the relationship.”18 In Johannes’ view, any person, event, or experience that is interesting, a defining feature of the aesthetic self, requires the free play of imaginative possibility. And to live imaginatively means never having to accept the responsibility to become some being greater than what one merely imagines oneself amidst the purity of imaginative fantasy. Both the Don and Johannes offer ontological models that exemplify the form of life in which the imagination and passion are misused in one’s relationship to existence. As a result, the will, the capacity to make a choice about becoming a self, plays no active part in these relational structures. In the first instance, an aesthetic self relates merely through natural, disinterested desire, with no imaginativelyheld reflection guiding its actions. The Don has no concern about ontological possibilities or consciously choosing a way of relating to the world; he resists even becoming aware of the need to form the passion to desire higher ends. In the second instance, the aesthetic self relates through imaginative possibility, rather than any universal and objective truth or religious obligations. Johannes’ relates to the world by retreating into imaginative recollection, to fantasy rather Either/Or, vol. 1, p. 445.

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than embodied relationships and the ethical and religious commitments these entail. In both cases, there can be no willing to become a subject, as the will needs an external possibility (as in the ethos of a culture or religious truth) and a self-consciousness that cares about selfhood to make any such choice. A further issue with this stage then is that it lacks any type of ontological telos. There is no ontological what as in some ontological possibility that one strives to become, whether culturally-constructed or religious in nature. There is no self-reflective standard through which to evaluate one’s conduct, a standard that both the Don and Johannes have no interest in even acknowledging as necessary. Instead, natural desire and the imagination passively lead a self in its relational dimensions. As such, the aesthetic self is lost, lacking any idea of a deeper purpose or truth that makes the self responsible for becoming subjective. Only the moments of the immediate present matter, as both ignore the consequences of the past and a concern for the future. Time does not matter, for development only happens through having a past-present-future. Without such temporalization, the aesthetic self remains within the endless constancy of the present. Fortunately, at least for them, though the aesthetic stage is a form of despair, these aesthetic souls are not aware of such despair because of the infinite moreness of passionate desire or imaginative possibility. If the aesthetic self were selfaware, it would realize that desire or imaginative recollecting are never-ending; but such a realization is far removed from the non-consciousness of the Don and Johannes. Their immediate, unreflective existence helps them ignore this reality. And with it, they fail to realize the vacuity of their existence relation. In avoiding commitment, one avoids the recognition that the rush from a seduction fades or any imaginative recollection treads down a worn path after re-living it day after day. In short, one avoids a necessary recognition of the reality that life is full of despair, an awareness that gives a true picture of human existence. The aesthetic self ends up being trapped in a permanent state of restlessness; the self ’s desire and imagination drives onward onto new objects and recollection. One is always craving, longing for, desiring or imagining something more, rather than seeing the sickness of the self that can then orient one towards the divinely revealed cure. Ironically, lacking any self-awareness, the Don and the seducer thus lack any degree of freedom in terms of the ability to willfully choose a type of selfhood. The aesthetic self is trapped underneath the natural desire or imagination, rather than freely orienting these formal capacities towards a greater end. True freedom requires a degree of self-reflection to consciously and intentionally act in the world. Through their ignorance, they can enjoy life as one gigantic object for

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their desire, and are thus disinterested in subjectivity. Though brimming with desire, the orientation of passion (for erotic conquest and recollection) is pointed away from being interested in becoming a subject. Thus, the aesthetic self is subjectively disinterested; its passion is misused. Both the Don and Johannes are instead trapped within the immediate moment of desire or the power of imagination. This aesthetic entrapment is true of the author A as well. Climacus notes that “the existence-possibility in the existing A [an existence that he denies] does not want to be conscious of this and holds existence at bay by the most subtle of all deceptions, by thinking.”19 In his textual productions, A uses imaginative thought to enter the aesthetic relation through his artistic productions, rather than striving to embody or depict a higher relation, say of the ethical or religious. Yet, as Kierkegaard stands behind A, ever a mask, it is also the case that the description of the stage, one that includes an examination of an opera and writing in the genre of a diary, uses aesthetic devices as the means to exemplify this aesthetic existence. In linking erotic passion with music, a reader is entranced, lost in desire, captivated by the musicality of the Don, and is therefore moved to imaginatively redouble the Don’s form of life as such, even if only for a moment. Likewise, the seducer, his diary ever providing fodder for an imaginative reading of seduction and poeticizing, leads a reader into an erotic world, distant from an account of human life rooted in ethical or religious commitment. These aesthetic forms—music and a diary—are intertwined with the ontological content that each account describes. And behind this entangling lies the assumption that a reader’s imagination and passion are aesthetic dimensions that can be enticed away from actuality through ideas of the erotic, beautiful, and the interesting. Ideas of erotic sensuality, musical beauty, and Don Giovanni’s own life appeal to a reader’s desire for material things. And Johannes’ account of erotic love and womanly beauty points to sexuality and sensuousness. With this description, Kierkegaard subverts the traditional aesthetic of beauty of his day, of romantic poetry and the philosophical value of art, one that yet utilizes the aesthetic dimensions of human existence, particularly the imagination and passion, as a means to open the reader up to such provocation. Through the aesthetic self, Kierkegaard is playing an aesthetic trick, seeking to lure a reader’s imagination and passion into a willful recognition that an aesthetic existence is not a true existence. The aesthetic stage reveals an ontological possibility that misrelates its imagination, passion, and will, and is Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 253.

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therefore not on the path towards selfhood. The authorship thus fundamentally assumes these aesthetic dimensions as the means to indirectly communicate to the reader the need to care about how the reader relates these formal capacities to one’s existence. Ultimately, existing within the moment, a self within this stage exists as a passive subject, led by erotic desire or imaginative possibility. A self is not actively choosing how to exist; aesthetic life is pure immediacy as a consequent, and a self is not striving to become a subject. Irony Not only does Kierkegaard tactically use the existence stages to entice his readers, he also details transition or intermediate experiences within the movement between the stages. For instance, between the aesthetic stage and the ethical lies irony. Irony, and later humor, is an existence-qualification in which an individual stands between the immediacy of the aesthetic and the duty of the ethical. Such a space leads the self to qualify or moderate this liminal experience through the use of an ironic stance towards a form of life within the aesthetic and the ethical stages. Irony and humor both relate conceptually to the idea of the comic. As an in-between form, the comic is expressed as irony (between the aesthetic and the ethical) and as humor (between the ethical and the religious). “The comic is present in every stage of life (except that the position is different), because where there is life there is contradiction, and wherever there is contradiction, the comic is present.”20 Fundamentally, the comic is a humorous experience of contradiction. As existing within dialectical existence qualifiers, such as inner/ outer and universal/particular, a self relates to these seeming contradictions comically, finding humor amidst its irresolvability. Essentially, a self, in its becoming, takes a relational stance towards the difficulties and challenges that each stage offers, using the imagination, will, and passion in the process. Irony is on the border between the aesthetic and the ethical stages. “Irony is the cultivation of the spirit and therefore follows next after immediacy; then comes the ethicist, then the humorist, then the religious person.”21 In short, irony is a spiritual dimension as it means that a self recognizes that one is more than just erotic desire or imaginative possibility, but is yet trapped within these possibilities. Climacus suggests an ironic self is partially trapped or tilted towards either the demands of the aesthetic or ethical stage. Aesthetic irony tilts a self Concluding Unscientific Postscript, pp. 513–14. Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 504.

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towards the awareness that it is only immediate passion that is valued within the aesthetic stage; recognizing this though, the self is unable to move beyond such a type of existence. Ethical irony reveals a self that exists within the contradiction between being a particular self and becoming universally intelligible. In short, ethical irony places a self under an imaginatively contained ethical possibility that contradicts a life based on individual desire. The Concept of Irony offers a substantial examination of the use and importance of irony. Here, Kierkegaard is critical of Romantic irony in the thought of Schlegel, Solger, and Fichte.22 Romantic irony affirms the denial of any ontologically valid truth, instead pushing oneself into an existence based on imaginative possibility. For example, Schlegel’s Lucinde affirms, “The acme of intelligence is choosing to keep silent, restoring the soul to the imagination, and not disturbing the sweet dalliance of the young mother and her baby.”23 To think of imaginative possibility moves a self away from activity, into a passive state of imaginative thought and—like a mother nurturing her baby—into an ideal state of existence. Consequently, there is no ontological possibility for a self to move towards becoming. Critically, Kierkegaard’s thesis focuses on Socrates as the true master of irony, for his irony has an existentially positive function. Socrates uses a negative relational stance (i.e. one that is opposite to what he really means) as a means to bring a person to the positive standpoint of understanding truth. Within aesthetic irony, an individual takes an ironic, skeptical stance toward the world. “Irony is also an agent by which the individual sets him -or herself at a distance from the object of the irony and thus from the surrounding world.”24 The individual annihilates the value of existence because one awakens to the reality of despair within the aesthetic stage. Doing so, the self ’s desire causes the self to act, thereby denying all value in the sensual world. Thus, a self uses aesthetic irony to distance oneself from the ever-lurking greater demands of ethical existence. For instance, within Either/Or, A describes a section of Mozart’s Don Giovanni (in which the Don seduces Elvira) by noting that “Don Giovanni’s unparalleled irony ought not to be kept outside Elvira’s substantial passion but should be concealed in it. They must be heard together.”25 A’s explicit argument is that the Don’s desire is not possible without an object, The primary purpose of mentioning Solger in The Concept of Irony is Kierkegaard’s argument that Solger’s irony lacks a negative moment such as doubt, and that Solger was overly Hegelian in his march towards understanding everything. Consequently, Solger stood in for Hegelian thought in this instance. 23 Schlegel, Friedrich Schlegel’s Lucinde and the Fragments, p. 128. 24 Watkins, Historical Dictionary of Kierkegaard’s Philosophy, p. 132. 25 Either/Or, vol. 1, p. 122. 22

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i.e. Elvira. He needs her in order to exist. But his further implicit point is that in the seduction—a seduction that the Don has accomplished before—the Don relates ironically to the actual act. It has no meaning other than as an expression of desire, and Don sets himself apart from the object through his desire—which is all that matters. The object has no value beyond desire, a desire expressed through the outward desire of the sexual conquest of Elvira. But whether or not the Don knows it (he does not), the Don exists in despair because his desire—as a natural, subjectively disinterested desire—is always fleeting, moving onto the next object. This irony is something the reader though understands; a reader sees the nihilism of the Don’s life. Desire causes his actions; he is passive. If he were to stop and contemplate, the Don would likely recognize its futility and valuelessness. As such, even without knowing so, the Don exists in despair. The meaninglessness of endless desire is ironic, for it is the annihilation of all value as a way to avoid the despair. It is pure immediacy, “for irony is and remains the disciplinarian of the immediate life.”26 And by relating ironically to the world, the Don destroys all value as a way to avoid this awareness. There is another form of irony described by Climacus in Concluding Unscientific Postscript. Whereas Don’s irony tilts towards the aesthetic stage, this form of irony tilts towards the ethical stage as it is an existence-qualification. It “is the unity of ethical passion, which in inwardness infinitely accentuates one’s own I in relation to the ethical requirement—and culture, which in externality infinitely abstracts from the personal I as a finitude included among all other finitudes and particulars.”27 Someone striving to become ethical becomes ironic in the tension between universal, external ethical demands and one’s particular inner world. A self uses irony then to express this gap between the universal, infinite demands and the particular, finite experience that is part of the incommensurability of living dialectically. Here the irony relates to a particular self ’s attempt at self-expression despite the demands of the ethical. The ethical stage demands that all external actions be intelligible to others because they are understandable through a common or universal law; in other words, ethics is about an action demanded equally of all. Consequently, with the imagination as the basis for containing possibility, a self is stuck between one’s particular drives and thoughts, and acting through universal ethical demands. The ironic contradiction arises from the difficulty of individual self expression in relation to this universal demand.

Either/Or, vol. 1, p. 120. Concluding Unscientific Postscript, pp. 503–504.

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This ethical irony also includes the contradiction of the comic.28 As comical, ethical irony suggests a contradiction between the desire of a particular self and the universal demands of the ethical. At times, a self desires something that the ethical obligates it not to desire, or there is a conflict between desires within a self with no clear way to choose between the various options. Such a contradiction, which lies on the border between the aesthetic and the ethical because of its desirous character, leads the self to perceive life through the existence-qualification of comic irony, in order to make sense (e.g. laugh) at the contradictions that erupt within finitude. Irony is his incognito, as Climacus puts it, “because [a self ] comprehends the contradiction between the mode in which he exists in his inner being and his not expressing it in his outer appearance.”29 Without ethics, there is no reflective norm to make sense of how to direct the passions; yet, a self is not merely a dutiful self. The inner world of a particular self is hidden in relation to the ethical. Overall, ethical irony is a form of hiddenness, and thereby an ethical incognito. It allows a self that exists on the border between the aesthetic and the ethical to avoid actualizing the universal demands of an ethics, an action that exposes the contradiction between one’s inward sensuous desire. A self can hide such a contradiction by relating to it ironically, thereby existing through humor and the comic as the means to make sense of its liminal relation to existence.. The Ethical Self: Mediated Passion and the Reflective Imagination Moving beyond ethical irony, a self may relate to existence as an ethical self. Whereas the aesthetic stage includes the immediacy of the passion and imagination, the ethical has a limited role for both the imagination and passion. Fundamentally, the ethical self holds an ontological possibility that stresses duty to universal, external ethical norms. The ethical self thus imagines itself as fulfilling the cultural duties inherent to worldly pursuits such as one’s role in the For more on the comic see: John Lippitt, Humor and Irony in Kierkegaard’s Thought (New York, 2000). Lippitt argues that Kierkegaard, especially Climacus, uses comic humor and irony as examples of “inappropriateness” rather than a simple contradiction. Examples of inappropriateness include the girl who applies for a permit to be a prostitute (Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 515) or the four-year old who calls to a child only six months younger, “Come now, my little lamb” (Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 515). In both instances, the comic element is related to the inappropriateness of the situation in relation to worldly ethical norms and experience. 29 Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 504. 28

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family, at work, and state. Doing so means that one is intelligible, as one’s actions are understandable to those within one’s cultural context. Unlike in the aesthetic stage, the will matters for the ethical self. To prioritize ethical duty over one’s particular desires or self-interest, say the marital vow over erotic seduction, is a willful choice. Yet an attention to universal duty and a sagacious consciousness about worldly expectations, rather than passionate desire to be a particular individual through one’s relation to God, forms the relational bridge between a self and existence. In particular, one exists through reflection and a mediate consciousness, thus losing the immediacy of passion. Likewise, though the aesthetic stage builds problematic sandcastles in the mind, the ethical lacks the creative imagination to envision eternal happiness and a hopeful future; these worldly impossibilities lack import in the face of the consciousness of worldly ethical demands. Rather than striving to be a particular individual, passionately relating to God, one’s duty is to become like everyone else. Within Kierkegaard’s corpus, the ethical self appears in a number of texts. For instance, there is a movement from the ethical towards religious commitment, which Johannes de Silentio writes about in Fear and Trembling (1843), a focus on defending marital commitment within Either/Or II (1843), and a description of the vital challenge of repeating actions in Repetition (1843), by Constantine Constantius. This section will focus on Judge William’s apology for love and marriage in Either/Or II, written for A, in order to provide clarification about the importance of the imagination, will, and passion for the ethical self. Judge William argues that through a willful marital vow, marriage transforms infinite desire into something higher: infinite commitment. In the process, the particularity of one’s internal desire (ex. the Don’s natural desire) for an external object (ex. the beautiful Elvira), though likely unintelligible and nonsensical relative to worldly expectations, is made intelligible through an external ethical commitment. This outward ‘expression’ of a particular desire is then vital. “In marriage, however, the internal is primary, something that cannot be displayed or pointed to, but its expression is precisely love,” with love being expressed externally through the commitment.30 Further, as rooted in ethical duty, the actions can be repeated, as marital love transforms erotic love into a daily commitment, able to withstand the withering tendrils of time. The immediacy of passion becomes mediated by ethical duty, willfully chosen, and imaginatively connected to the duty of becoming a good spouse as the ontological possibility. This worldly duty then is the aim of the ethical self ’s relation to the world.

Either/Or, vol. 2, p. 152.

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Consequently, in “The Esthetic Validity of Marriage” from Either/Or II, William attempts to persuade the esthete from Either/Or I of the need to become ethical. In particular, he argues that to become ethical requires that one do one’s duty. Specifically, William argues for a self to accept the universal ethical demands of living within the structure of a moral institution such as marriage. The ethical stands for the universal commitments that every individual in a culture must make in order to adhere to cultural ideas of good, moral behavior.31 It demands that each individual commit to an ethical code, one in which all particular desires and imaginative possibilities are sublimated to the norms of the ethical system, norms that appear universally valid. The imagination and passion still formally shape how a self acts in a wide variety of contexts, but these two capacities are then guided by these universal norms in order to make sure that a self is existing as a universal, dutiful citizen. In the process, the ethical self is beautiful, for true beauty is doing one’s universal duty; it is acting in a way that one’s culture understands why one acts the way one does and why the action itself is ethical valid. As such, the capacity of the imagination to create ontological possibilities must be subsumed under the universal duty of marriage, for instance. William writes: “You know how I hate all imaginary constructing, but all the same it may be true that a person can have experienced in thought much that he never comes to experience in actuality.”32 Here, the concern is two-fold. The first is that the imagination can construct other ontological possibilities, a danger for the ethical self. For example, in The Seducer’s Diary, Johannes is unconcerned with ethical duty; he lives in a world of imaginative possibility. As a critique of this form of life, William demands that one must commit to another person through marriage, rather than continually flee to other imagined possibilities of existing. Such a commitment is a universal duty. And if one does not, one’s life fails to achieve worldly value, as in social standing and good citizenship. For instance, he warns A, “Yes, my friend, you are living in an illusion, and you are achieving nothing.”33 Through a marital commitment, one is made responsible Scholars frequently connect this universal idea to the Hegelian Sittlichkeit. For example, in C. Stephen Evans’ introduction to Sylvia Walsh’s translation of Fear and Trembling, Evans writes: “Rather, for Hegel the demands of reason must become embodied in the laws and customs of a people. The individual satisfies the demands of reason not by legislating for himself or herself, but by recognizing and affirming the rational character of the customs and laws of society. This higher social ethic is called by Hegel Sittlichkeit, and it is Sittlichkeit that Johannes [de Silentio—the author] has in mind”(Søren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling, trans. by Sylvia Walsh (New York, 2006), p. xxi). 32 Either/Or, vol. 2, p. 123. 33 Either/Or, vol. 2, p. 79. 31

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to others, the state, and culture; one’s actions are made intelligible by reflecting a cultural standard of good behavior. In the process, far from an illusionary happiness, one becomes worldly happy through ethical responsibility as “only responsibility gives a blessing and true joy.”34 To merely imagine one in such a relation, as Johannes does, is then to lack such a cultural achievement. But as a result, the imagination’s creativity must be limited. For example, it can be used to continually re-envision the marriage. The vagaries of existence include frustrations, anxieties as well as the recognition that one often does not receive what one thinks one should attain. In being able to imagine what one does not ‘experience in actuality,’ one can maintain the marriage commitment because one uses the imagination to imagine marital acts and relations that are mere fantasy, never actions to be actualized. Thus, one can imagine leaving the marriage, adding erotic spice, or enhancing the spouse, for example. In so doing, here the creative imagination protects the marital duty. As long as it is held in check by the ethical duty of marriage, the imagination can ensure the commitment of marriage is maintained through such an ‘imaginary construction.’ The ethical self can also use the imagination to envision the marital future, thereby affirming the marital duty. William tells a tale about a newly married couple. This couple inhabits a space of three rooms. “You devoted yourself to decorating, with the greatest solicitude and elegance, a future such as you could wish for yourself. You know that I am not an unwilling participant in little imaginary constructions like that … .”35 Using the imagination to make a space for marriage, in which the ethical demands crimp the power of the imagination, is then appropriate. But as such, the ethical self ’s imagination must constantly be ordered by ethical duty, holding as an imaginative possibility one’s worldly responsibility as a spouse or citizen, rather than devolving into imaginary constructions that accomplish ‘nothing.’ Duty requires commitment, and commitment requires the temporalization of action. To temporalize an act is to repeat it, and to repeat it is to do it over a continuous time period. The act must become immanent, as in a willful choice to continue to be dutiful. This criterion is counter to the view from the aesthetic stage. It only knows present moments filled with desire, a desire focused on an object at a particular moment in time. Said object only matters within that moment of time, and it does not matter whether the self desires the object in the future. If anything, all that matters is the present (e.g. the desire for the object) and or the presentness of the past (e.g. the fond enjoyment Either/Or, vol. 2, p. 86. Either/Or, vol. 2, p. 105.

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of recalling past conquests). On the contrary, ethical commitment, however, demands that one act the same towards an object in the past, present, and future. Such a worldly temporalization historicizes an individual. “To become historical, then, belongs essentially to marital love,” as it enables a self to be accountable to one’s ethical context.36 Whereas the aesthete is motivated by disconnected moments of natural desire or imaginative possibility, the ethical self understands its actions through the ethical system and its temporal framework of the past, present, and future. Accordingly, the ethical imagination uses ethical norms as a means to redouble oneself within time, thereby giving the self a history. This history is grounded in the inner life, for “every single little moment is of utmost importance. Inner history is the only true history, but the true history struggles with that which is the life principle of history—with time—but when one struggles with time, the temporal and every single little moment has its great reality.”37 The moments of time are important because when connected, they create continuity, a history, which both grounds how a self understands itself and also allows for the repeatability of actions. This ontological integration includes then a narrative dimension; one see’s oneself as having made choices in the past, such that the present and future are impacted by these choices. Repeatability engenders the possibility of a responsible self. If each moment did not matter or there was a break between one moment and the next, then one is not responsible for past actions, as this past is not connected to one’s present. Without continuity, one does not have a history; if one does not have a history, one cannot be responsible for past actions. And as existence is movement, without continuity amidst the movement, a self lacks any concern over being responsible for becoming when existing randomly and discontinuously. Yet, through repetition, passion does not matter as the driving force of an action. Marriage is not about passionate love, but rather a commitment rooted within the demands of universal ethical norms. And in repeating the marriage commitment throughout a life, marriage truly becomes beautiful, though here beauty is about ethical responsibility and not sensuousness; to be beautiful is to do one’s duty repeatedly. As a consequence, within this stage, it is not passion in the form of love that one acts lovingly towards another, but rather out of duty. For the ethical self, duty is to commit to follow a certain moral course in all one’s actions. Ethical duty works with love as the means to ensure a self repeats the required duty. “Duty is always consonant with love … If duty is hard, eh bien, then love pronounces it, actualizes it, and thereby does more than the duty; if Either/Or, vol. 2, p. 118. Either/Or, vol. 2, p. 134.

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love is about to become so soft that it cannot be kept stable, duty sets boundaries to it.”38 Here, duty alters passion and vice versa. The aesthetic self ’s natural passion is crimped yet guided by universal norms; duty is actualized through passion. By implication, duty also negates the self ’s creative imagination, merely using the imagination as the ground to hold the universal ethical norm and to reflect on how to use this norm within a context. Thus, rather than erotic passion, marriage creates dutiful love. Passion’s role is limited as universal duty actualizes one’s particular ethical duty. William writes that his task is “to show that romantic love can be united with and exist in marriage, that marriage is its true transfiguration.”39 Here, the desire for an object awakens an awareness of the value of the object for the desirer. This is a problem if one exists based on romantic desire, as does the Don. Instead, William’s account of marriage attaches dutiful love to a normative framework: the mediated Christian God, understood through the institution of the church. Through the willful martial vow one makes at a church, one’s love of a particular person reflects the love of each person as a child of God. Like the argument from Works of Love, as being publicly expressed in the institutional church, such a love has the stamp of spiritual love, which must be intertwined with earthly love within Christian marriage. “Spiritual love has no preference and moves in the opposite direction [towards all earthly creatures], continually sheds all relativities. Earthly love, when it is true, goes the opposite way [towards one person] and at its highest is love only for the one single human being in the whole world.”40 By ‘spiritually’ loving one person, one loves all, thereby transforming the aesthetic stage’s natural desire for the love of a particular person into a higher, spiritual love. Likewise, ethical love is also a cultural accomplishment. Marriage is a cultural institution grounded within the state and the church; without the intelligibility and mediation provided by these institutions, there would be no such dutiful love. “But marriage is precisely that immediacy which contains mediacy, that infinity which contains finitude, that eternity that contains temporality.”41 In dutiful marriage, a self has an inner harmony with its outer actuality; inner dutiful love is matched with universal obligation and intelligibility as part of the very fabric of ethical duty. It combines the church’s attention to the human spiritual dimension and the world’s ethical expectations that enable a self to become a good citizen, and thereby act just like everyone else. 40 41 38 39

Either/Or, vol. 2, p. 149. Either/Or, vol. 2, p. 31. Either/Or, vol. 2, p. 62. Either/Or, vol. 2, p. 94.

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William further argues for aesthetic dimensions, including sensual beauty, as being ‘transfigured’ within marriage into ethical beauty. In aesthetic desire, a self desires an object based on sensuous beauty. But if the self becomes selfaware, it will ask why it desires the object, especially as the object changes. In the ethical stage, one is not self-reflective about why one loves, but rather focused on the activity demanded of being a dutiful spouse within existence, particularly the repetition of actions. “What I want to stress, however, is the beauty in the marriages that have as little ‘why’ as possible. The less 'why,' the more love, that is, if one perceives the truth in this.”42 This beauty is not about acting through passion or desiring the beautiful; “no, my friend, honesty, frankness, openness, understanding—this is the life principle in marriage.”43 In short, for the ethical self, becoming universal within one’s context is the hidden and inner drive behind worldly actions, rather than by acting because of individual passion. To act dutifully in a marriage is to act intelligibly, in such a way that any and all humans would understand exactly why a self loves and has committed to another self. Such actions are a transfigured idea of beauty in which moral action becomes true beauty. Because the aesthetic stage is concerned with artistic beauty, William’s ethical definition even offers a critique of art. In his view, poetry seeks to portray romantic love, a love that never dies and overwhelms the lovers in its intensity. It describes the outer actions of lovers, of striving to attain what one loves, of achieving the conquest of a lover, of a first kiss. But as life demands inner commitment through inwardness, poetry cannot portray the beauty of real love, a dutiful love that defines marriage. “Romantic love can be portrayed very well in the moment; marital love cannot, for an ideal husband is not who is ideal once in his life but one who is that every day.”44 Poetry cannot show a responsible husband, one who repeats the beauty of marital acts outwardly through an inward commitment. Only normative laws, held within the capacity of all capacities (the imagination), cause the ethical self ’s relation to existence within its cultural frame. As a result, the ethical self ’s imagination is directed at becoming a universally dutiful self. Natural, immediate passion, though opening the eyes of a self to an object, must be transformed into an intelligible love. The will enacts an intelligible, universal possibility, one that stresses that each person should become culturally understandable. The ethical stage, as reflection, snips the Either/Or, vol. 2, p. 63. Either/Or, vol. 2, p. 116. 44 Either/Or, vol. 2, p. 135. 42 43

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powers of imagination as well as subsumes passion under intelligibility and commensurability. This stage is a challenge to a self such as the Don that grounds one’s relation to the world through the imagination and passion; the ethical self must strictly limit the creativity of the imagination and the desire to become a true self. Ethical duty, rather than passion as love, is the basis for action, a duty based on strength of will to repeat the action. And as such, the ethical self has not yet mastered the art of existing in which the imagination, will, and passion direct a self ’s form to imitate the highest ontological content. One is not yet a Christian subject. Humor Between the ethical and the religious stage lies humor. Like irony, humor relates to the conception of the comic as arise out of the experience of contradiction. But it is a form of religious incognito, of a self that is almost religious, but not yet quite. What the humorist lacks subjectively is an inward passion as the determining element within the self ’s relation to God. A self is not yet interested in becoming true through the paradox. Humor’s comic contradiction is between the presence of an outward expression of the ethical as an action based on God, and the lack of an inward relation to God that is the basis of relating within the religious stage. “The humorist continually … joins the conception of God together with something else and brings out the contradiction—but he does not relate himself to God in religious passion (stricte sic dictus) [in the strict sense of the word].”45 In short, humor reflects the self ’s lack of inward passion as the means to relate to the Christian God; instead, one qualifies ethical action by seemingly to be acting from a religious foundation. But in reality, worldly ethical duty, rather than passionate religious commitment, drives one’s action. This appearance of religiosity yet the non-actuality of it creates a humorous contradiction, though only known to the self and God. There are elements to Climacus’ lower form of religiousness, Religiousness A, within this notion of humor. Religiousness A is an immediate relation to God as it stresses universal intelligibility and an immanence between God and creation. It starts with suffering (an immanent, worldly experience) and resignation because of the distance between ethical norms and the impossibility of embodying these norms within existence. A self within Religiousness A Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 505.

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addresses this contradiction through reason, rather than divine revelation; such an answer, which is what Kierkegaard calls the pagan answer, will fail. It fails because passion is the true ground of being religious and thus subjectivity. Instead, each particular individual must strive for an inward relation to God, as in Religiousness B. It is this type of becoming that is at the heart of Kierkegaard’s account of the religious stage. The Religious Self: Immediate Passion and a Willful, ChristRedoubled Imagination Needing to move beyond mediate ethical duty and thereby re-affirm the vitality of immediate passion as causing human actions, the religious stage describes the highest form of relating to existence. It describes an existence relation in which the imagination, moving beyond the quest for rational certainty, grasps the image of Christ, paradoxical though it may be, as the true ontological possibility. The will forcefully chooses this image to redouble, no matter the worldly consequences. Here the imagination matters as well, for it can creatively envision eternal happiness, and thus Christian hope for the future, amidst the worldly challenges of suffering and doubt of the present. Finally, passion, ever inwardly desirous of God as a vigorous choice, strives to actualize Christian subjectivity at each moment and within each context. Through this relational orientation, an existing self becomes true, as in ‘truth is subjectivity.’ In many ways, passion is the fulcrum for this form of life, because faith itself is the highest passion, an inward, self-interested trust in God’s promise that gives this ontological possibility force to shape one’s being. Thus, the religious self acts through love and hope-filled imagination, meaning it prioritizes the love of God first and the neighbor second. Doing so thus actualizes Christian possibility in the world through one’s embodied existence. Ever a dialectical act, the religious self willfully actualizes immediacy, through inward passion, and mediate reflection, as a Christ-rooted imaginative reflection, as one’s relation to existence. As a result, aesthetic, ethical, and religious demands become meaningful and moments that shape one’s becoming. In the art of existence, it is this subjective relation that impossibly actualizes Christian content as one’s existing form. Within Kierkegaard’s authorship, there are a variety of works that include this perspective. They include: Fear and Trembling (1843) by Johannes de Silentio (which also examines the ethical), Stages on Life’s Way (1845) edited by Hilarius Bookbinder (which includes all three stages), The Sickness Unto Death

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(1849), and Practice in Christianity (1850), both by Anti-Climacus. Though also relating to the ethical, Climacus’ Philosophical Fragments and Concluding Unscientific Postscript develop features of the religious stage. With his right hand, texts such as Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses (1843–45), a compilation of various sermon-like religious persuasion pieces, Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits (1847), and Works of Love (1847) also directly communicate the shape of this type of relational existence, though they don’t explicitly develop the religious as a stage. Exegeting this stage through the features of the becoming self discloses how each relational capacity must be artfully used to transform one into the religious self. I will begin with the role of the imagination. A religious self must never misuse the imagination to flee from the demands of Christian existence. The imagination, as making sense of thinking and feeling, must be connected to actuality through sin-consciousness and the Christian ontological possibility, rather than its own creative, Ideal-making capacity for building sandcastles in the mind or thinking about ‘pure’ knowledge. As such, the imagination becomes the formal ground from which becoming a self is possible. As the formal ground, it is the capacity through which a self becomes conscious of the possibility of being some other ontological form than what one is within sin-filled existence; it allows one to become self-reflective, and thus think about redoubling an ontological possibility that shapes one’s form. Unlike the ethical self focused on the cultural mediation of life, the religious self ’s ‘imagination must raise him higher than the miasma of probability’ such that one sees a greater good than what is expressed through cultural norms. Without the imagination’s creative ability to redouble imagistically one’s life, to see oneself as more than a material being, a self would lack the ability to become self-reflective and thereby concerned about one’s life. Because of this ability, the imagination also partially enables the self to make the qualitative leap from an existing through a relation to ethical universals (as universal duties) to the paradoxical faith of a particular self before God. As the basis for thinking, the imagination has a rational dimension, one that craves certainty. Yet, Christian truth is paradoxical, something that cannot be demonstrated through human reason or gained through additional worldly experience or education. Accordingly, a religious self must have an imaginative understanding that accepts the non-understanding of the Christian paradox as the basis for existing. In striving to make sense of the paradox, ‘the understanding does not go beyond this.’ Reason, a capacity grounded upon the imagination, must knowingly relate itself to the unknown; this relation suggests the importance of the will. One must willfully choose to accept the paradox, and thus trust in

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God’s loving soteriological act in Christ. In so doing, the imagination then must imagistically attend to the image of the life-form of the suffering, lowly Christ as the true ontological possibility. Redoubling Christ’s life within a self ’s existence is grounded in the imagination’s capacity for thought. Indeed, the truth of being is the image of the Christ. The imagination, having the aesthetic capability of producing this image in the human mind, is valued because of this creative redoubling ability. A further reason the imagination is necessary is that being religious is not a happy or peaceful existence. Within the religious existence, one suffers; the worldly ideas of wisdom and sagacity (as focused on being rationally certain) and success (as gaining honor, fame, and wealth) are not central to one’s choices in the world. Instead, in willing the good of faith, one seems “to have been abandoned by the race you belong to, alone in the world,” though you are fully participating in the world no matter one’s job, social status, or context.46 The religious self does not flee the world and head to the cloister, but rather strives to enact God’s love no matter the context. Such a life must also accept an idea of a limited, finite, and sinful self, utterly dependent on God, a truth that is rationally uncertain and thus offensive, making doubt a constant companion to faith. The ethical action of a religious self then must adhere to a norm opposite of worldly expectations of wealth and self interest: the radical demand to love one’s neighbor as oneself. “Christianity came into the world as the absolute, not, humanly speaking, for comfort; on the contrary, it continually speaks about how the Christian must suffer or about how a person in order to become and remain a Christian must endure sufferings that he consequently can avoid simply by refraining from becoming a Christian.”47 Such a life of uncertainty and the never-ending demand to love, when understood religiously, is a life of suffering. Actually being a Christian is an impossible task as well. Though a self must willfully choose to exist through the paradox, the radical and absolute demands from God to become a true self cannot be accomplished on the individual’s own accord. For instance, Climacus writes that there is no direct transition from a non-Christian to a Christian existence. There is a qualitative difference between such existences. Reading the Bible more often or going to church more frequently does not make one Christian; one can only become a Christian by relating rightly to God. God gives us the demand of an impossible leap, one that individuates as one “must certainly do it alone and also be alone in properly

Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits, p. 107. Practice in Christianity, p. 63.

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understanding that it is an impossibility.”48 Here Climacus discusses Lessing’s use of the term leap (Sprung), but in the process argues that any willful leap between stages and forms of relationality is impossible through human ability alone, even when one chooses to do so. Faith is an act of divine transformation, at least in part. Amidst this onslaught of disturbing images and suffering, Climacus asserts, “Christianity, on the other hand, is subjective; the inwardness of faith in the believer is the truth’s eternal decision.”49 In this instance, Climacus suggests that ‘truth’ itself makes the decision regarding a self. As eternal, this ‘truth’ does not imply a simple willful decision on the part of a self, though a decision is partially necessary in order to will the relation that orients one towards Christian truth. Again, within the art of subjectivity, divine and human action are both necessary. This ‘truth’ is eternal, unlike all human actions. Instead, this ‘truth’ is God. How a self inwardly holds belief is dependent upon God’s actions, for God is the eternal truth. As Anti-Climacus describes, God as Governance lovingly acts in our lives, alongside our imagining, willing, and desiring, to transform our being. Thus, the Christian God decides, and the believer can never know with objective certainty about one’s relational status; instead, one must trust in God’s action, while yet striving to enact Christ’s image through a confidence that arises out of the freedom that comes from this divine action. One sees this divine activity in Philosophical Fragments where the teacher must give the learner ‘not only an assisting love but also a procreative love by which he gives birth to the learner,’ with God then as the true teacher.50 Through divine grace, God ultimately makes one into a Christian as an impossible possibility, in partnership with each individual that has a degree of freedom to either willfully hold onto or reject this freeing ontological possibility. Though it includes the ethical account of being historical, as one is a sinner through past choices, this relation makes the religious self unintelligible to the ethical self, exemplified by Abraham in Fear and Trembling. For the religious self, there are responsibilities that are ontologically more important than merely doing what one’s culture tells one to do. Rather, it is to prioritize the self-God relation over and above any such cultural expectation. As the lived attempt at becoming a Christian is fraught with uncertainty and suffering, one concern relates to the why one would choose to become a Christian in the first place. The answer to such a question is based on the Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 103. Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 224. 50 Philosophical Fragments/Johannes Climacus, p. 30. 48 49

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absolute telos of eternal happiness. Again, this idea of happiness is not a telos in the sense that it is a good to be attained, but is a good only in the lived process of attaining it. It is the necessary accident or a secondary good of practicing Christianity, which is the only one and true good; as a result, this happiness is not the goal of subjectivity. But it is central to Christianity, as “surely no one will deny that the teaching of Christianity in the New Testament is that the question of the individual’s eternal happiness is decided in time and is decided by the relation of Christianity as something historical.”51 Though an existing self can never know precisely what this happiness is, its possibility is one theme of Climacus’ Philosophical Fragments and Concluding Unscientific Postscript.52 And rather than spending mental energy trying to conceptualize happiness, one must instead enact the Christian image of being in each moment as the only means to attain this happiness. Which returns us to the importance of the imagination. In reflecting on the inability to know as well as be a Christian, the imagination holds onto the possibility of being sanctified as a gift of God through faith in Christ. In short, the imagination can imagine the possibility of being a Christian, rather than just one striving to become one; it allows one to be hopeful. Re-imagining oneself as a Christian amidst actualizing works of love as a daily practice is then the basis for a sustaining hope. To imagine one’s eternal happiness is then an ideal possibility that emboldens the actualization of the Christian ontological possibility. “That is, all idealizing passion is an anticipation of the eternal in existence in order for an existing person to exist,” ever oriented towards becoming subjective.53 Imaginatively, one can create anticipate an ideal state of happiness, one that is never attained, through the imagination, that then supports one’s choice to strive to be religious despite the sufferings and worldly ostracization that may follow. That said, this view rests decisively on the power of passion. This ideal must relate to subjective interest as the mode of relating; in short, it must relate to a self ’s inward passion. For instance, “the religious speaker ought to be distinguishable by his knowing how to manage with pathos the enthusiasm of suffering and jestingly to peek into the imaginative-passion of the infinite.”54 To anticipate through the imagination the infinite and the eternal happiness is the eternal message of Christianity. It then emboldens the will to live hopefully amidst the suffering of the present. Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 369. Climacus offers the ironic example of a serious gentleman who asks what happiness is and expects to receive an answer while he shaves (Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 392). 53 Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 313. 54 Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 440. 51 52

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Consequently, the religious self ’s imagination points to the ideal possibility of the future of a Christian self. It also provides, as the ground for thought, willing and feeling, the formal ground of possibility for a truth that determines one’s existing being. Yet, as the above examples illustrate, there is a clear and definitive connection and correlation between the imagination, will, and inward passion within the religious stage. It is the will, as in the willful determination, to stay the course that locks a self into the way of Christian becoming. And one’s passionate interest brings about the movement of a self towards Christian truth as determining its very being. Desiring God, as the true good, then springs the religious self into motion. And the form of life is then a faith-filled embodiment of Christ’s love, itself a ‘happy passion’ that artfully orients one towards being a true self. To relate to eternal happiness requires that one relate to it through the paradox; it is to anticipate eternal happiness, thought of as hope, in the midst of the suffering inherent in Christianity.55 Yet, inward passion is the subjective structure or form of relating to faith, rather than reason. Climacus argues that a self can objectively understand church sacraments, knowledge of the creeds, the historical Jesus and other historically mediated modes of Christian existence; but through such a temptation as biblical scholarship, which tempts a self into “knowing” God as an object (and thus objectively as merely a what), a self ceases to be interested in becoming a true self. “With the aid of the clergy, who occasionally display some scholarship, the congregation learns about [Christ]. The communion of believers finally becomes an honorific title, since the congregation becomes objective merely by looking at the clergy,” as opposed to inwardly striving to be a subject.56 Such an objective relation is to relate untruthfully to Christian possibility. Enacted alongside the imagination and will, it is through a self ’s inward passion that a self must rightly relate to Christian truth; only through passion 55 This line of reasoning is suggestive of Luther’s idea of faith as trust in God’s promise. Although influenced by Moravian practices as well, Kierkegaard’s description of faith has clear connections with Luther, who defined faith as trust in God’s grace. For instance, in a journal entry from 1850, Kierkegaard writes: “Luther is completely right in saying that if a man had to acquire his salvation by his own striving, it would end either in presumption or in despair, and therefore it is faith that saves. But not yet in such a way that striving vanishes completely. Faith should make striving possible, because the very fact that I am saved by faith and that nothing at all is demanded from me should in itself make it possible that I begin to strive, that I do not collapse under impossibility but am encourages and refreshed, because it has been decided I am saved, I am God’s child by virtue of faith. This is how faith must relate itself to striving, both in its beginning and during its progress, but it cannot mean that striving is to vanish entirely” (JP, vol. 2, p. 19/X3 A 322). 56 Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 27.

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is faith lived, where possibility can become actuality as the artful relation of Christian content and one’s embodied form. Thus, a religious self acts not through certainty, but rather through a passionate trust in the illogical paradox of Christian belief; doing so, one risks one’s very being. It is to live according to an “if ” rather than a certainty. Another way to understand his point is to realize that, for Climacus, to think one is a Christian means logically that one is not a Christian. Because one is ever becoming amidst the temporal world, as Climacus writes, a self ’s “essential task therefore cannot be to think sub specie aeterni, because as long as he exists, he himself, although eternal, is essentially an existing person and the essential for him must therefore be inwardness in existence.”57 One can never “think” one is a particular type of self or is eternal; one can never stand outside of history and time, for in this type of self-reflection, one is never outside of existence. One is ever becoming, and what matters is that one strives to become a subject. The religious self thus moves beyond an existential relation oriented towards finite things, as in the example of Don and Johannes, ethical duty, as per Judge William’s judgment, and one rooted in the quest for rational certainty, such as the Hegelians. Rather, the religious self ’s passion actualizes the paradoxical nonunderstanding of faith, willfully chosen, in the movement towards becoming a true subject. Human reason cannot comprehend the paradox, and in willing its ‘downfall,’ it allows passion to bring the self beyond certainty and into faithful trust in God’s actions in Christ. Thus, faithful passion moves understanding beyond the quest to objectively relate to God as an objective what, and into embodying this soteriological, ontological truth through a subjective how. Consequently, as the capacity of inward passion is decisively about infinite self-interest, passion itself provides the moment in which a self ’s overwhelming desire and self-interest relates to God. Willfully chosen, imaginatively reflected, through passion, a self embodies the subjective relation to God, thereby transforming one’s being in the process. This relation must be infinite, an impossibility within the sinful world. Such a truthful relation is Christian faith.58 “Faith does not result from straightforward scholarly deliberation, nor does it come directly; on the contrary, in this objectivity one loses that infinite, Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 217. In the journals, Kierkegaard describes faith as a second immediacy: “This is to say that most men never reach faith at all. They live a long time in immediacy or spontaneity, finally they advance to some reflection, and then they die. The exceptions begin the other way around; dialectical from childhood, that is, without immediacy, they begin with the dialectical, with reflection, and they go on living this way year after year (about as long as the others live in sheer immediacy) and then, at a more mature age, faith’s possibility presents 57 58

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personal, impassioned interestedness, which the condition of faith, the ubique er nusquam [everywhere and nowhere] in which faith can come into existence.”59 A self ’s passion as a form of subjective interest is the basis for being faithful, and is thus the true path to relate to God. This task is never finished: “To be capable of doing everything through God is easy enough—if the greatest difficulty of all were not that one is capable of doing nothing oneself,” thereby affirming the importance of remembering that though subjectivity requires human actions, it fundamentally begins, is sustained by, and ends in God.60 On the whole, this statement expresses the struggle of needing to choose for oneself and become a true self, but the impossibility of effecting the qualitative change of such an existential choice.61 One stands as if in a dark room hoping to find the light switch that will illuminate one’s existence. One must always hope and strive to find it, but finding the ontological light switch is ultimately beyond one’s natural power. More to the point, the religious self ’s imagination, will, and passion all open one up to this form of life, and thus divine transformation. The imagination, knowledgeable of the paradox and envisioning the ideal of eternal happiness as a future end, the will to continually choose the Christian relation, and inward passionate interest are each intertwined causes of the moving towards religious selfhood. Though the biblically-revealed Christ provides the content of truth itself to them. For faith is immediacy or spontaneity after reflection” (JP, vol. 2, p. 12/ VIII1 A 649, May 11, 1848). 59 Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 29. 60 Concluding Unscientific Postscript, pp. 429–30. 61 There are numerous entries in his journals regarding Kierkegaard’s struggle with his faith. For example, in an entry dated August 16, 1847, he writes, “I now feel a need to find myself in a deeper sense by coming closer to God in an understanding of myself. I must remain where I am and be renewed inwardly … I must get hold of my melancholy. Up to now it has been deeply submerged and my enormous intellectual activity has helped to keep it there. It is clear enough that my work has helped others and that God has sanctioned it and helped me in every way. I thank him again and again for having done infinitely more for me that I expected. It comforts me that just as surely as no man has any merit before God, he has nevertheless looked upon my efforts with favor, so that through this terrible suffering I have stuck it out to the end. I am aware before God that my work as an author, my readiness to respond to his beck and call, to sacrifice every earthly and secular motive, will mitigate my own impression of what I personally have done wrong … But now God wants something else … Up to now I have armed myself against depression with intellectual activity which keeps it away—now, in the faith that God has forgotten in forgiveness whatever guilt I have, I must try to forget it myself, but not in any diversion, not in any distance from it, but in God, so that when I think of God I may think that he has forgotten it and in that way myself learn to forget it in forgiveness”(JP, vol. 5, p. 400/ VIII1 A 250, August 16, 1847). The emphasis is mine.

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that must determine what a self becomes, framing these actions, these capacities play a formally determining role throughout the stages as they help create and ground a self ’s relation to this Christian content. To rightly use these capacities within one’s becoming is the art of existence, for it produces a self as a subject. God’s grace changes one’s being such that one can practice works of love. When rightly related, a path towards faith, ever impossible, becomes possible. And as an actualized possibility, it even makes possible the ability to ‘preserve the aesthetic even in everyday life;’ the imitation of Christ is a life of ethical beauty. As the highest task, embodying Christ’s love in the world is the true artistic act, one that is the never-ending task of each becoming self. As an artwork, a self must become the form of the Christian content, a type of existing being described within the religious stage. This highest stage includes beauty (as in ethical action) and passion (towards God first, rather than sensuous things), important elements within the lower stages. It also includes the imagination’s creativity in envisioning the future and the will’s decisiveness in holding onto one’s love of God. Thus, to become religious, a self must integrate the aesthetic and the ethical demands within a religious form of dialectical relating. This dialectical integration is the highest art within existence, for it is about human selfhood; it is also impossible through human actions alone. Nonetheless, every action and moment for this religious self becomes a moral moment, for all temporal moments within a self ’s existence must be based on the proper relation to God. Conclusion In using the stages as an authorial tactic, Kierkegaard tasks his readers with the demand that they take up the vital task of subjectivity. Each person must care about one’s becoming, and he engages this ontological concern through a variety of different tactical constructions. And in leading a reader through the ontological possibilities of the stages, the aim is then to give his readers the opportunity to imaginatively redouble these stages as forms of one’s own life through the act of reading. It calls the reader to wilfully and passionately reflect deeply about the shape of one’s life. Doing so assumes the importance of the aesthetic dimensions of the self. More importantly, though, it also calls each reader to care about what and how one imagines, desires, and chooses in relation to its existence in the world. This responsibility sees subjective formation as an art. Yet, amidst this fragmentary aesthetic, there are moments of artistic critique in Kierkegaard’s thought. There is the Don’s love of music and Anti-Climacus’

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concern over art. Further questions thus relate to issues of how a becoming self should relate to art works such as music, poetry, and visual art, either as an artist or an audience. Though productions are always relative goods, Kierkegaard yet affirms how the becoming self must rightly relate to such productions as an imaginative, willful, passionate being. The next chapter turns to sketch out this relational possibility.

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Chapter 6

Becoming and Art

Poetry and art have been called an anticipation of the eternal. If one wants to call them that, one must nevertheless be aware that poetry and art are not essentially related to an existing person, since the contemplation of poetry and art, “joy over the beautiful,” is disinterested, and the observer is contemplatively outside himself qua existing person. 1 Climacus, Concluding Unscientific Postscript

The double doors were opened; the effect of the brilliant lighting, the coolness that flowed toward them, the spicy fascination of the scent, and the tasteful table setting overwhelmed the entering guests for a moment, and when at the same time the orchestra began playing the dance music from Don Giovanni, the forms of those entering were transfigured, and as if in deference to an invisible spirit encompassing them, they stood still a moment, like someone whom admiration has awakened and who has risen in order to admire. 2 William Afham, In Vino Veritas

Then you come to a picture that you have deliberately placed among the others; it portrays one crucified. The child will not immediately, not even quite simply, understand the picture; he will ask what it means, why is he hanging on such a tree. 3 Anti-Climacus, Practice in Christianity

Even before Augustine enumerated his vision of the two cities that a Christian inhabits in City of God, Christians have wrestled with rightly ordering the 3 1 2

Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 313ff. Stages on Life’s Way, p. 27. Practice in Christianity, pp. 174–75.

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relationship between one’s desires and duties to worldly activities and those to God. Such a tension is a primary theme for Kierkegaard; it is always within a specific cultural context that a self exists and artfully becomes. Thus, H. Richard Niebuhr places Kierkegaard within the dualistic category of “Christ and Culture in Paradox” in Christ and Culture, arguing that “Christian life has for him the double aspect of an intense inward relation to the eternal, and a wholly nonspectacular external relation to other men and to things.”4 And because the becoming self is the foundational concept behind his view of worldly productions, rather than a systematic approach, Kierkegaard’s authorship unleashes an ambiguous critique of the value of art. Instead of artistic norms, his concern is to explore the potential impact that the self-art relation has on subjective becoming. As a result, the tactical task of his aesthetic critique, particularly towards poetry, visual art, and music, is to provoke each reader to properly relate to artistic experiences, ever a part of the context that structures one’s becoming. Art is a relative good, merely tangential to the highest art of coproducing oneself as a subject. Behind this aesthetic then stands his anthropology. Each individual, as an artwork, has formal capacities with aesthetic dimensions that must be rightly used in relation to cultural activities such as poetry, visual art, and music. Artful becoming is an imaginative, willful, and passionate form of relating, and one must orient these capacities towards God and becoming, even within the self-art relation. One clear challenge is that these capacities, most notably the imagination and passion, have aesthetic qualities. In short, in conjunction with the will, these capacities connect the finite/external world of sensual things to the inner self (e.g. passion) and subjective thought (e.g. imagination). When in a right relation, these capacities can actualize the true ontological possibility—as the content—with one’s existing being—as the form. But they can also be used to cease such becoming, say by losing oneself in the beauty of or the process of creating a work of art. Accordingly, explicating the aesthetic fragment of artistic creation and reception requires centering his critique within his conception of the becoming self. His aesthetic is not a simplistic set of rules about seeing or producing art or a dogmatic system; rather, he develops a regulative tactic that tasks his readers with caring about how one relates to art. Provocatively, he calls his readers to rightly regulate the self-art relation as one means to pursue subjectivity, so that one is ‘ethical enough to regulate’ this relation in light of the higher art



4

H. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture (New York, 1951), p. 179.

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of subjectivity.5 Each self then must respond to art through a proper aesthetic “seeing,” a term I use to designate any form of activity involving the creation and/or interpretation of art. This seeing means relativizing art as a lower form of imaginative, passionate, and willful relational activity; rather than seeing art as expressing ontological truth, ethical beauty, or divine revelation, art is always a human activity, rather than something ontologically or theologically necessary. As a consequence, one must never view artistic productions as central and essential to selfhood. Such regulation does not mean art is only a means to an end; art itself is good as it can express human concerns and creativity, stretch the subjective imagination, and lead one to desire truth. Yet, the good of art is always relative, of secondary importance to the art of subjectivity. As a relative good, art can critically aid one’s becoming or hinder it, depending on how one relates to it. Thus, unlike Pattison and Brown, who in different ways both suggest that art has no place within the Christian life, I argue that for Kierkegaard, art in itself is not the problem, but rather how one relates to it. In the least, such accounts ignore claims within Kierkegaard’s authorship itself ‘to preserve the aesthetic even in everyday life.’ They also ignore the importance of Kierkegaard’s use of literary devices, seen in thinkers such as Garff, Evans, and Stewart, that affirm the value of artistic means to communicate ideas. Because of this rootedness within human becoming, his aesthetic critique is thus continuous with the corrective tactics within the authorship as a whole. In his era, Romantic poets and philosophers such as Novalis, Schlegel, and Oehlenschläger, stress the perfection of artistic means as the highest method of thinking about and expressing ultimate truths.6 Here, art affirms a natural theology; the power of the poetic itself reveals God, human freedom, and truth, making divine revelation unnecessary. Kierkegaard strongly criticizes this Romantic aesthetic, as sin-consciousness and the highest ontological image depend on revelation, rather than rational or “pure” aesthetic expression. Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 351. For instance, in Schlegel’s Lucinde, he expresses the romantic ideal of marriage as the love of the strong, active, and rational male (Julius) for the weaker, passionate, passive woman (Lucinde). This ideal is of a new religion, as Julius is a priest and Lucinde a priestess “of the night,” grounded in friendship and passionate love. Passion for Schlegel is passivity, as in its Latin root. Through passivity, one experiences the natural world, a realm that opens up a person to divine inspiration. “Only calmly and gently, in the sacred tranquility of true passivity, can one remember one’s whole ego and contemplate the whole and life. How does any thinking and writing of poetry take place, if not by complete dedication and submission to some guardian genius?”(Friedrich Schlegel, Friedrich Schlegel’s Lucinde and the Fragments, p. 66). 5 6

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This chapter will develop this notion of Christian seeing in relationship to three forms of art: poetry, visual art, and music. Recognizing that how one relates to art impacts one’s becoming, it details the challenges and possibilities that art can awaken and enliven in the becoming self. For example, visual art can either aid or distract a self from becoming Christian. For one person, seeing a picture of the suffering Christ can lead that self towards further reflection on Christian truth, thereby helping the self move towards the mimetic redoubling of this truth. Art here can inspire or provoke self-awareness about the state of one’s existence and relation to God. Yet, for another person, this same picture may lead to the admiration of the artist or art itself, thereby losing a passion for becoming. Consequently, art in itself is not Kierkegaard’s primary target as such, but rather how a self relates to it as an imaginative, willful, and passionate being. By implication, Kierkegaard is not arguing that creating art or visiting an art museum is a waste of time, as long as one rightly sees art for what it is: limited, relative, human, and unessential to becoming. There are echoes then of Augustine’s uti/ frui distinction, in which one must not lose oneself in the enjoyment of art, but rather see it as a gift from God that enriches human life. Critically seeing art and regulating the self-art relation is ever connected to growing as a passionate, willful, imaginative Christian subject, ever mindful of the essential ontological content that is God-in-Christ. And as an aesthetic fragment, this authorial theme serves a tactical purpose: to challenge, provoke, and upbuild his readers to care about the self-art relation, no matter what one sees, hears, or creates. A Sketch: Kierkegaard’s Artistic Critique To see art always places one within a self-art relation, a relation that yet must be determined first through the God-self relation. As such, one must see God’s participation in creation and each individual’s becoming. It is to see one’s beginning, development and ending through the God-self relationship at the root of becoming. “Nature, the totality of creation, is God’s work, and yet God is not there, but within the individual human being there is a possibility (he is spirit according to his possibility) that in inwardness is awakened a Godrelationship, and then it is possible to see God everywhere.”7 Climacus suggests that by relating to existence through Christian truth, one recognizes the work of God in all of creation, including art and human creativity. Creation is then

7

Concluding Unscientific Postscript, pp. 246–47.

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a good, as in a gift of God. Seeing sensual things like art is not an analogia entis that reveals a clear understanding of God’s being. Rather, creation is a good that reveals divine love and provides the existential structure to human becoming. So by seeing God ‘everywhere,’ one constantly is able to recognize one’s highest task of becoming subjective, and thus to rightly relate to God as the center of one’s existence. Consequently, Kierkegaard and his authors see artistic productions and reception as important means to critically reflect on the self-God relation. Thus, the authorship itself uses aesthetic tactics as the means to move a reader towards subjective existence, thereby suggesting the importance and reality of the aesthetic qualities to the imagination, will, and passion. These capacities, particularly the imagination and passion, are vital to understand how artistic productions effect the self ’s development because of their aesthetic dimensions. For instance, the imagination is a creative capacity; it can imagine different forms of existence for a person, independently of any dogma or communal structure. And both the imagination, as grounding thought, feeling, and willing, and passion are the formal capacities that a self uses to relate to sensuality, including beautiful art and the sublime.8 The imagination responds to external, material things; passion desires things, actions, and possibilities in the world. His explication of poetry, visual art and music must then be understood in relation to these capacities. It is not art-in-itself, such that one can never create a work of art, that is the central issue, but rather how a self relates to art in the neverending move towards subjectivity. Such a hermeneutical method reveals how Kierkegaard offers three distinctive critiques of art. First, artistic seeing enacts a type of relationality that is disinterested and thus passionless. In short, artistic works use poetic words (i.e. poetry), sensuous beauty (i.e. visual art) or pure immediate sensual desire (i.e. music) to delude one’s passion away from becoming. In particular, they enchant one away from desiring a true self-God relation and its actualization through the redoubling of Christ. The challenge of art thereby is to see art yet remaining One aesthetic idea notably absent from Kierkegaard’s works is the Kantian the concept of the sublime. There are only two uses of the term “det Sublime” in Kierkegaard’s published works, though he does use the adjectival “Ophøietheden” quite frequently. But neither of his two uses of the word are related to a sublime aesthetic experience in the Kantian sense as an experience beyond the grasp of the mind. For example, in Fear and Trembling, Abraham is described as “sublime” by Johannes de Silentio because of his faith. Later commentators note this absence, but connect Kant’s sublime to Kierkegaardian anxiety (ex. George Pattison in “Kierkegaard and the Sublime”), the “ethical sublime” (ex. Ed Mooney in On Søren Kierkegaard), and a discursive sublime (ex. John Milbank in “The Sublime in Kierkegaard”). 8

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impassioned towards becoming subjective. A second critical thrust stresses the challenge that art offers to the self ’s imagination. For one, art can reveals a false ontological possibility. It can be one based on fate or fortune (i.e. poetry), or it may depict a human-derived existence possibility that ignores the reality of suffering (i.e. visual art), or it may lack any actualizable reflective possibility (i.e. music). In all three instances, a self is tasked to regulate its imagination such that one holds firmly to the only ontological possibility that matters: Christ. Finally, the third form of critique showcases how art can point towards Christian possibility, though ever limited and imperfect, that thereby affirms an unessentiual value for art. Because art uses imaginative and impassioned elements in its very form, it can speak to these elements within a self in such a way that orients a self towards becoming. This critique asks the self to frame art within the Christian narrative, seeing it then as a means to imaginatively and passionately emphasize Christian truth. Thus, among other uses, art offers a means of communicating truth that speaks to the aesthetic dimensions of the becoming self. Nonetheless, the key concern for Kierkegaard remains the self-art misrelation. In short, in such a relation, one sees in art a clear revelation of God’s truth, a true human ontological idea, an object of desire, or a production to relate to subjectively. Climacus writes that “poetry and art are not essentially related to an existing person since the contemplation of poetry and art, ‘joy over the beautiful,’ is disinterested, and the observer is contemplatively outside himself qua existing person.”9 While implicitng critiquing the Kantian-infused traditions of Romanticism and Idealism, Climacus uses the term essential as well as connects the existing self with disinterest and contemplation. All three ideas reveal the aesthetic that underlie his critique. For one, art is never a form of ontological truth and is not essential to an existing person. Here, Climacus argues that there are certain essential truths that determine how a self develops into a subject. Truth which aids a self in moving toward subjectivity, such as provided by Climacus’ teacher in Philosophical Fragments, is ontologically, and thus existentially, necessary. As ontologically transformative, it is essential to a self ’s becoming. Sensual art, on the other hand, does not essentially help a self become a true being. It is merely a relative, nonessential human activity, rather than something that every person must create in order to become a subject. Only Christian paradoxical truth is essential. Any self-art relation not firmly rooted in this soil ceases to solidly support becoming



9

Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 313ff.

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then, and to see art as such an object can lead one into an objective relation to existence. Second, in the contemplation of art, and in particular sensuous beauty, the self ’s passion lacks an interest in becoming a self. As a result, the will has no role, for it lies dormant, ignored by the self ’s passionate focus on the art or artist as an object of knowing. This critique echoes his evaluation of biblical scholars, who disinterestedly read the Bible rather than strive to live it. Further, this disinterest leads to ‘mere contemplation,’ and thus an imaginative form of existence. Seeing art can lead one to exist within imaginative possibility as a consequence, rather than acting ethically or religiously in the material world; the will and passion have no possibility for choosing and actualizing Christian possibility as one lacks the imaginative relation to a true ontological content. It is a fantastical life, in which one relates then to existence merely through artistic possibility, an untrue account of the self. Like Homer’s sirens in The Odyssey, art can draw the self away from subjectivity. Finally, there is ‘joy over the beautiful.’ In enjoying the beautiful, one’s passion relates to art through an emotive stance of joy. One’s inner, emotive life mistakenly becomes lovingly entangled with a merely worldly, temporal object, rather than finding true joy in God. Thus, one sees artistic beauty as gospel, a form of good news that leads one beyond the sensual world of suffering and difficulty; one finds rapture in such an awareness, rather than merely a relative good. Such joy means that one has lost the relational orientation to the ontological content that matters to one’s becoming. Though this polemical depiction of art is rather general and widesweeping in its critique, nonetheless, it showcases Kierkegaard’s ultimate concern that sensuous objects can distract a self in its development. But through his fragmentary aesthetic, somewhat like a postmodern thinker such as Derrida, Kierkegaard consequently engages in a deconstructive project, sundering any notion that art can make an ontological truth claim .10 Yet unlike post-modernity, rather than affirm a form of nihilism, his aim is reconstructive: to re-affirm God’s actions in Christ, rooted in the Bible, as the reliable foundation for selfknowledge and formation. Only by seeing art as a relative good can one rightly orient the self-art relation. Such seeing is Christian seeing, rather than an artistic seeing as such. Kierkegaard is not then demanding the end of art or leading one into an iconoclastic cave. Art as playful activity, as expressing human creativity, and revealing the longing for God are all common dimensions of human activity, For instance, see David Bentley Hart’s The Beauty of the Infinite for such a critique of post-modernity. 10

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activities he sees as part of the good that is God’s creation. Instead, reading this critique through his art of subjectivity reveals how such activity and creativity must always be contextualized within the self-God relation that stresses the constant call to actualize Christ’s love in the world. Art, ever unessential, is thus yet one context that can enable human becoming. The Self-Poetry Relation Kierkegaard connects the becoming self to poetry throughout the authorship, but particularly within the Climacus and Anti-Climacus texts. On the one hand, for Climacus, poetry expresses an ontological possibility that leads the self astray as it reveals only imaginative possibility and passionate disinterest. On the other hand, Anti-Climacus is open to the possibility of a religious poet, but is skeptical that a religious poet can actualize Christian truth. In his view, the poet is too fond of the romance of despair or the poetic quest for the divine nature to willfully choose Christian possibility as the content of poetry. There is also Works of Love, where Kierkegaard’s concern is that poetry’s erotic and imaginative self-centered ontological possibility runs counter to subjectivity’s call to embody Christian neighbor love. Yet, these three examples of poetry arise out of the importance of the imagination, will, and passion. Further, all three stress that poetry cannot reveal Christian possibility, particularly sin-consciousness. Rather, through poetic fantasy or an erotic poetics, these formal capacities lead the self away from actualizing Christian possibility. Thus, relating to poetry challenges each self in that the imagination grasps poetic possibility or self-love to redouble, while the passion desires romantic love or becomes subjectively disinterested. In the process, the will remains dormant, never able to make a choice about subjectivity. Thus, as a regulative relational model, Kierkegaard’s critique intertwines the self and the poetic such that his aim is to challenge a self to see in poetry a form of life that limits, at best, one’s becoming, and at worst is opposed to it. At the core of this critique lies the view that poetry is a type of existencecommunication. In particular, poetry, especially the aesthetic ideal of Romantic poets such as Steffens, can only communicate an ideal, non-suffering view of the self and the world. While religious communication uplifts through suffering, “for immediacy, poetry is the transfiguration of life; but for religiousness, poetry is a beautiful and amiable jest, whose consolation religiousness never rejects,

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because it is precisely in suffering that the religious breathes.”11 Much like Plato’s worry about the poets in The Republic, Climacus asserts that poetry is too unreal: too simplistic, too imaginary, too erotic. The highest form of existence, the good life of being as a Christian has its core in suffering. Poetry provides a way out from this existential reality. It reveals fantastical, poetic immediacy, rather than a type of truth worthy of self-reflection, doing so in a beautiful form. Particularly for Climacus, poetry becomes then the ‘transfiguration of life.’ Unlike Christian possibility, which reveals the reality of existence as including suffering and unhappy endings, poetry expresses an alternative ontological possibility: fortune, the accidental, and fate. These are all ideal possibilities, in the fact that existence works out for a good end; things resolve in a satisfactory manner. “Poetic pathos, therefore, is essentially fantasy.”12 Yet the Christian life of suffering includes many misfortunes. “But to comprehend the misfortune, to come to an understanding with it, to reverse everything and obtain suffering as the point of departure for a life-view—the poet is unable to do that;” a poet cannot make sense of a life of suffering.13 Instead, the poet presents ideals “by lifting immediacy up into an ideality, which is the good fortune of immediacy as it was not found in the finite world.”14 Consequently, the poet presents life in an ideal form, rather than through the truth-frame of Christianity that reveals sin and human limits. The poet crafts a counter-Christian ontological possibility, one that does not relate to actions within existence: the aesthetic ideal. “Esthetic pathos expresses itself in words and can in its truth signify that the individual abandons himself in order to lose himself in the idea.”15 Poets rhythmically reveal ontological possibilities that grasp fortune and fate as the means to earthly happiness. Indeed, within Philosophical Fragments, Climacus states that the poet cannot even imagine worldly suffering within the poetic ideal: “thus speaks the poet—for how could it occur to him that the god would reveal himself in such a way as to bring about the most terrible decision?”16 And as a consequence, poetry tempts a self into an unreflective relation towards existence, making one dispassionate and unwillful as a result. Here the imagination becomes vital as these poetic utterances tempt the self ’s image-crafting power. Again, the imagination grounds thought and can 13 14 15 16 11 12

Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 436. Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 388. Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 434. Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 434. Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 387. Philosophical Fragments/Johannes Climacus, p. 4.

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also self-create ideals and possibilities. Poetry, by presenting a ‘beautiful jest’ and a ‘fantasy,’ gives the self ’s imagination an ideal about how things should be within existence. This ideal can be so powerful that a self ‘abandons’ itself in order to struggle to exist within the ideal. Rather than accepting the reality of sin and suffering, one exists solely in the fantastical imagination as such. And as a type of ‘pathos,’ poetry also relates to the self ’s passion. It is ‘beautiful and amiable.’ Poetic language reveals an entangling beauty, one that can lead a self to intertwine subjectively disinterested passion with poetically-rooted imagination. Poetic forms of beauty lead a self to contemplate fantastical ideals, rather than to actualize possibility. Consequently, “esthetically the highest pathos is the pathos of disinterestedness.”17 Like biblical scholars reading the Bible in the quest for certainty, relating to poetry can lead one’s passion away from subjectivity. A self may desire to merely think about existing or contemplate poetic beauty, rather than passionately act towards becoming a true self. And this provocative critique serves as Kierkegaard’s means of tactically reminding his readers that one must not imaginatively and passionately lose oneself in the disinterested ontological image that poetry provides. To do so orients one away from the highest ontological possibility as well as leaves the will passive, unable to choose subjectivity. In short, Climacus’ account of poetry details how it mumbles out an untrue ontological image to redouble and tempts the passion away from the demand to actualize Christian love in the world. It presents a reflective possibility of existence which is opposite from the suffering that is a part of the Christian image. Poetry ‘transfigures life’ by bringing about possibilities of resolution; for example, fortune smiles on a lover and the poet harmonizes words together to convey the beauty of such fortune. Beauty and fate are then the metaphysical system behind the immediate experience of poetry, a system that covers the difficulties of existing in a sinful world in a luminous cloud of fortune. To relate to poetry improperly is to be persuaded by its content that a disinterested life is the true content and form of selfhood. But the issue then becomes whether one can see poetry through a selfGod relation, thereby relating to it as a relative good. In The Sickness Unto Death, Anti-Climacus hints at this possibility, even exploring the potential for Christian poetry. Here, the poet despairs over his relationship with God because of sin. Within his poet-existence, he experiences a passionate longing for God, but does not want to relinquish his despair through a movement to faith. “A poet like that can have a very profound religious longing, and the conception of God is taken up into his despair. He loves God above all, God who is his only Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 390.

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consolation in his secret anguish, and yet he loves the anguish and will not give it up.”18 Moving towards faith would require him to acknowledge his sinful nature, an act that he prefers to keep secret. As a result, he is unable to will himself to accept his dependence upon God. Here, two issues are important for Anti-Climacus’ idea of the poet. First, the poet’s imagination, as the ground of understanding, strives for the God-self relation. Passionate desire for God is connected to this religious longing. But his conception of God does not arise out of a true account of God, as in a God that frees one from sin through Christ. Rather, his ontological possibility stresses the anguish of keeping sin-consciousness outside of his image of himself. He’s clearly passionate about God, but is unable to willfully accept his sinful nature. In many ways, he cannot resign himself to accept human epistemological limits, particularly about the need to be taught about sin. The poet cannot then move the imagination into a proper relation to the paradoxical Christian truth that must determine one’s existing being. One issue then within religious poetry is that the poet seems to enjoy an ontological image that is aesthetic, rather than Christian. It enacts a self-God relation grounded in inner anguish, rather than a sin-consciousness leading to the actualizing of Christian love. Christianity is about the freedom from inner anguish through a transformative faith, and a worldly suffering by embodying Christian love as a consequence. Similarly to Religiousness A, the pagan form of the religious stage, the poet here imagines an ontological content that is concerned with anguish-ridden poetic creativity rather than embodying the paradoxical Christ. Poetic happiness means being trapped by the law rather than freed by the gospel. Further, the poet’s imagination cannot let go of the hope of poetic resolution to this religious anguish. Whereas the Christian willfully recognizes one’s dependence on God, thereby understanding that sin and suffering are a part of life, the poet yet imagines religion, and thus the religious life, as grounded in aesthetic elements such as resolution and happiness. “Yet this poet’s description of the religious—just like that other poet’s description of erotic love—has a charm, a lyrical verve that no married man’s and no His Reverence’s presentations have.”19 Poetry keeps the imagination focused on ‘charm’ and ‘verve’ that remains chained to fate, fortune, and worldly happiness as aesthetic ideals. He even uses

The Sickness Unto Death, p. 77. The Sickness Unto Death, p. 78.

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poetry to imagine “his happier, his better I,” rather than accepting the real image of sinful, limited selfhood given in Christ.20 Yet, whereas Climacus stresses the imaginative root of poetic creation as a search for ‘transfiguration,’ Anti-Climacus views the poet as acting out of passion. And although the poet is unable to accept his sinful nature before God, through the passionate poetic attempt to understand God, this capacity is oriented towards its highest subjective interest. In short, his poet loves God, a love that is a secret anguish and longing, suggesting then a higher form of poetics. However, though the poet’s passion desires God, he also desires something else: anguish. Anguish provides fodder for poetic creativity, for finding a rhythm and release in the poetic act. Rather than willing subjectivity, the poet’s passionate concern lies in avoiding an earnestness that acknowledges his sin, rather than accepting the transformative gift of Christian possibility. As such, though AntiClimacus hints at the possibility of Christian poetry, his critique shows how a poet can misuse the self ’s formal capacities to misrelate to God within a selfpoetry relation. In the end, this poet cannot move beyond despair and anguish as the basis for relating to God and existence; the power of poetry is too great. Though subtle, the differences between Climacus’ and Anti-Climacus’ ideas of poetry can best be explained by elucidating how a self relates to poetry through the imagination, will, and passion. Both describe poetry as a form of existencecommunication and both argue that the poet cannot willfully choose to become Christian. Both develop the view that the ontological possibility within the transfiguring immediacy of poetry can never rightly express the true possibility offered by God in Christ. Climacus’ poet presents poetic ideals whereas AntiClimacus’ poet enjoys despair and anguish amidst the quest to love God despite sin. In both instances, the poet’s imagination is not properly striving to grasp the ontological possibility that reveals the sickness unto death and its cure through faith in Christ. Yet, Climacus, writing as a non-Christian, is more strongly opposed to the very possibility of Christian poetry than Anti-Climacus. In his view, the form of poetry itself is essentially disinterested. In short, the poet’s passion is not focused upon the God-self relationship that is at the heart of true subjectivity. AntiClimacus, writing as a Christian, does suggest that passionate interestedness can be involved in poetic production, though it too, in the end, fails in rightly orienting a self towards subjectivity. The key difference is then the role of passion, in terms of the content of truth it desires to actualize. The poetic self, as Climacus understands it, has no interest in the words of the Bible and the The Sickness Unto Death, p. 78.

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faithful life it reveals. Instead, it finds solace in poetry and the poetic resolution that transforms any desire to become a subject into disinterestedness for this life of suffering. There can be no passion towards subjectivity for Climacus. AntiClimacus, however, sees the possibility of some type of religious poetry, albeit not a fully Christian form. In his view, though the poet’s passion desires God, this desire is not related to the truth that frees it from anguish; instead, through its passionate anguish, the poet never can will to become a subject, because doing so would end his poetic creativity. Yet, both lack an attention to the ethical, something essential to subjectivity. As such, Works of Love offers an additional wrinkle. Here, poetry is a largely ego-centric activity. It intertwines passionate eroticism and the imaginative redoubling of self-love, rather than neighbor love, as the basis for relating to existence. Such a celebration orients one’s love towards a particular human as a desired object, but this self-other eroticism reflects the lover’s own enjoyment of being in love. As a result, poetry honors the self-centered experience of being in love, rather than truly loving another as a neighbor made equal through Christ. Poetry celebrates the lover and one’s unique, preferential love, rather than the loved. This erotic love of a particular person cannot be repeated—as in made ethical—without ruining it, for establishing ethical duties ends the poetic fantasy of romantic love as being about the other. He asks the reader, “does it seem to you that this talk and this poetry, or a life in harmony with this talk and this poetry, bring one closer to loving the neighbor?”21 Primary in this view then is the idea that the poet celebrates erotic self-love rather than the love of God as ontologically determinant. This poetic possibility contradicts the biblical account of love, as poetic love contradicts the Bible (as there is no erotic love in the New Testament). Here there is then a clear concern over making poetry essential and ontologically true, of mistakenly seeing in poetry a truth that can only be revealed through the Bible. It also involves the imaginative redoubling of the erotic self as the ground of human value. And as a consequence, poetry misdirects one’s passion, ignoring the divine command to see everyone as a neighbor, no matter one’s social standing. Thus, the erotic must also be universalized through ethical commitment, i.e. marriage, in order to both be particular for a self as well as universal. Poetry, ever focused on erotic love, cannot offer such a vision of life and makes it too easy to see erotic love as the highest ontological task as opposed to Christian works of love.

Works of Love, p. 60.

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What should be clear, amidst this poetic deconstruction, is that poetry, and thus the self-poetry relation, can hinder a self in its becoming subjective. Climacus, Anti-Climacus, and Kierkegaard all develop this critique, one rooted in the formal capacities of the imagination, will, and passion as enabling the self-poetry relation. Indeed, in reading his poetic critique, these three capacities connect the different critiques, alongside of his concern of the type of ontological content that poetry expresses. That said, there are two wider frames within which to place Kierkegaard’s critique. For one, his authorship uses poetic means as an attempt to subvert and deconstruct the poetic while reconstructing the primacy of biblical truth. There is a danger in his method; as he points out in Works of Love, poetic lines can be more easily remembered than the pastor’s sermon.22 Yet his authorship itself exemplifies how poetry can be used to task a reader to see one’s life per the call of the Christian gospel. Indeed, unlike Plato, he does not dismiss poetry out of hand as something that one must never read or relate to it; rather, it must be relativized as a non-essential truth and seen such that one remains subjectively passionate. It is a limited, human expression, and a reader must never imaginatively and passionately lose oneself in its poetic labyrinth. In short, by using poetic means, Kierkegaard’s tactical use of poetry points back to his primary aim: to call his readers to rightly relate to poetry. As a call to regulate this relation, these views on poetry task his readers with properly seeing and relating to poetry as a relative good. The primary issue then with poetry is not its essential form, but how a self relates as a passionate, willful, and imaginative being such that one sees it as having any essential connection to communicating Christian truth. One must not desire a life based on fate or erotic, ego-centric love; one must not will and make the self-poet relation the basis of one’s nature. His critique always points back to God-in-Christ, sin, and suffering as essential and subjective truths, thereby demanding that each self form a certain type of consciousness and subjective orientation even amidst the self-poetry relation. Indeed, Kierkegaard offers a limited critique, both because of his own poetic style but also in his stilted view of what poetry is as an artistic form. Using a polemic tactic, his explication of poetry rests upon how poets within his context have turned the poetic into an ultimate good. It is about Schiller’s aesthetic education, Schlegel’s false reconciliation between actuality and reality, and Oehlenschläger’s poetizing. Thus, he does not offer a broader picture of poetry, one that might see later developments of poetry as components of the Works of Love, p. 47. He also describes Paul’s rhetorical artistry and how pastors are too easily caught up in the aesthetic qualities of such linguistic artistry in The Book on Adler (1846). 22

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struggle for justice, seen in works such a Langston Hughes’ “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” and Adrienne Rich’s “Diving into the Wreck.” Seeing in poetry a view of existence that names violence as the means to resist it, such as “Anthem for Doomed Youth” by Wilfred Owen, does not fit into this reductionistic critique. This limited view of poetry gives further depth to the reality that his concern isn’t poetry qua poetry, but how the self relates to it as one human production within one’s becoming. It also implies that there are poetic possibilities unexplored by Kierkegaard. Overall, this simplistic view of poetry further affirms that his primary aim through this critique is to call his readers anew to Christian subjectivity. His choices of poetry work well for this aim, but they do not reflect a penetrating attempt to make a case that all poetry is contrary to Christian existence. Consequently, though poetry may use beautiful words to transfigure the present, Kierkegaard tasks his reader’s with rightly relating to poetry, seeing it as just beautiful words, not ontologically truthful ideas and subjectively necessary objects to desire. Otherwise, in finding in poetry the highest ontological truth, a self as an imaginative, willful, passionate being is distracted from becoming. The will has no chance of choosing Christian possibility, as one may never make a choice about selfhood when one is caught up in the rhythm and hum of the poetic. To rightly see poetry is then to put poetry into its proper place amidst one’s becoming. It is a relative good amidst the infinite demands of becoming a subject. The Self-Visual Art Relation The primary example of Kierkegaard’s critique of visual art is Anti-Climacus’ Practice in Christianity. For a becoming self, the challenge of seeing visual art is two-fold. First, the self ’s imagination is drawn to visual art’s depiction of an idealized image. Here, even if explicitly Christian, the idealization of an image of Christ will likely make him into a glorious king and reveal the beauty within suffering, such that the visual turns Christ into an ideal fantasy. As idealizing, visual art is unable to present the reality of the ontological demands of redoubling Christ. This imitation actualizes a life of love, even amidst the ugliness of worldly suffering. Secondly, viewing or creating a painting or sculpture lulls the self ’s passion into mere disinterested admiration rather than subjective redoubling. And without passion, there can be no willful actualization of Christ’s love in the world. Thus, as a regulative tactic, Anti-Climacus views visual art as an unessential resource to promote Christian becoming. It may, as Chapter Four

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demonstrated, move a self towards understanding Christian possibility, but it can never replace passionate actualization of this truth as the basis for existing. Though both poetry and visual art are forms of existence-communication, unlike linguistically-based poetry, visual art is image-grounded. It can either represent “Christ in color or to carve his figure.”23 But as a sensuous image, the importance of the imagination as the dominant interpretive capacity becomes vital. Therefore, the clear aesthetic issue relates to the power of an image, say a Christ image, to shape an awareness of subjectivity. In Anti-Climacus’ view, any artist painting Christ would likely become aware that “Christ has required only imitators, that the one who here on earth lived in poverty and lowliness, without a place where he could lay his head” rather than a life of worldly power and glory.24 In short, painting Christ, and by implication seeing a Christ image, can communicate the reality that the only true image of Christ is one’s own self; it is imitating Christ that is the highest means of representing Christ. Relativizing painting, it is limited, ever in conflict with such imitation, a tension that an artist should become conscious of as one paints. Working deconstructively, Anti-Climacus critiques the ontological content that visual art reveals. Prima facie, the type of Christ image is decisive for any value that art has within one’s becoming. As Practice in Christianity develops a Christology that stresses Christ’s lowly, suffering existence, one that is a corrective to a Christology of glory in which Christ is a powerful king, the issue with the visual then is not about such art itself, but rather the idea of Christ that it depicts. When an artist uses the imagination to imagine Christ as majestic and glorious, and therefore an ideal Christ, it reveals human ideals: worldly power, social standing, and wealth. This type of idealization arises out of the power of the painter’s imagination; through it, Christ becomes “idealized” and “depicted by his masterly brush.”25 The ability to relate to this image is grounded in the aesthetic dimension of the imagination to grasp images. Rather than calling forth a suffering redoubling, Christ is made human, not divine with such an ontological possibility. But in the process, the artist misrelates to Christian possibility: Christ becomes an aesthetic ideal, rather than the true ontological content for an existing self. It affirms worldly expectations, including wealth, self-interest, success, rather than Christian love and earnestness. 26 And it is this beautiful and glorious Practice in Christianity, p. 254. Practice in Christianity, p. 255. 25 Practice in Christianity, p. 255. 26 Judge for Yourself makes a similar argument. “There was a time when art tried to portray the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ. It was no doubt a misunderstanding, since 23 24

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image that then challenges the becoming self ’s orientation towards redoubling Christ. When redoubled as one’s idea of self, beauty and glorification, rather than servanthood, is the content of the aesthetic image. In its masterly depiction, it drives the self ’s desire into the waiting arms of its worldly aesthetic image. Indeed it is a sacrilege, though it may never have “occurred to the artist that this was sacrilege.”27 Such idealization is subjectively untrue as it communicates an untrue ontological possibility. And like poetry, this existence-communication, at least for the artist, is only a false foundation for becoming. The content is not Christian possibility; only the Christian gospel offers this sure foundation. Behind this critique of the idealization of Christ lies the art itself, as in the sensual power of visual art to overwhelm one with its artistic technique. In the process, it is too easy to desire aesthetic answers from art, rather than ontological ones. “The beholder looked at the picture in the role of the art expert: whether it is a success, whether it is a masterpiece, whether the play of colors is right, and the shadows, whether blood looks like that, whether the suffering expression is artistically true,” meaning artistic norms are primary, rather than ethical and religious ones.28 In this example, religious art idealizes a subject matter as an artistic task, thereby contextualizing the artwork alongside of other art. Consequently, though understanding the ideals in visual art, the self ’s imagination is misused, formed by worldly ideas or artistic norms. A self can imaginatively flee from seeing the world as it really is per Christian truth through visual art. Alongside of this imaginative concern lies a critique of the misuse of the passion in seeing visual art. Like biblical scholars and poets, seeing visual art may make one subjectively disinterested. This form of relation is equally true for both the artist and a viewer. The act of painting, in which an artist focuses one’s thoughts and relational actions upon the act of painting, is about artistic indifference. “I [Anti-Climacus] do not comprehend this calmness of the artist in the kind of work, this artistic indifference that is indeed like a callousness toward the religious impression of the religious, a self-willfulness, a cruel delight;” it is to be interested in visual art, rather than becoming.29 The artist is subjectively disinterested in the act of painting. Anti-Climacus is suspicious of he cannot possibly be portrayed, since his glory is invisible, the inward, and he, the sign of contradiction—what a contradiction to want to paint this!—concealed in a contrary exterior. Consequently art will in vain try its hand at this” (For Self-Examination/Judge For Yourself !, p. 121). 27 Practice in Christianity, p. 256. 28 Practice in Christianity, pp. 255–56. 29 Practice in Christianity, p. 255.

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the very act of painting as such. Likewise, the ‘beholder’ views the painting as an ‘art expert.’ In this mode of relating, a self is not asking about what the image might mean for a self within its act of becoming. In both instances then, the decisive issue is the self ’s passion. By relating to visual art, a self ’s passion loses any subjective interestedness; worldly representations lure the passion to desire merely the worldly beautiful and true. Thus, Kierkegaard’s critique is that visual art, when seen in this way, leads to an objective relation that determines one’s mode of relating to existence. As ‘artistic indifference,’ the ontological danger is that it may lead to admiration, rather than subjective imitation: “But if art is going to help, be it the art of the sculptor, the art of the orator, the art of the poet, we will have at most admirers who, besides admiring the artist, are led by his presentations to admire what is Christian. But, strictly speaking, the admirer is indeed no true Christian; only the imitator is that.”30 To admire is to cease to imitate truth within one’s existing being. One cannot even willfully choose a way of being in the world if one’s passion is disinterested in this manner. It is to lose oneself in the painting, rather than imitative action in the world; it is to cease then to become. And for a viewer, a self ’s passion becomes subjectively disinterested through seeing art in two ways. One, a self desires to know more about the artist behind the artwork. The artist’s masterly brushstrokes and beautiful colors lead a self ’s passion to become interested in the artist, thereby becoming passive towards the task of subjectivity. Secondly, even if the subject matter is Christian, say the suffering of Christ, the visual representation can never depict the suffering truthfully; only imitation and/or actual suffering can best represent such essentials within the Christian way of being. Rather than the reality of suffering, the art form leads one to desire the beauty and harmony beyond the world that lies within art. In these two ways, a self ’s passion is led away from subjectivity towards the aesthetic world, full of artistic beauty and genius; the imagination takes over, redoubling the content of the art, rather than Christian possibility. In short, the visual calls forth an admiration of the art and artist, a relation that leaves the will passive as well. But as such, Anti-Climacus is provoking his reader into caring about the selfvisual art relation. In short, he calls his reader to rightly regulate such a seeing. Visual art, being unessential to subjectivity, plays a trick on a viewer about the value of the ontological truth it reveals; its formal quality seems to offer a claim about meaning, worldly beauty, and goodness, but instead it really reveals

Practice in Christianity, pp. 256–57.

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human activity.31 Indeed, in another example, despite these issues, visual art can play a role in one’s becoming. One cannot flee from visual culture, an impossible task no doubt. Instead, later in Practice, Anti-Climacus offers an example of the visual as an aid to becoming. Doing so pointedly affirms the relative value of visual art when related to rightly by a self ’s imagination and passion. Connected to the story of the youth I described in Chapter Four, he writes of a child. This child lacks any reflective content and self-awareness and knows nothing of Christianity. He is shown various pictures of significant men, including Napoleon and William Tell. The child delights. “Then you come to a picture that you have deliberately placed among the others; it portrays one crucified. The child will not immediately, not even quite simply, understand the picture; he will ask what it means, why is he hanging on such a tree.”32 The child will become curious about the crucified one, even after being told about the fact that he is the loving and humble Savior of the world. Such curiosity requires an openness to imaginative possibility, to reflecting on one’s choices, actions, and form of life. Here, the image opens the child to the possibility of relating to Christian truth. This opening must uniquely occur for each individual because of the nature of Christian faith as a universal call that must be embodied within a particular, contextually-rooted self. Through his imaginative seeing of the image, the child develops a passionate interest in Christ’s life. The child, indeed, would grow anxious and angry towards the world, a place that killed such a person. “But gradually, as the child went and thought about this story, he most likely would become more and more passionate; he would think and talk about nothing but weapons and war—for the child would have firmly resolved that when he grew up he would slay all those ungodly people who had treated this loving person in 31 A related implication is that sermons are more important than other aesthetic means to reveal Christian truth. Though in Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses, he distinguishes sermons (as proclaimed by a pastor) from discourses (as written without such authority), the form of Practice in Christianity is an extended interpretation of various Bible passages that overlap with this tension between sermons and discourses. It begins with an “Invocation” and an “Invitation” which states the need to acknowledge the basis for becoming Christian as dependent on God’s invitation. He also clearly references the difficulty and importance of sermons, which must strive to be subjective, rather than objective, as the means of communication. It must lead a self to become a true subject. “Therefore, it is a risk to preach, for as I go up to into that holy place—whether the church is packed or as good as empty, whether I myself am aware of it or not, I have one listener more than can be seen, an invisible listener, God in heaven … he looks to see whether my life expresses what I am saying” (Practice in Christianity, pp. 234–35). 32 Practice in Christianity, pp. 174–75.

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that way,” meaning he becomes passionate about truth and justice, about making things right in an unjust world.33 Anti-Climacus, in this instance, actually values the content of art; though it does not communicate Christian truth to any real depth, it points to it, orienting the child to an ever growing relationship with Christ’s life and by implication the Bible. And as a consequence, this child becomes passionately interested in imitating Christ, the content of the image. Moving from the immediacy of childhood passion into the reflective world of possibility and maturity, as he grows up, the child does not forget this image. But now, rather than wanting to bring about justice through violence, he wants to imitate the suffering of the crucified one. “He no longer wished to strike, because, he said, then I am not like him, the abased one, who did not strike, not even when he was struck.”34 He wants to redouble Christ’s suffering within his own existence. Kierkegaard thus leads the reader towards an act of self-incrimination: “If the sight of this abased one can so move a person, can it not so move you also?”35 As a regulative tactic, he argues that in a self-visual art relation, one can move towards greater depth about the shape of Christian life; the means to this end is the recognition that loving Christ means to embody his love despite worldly sufferings. Seeing the image, transformed the seeing self: “Because they loved him. That is why they discovered his sufferings, because only the person who loves him understands that he was love,” meaning there is a clear relation between Christian love and suffering.36 But he then is imaginatively intertwining the child’s story with the imagination of the reader, asking if this Christian seeing can re-form the reader’s own self-reflection about one’s existing self. Unlike the previous example, this childlike movement suggests a role for visual art within subjectivity. It provides an important example of a child, initially living within the immediacy of existence, moving towards the imaginative and passionate willing of redoubling Christ. In fact, viewing the image of Christ is the moment that is the basis for becoming a Christian: “See, now is the moment,” as through the visual art, a child begins to desire to learn about the Christian way of existence.37 As such, visual art starts this process, ever connected with divine grace as ‘governance.’ At first, he even lacks self-consciousness, a prior stage to caring about one’s being. He lacks any imaginative, self-reflective possibility about 35 36 37 33 34

Practice in Christianity, p. 177. Practice in Christianity, p. 178. Practice in Christianity, p. 178. Practice in Christianity, p. 178. Practice in Christianity, p. 176.

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how to exist. Like the youth in Chapter Four, this child is dependent on some external person, institution, or culture to provide such a possibility. In seeing this image, through the child’s passion, he begins to desire clarity about the form of his life, thus asking further questions about the image. He develops his ontological imagination, with the image provoking such formation, as “the child will very likely be inquisitive” after seeing the image.38 The image itself is thus only a stepping stone; it is the child’s realization of the content of this ontological possibility that makes the image accessible and vital to the development of the youth. The child imaginatively redoubles the image, rather than admires it, relating to it as an account of his own selfhood. And as the child grows and matures, the understanding of the value of the image develops into the recognition that the fullness of the ontological truth of the image resides through passionate imitation. For anyone enacting such a self-visual art relation, Anti-Climacus confirms that love makes such imitation possible. “Why did this sight move them in this way? Because they loved him.”39 Christian love, as the true content of the self ’s passion, completes the movement. The child becomes a responsible and true self in the movement beyond the image into passionate imitation. Whereas the earlier example stresses subjective disinterest and admiration as the consequence of seeing art, in this instance, the movement to subjectivity begins with a visual image. There are slightly different features to the two accounts, as one is about an artist, seemingly older and mature enough to know what Christian becoming demands, while the second is about a child. Yet, both describe art that is linked with an image of Christ, meaning both value visual images as such. So an important interpretive dilemma means thinking through why the two accounts offer a seemingly different evaluation about visual art. The key is to recognize the formal type of self-visual art relation. Again, as in Kierkegaard’s critique of poetry and even biblical scholarship, the primary concern is how a self relates its imagination, passion, and will to art within a life oriented towards becoming subjective. And Anti-Climacus gives us two accounts that reveal different ways these powers are used in connection with Christian truth. On the one hand, seeing art can lead to an imaginative redoubling of ontological possibilities that reflect human and worldly truths, rather than divine humility. Also, it can cause the passivity of subjective passion and the dormancy of the will; the self in this type of art relation cares about the art or the artist, rather than embodying Christian love. Yet, on the other hand, seeing Practice in Christianity, p. 175. Practice in Christianity, p. 178.

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art can call a self to a deeper imaginative self-reflection about the nature of one’s life and stir up the passion towards redoubling Christ. The visual, in this case, never replaces Christian possibility, revealed biblically, nor does it represent the reality of this form of life. But this second example suggests that if one sees art subjectively, regulating one’s formal capacities to relate to it as one component within one’s formation, visual art can affirmatively play a part in one’s becoming. If one, however, sees art as an object independently of subjectivity, one uses its capacities to misrelate to art. Such a misrelation leads one to lose oneself amidst this visual world, thereby becoming an admirer of the artist or the image itself. And like poetry, behind this critique likewise lies Kierkegaard’s own appreciation of visual art. For instance, Bertel Thorvalsen’s sculptures of Christ and the apostles in the Vor Frue Kirke in Cophenagen influenced several of the discourses from Discourses at the Communion on Fridays as well as from Practice.40 Further, by addressing the topic of visual art, he implicitly affirms that visual art is a common element of human life, one that is unavoidable. The overall argumentative aim, however, is to assert that rather than try to flee visual culture, is to task his readers to critically see, and thus subjectively regulate, how one sees the visual as such. Consequently, Kierkegaard here challenges his reader, already aware of the demand to become a selfhood, to relate to visual truth claims as a relative good; there is no true ‘joy over the beautiful’ in an aesthetic sense, but rather only a tactical reminder to embody an imaginative, passionate, willful relation that actualizes Christian possibility. Rather than painting or sculpting, human becoming is the highest art of existence. There is no seeing the eternal in such productions, for the eternal is made most vivid in human action. And in making visual representation an element of his argument, he deconstructs the chimeric truth-claims that visual art seductively and mistakenly offers to a viewer. Self-Music Relation Like poetry and visual art, Kierkegaard does not offer a systematic musical aesthetic; instead, his concern is how it challenges a becoming self due to its decidedly sensual form. Returning to Either/Or I, A uses Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni to develop the demonic, sensual nature of music. Writing as an For more insights into these connections, see Chapter Eight in Robert Poole, Kierkegaard: The Indirect Communication (Charlottesville, 1993). Written from a Derridean, deconstructive perspective, though helpful in linking Thorvalsen and Kierkegaard, the deeper claim of the text about Kierkegaard’s anti-theological intentions is problematic. 40

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aesthete, A describes music as perfectly uniting an aural, sensuous form with natural passion as its content. Like other arts, music is a means of existencecommunication, but its essential form unveils sensuous, abstract immediacy to a listener, rather than any intelligible, redoubleable truth. Unlike poetry, it lacks any ability to reveal any cognizable ontological possibility. This formal dimension of non-lexicality makes music a clear challenge to becoming subjective. Yet, elsewhere in his authorship, music, especially hymns, are subjectively valuable when connected to the Christian pattern of life. This seemingly paradoxical view provides yet further evidence for the importance of the becoming self, rightly formed through an imaginative, willful, passionate relation to Christian possibility, as the primary theme rooting his critique of arts such as music. When related to rightly, the self-music relation can help move a self, particularly through passion, towards redoubling Christ; yet, when one loses oneself in the sensual, aural pleasantness of music, one ceases to relate to Christian possibility as one’s highest art. Thus, what Kierkegaard‘s musical aesthetic discloses is the need for each self to regulate the self-music relation. Doing so, one hears music as merely a human creation, rather than fall unsubjectively into its sensual charms. Formally, music differs from visual art and poetry because of its temporal quality. For instance, in an undated journal entry, Kierkegaard compares kissing and music, both of which have a temporal element that leads a self to reflect on the reasons behind the kiss or music. While a first kiss is incredibly important within one’s history, “in the tonal world time is also asserted, but abstractly; it enters into no relationship to the idea, and the historical does not manifest itself.”41 The point is that music has an abstract nature because as an organized pattern of sounds, it exists over time within any sensual space. In short, it is performed, moving from one moment to the next, thereby leading a listener away from a historical-consciousness into an imaginative flight of fantasy. As such, it lacks a rootedness in intelligible language, of human speech and cognizable truth claims. One ceases to be conscious of oneself while listening to music. By implication, it can never be rooted in an intelligible ontological possibility, one centered in reasoned words that shape one’s historical unfolding. Rather, the imagination is transfixed by sensual abstraction; time becomes disconnected moments of passivity, as no idea that makes one historical (and thus responsible) flutters out from the music. There can be no clear true moment of decisive significance revealed through music, one that transforms one’s self-reflection and thus ontological redoubling in the world.

JP, vol. 3, p. 34/III B 114, n.d., 1841–42.

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Understood more broadly, this passage reveals many of the themes within A’s understanding of music. In particular, he argues that the self ’s imagination, which grounds thinking and reflection, ceases to be able to grasp any ontological truth when listening to music. Music presents abstract, rather than word-based, ideas that then cannot be understood, repeated or grasped by the self ’s rational capability, a dimension of the imagination. To hear any intelligible possibility within music, grounded in the imagination, is thus impossible. Likewise, music orients a self ’s passion towards merely natural desire, undirected by an imaginatively-held ontological possibility. Thus, no willful choice is possible as music makes a self passive towards subjectivity, seducing a self through its sensual, immediate tonal world. Like poetry and visual art, music does communicate an image of existence to the imagination. Rather than an intelligible image though, it communicates immediacy and sensuality as its only ontological possibility. Music is a medium excluded from Christianity, meaning it lacks any essential connection to the spiritual. Merely an immediate medium, in its essence, “music is the demonic. In elemental sensuous-erotic originality, music has its absolute theme.”42 But as sensual, music essentially expresses abstraction, which for A means that it always overwhelms any words within, alongside, and about it. As the ‘demonic,’ music is the opposite of spirit, even though Christianity, ironically, created it. In Hegelian fashion, A argues that Christianity postulated sensuality, with music as the proper medium for its expression, in order to establish the concept of the spiritual, with its roots in words. In this positing, Christianity excluded music “from itself ” as the means to emphasize God’s word as the source of spiritual truth.43 Behind music lies pagan sensuality, something Christianity sought to control. The ancient Greeks had the god Eros who was completely powerless without individuals embodying the erotic in their worldly actions by desiring worldly, material objects. In short, Eros and sensuality were lived through an individual’s desire for sensuous things. Opposite this form of sensuality, Christianity developed an erotic relationship that was based on a representative relation; all individual, worldly desires were to be directed towards and through Christ, the central axis point for all dimensions of existence. Christ thereby stood between the sensuous world and the individual’s desire, thereby modifying it. In such a relationship, “total power is concentrated in a single individual, and the 42 Either/Or, vol. 1, pp. 64–65. Kierkegaard’s original conception of the title of the essay within his journals reflected this view of music as lacking any reflective content. Quoting Homer from The Iliad, he writes, “One hears it, but he does not know it, does not understand it”(JP, vol. 1, p. 57/IV A 222, n.d., 1843). 43 Either/Or, vol. 1, p. 64.

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particular individuals participate therein to the extent that they participate in the particular movement of that one.”44 Pagan sensuousness was then transformed by Christ, meaning Christian possibility orients one’s desire for things in the sensual world. Rather than a sensually-rooted relation, the self as spiritually-rooted is key; as a spiritual being, each person has a divine calling to relate to the world and thus become through a passionate relation to Christ. This spiritual-centered self decimates the sensuous-erotic self, and thus pagan religiosity. That said, the sensuousness-erotic principle remains, though hidden, through music’s immediate sensual form. Only music can express an immediate content, as music itself loses its essential nature when linked to words, as words negate the immediacy of the music. A forms his critique of music out of this claim that the essential form of music is sensuousness and immediacy. Like a snake charmer charming a snake out of its cage, music temporalizes sensuality and erotic love. With this immediate power, music is the aesthetic medium par excellence. A begins with an affirmation of Mozart as an immortal artist, and then tangents into a discussion of the nature of artistic ability. He asks whether it is subject matter or artistic creativity that causes the creation of an artistic classic, itself an act based not on divine creativity, but on good fortune. His answer is that it is the combination of both. “In a classic work, good fortune—that which makes it classic and immortal—is the absolute correlation of the two forces.”45 Further, such a correlation is an aspect of a gift in which an artist asks fortune for the proper subject matter for one’s talent. Mozart is an example of such a classic composer. Accordingly, Mozart the person, rather than any divine creator, is the genius who independently created his art. As humanly created, a classical musical work must have a perfect correlation between the subject matter (as in the Hegelian idea) and form. “Subject matter permeates the form and also the form permeates the subject matter—this mutual permeation, this like-for-like in the immortal friendship of the classic, may serve to illuminate the classic from a new side and to limit it in such a way that it does not become copious.”46 In his concern about copiousness, Kierkegaard suggests that a classic is one of a kind, not given to repetition. One cannot repeat the act of creating a classic; performing the classic itself, rather than the compositional act, is repeatable. And music itself, existing only in the performative act, exists

Either/Or, vol. 1, p. 63. Either/Or, vol. 1, p. 49. 46 Either/Or, vol. 1, p. 53. 44 45

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only as a mere moment. Being only in the present, it lacks any connection to the past or the future, and thus the historical structure of human nature. Primary to A’s understanding of music is how well an idea can be mediated or clarified within human consciousness. As a consequence, the importance of language becomes foundational for his critique. “Language, regarded as medium, is the medium absolutely qualified by spirit, and it is therefore the authentic medium of the idea.”47 Here, in heavily Hegelian terms, A suggests that spirit, which itself is essentially idea, is mediated through language.48 Language has two distinct forms: of words and of non-words. A language of words expresses ideas, or as A calls it, “reflection,” in space and time. Words, when systematized into a language, express thoughts and ideas clearly and intelligibly. A describes this quality of determinacy “concretization.” Non-word languages include music. A states that music can “legitimately [be] called a language,” as it expresses ideas in the human sensual context of space and time.49 Unlike word-based language though, music expresses ideas beyond rational reflection; one cannot glean intelligible ideas from music. Like Hegel, A values word-based language as the most concrete of all media as it states an idea most concretely. To make something “concrete” is to delimit a meaning. It is to make “X” be understood as meaning “X” within time (as past-present-future), space, and the senses amidst human historical development. Further, as concrete, the idea can be repeated. A writes, “the more concrete and thus the richer the idea and likewise the medium, the greater the possibility of a repetition.”50 In its repeatability, a self is responsible for appropriating the idea; it is an intelligible idea that makes a truth claim, one that can determine how one exists. However, as exemplified by Don Giovanni, whereas a language of words concretizes an idea, music expresses the opposite: abstract indeterminacy. Musical language, at least in Don Giovanni, can only express abstract ideas through a pre-reflective, immediate language. “Reflection is implicit in language, and therefore language cannot express the immediate. Reflection is fatal to the immediate, and therefore it is impossible for language to express the musical . . . In other words, the immediate is the indeterminate.”51 As the relation Either/Or, vol. 1, p. 67. Like Hegel from his Lectures of Fine Art, A prioritizes words over sounds, and linguistic language over musical language. In short, A’s underlying assumption is that words better express ideas and thus he values the medium of words as the best mode of expressing ideas and human reflection. See Hegel, Hegel’s Aesthetics, vol. 2, pp. 888–955. 49 Either/Or, vol. 1, p. 67. 50 Either/Or, vol. 1, p. 54. 51 Either/Or, vol. 1, p. 70. 47 48

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between a form and a content, in its ability to convey energy, vitality, and natural desire, music is itself what it mediates: Eros. Being demonic, it is itself abstract, immediate, desirous energy that bubbles forth for a listener, rather than any concrete, repeatable, and intelligible idea. The most abstract idea is sensuality in its most elemental and simplistic form, for what is most abstract is that which is the furthest from word-based ideas. Thus, music essentially is the ‘demonic’ because all it can express is sensuality. As such, using sound to express sensuality, music engages the imagination as pure abstract possibility. Meaning, as in one concrete, word-based idea, is an impossibility within music as the imagination has a full range of abstract possibilities through which to flee from existence. Consequently, even in A’s affirmation of music lies a presupposition about the primacy of words as clarifying the nature of selfhood. Words make ideas concrete; music only reveals abstraction. And as a result, in a self-music relation, a self ’s imagination is unable to concentrate upon a true, repeatable ontological possibility. There can be no clarity about sin-consciousness, no precision about one’s nature and the eternal, paradoxical teacher, as music takes one into the realm of erotic sensuousness. There can be no ethical responsibility expressed in music, as ethical demands must be repeated in order to make a self responsible. As historical, a self must have a past, a present and a future in order to be responsible, but such temporality cannot be expressed in music. For example, rather than a responsible, historically-existing self, A describes Don Giovanni as a self who “dissolves, as it were, in music for us; he unfurls in a world of sounds.”52 Thus, the Don’s life expresses itself as a musical, sensual existence, one that is unintelligible through any other artistic medium. Music expresses abstract, immediate, non-reflective ontological possibility; it expresses sensual existence. Beyond merely the content, however, music’s very form communicates sensual immediacy through time and sound. Music has an element of time within it. It has a meter and rhythm that structures sound temporally. But because music is performed and heard, it has its own time: different performers perform the music at a particular point in time and may use different tempos, rhythms, etc. in the performance. “Music does not exist except in the moment it is performed, for even if a person can read notes ever so well and has an ever so vivid imagination, he still cannot deny that only in a figurative sense does music exist when it is being read.”53 Music only expresses time metaphorically as it does not take place within the strict demands of a set, ordered, clock-based chronological time; it can play with time rather than be structured by the Either/Or, vol. 1, p. 134. Either/Or, vol. 1, p. 68.

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demands of the progression of the human experience of the endless tick-tock of history. Music is also directed at the ear, which is the most sensuous of the senses. It tickles the most sensible of the human ways of perceiving. Because of its abstract possibility, A’s musical explication focuses on it when “perfected” as an aesthetic form; it unites an abstract, immediate, and erotic content and form. Such a work of genius is thus Don Giovanni, which unites musical sensual form with a similar content: the Don’s story of seduction and erotic love. The Don presents to a self ’s passion a relationship rooted in sensual, natural, erotic love, exemplified within the Don-Zerlina relationship, the lowest form of human passion. Here, the power of music is such that it even overwhelms the power of the imagination to grasp a reflective ontological possibility, for it instantiates mere erotic passion within the music itself. Music then cannot communicate concrete ideas of an existence determined by ontological possibility or the temporal schema of past-present-future that grounds responsibility. In fact, within the Don’s musical story, the immediate content—sensual desire—is also the very form of the music. Music is immediate desire in both what it communicates and also how it communicates this power. For instance, Don Giovanni has a power. “It is the energy of desire, the energy of sensuousness desire.”54 But this power can only be expressed by music. It has a what and a how that are the same. “This power in Don Giovanni, this omnipotence, this life, only music can express, and I know no other predicate to describe it than: it is exuberant gaiety.”55 This form and content correlation is yet another reason music is demonic and an example of pure immediacy and sensuous desire. Yet this idea of sensuous desire is a further indication of the aesthetic dimension of passion. Though desire is a clearly lower form of passion, desire is what gives a self life and vitality. This statement is similar in importance, though not in direction, to the value of passion for a true self. Faith essentially is relating passionately to Christian truth within existence. It is to move the passion from a longing for sensuous and aesthetic objects (such as the beautiful Zerlina), as the Don does, to a longing for the proper divine-human relation. Music can thus prevent such a movement. A provides examples of the development of sensuous desire, as I detailed previously. The Page in Figaro exemplifies the first level. Desire, though awake, is like a dream, and is uncertain of the object of desire. Papageno from The Magic Flute models the second level. Here, his desire discovers objects in all of their Either/Or, vol. 1, p. 100. Either/Or, vol. 1, p. 101.

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multiplicity. One can desire a multitude of things in the world. Don Giovanni exemplifies the third and highest level. As the immediate unity of the previous stages, in the Don’s desire, natural desire comes to fruition, fully desiring its object in its particularity, yet seeing this desire universally throughout one’s context. Erotic desire is the principle of action, the power that moves and leads him to act. Ever in the moment of desire, repeating the desire for a particular object, such as through a marital commitment, is impossible. As erotic desire is insatiable, the Don must seduce one and then move on; otherwise, he wouldn’t exemplify natural desire. And as a result, Mozart’s opera perfectly reveals to a listener this erotic content as its harmonic and sensual form.56 This erotic revelation holds A’s critique together, for he views music as having the power to tempt a listener’s passion away from subjectivity. For instance, music can shape a self ’s mood. It can, through various tonalities and orchestrations that produce various harmonies, produce diverse sounds that affect the inner experience of a self. This power is inherent in music, and relates to its sensual quality. Being sensual, it heightens the connection between the sensual world and the self; it calls to passion to desire the goodness of the material world. For example, the Don’s character and dialogue are always given force and power by the music, rather than the libretto (i.e. words). It unites different sensual sounds to shape the mood, for it is able to “maintain the plurality of voices in the unity of mood.”57 It also does not sublimate the mood to character and action. The linguistic component is constantly overwhelmed by Mozart’s music, and its desirous, sensual immediacy seduces a listener. Essentially, A connects the Don’s sensuous desire to a listener’s passion through this development of the concept of music. Consequently, his musical assumption is such that he contrasts it with word-based languages. Music communicates the Don’s erotic passion to a listener. Rather than using a self ’s passion to become interested in selfhood, he musically exemplifies how erotic desire for sensual things awakens, unmediated by any intelligible ontological possibility. Unable to be contained by words, the imagination is powerless, Kierkegaard, who first saw Don Giovanni when he was nine, also saw an adapted version that lacked the scene ultima. The final scene follows the Don’s fiery death and descent to hell as a result of his lack of repentance, and the characters sing lines such as: “This is the end which befalls evildoers. And in this life scoundrels always receive their just desserts!” Had this scene been included, A’s argument that Don Giovanni only reveals sensuous desire would have been more difficult to support, to say the least, what with the ethical ending. See Elisabete De Sousa, “Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: The Love for Music and the Music of Love,” in Jon Stewart (ed.), Kierkegaard and the Renaissance and Modern Traditions: Literature, Drama and Music, vol. V, tome III (Burlington, 2009). 57 Either/Or, vol. 1, p. 118. 56

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the will is dormant, and unreflective desire causes a self to action. This desire is not repeatable nor is it peaceful, for sensuality supplies an endless number of things to desire. Thus, music does not essentially offer a self the means to move a self towards Christian truth. Expressing the true ontological possibility— only revealed and understood through words—is something that music cannot accomplish. Still, behind the sensuality of music lies the spiritual. “That is, it is qualified by spirit and therefore is power, life, movement, continual unrest, continual succession.”58 Sensuality, even when expressed in music, is ever in relation to spirituality. Here, there is a clear dialectical structure to music, as its power arises in relation to a sensuality/spirituality tension. The unrest inherent in music is always mirrored by the rest inherent in the spiritual. But A’s critique suggests that music is yet too essentially sensual, as “it continually remains the same.”59 Whereas the spiritual life reveals a truth that gives a self rest amidst one’s becoming, music is ever about a movement that ironically is not a form of becoming. Sensuality does not lead to ontological formation, and thus finding freedom from sin. It merely stands still within itself, merely pointing to what it is not: the spiritual. The Don’s desire is never quenched, and music can never get beyond this unending eroticism. Yet, A implicitly affirms the possibility that some spiritual dimensions could be mediated through music. Expressing sensual immediacy is only possible through music as “of course, music can express many other things, but this is its absolute theme.”60 But as it ‘can express’ different possibilities, because of this sensuality/spirituality qualification, spiritual immediacy might be expressable in music, though in a limited degree. Though “it is unessential for it to be expressed in music,” music can then transfigure the intelligibility of words such that truth claims both disclose but conceal a meaning.61 In short, it can reveal the paradoxicality of Christian truth, say of being both sensual/spiritual and mediate/immediate, though not because it is ‘essentially’ necessary for music to do so. This view then opens the potential of linking musical immediacy with cognizable words, particularly as a means to stir a passionate faith.62 The logic Either/Or, vol. 1, p. 70. Either/Or, vol. 1, p. 70. 60 Either/Or, vol. 1, p. 71. 61 Either/Or, vol. 1, p. 71. 62 This skepticism towards music as well as the music-word connection is a common theme in Christian aesthetics. Augustine, in Confessions, noticed “that when [hymns] are sung these sacred words stir my mind to greater religious fervor … But I ought not to allow my 58 59

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of Kierkegaard’s argument itself suggests that music can inspire one’s passionate interest in the self-God relation. For instance, A claims that, “it is well known that music has always been the object of suspicious attention on the part of religious fervor … If I trace religious fervor on this point, I can broadly define the movement as follows: the more rigorous the religiousness, the more music is given up and words are emphasized.”63 He expresses a clear primacy for words, implying a connection to the vitality of such Lutheran ideas as sola scriptura. Word-based truth is always essential to religious existence in a way that music will never be. That said, the immediacy of music, when bound to words, can thereby enable a self, maybe one who is too reflective, to qualify this reflectivity with the immediacy expressed in music. Granted, the content of Christian truth must be the basis for the use of music, but such a potential yet becomes possible. For instance, Kierkegaard expresses this prospect in a journal entry on Don Juan. He admits the possibility that if the Don was a more self-reflective character, the opera’s music would have been different. Writing two years before Either/Or, Kierkegaard notes how the music would “employ arbitrariness so that he seduces a girl not because she happens to stir in him but because she awakens a pleasant memory and for diversion he wants to see if it can be realized—or she awakens a pleasant memory—to remain beyond his grasp forever.”64 Obviously, Mozart’s Don Giovanni does not develop this form of the Don. But in linking a different ontological example of the Don, one who is reflectively aware of his past, to music in such a way that the orchestration changes implies that music is not always necessarily sensuous. Mozart’s opera does then provide the perfect example for A to reveal to his reader sensuous erotic immediacy as an ontological possibility. He is not making claims about all music as such, but explicating a particular musical example as a means to tactically reveal the aesthetic form of life. Thus, rather than a deep engagement of music itself, his primary aim is to describe a form of life rooted in natural desire and abstract immediacy. It is a tactic to reveal to his reader the challenges of a self-music relation for a becoming self. Music itself is not primary, but imaginative, passionate subjectivity. Examining other musical critiques within Kierkegaard’s thought gives further depth to this claim. In his journals, he affirms the value of music for Christian life in an entry from 1836. He writes of his romantic excitement over hearing street music: “Why is hand organ music so often appealing? It mind to be paralysed by the gratification of the senses, which often leads it astray”(Augustine, Confessions, trans. R. S. Pine-Coffin (New York, 1987), p. 238. 63 Either/Or, vol. 1, p. 72. 64 JP, vol. 4, p. 284/ III A 189, n.d., 1841.

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is no doubt because of the romantic involved in the mode of its appearance. It is, so to speak, a kind of poetry on the street corner. One does not expect music at all, and suddenly he begins to play.”65 Music as ‘romantic’ here relates to human emotions and sensuality; he experiences a surprising shift in mood in response to the appealing scene that music creates on the street. Music thus has a transformative power on human mood. More importantly, later in his journals, he affirms the value of hymnody. In 1850, he writes: “The eighth of September! The Gospel: ‘No Man can serve two masters (my favorite Gospel)! My favorite hymn: ‘Commit Thy Ways Confiding,’ [a German Hymn by Paul Gerhardt, no. 42 in Roskilde-Konvents Psalmebog] which Kofoed-Hansen (the curate at Frelsers Church) selected today!” 66 Like Luther, music, when it accompanies words, serves an important function for Kierkegaard. This hymn unites the reflective message of the gospel with music, thereby relaying Christian truth to a hearer.67 The broader point here is that in both instances, Kierkegaard affirms the ontological relevance and vitality of music in his life. It has a transformative power that alters his mood and helps him to hear the gospel better. These affirmative examples of music assume, however, that a self ’s imagination, will, and passion already have been qualified by Christian truth (as in hearing the gospel within a Christian hymn) or word-based ideas (say a ‘more reflective’ Don). Yet, like A’s sensual/spiritual musical qualification, music can be a tool for becoming as such; it is not merely the demonic, but can be heard as a means to inspire greater passion towards the self-God relation. It also pointedly suggests that A’s critique of music, like that of poetry and visual art, is overly general and simplistic. He only examines one particular music expression, one that provides an example of the vapid, unreflective lifestyle of the Don. What might A say about Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron, an opera in which Moses merely speaks, countering the operatic form of expressing truth through song as all the other characters do? What about songs from the American Civil rights movement such as “Freedom is Coming”? Kierkegaard does not examine a broad concept of music, but uses one example, Mozart’s Don Giovanni, as a means to lead his reader to a deep recognition of the need to regulate the self JP, vol. 3, p. 769/I A 228, August 9, 1836. JP, vol. 6, p. 346/X3 A 422, n.d., 1850. 67 Luther viewed music as the second best means of proclaiming the Gospel, thereby linking music with words. “For Luther, the hearing of the Gospel was the basis for Christian existence. Music’s purpose is to support the Word of God. “Nothing is without sound or harmony,’ but the human voice is the most wonderful gift of all. Therefore, ‘next to the word of God, music deserves the highest praise’” (Paul Nettl, Luther and Music, trans. Frida Best and Ralph Wood (New York, 1967) p. 33). 65 66

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music relation. Through A, Kierkegaard exposes a reader to the limits of the role that one particular example of music can play within one’s formation. Tactically, A is also seducing his reader into two understandings about the immediate power of music. One, he elucidates how Don Giovanni, as a musical expression, uses the seducative power of music as an artistic technique. In this instance, music—as the highest mode of immediacy—brings into time an opera of seduction in which the various characters are given life through these seductive movements.68 This seductive dimension rests upon the language of music, a language that is sensual in nature rather than spiritual and rational. Lacking reflective content, it communicates sensuality as its essential nature. The second seduction for A is his authorial seduction of the reader. He charms his way into the reader’s imagination by offering an understanding of the sensual, erotic, and immediate world that music expresses. The very approach to describing music as seductive indirectly exemplifies a relation to existence rooted in passionate immediacy, an essential feature to music. Thus, through Either/Or I, Kierkegaard in the mask of A leads the reader to redouble the aesthetic self ’s passion towards the ontological image offered by music (best exemplified by the life of the Don). As a whole, this double seduction tries to provoke the reader into seeing music as merely sensual as well as to become more self-reflective, as in caring about how one relates to music amidst one’s becoming. Thus, as an act of existence-communication, the musical Don models an ontological possibility based not on an ethical or faithful self-consciousness but rather on mere natural desire. And this aesthetic seduction suggests that A’s ironic concern is that someone listening to Don Giovanni might then realize the emptiness and abstract nature of the sensuous-erotic. It will leave the reader wanting less, of a form of life that is empty and insatiable, and more of a life that desires true, spiritual things. It challenges the reader to regulate one’s self-music relationship as such, limiting the importance of music to merely something relative, rather than essential. Either/Or II, written under the pseudonym Judge William, among other places, details the beginnings of this more reflective life. A’s argument is not a solitary critique, but part of an either/or choice related to selfhood: either the Don’s aesthetical life or the Judge’s ethical life. The Don qualifies the Judge’s life 68 In his journals, Kierkegaard gives detailed reasons as to the value of examining Don Juan by linking it to folk music. “Earlier I said that Don Juan is musically immediate and thereby indicates the character’s infinite immanence in the music, that the actions, character, and text stand in necessary relationship to each other as in no other opera … now I find this supported in nothing that the demonic in folktales is essentially musical … ” (JP, vol. 1, p. 54/ II A 180, Nov. 11, 1837).

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and vice versa. Amidst this either/or, A creates a musical juxtaposition between spirit and sensuality by arguing that music’s sensuality is always qualified, always intertwined with spirit. But to do so, A’s chooses one musical example and uses it to explore the aesthetic life rather than develop a robust conception of music itself. This claim gains further depth in recognizing that in Kierkegaard’s own life, music, especially when connected to biblical truth, positively shaped his relationship to the world and his own self-development. To see Don Giovanni is then critically to see it for what it represents: a life in which there is no becoming. One cannot choose to become, imaginatively grasp Christian truth and then passionate imitate it. As a tactic, A’s critique demands that one hear and see the Don’s life as such; use it to reflect upon one’s being. Or use music, when qualified by spirit, to become more passionate about God. In this task, music can actually aid an individual in the provocative, self-reflective practices prominently featured throughout his authorship. The concern is that each self regulate the self-music relation; such a relation is ever limited and relative to one’s calling to become a Christian subject. Conclusion This chapter uses the Kierkegaardian account of the human self as the interpretive tool to understand his aesthetic fragment of artistic production and reception. This anthropology asserts that subjective becoming is formally determined by the self ’s imagination, will, and passion. Within the self-art relation, a self relies on the aesthetic dimensions of these capacities. But as a consequence, he tasks his readers with reflecting on the role and authority of art within one’s existence. True art relates to becoming subjective, making other self-art relations relative to this endless task. Forms of art, including poetry, visual art and music, all challenge such an existence, as they each use beauty and sensuousness prima facie to tempt the self towards an untrue existence. The imagination can be seduced towards redoubling a false image of ontological possibility, rather than the actuality of existence contained within Christian truth. Passion is moved to crave worldly sensuality and beauty. In the process, the will becomes passive and dormant, as the self ’s imagination and passion lead the team of horses that is human becoming, rather than a higher truth. Yet, by reading the aesthetic critique through his becoming self, selfhood, rather than art-in-itself, is the thread that connects these aesthetic critiques. And by leading his reader into the possibilities and passions involved in seeing art, he provocatively challenges

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his readers to upbuild themselves as subjects. This act then opens up new opportunities to reflect on the relevance of Kierkegaard’s critique within the contemporary context.

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Postscript

Here one rightly sees the subjectivity in Christianity. Generally the poet, the artist, etc. is criticized for introducing himself into his work. But this is precisely what God does; this he does in Christ. And precisely this is Christianity. Creation is really fulfilled only when God has included himself in it. Before Christ God was included, of course, in the creation but as an invisible mark, something like the water-mark in paper. But in the Incarnation creation is fulfilled by God’s including himself in it.1 Kierkegaard, Journals and Papers

Being a Christian is Defined Subjectively in this Way: The decision rests in the subject; the appropriation is the paradoxical inwardness that is specifically different from all other inwardness. Being a Christian is defined not by the “what” of Christianity but by the “how” of the Christian. This “how” can fit only one thing, the absolute paradox … … Faith is the objective uncertainty with the repulsion of the absurd, held fast in the passion of the inwardness, which is the relation of inwardness intensified to its highest.2 Climacus, Concluding Unscientific Postscript

Tactically, Kierkegaard aimed to provoke and upbuild his readers to see selfhood as a divinely-framed artistic task. One’s actuality as a living, embodied being, never fully-finished amidst the movement of time, must be creatively produced into a Christian subject. This production is a co-creation, as God gave each person the capacities to respond subjectively to God’s actions in Christ and continues to support the self throughout this way of being in the world. Though God is the creative artist framing human becoming, each particular self is also an artist, with subjectivity as the essential human art. Far from denying the importance of aesthetics, broadly understood, his conception of selfhood is an aesthetically rich one. Though his art of subjectivity

1 2

JP, vol. 2, p. 117/X1 A 605, n.d., 1849. Concluding Unscientific Postscript, pp. 610–11.

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begins with a deeply Christian, yet Socratic-like, moment of ‘knowing thyself ’ through the formation of a sin-consciousness, the actualization of Christian content within one’s form rests upon a decidedly aesthetic view of the self. Each self must respond to divine activity through three interdependent capacities: the imagination, will, and passion. The imagination shapes human thinking, the will is the capacity of choice, and passion inwardly moves a self towards a particular form of selfhood. These three capacities are mimetic ones in the sense that when properly used, they enable a self to redouble Christ’s image as one’s life form. Mimesis is then a passionate, imaginative, and willful endeavor. They are also aesthetic, as they are the means by which one relates to the sensual world. Seeing the self through these capacities is thereby vital to understand his authorship. Consequently, rather than an aesthetic system, he carves out four different, yet internally consistent, aesthetic ‘crumbs’ that are thematically connected through his becoming self. As one fragment, the aesthetic as a stage is a critique of selfhood in which one lacks a proper relation to a redoubleable image of subjectivity; either one is Don Juan (acting through natural, erotic desire) or a Seducer (existing in the fantasy land of imaginative possibility). As an aesthetic critique, this view of the self affirms that art-in-itself is not the problem, but how a self relates to it as one becomes. To relate to it truthfully is to see aesthetic artifacts as relative dimensions within one’s becoming, rather than an end in itself or a reliable source of ontological truth. Within the aesthetic as an art of communication, thinking about how a self becomes gives greater aesthetic depth to his literary playfulness. His aim was to re-present Christian truth to a tone-deaf Danish audience by provoking and upbuilding a reader’s imagination, passion, and will towards caring about one’s being. Finally, with the idea of ‘living poetically,’ this self as becoming gives greater clarity to how such a poetic art of Christian formation is possible for Kierkegaard; it is an imaginative, passionate, and will-filled way of being in the world as one imitates Christ. As a whole, these fragments are authorial tactics, intentionally constructed as the means to call and upbuild his readers to the highest aesthetic task: subjectivity. Thus, his aesthetic concern arises out of his account of how a self becomes a Christian within a grace-filled existence. Because humans have capacities with aesthetic dimensions, notably the imagination and passion, these capacities may be used to misrelate to the sensuous world, including works of art. But art is not then the primary thematic issue, but rather how a self relates itself to the sensual, aesthetic world as well as artistic endeavors. Aesthetics, when used rightly, can even be used to upbuild human becoming as Kierkegaard’s own authorship itself demonstrates. Far from tasking his readers to create an iconoclastic wonderland, he stresses each self ’s responsibility to

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rightly relate to oneself, the world, and God. And he uses a variety of literary styles to do so. He also appreciates visual art as well as Christian hymnody. Whether the sensual world itself or specific works of art, the aesthetic remains vital to selfhood; the art of subjectivity means that one redoubles oneself as a work of art, both in terms of one’s nature, but also by doing beautiful works of love. And this critique deepens the contemporary reflection around aesthetics. For instance, within the Western context, art does not merely reside within a museum or concert hall. Rather, this context is saturated with art, both in terms of artistic production and consumption. Mass media offers consumers easy access to the beautiful artistry of a movie. Watching television bombards a viewer with countless advertisements that use music, beautiful people, and enticing images to artfully offer ideas of a product as empowering people as consumers. On the Internet, choke full of ads and spam, websites like Facebook allow each person to connect artistic images, music, and creative photography to create a public image. Technology gives each person the ability to craft a public persona that tells the world one’s uniqueness. One can also sit down and play a video game, an electronic artwork that allows one to become some other type of being, say a powerful warrior or a car thief. Though many of us might quibble with the idea that the sights, sounds, and enticing delights of popular culture are not “real art,” from the standpoint of the history of human creativity, these artistic mediums use sensual forms to capture the eyes, tantalize the ears, and reveal how life should be just as much as a work from Van Gogh or Da Vinci. That said, in bringing up this view of art, my aim is not so much to define art or detail how it functions, but rather to pointedly offer Kierkegaard’s critique of aesthetics and selfhood as a means to critically engage this context. To think about aesthetics today means to see how art, in a wide variety of forms and mediums, saturates the contemporary context with ontological possibilities. As Charles Taylor notes, artful images and pictures play a part in shaping a worldview that imaginatively structures a social context. Called the “social imaginary,” Taylor argues that visual images, stories, legends, etc., shape how “ordinary people ‘imagine’ their social surroundings.”3 Taken further, art, movies, TV and the like present “factual” and “normative” conceptions of values and ideals that unify the common understandings and practices for a social group through this imagined world-picture. What one sees in movies, advertisements, and even the virtual world of electronic gaming can thus become a standard

3

Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge, 2007), pp. 172–73.

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or guide for self-reflection and moral formation, thereby making aesthetics an important dimension within self-formation. Art, as a component of the social imaginary, can shape how one conceives of the possibilities of selfhood, what one desires, and what one chooses to be. And it is to this reality that Kierkegaard’s thought is particularly relevant. Some Aesthetic Implications Unlike Brown and Pattison’s view of Kierkegaard as presenting no room for art within Christianity, my development of his aesthetic makes possible a Kierkegaardian affirmation of art within Christian existence. By aesthetic here, I mean to offer a norm for regulating one’s relation to art. There are limits to this norm, as his thought, rooted in Christian becoming, is primarily concerned with Christian subjectivity. There is also the descriptive difficulty in that his aesthetic can never be reduced to a simplistic set of aesthetic rules that specify how one should universally evaluate art; rather, the critical guidance he provides reveals how each particular person, ever amidst a unique self-God relation, must take responsibility for one’s self-art relation. One’s character matters as such. To put it another way, his fragmentary aesthetic is a dialectical aesthetic. For example, reading his thought leads a reader into a self-text dialectic. Though a contemporary self is also part of other dialectics, such as the self-church and self-state dialectic, Kierkegaard uses his aesthetic fragments to move a reader towards imaginatively redoubling oneself within an authorship that re-presents the Christian account of being. Like the Socratic dialectic, his aesthetic leads one to question and self-reflect upon the nature of one’s form of life. One thinks about how and what one thinks about, desires, and chooses. As such, his self-text dialectic helps a reader create a critical distance between the self and art, thereby allowing for moments of self-reflection that allow one to regulate the self-art relation. And as a whole, this aesthetic thus requires that a self actively relate to art, rather than become passively overwhelmed or awed by art. Fundamentally, Kierkegaard roots his aesthetic hermeneutic in an individual’s task of becoming as the basis for regulating a particular self-art relation. As regulative, a Kierkegaardian norm reveals questions that create a self-reflective distance between the self and an artwork. This gap allows a self to rightly relate to the art, seeing it as a relative and limited human production; it also affirms a role for art because of its ability to help a self imagine, desire, and choose ideas related to subjectivity. When used rightly, this artistic power can help a self critically reflect on the form of one’s life, thus allowing one to evaluate

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the shape of one’s selfhood. Yet, no artwork can replace or supplant actualizing the Christian possibility of being, meaning art is always a relative good. Only through performing works of love does one rightly relate to God. Though art may support one’s becoming, mastering the art of subjectivity will ever be more important than perfecting a worldly artwork. As one element to this regulative norm, the first dialectical question is: How does creating and interacting with art help a self ’s imagination redouble the Christ image, and thus true human possibility? Here, the artwork itself does not have to explicitly reveal Christ; rather, the point is that art, ever a proximate good, must always be evaluated within a critical rubric that sees the actualization of Christian possibility, and thus love, as the true good. One must relate to it merely as a material work of art, rather than redouble oneself into its world or idea of selfhood. For example, violent art (say a war movie) or romantic tales (say Disney’s The Little Mermaid) offer ontological possibilities rooted in human hopes (such as heroism and happy endings); one must never see these artworks as revealing ontological truth or perfection. One can enjoy such art as limited artworks, but not misrelate to them as ontologically formative. Thus, no matter what the artwork reveals as its ontological claim, a self must relate to art by critically evaluating it in relation to Christ’s love of neighbor, divine goodness, eternal happiness, and the like, rather than redoubling oneself into any worldly conceptions of selfhood. As a result, one regulates the self-art relation by imaginatively centering one’s ontological content in the Christ image. For example, one can see in The Little Mermaid merely a worldly hope that then reminds one that the true ground for hope is in God; it can help one critically evaluate what one has imaginatively grasped to redouble. Or watching a comedy can unite a diverse group of people together through the gift of laughter, a community rooted thereby in neighbor love. And creating art can express a longing for God, provided one does not reside in the longing (like the Christian poet in Works of Love), but willingly trusts in the paradoxical Christ as the basis for the self-God relation. Again, by centering one’s redoubling in the Christ image, one regulates what one redoubles within the self-art relation. Art here can support one’s becoming as such. Yet, in revealing a conception of selfhood, whether rooted in Christian or worldly hope, art engages the imagination. Because of this imaginative power, art can tempt one away from Christian possibility or the imperfect, sinful world. Thus, one needs dialectical tools as the means to help root a self within the Christ image as one’s imaginative possibility. His authorship, in which a reader and text call the self into this critical, self-reflective task creates such a dialectic; by implication, communities such as the Christian church can also help a self

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dialectically frame the self-art relation within the self-God relation. Obviously, this assumes that the church or community is itself centered on subjectivity, but at best, such communities can create such a critical dialectic. Here, visiting an art museum or reading a book of erotic poetry becomes part of a wider conversation with others about the type of imaginative possibility that being Christian entails. Such a regulative conversation also seems to be necessary for someone, like Anti-Climacus’ youth, who is not familiar with Christianity but is interested in learning about it. Seeing an image of Christ can provide a way into forming as a Christian, as long as one relates to the art merely as a human construct, a relation that implies a wider community gathered to reflect upon and live out the Christian ontological content. At its center, this norm asserts then the need for a self to find some critical distance from art, through conversations with others, reading thinkers like Kierkegaard, and journaling, that entail one’s participation in these critical Christian dialectics. Doing so can continually upbuild one’s imaginative consciousness towards grasping the Christ image as one’s ideal self-image. Thus, this dialectical structure contains further questions: Where does my self-image come from? Does seeing an image of Christ suggest that I am sharing in this way of life? How do other artistic revelations, say of a music star’s celebration of sex, help me better actualize works of love? Through this regulative distanciation, the self-art relation can offer a critical ontological moment, as they ask one to continually care about one’s ideal self-image. A further implication is that all forms of art are essentially irrelevant to becoming a subject; they have value, just never essential or necessary value. Even if a work of art strives to depict Christ’s lowly nature or a biblical passage, the attempt merely points to Christ’s paradoxical and loving nature, but this ontological content is impossible to depict through material form. Indeed, other than ethical action, no human activity can rightly depict the true selfGod relation. Art then serves as a reminder of the apophatic, symbolic nature of humanly-created images, deconstructing any artistic truth claims. Ironically, this position makes room for blasphemous art. For instance, Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ immersed a crucifix in human urine as a means to remind Christians that a crucifix is just a crucifix. Serrano states, “As a Catholic, I was taught that the crucifix is just a symbol. We were never taught to fetishize it as the critics of Piss Christ did.”4 Such an artistic critique affirms Kierkegaard’s own negative theology. Art, and any ideas it reveals, are never as foundational as Christ and the Bible.



4

Eleanor Heartney, ‘Postmodern Heretics,’ Art in America, 85/2 (1997): pp. 29–35.

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A second component of a Kierkegaardian regulative norm is: Art must not negate one’s striving to willfully choose and passionately redouble Christ. The issue is not about the aesthetic per se, but how a particular person relates to sensuality. Like Anti-Climacus’ critique of art and ‘admiration,’ in the self-art relation, one can cease to care about subjectivity because one cares about art instead. But rather than creating an artless culture, Kierkegaard argues that each self must rightly relate to art such that one doesn’t become too passionate and willfully engaged within the artistic possibility and sensuality offered by the art. Again, rather than a simple norm, one must find a means to objectively and dispassionately relate to art or to see art in such a way that it affirms one’s willful, passionate attempt to actualize Christ’s love. But as a result, each self must rightly order one’s will and passion within the self-art relation. One must find the critical distance to regulate this relation. It means asking further distancing questions: What does a work of art call one to desire? Is sensual desire more powerful than one’s will? How does the desire relate to one’s highest desire, love of neighbor? Through such questions, seeing Star Wars might lead one to willfully care about ending the injustices of military, economic, and political imperialism in the world as an act of redoubling Christ; art here supports one’s quest to love others. But without such distance, seeing Star Wars might lead to caring about becoming a Jedi; here, it is a distraction. Each self must find a way to regulate this relation, thereby seeing art as a relative good. Consequently, one’s participation in a critical dialectic is thus important within this dimension of the regulative norm as well. One other concern lies with the Kierkegaardian stress on becoming as making art merely a tool or means to this end. Though concerned with the function of art, in his tactical writing to his readers as aesthetic beings, he calls his readers to center the valuation of art, beauty, pleasure and the like as elements of God’s giftedness. For instance, seeing ‘God everywhere,’ as Climacus calls it, means seeing art as expressing the divinely-given gift of human creativity. Like the gifts of love, laughter, joy, play, etc., art is then ever a part of being a creature of God. Therefore, a trip to the art museum or writing a poem is a part of the human experience; what matters for Kierkegaard is that one sees these activities as unessential acts to human becoming and yet gifts of God. Only becoming Christian is essential, meaning a self must care about rightly ordering the self-art relation as beneath the essential art of subjectivity; and in such a right orientation, one can rightly relate to art as beautiful, limited, playful, contingent human acts. Within this formulation, Kierkegaard gives art an immediate power. Ironically, there is then a correlation with his view of faith as a ‘second immediacy.’ In thinking through this correlation, one implication relates to

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contemporary religious communities and liturgies. Kierkegaard is skeptical of the institutional church. Although the church matters, church participation can make faith mediated, rooted in propositional dogmas that one must learn in order to become a Christian. In short, it can distract a self from being singularly responsible for one’s relationship to God. But art, as immediate, can be thus a powerful antidote to an overly-mediated faith, an ideas that even A recognizes. Art opens up a self to experiences that are only partially expressible through words. Though a community must take care about rooting artistic immediacy within the Christian story as well as give individuals critical space for self-reflection, there is then room within Kierkegaard’s thought to affirm the importance of art for Christian practice. That said, even this brief sketch of a Kierkegaardian aesthetic norm reveals several limits to its relevance. Because his thought is oriented at Christian becoming, Kierkegaard is not making general claims about art. It is therefore unclear exactly what is (and is not) art. Also, by assuming that his readers are deeply concerned with Christian subjectivity, it is unclear how valuable it is for thinking about selfhood and art generally. No doubt links can be made between an atheist ontological possibility and art, but such links have a decidedly different concept of selfhood that impacts the importance of art. Yet, his thought does give helpful guidance to thinking about the shape of the Christian way of being amidst an aesthetically saturated context. Some Ontological Implications To fully appreciate Kierkegaard’s aesthetic also requires thinking again about his ontology. For one, the Kierkegaardian self is more than a willed being, as Taylor, Derrida, and an existentialist such as Sartre suggest. A self determining its relation to God through a mere choice or a qualitative leap (even if one made with and through God’s grace), becomes an overly simplistic account of the self ’s movement to faith. In the end, passion, intertwined with the will and imagination, causes such movement as every self has a ‘strong natural desire and drive to become something else and more.’ Ferreira’s work Transforming Vision makes such an argument, but largely focuses on passion as an element of faith. Instead, my argument describes how a self becomes through acts of passionfilled, imaginative willing throughout one’s life, not merely as a part of faith. And rather than a simple ethical choice, this movement is based on an aesthetic conception of the self which demands the integration of aesthetic, ethical, and religious demands.

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Further, selfhood is never merely a human act or a divine act; it requires divine activity as well as a human response. Both are necessary. To become means to respond as a particular self, ever comprised of unique degrees of imagination, passion, and will to the universal Christian ontological possibility: the life of Christ. Kierkegaard’s Christology is then vital to fully understand his thought. Again, through the atonement, the revelation of sin, and the prototype, Christ is the decisive ontological moment for each self. God’s grace, like the love of governance from Anti-Cliamcus’ story detailed in Chapter Four, is also a constant part of this way of being. More to the point, through Christ, God gives each self the possibility to become a subject; as a work of art, each self must respond through one’s particular embodied form in order to rightly become. But as Christ is revealed within the biblical narrative, thinking about the self as a narrative matters as well. Like MacIntyre’s description of Augustine, Kierkegaard’s perspective affirms a belief that “the reader in his or her own life enacts and reenacts that of which he or she reads in Scripture; the enacted narrative of a single life is made intelligible within the framework of the dramatic history of which Scripture speaks.”5 But this narrative focus relies on the power of the imagination, passion, and will to redouble the ontological possibility, thereby making the possibility actualized within one’s personal narratives. As narrative is important for thinkers such as Anthony Rudd, Stanley Hauerwas, Sallie McFague, and Paul Ricouer, Kierkegaard’s aesthetic self offers a key ontological account that details how such an external narrative relates, shapes, and challenges one’s own inner self-narrative. To think narratively about selfhood means to use the imagination, passion, and will; to then make sense of the power of narrative means recognizing the importance of these capacities in understanding human activity and formation. Conclusion To begin again: now imagine you are on the way to your artistic studio. You have a poem, song, or sculpture to finish. Yet, on the way, you see a homeless child wandering the street, looking for a meal. You are anxious to finish your artistic task, but also know that you are striving to become a Christian, and that your true artistic act is to embody Christ’s love in the world. You also know that perfecting worldly art is never as important as the art of subjectivity. Rather, you see your art as a limited, relative, unessential human activity. Though a good, it

5

Alasdair MacIntyre, Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry (Notre Dame, 1990), p. 83.

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is not the highest good. And so you stop to help the child. The artwork will wait as you go and embody the love of neighbor. Yes, one may be an artist, but the true art is redoubling Christ in the world. The true art is to become subjective.

Bibliography

Primary Kierkegaard Works Kierkegaard, Søren, Søren Kierkegaards Papirer, ed. P.A. Heiberg, V. Kuhr and E. Torsting (11 vols, Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1909–48) and supplement, ed. N. Thulstrup (2 vols, Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1969–70). _____, Søren Kierkegaard Samlede Værker, ed. A.B. Drachmann, J.L. Heiberg, and H.O. Lange (3rd ed., 20 vols, Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1962–64). _____, Søren Kierkegaard’s Journals and Papers, trans. and ed. Howard and Edna Hong, asst. Gregor Malantschuk (7 vols, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1967–78). _____, The Corsair Affair, trans. Howard and Edna Hong (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978). _____, The Point of View: On My Work as an Author/The Point of View for My Work as an Author/Armed Neutrality, trans. Howard and Edna Hong (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978). _____, The Sickness Unto Death, trans. Howard and Edna Hong (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980). _____, Fear and Trembling/Repetition, trans. Howard and Edna Hong (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983). _____, The Concept of Anxiety, trans. Howard and Edna Hong (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985). _____, Philosophical Fragments/Johannes Climacus, trans. Howard and Edna Hong (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985). _____, Either/Or, trans. Howard and Edna Hong (2 vols, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987). _____, Stages on Life’s Way, trans. Howard and Edna Hong (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988). _____, The Concept of Irony, trans. Howard and Edna Hong (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989). _____, For Self-Examination/Judge for Yourself !, trans. Howard and Edna Hong (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990). _____, Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses, trans. Howard and Edna Hong (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990).

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_____, Practice in Christianity, trans. Howard and Edna Hong (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991). _____, Concluding Unscientific Postscript, trans. Howard and Edna Hong (2 vols, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992). _____, Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits, trans. Howard and Edna Hong (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993). _____, Works of Love, trans. Howard and Edna Hong (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993). _____, Without Authority, trans. Howard and Edna Hong (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997). _____, The Book on Adler, trans. Howard and Edna Hong (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998). _____, The Moment and Late Writings, trans. Howard and Edna Hong (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998). _____, Fear and Trembling, trans. Sylvia Walsh (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006). Secondary Works Adorno, Theodor, Kierkegaard: Construction of the Aesthetic, trans. Robert Hullot-Kentor (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1989). Aristotle, Poetics, trans. Malcolm Heath (New York: Penguin Books, 1996). _____, Nichomachean Ethics, trans. David Ross (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998). Augustine, City of God, trans. Henry Bettenson (New York: Penguin, 1984). _____, Confessions, trans. R.S. Pine-Coffin (New York: Penguin, 1987). Balthasar, Hans Urs Von, The Glory of the Lord: A Theological Aesthetics, trans. Erasmo Leiva- Merikakas, ed. Joseph Hessio and John Riches (7 vols, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1983–1990). Bernstein, J.M. (ed.), Classic and Romantic German Aesthetics (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003). Berry, Wanda Warren, ‘Kierkegaard’s Existential Dialectic: The Temporal Becoming of the Self,’ Journal of Religious Thought, 38 (1981): 20–41. Beyer, Oswald, Martin Luther’s Theology: A Contemporary Interpretation, trans. Thomas Trapp. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 2008). Bigelow, Pat, Kierkegaard & The Problem of Writing (Tallahassee: The Florida State University Press, 1987).

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Bonhoeffer, Dietrich, Act and Being, trans. H.M. Rumscheidt, ed. W.W. Floyd (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1996). _____, Ethics, trans. Reinhard Krauss, Charles C. West, and Douglas W. Stott, ed. Clifford J. Green (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2005). Bowie, Andrew, Aesthetics and Subjectivity: From Kant to Nietzsche (2nd ed., New York: Palgrave, 2003). Brown, Frank Burch, Good Taste, Bad Taste & Christian Taste (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000). Bukdahl, Jørgen, Søren Kierkegaard and the Common Man (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing 2001). Certeau, Michel de, The Practice of Everyday Life, trans. Steven Rendall (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984). Clausen, Henrik, Det Nye Testaments Hermeneutik (Copenhagen: J.H. Schultz, 1840). Come, Arnold, Kierkegaard as Humanist (Buffalo, NY: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1995). _____, Kierkegaard as Theologian (Buffalo, NY: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1997). Cooper, David, (ed.), Aesthetics: The Classic Readings (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 1997). Crites, Stephen, Dialectic and Gospel in the Development of Hegel’s Thinking (University Park, PA: Penn State University Press, 1998). Crouter, Richard, Friedrich Schleiermacher: Between Enlightenment and Romanticism (Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 2005). Damgaard, Iben, “Kierkegaard’s Rewriting of Biblical Narratives: The Mirror of the Text,” in Lee Barrett and Jon Stewart (eds.), Kierkegaard and the Bible: Volume I, Tome II: The New Testament (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2010). Davenport, John, Alastair MacIntyre, Philip Quinn, Anthony Rudd, (eds.), Kierkegaard After MacIntyre: Essays on Freedom, Narrative and Virtue (Peru, Ill. Open Court Publishing, 2001). Davies, Stephen, The Philosophy of Art (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2006). De Gruchy, John, Christianity, Art and Transformation (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001). Derrida, Jacques, The Gift of Death, trans. David Wills (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995). Dooley, Mark, The Politics of Exodus: Søren Kierkegaard’s Ethics of Responsibility (Bronx, NY: Fordham University Press, 2001). Dunning, Stephen, Kierkegaard’s Dialectic of Inwardness (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985).

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Eagleton, Terry, The Ideology of the Aesthetic (Cambridge, MA: Basil Blackwell, 1990). Evens, C. Stephen, Kierkegaard’s Fragments and Postscript: The Religious Philosophy of Johannes Climacus (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press Inc. 1983). _____, Passionate Reason: Making Sense of Kierkegaard’s Philosophical Fragments (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1992). _____, Kierkegaard’s Ethic of Love: Divine Commands and Moral Obligations (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004). Farley, Edward, Faith and Beauty: A Theological Aesthetic (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2001). Fenger, Henning, Kierkegaard, the Myths and Their Origins: Studies in the Kierkegaardian Papers and Letters, trans. George Schoolfield (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1980). Fenves, Peter, “Chatter”: Language and History in Kierkegaard (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1993). Ferreira, M. Jaime, Transforming Vision: Imagination and Will in Kierkegaardian Faith (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991). _____, Love’s Grateful Striving (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001). _____, Kierkegaard (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2009). Gadamer, Hans-Georg, Truth and Method, trans. Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G. Marshall. New York: Continuum, 1999). Garff, Joakim, “The Eyes of Argus,” in Jonathan Rée and Jane Chamberlain (eds), Kierkegaard: A Critical Reader (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 1998). _____, Soren Kierkegaard: A Biography, trans. Bruce Kirmmse (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005). Gouwens, David, Kierkegaard’s Dialectic of the Imagination (New York: Peter Lang, 1989). _____, Kierkegaard as Religious Thinker (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996). Green, Ronald, The Hidden Debt: Kierkegaard and Kant (Albany, NY: SUNY, 1992). Guyer, Paul, Kant and the Claims of Taste (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997). Hamilton, Christopher, “Kierkegaard on Truth as Subjectivity: Christianity, Ethics and Asceticism,” Religious Studies 34 (1998): 61–79. Hannay, Alastair and Gordon Marino (eds.), The Cambridge Companion to Kierkegaard (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998). _____, Kierkegaard (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001).

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Mackey, Louis, Kierkegaard: A Kind of Poet (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1971). Meilaender, Gilbert, The Theory and Practice of Virtue (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1984). Milbank, John, “The Sublime in Kierkegaard,” The Heythrop Journal, 37 (1996): 298-321. Mooney, Edward, Selves in Discord and Resolve: Kierkegaard’s Moral-Religious Psychology from Either/Or to Sickness Unto Death (New York: Routledge, 1996). _____, On Søren Kierkegaard: Dialogue, Polemics, Lost Intimacy, and Time (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2007). Nettl, Paul, Luther and Music, trans. Frida Best and Ralph Wood (New York: Russell and Russell, 1967). Niebuhr, H. Richard, Christ and Culture (New York: Harper and Row, 1951). Novalis, Philosophical Writings, trans. Margaret Mahony Stoljar (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1997). Nussbaum, Martha, Love’s Knowledge: Essays on Philosophy and Literature (New York, Oxford University Press, 1990). Pattison, George, Kierkegaard: The Aesthetic and the Religious (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1992). _____, “Kierkegaard and the Sublime” in Niels Jorgen Cappelorn and Hermann Deuser (eds.), Kierkegaard Studies Yearbook 1998 (Boston: Walter De Gruyter, 1998). _____, Kierkegaard’s Upbuilding Discourses: Philosophy, Theology, Literature (New York: Routledge, 2002). Perkins, Robert, (ed.), International Kierkegaard Commentary (23 vols, Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1984–2009). Polk, Timothy, The Biblical Kierkegaard: Reading by the Rule of Faith (Macon: Mercer University Press, 1997). _____, “Kierkegaard’s Use of the New Testament: Intratextuality, Indirect Communication, and Appropriation,” in Lee Barrett and Jon Stewart (eds.), Kierkegaard and the Bible: Volume I, Tome II: The New Testament (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2010). Poole, Robert, Kierkegaard: The Indirect Communication (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1993). Pons, Jolita, Stealing a Gift: Kierkegaard’s Pseudonyms and the Bible (New York: Fordham Press, 2004). Rae, Murray, Kierkegaard and Theology (New York: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2010).

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_____, A Secular Age (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2007). Taylor, Mark, Kierkegaard’s Pseudonymous Authorship: A Study of Time and the Self (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1975). Tillich, Paul, Systematic Theology (3 vols, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951–63). Thulstrup, Niels, Kierkegaard’s Relation to Hegel, trans. George Stengren (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980). Walsh, Sylvia, Living Poetically: Kierkegaard’s Existential Aesthetics (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1995). _____, Living Christianly (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2005). Watkins, Julia, Historical Dictionary of Kierkegaard’s Philosophy, (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2001). Westphal, Merold, Becoming a Self (West LaFayette, IN: Purdue University Press, 1996). Ziolkowski, Eric, The Literary Kierkegaard (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2011).

Index actuality 14, 43–4, 50–1, 55–7, 62, 65, 68, 99, 112 and art 216, 236 and the existence stages 177–8, 187, 189, 193, 198 and the imagination 140–3, 186 and the will 146–7 Adam and Eve 80, 83, 89, 104 aesthetic fragments 2, 9–11 aesthetic stage 11–23, 173–181 Adorno, Theodor 35n61 anthropology 48–9, 122, 128, 148, 168, 204 anxiety 48, 51n9, 88–9, 104, 207n8 atonement 103, 247 Aristotle 49–51, 58, 150 artwork 2–6, 8, 94, 97, 118, 126–8, 151; see also poetry, visual art, and music and mimesis 158–61 as divine gift 245 contemporary 240–6 Augustine 53, 150, 165n91, 203–4, 206, 232n62, 247 on the free will 70–2 Balthasar, Hans Urs von, 23 beauty ethical 19, 43, 186, 188, 190 sensual 3–4, 9, 23–7, 96–7, 123, 127, 153, 161–2, 180, 209, 212, 219–220, 245 becoming 2–5, 17, 34, 48–54, 102, 116, 126, 136; see also subjectivity, truth as an art 92–5, 168, 198–200, 242 as ontological 59–60

as caused by passion, imagination, and will 67–8, 80, 118–24, 128–9, 150, 169 as dialectical 74–77 Christian 77–89, 102–109, 118–24 in relation to art 205–10 being 5–6, 11, 24, 32–3, 48–67, 75–7, 80–4; see also becoming, truth and sin 85–8 Bible 4, 58, 194 and objective truth 110–111 and self-reflection 122 as law and gospel 53 as contrary to art 214–15 as revealing Christ 92–3, 109–114, 146, 209 on sola scriptura 233 body 48, 84, 92, 95, 112, 126, 162 Bonhoeffer, Dietrich 59n32 Brown, Frank Burch 24, 27, 205, 242 Christ 102–15 and art 161, 218n26, 217–24 as prototype 44, 53, 92, 107 as savior 85, 104, 162 as teacher 52, 64, 85–7 Christology 92, 103, 218, 247 church 111, 113, 165, 189, 194, 197, 221n31, 234, 244, 246 Danish 2, 33, 39n66, 40, 89 Clausen, H.N. 110 comic 140, 181, 184, 191 communication 34–6, 111, 122, 214, 240 direct 39, 111, 193 existence 214, 218–19, 235 indirect 101, 106, 169–70, 181 religious 44, 137–8, 163, 210, 221n31

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condition 72, 86–7, 92–3, 102–3, 105–9, 138 and the Bible 112 and the imagination, passion and will 129 consciousness and art 210, 213, 229 eternal 100–4 sin 19, 75, 83–9, 93, 105, 117, 154, 164–5, 193 spirit 82–4 contemporaneity 108, 132 creation 101 Davenport, John 58 De Certeau, Michel 10 death 53, 59, 65, 77, 81–2, 118, 124, 154, 214 and Christ 68, 92, 103, 108 and Don Giovanni 231n56 Derrida, Jacques 4, 209, 246 demonic 7, 224–30, 235n68 despair and art 16, 26, 179, 183, 212–14 and becoming 67, 72–5, 88, 138, 162n82, 170 and the will 79–85, 146 and sin 48, 87 dialectical and aesthetics 32, 242–4 and Luther 54, 123 and music 232 and the existence stages 170 and the imagination 132–3 as a relational form 69, 74–89, 94–5, 106, 116, 145–6, 155, 160 as existence qualification 20–2, 57, 69–73, 93, 153, 163 disclosure 101, 236 disinterest 7, 76, 117, 151–2, 178–80, 207–209, 212–15, 219–22; see also interest, passion Don Giovanni 12, 16–17, 94 and the stages 173–81 as an opera 224–36

Dunning, Stephen 17, 19–23 duty 61–4, 121, 185–9 earnestness 58, 147, 172, 214, 218 embody 4, 32, 48, 59, 121, 131, 222 erotic 7, 9, 12–13, 15, 17, 76, 153, 173, 185, 244; see also love and poetry 210–16 and music 224–35 and the aesthetic stage 173–6, 178, 180 ethics; see also virtue, ontological as a stage 184–91 as ontological 57–61, 160–3 and happiness 66–7 consequences 66, 160–1 worldly 108, 149, 164, 170–1, 183, 186–9, 194, 218 ethical stage 19, 169, 184–91 Evans, C. Stephen 86 and Kierkegaard’s ethics 58, 186n31 on passion 150 on pseudonymity 37–9 existence 17–19, 22–6, 40, 99, 106–7, 135–6, 151, 206–9; see also faith, ontological, temporality, truth aesthetic dimensions 5, 13–15, 43, 132–3, 142–3, 153 and communication 32–6, 44, 86, 161–2, 214, 218–19, 226, 229–30, 234–5 and suffering 164–6, 211–12, 222 as an art 2–3, 41–2, 92–7, 114–16, 122, 137, 154, 224 on the structure of 48, 50–2, 55–74, 82–4, 87 existence stages 31, 133, 169–73 on the aesthetic stage 11–23, 173–81 on the ethical stage 184–191 on the religious stage 51, 192–200 faith 9, 31, 49, 60, 63, 66, 68–9, 73, 75, 88, 101, 104, 124, 127, 170, 212–14 as passion 45, 102, 106–9, 149, 157–8, 163–4, 171, 230 and art 245–6

Index and Christ 105–7, 113, 122, 150, 162 and ethical works 54–5, 114–15 and reason 156–7, 160, 171 and the imagination and will 137–9, 144, 147, 156 and the religious stage 192–200 Ferreira, M. Jamie 58, 132–4, 144, 170, 171n8, 246 finitude 51, 80, 143, 183–4, 189 form of life 17, 49, 77, 93, 105, 120, 131, 149, 154–5, 159–62, 171, 178, 181, 197–9, 210 fortune 26, 162n82, 208, 211–13, 227 freedom 15, 17–19, 42–3, 70–3, 80, 84–7, 96–7, 101–102, 123, 131, 151–2, 178–9, 213; see also despair, Luther and sin 104, 111, 232 Garff, Joakim 34–6, 39, 205 God 31, 33–4, 57; see also Christ and becoming 66–9, 71–3, 84–5, 92–3, 127, 147, 156, 163 and love 61, 100–101, 159 and sin 18, 48, 89 on the divine nature 22, 36–7, 51–4, 59, 64, 97–102, 161, 195 gospel 53–4, 61n35, 93, 110, 114, 209, 213, 219 Gouwens, David 103, 133–4 grace 4, 54, 61, 71, 78, 87–8, 105, 123, 146, 156, 195 Green, Ronald 99n17 guilt 51–3, 89, 104, 164, 199n61 Hamann, J.G. 28 happiness; see also hope, suffering eternal 17, 58, 66–8, 77, 86, 116, 153–4, 164–5, 196–7 poetic 211–13 worldly 59, 153, 187 Hannay, Alastair 78–9, 82 Hauerwas, Stanley 5, 53, 247 Hegel, G.W.F. 28, 38, 186n31 on aesthetics 2, 8

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on the dialectic 19–21, 49–52, 69, 73–4, 78–9, 83, 102 on idealism 49n4, 64–5 on the imagination 120, 131, 142 on language 227–8 Heiberg, J.L. 12, 28, 74, 173 Heidegger, Martin 50 historical 17, 66, 92, 96, 103–4, 112, 130, 188, 195–6, 225, 228–9 Homer 94, 209, 226n42 hope 77, 84, 110, 124, 164–5, 196, 213; see also happiness Hughes, Langston 217 humility 59, 64, 223 humor 191–2 Idealism 2, 65, 77, 117, 129, 142, 153, 208; see also Hegel imagination 3–5, 15–16, 51, 54, 62–3, 83–4, 93, 107, 112, 168–9 and becoming 118–23, 129–43, 157–9, 162 and artwork 205–8 and the stages 172, 178, 187, 193–4 immediacy 12, 17–18, 23, 43, 66, 73, 157, 173–4, 176, 181, 189, 198n58, 211, 222, 226–7, 232 imitation 1, 23, 48, 53, 60–1, 95, 107, 142, 145, 162, 200, 217–20; see also Christ, redoubling Imago dei 48, 61, 64 incommensurability 21, 106, 118, 149, 183 infinite 11n11, 18–19, 52–3, 66–7, 70, 77, 100–101, 121, 134–6, 153–4, 163, 173–5, 185 infinitize 135 intelligibility 189–91, 232 interest 14, 68, 77, 115, 120, 148–59, 177, 197–9, 231, 233; see also disinterest, passion inwardness 20–1, 77, 95, 115, 118, 120–1, 127, 137, 149, 154, 162–3, 171, 195, 206 irony 35–8, 139n29, 161, 181–4

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Kant, Immanuel 28 on aesthetics 42, 207n8 on ethics 63, 67, 70, 89, 144 on the imagination 61–2, 78, 119–20, 131 on reason 99, 142 Kierkegaard, Søren as lacking authority 10, 31–3, 111, 122, 221n31 critique of art 23–7, 29, 139, 180, 206–10, 240 ethical theory 57–61 on his faith 199n61 on the Bible 109–14, 209, 221n31, 244 knowing 49, 55, 57, 76, 84, 92, 97–8, 112, 117, 119, 135, 156, 160, 193, 209 language 25–6, 35n60, 36, 212, 225, 228, 235 law 12, 53–4, 63, 84, 89, 93, 105, 110, 114, 171, 174, 183, 190, 213 Lessing, G.F. 28, 150, 195 life-view 32–4, 211, 221–3; see also norms Little Mermaid 243 love; see also erotic, passion and ethical action 5, 47, 51, 58, 61–4, 93, 97, 107–8, 114 divine 4, 25, 52, 54, 78, 93, 98, 103–5, 112–14 human 100–101, 109, 111, 120–24, 148–51, 157 romantic 15, 21, 23 Luther, Martin 50n60, 61n35 on Christian freedom 51n9, 54n19, 71, 88 on righteousness 60–1, 68, 123, 197n55 on law and gospel 53–4, 105, 234n67 and Kierkegaard’s corrective of 61, 114 Lutheranism 2, 33, 39n67, 40, 53, 87, 89, 105, 114, 138, 233 MacIntyre, Alasdair 5, 247 Martensen, H. L. 74, 79 modernity 80, 87, 89, 130–1, 138, 140, 151

moment 13–14, 17, 47, 51–2, 64, 81, 86–7, 92, 126, 137, 149, 162, 171; see also Christ, passion movement 12, 20–1, 48–52, 65, 73–5, 83, 120, 127, 143–9, 158–9 Mozart, W.A. 12–13, 173, 182, 227 music 2, 7, 16, 23, 45, 174–6, 180, 224–36 narrative 5–6, 8, 30, 109, 112, 129, 188, 208, 247 natural theology 98–9, 205 necessity 48–9, 70–3, 82, 87, 137 nihilism 26, 102, 131, 183, 209 norms 2, 32, 173, 193, 204, 219 contemporary aesthetic 242–6 ethical 15, 21, 57, 168, 171, 178, 184–9 Novalis 28, 131, 205 Niebuhr, H. Richard 204 Nussbaum, Martha 7, 27, 40 Oehlenschläger, Adam 15, 25, 139, 177, 205 offense 85, 162 ontological 3–8, 10–11, 26, 31–2, 67, 69, 73, 78, 85, 116; see also Christ and ethics 58–62, 122–3 possibility 6, 12, 14–17, 48–52, 56–7, 63–4, 74–7, 92–5, 118–20 pagan 23, 192, 213, 226–7 paradox 53, 69, 74, 77, 91, 102–7, 115, 120, 239; see also Christ, passion particularity 13, 31, 48, 60, 115, 163, 185, 231 passion 3–6, 114, 191, 240, 245 natural 12–13, 173–6, 180 and becoming 43, 48–9, 52, 58–9, 67–9, 75–7, 93–5, 106–9, 118–23, 148–63 and artwork 206–9, 212–16, 219–24, 230–4 and the stages 170–3, 183, 188–91, 196–200 Pattison, George 25–6, 35n61, 205, 207n8, 242

Index Paul 33, 87n112, 100, 115n65, 216n22 Piss Christ 244 Plato 49n4, 211, 216 philosophy 7–8, 15, 28–9, 32, 50–2, 76, 89, 96, 180 poesis 41–3, 93–5, 108 poetry 2, 7, 10, 15, 23, 37, 41, 96, 107, 140, 151–2, 162n82, 180, 190, 210–17 possibility 49–54; see also ontological postmodernity 209 practice 53, 105, 108, 114, 121–2, 149, 196 provocation 8, 13, 31, 33, 40, 122, 161, 166, 169, 180, 204–6; see also tactic Pseudonymity as authorial tactic 3, 36, 122, 161 use by Kierkegaard 30–40, 170 Rasmussen, Joel 41, 110 reason 60, 96–9, 102, 104–7, 109, 112, 116, 137–8, 145–6, 149–51, 156, 171; see also paradox recollection 14, 86, 171, 177–80 redoubling 32, 52, 60, 92, 95, 107, 112, 118–19, 130, 143, 159; see also imitation reflection 26, 43, 51, 62–3, 73, 154, 171, 185, 198n58, 228; see also selfreflection and aesthetic tactics 3, 8–9, 17, 27, 40, 169, 206, 224–5 and the imagination 134–6, 140 as existential qualification 73–4 regulative 204, 210, 217, 222, 242–5 relating as an art 3, 68, 92–5, 119, 122, 173 objective 117–18 subjective 118–20, 259 to art 206–12, 216–17, 220–1, 230 Religiousness A 191, 213 Religiousness B 22, 51, 169–71, 192 repetition 57, 61–3, 188, 190, 227 responsibility and despair 80–1

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as part of becoming 10–11, 17, 24, 54, 61, 68, 71–2, 87, 92, 118, 145–8, 169 ethical 13–14, 127–8, 175, 177, 187–8, 229 resurrection 68, 92, 103–4 righteousness 53, 60, 64–8, Romanticism 2, 15–16, 43, 162, 208 Rudd, Anthony 247 Schelling, F.W.J. 95–7, 152 Schlegel, Friedrich on aesthetics 15, 96–7, 151, 205, 216 on the imagination 131, 139, 142 on irony 182 Schiller, Friedrich 15, 28, 123, 131, 216 Schoenberg, Arnold 234 seduction 13–14, 140, 175–9, 183, 230, 235 self-reflection 12–13, 116–17, 123, 137–8, 157, 172–5, 179, 211; see also reflection sex 180, 244 sin 4, 18, 84, 98, 193; see also despair and art 210, 213, 229 and consciousness 19, 73, 83, 87–9, 117, 154, 164–5, 205, 240 as an epistemological circle 105 social imaginary 241–2 Socrates 15, 49, 64, 75, 85–6, 106, 116–17 and irony 182 soteriology 92, 108, 194, 198 Steffens, Henrik 16, 25, 139, 210 Stewart, John 38–9, 74, 79, 83 striving 3, 6, 18, 42, 48, 52, 55, 61, 66–7, 84, 93, 104, 108–9, 117, 122, 137, 145–7 subjectivity 55, 60, 86, 120; see also becoming, ontological and art 23, 127, 130, 134–8, 157, 166, 204–10, 214, 218, 222, 226 and Christ 102–15, 145, 160 and passion 152–5 and the stages 169–73, 180, 192

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as an art 48, 59, 65, 77, 94–7, 115, 118, 123, 165 as co-production 61, 103, 122, 147, 195 sublime 207 suffering 26, 43, 59, 67, 107–8, 112, 142–3, 148, 158, 162n82, 164–5, 172, 194 and art 209–11, 218–22 synthesis 67, 70, 75 tactic 3, 10–13, 22–3, 88, 122 and artworks 26–7, 204–6, 216, 222, 235–6 and a form of communication 31, 122–3, 130, 161, 216, and self-formation 13, 27, 33, 40–1, 48, 60, 119, 127, 200, 239–40 and the stages 17, 31, 168–9, 172 Taylor, Charles 4–5, 241, 246 teleology 58, 98–9, 107 temporality and Christ 104–7 human 51, 55–6, 64, 74, 109, 116, 124, 134, 163, 189, 229 Tillich, Paul 59n32 Thulstrup, Niels 38, 74 Trendelenburg, F.A. 49–50 truth 75–6 and the “what” and “how” 76, 81, 95, 117, 145, 155, 162, 197–8, 239 objective 76, 149, 154, 178 subjective 75–7, 97, 102, 115–17, 120, 130, 137, 148–9, 154–5, 192 understanding 3–4, 16, 69, 72–5, 86–9, 92–5, 99, 102, 115–16, 133, 170, 193–5; see also paradox, reason and Christ 105–7 and passion 155–60, 198, 223

and the imagination 117, 135, 151, 213 of a self 54, 67, 83–5, 100, 116–17, 138, 149, 165 unity 56, 133, 163, 231 universal 3, 57, 60, 63, 70, 80, 95, 102, 104, 111, 121, 136, 154, 163, 171, 184–6, 221 upbuilding 11, 27, 29, 40, 48–9, 93, 122, 161, 170, 240 virtue 53, 58–60, 122 visual art 217–24 Walsh, Sylvia and the aesthetic 41–4 and communication 36–7 on the imagination 133–4 Westphal, Merold 170 will and art 127, 204–5, 209–17, 220, 222–3, 226, 232, 245 and becoming 3–4, 48–9, 54–7, 60, 77–8, 93, 101, 123, 128–9, 150, 180 and Christ 107–9, 117–18, 161–2 and despair 80–9 and passion 149–50, 155–8 and the imagination 119, 131–140 and the stages 12–13, 17, 168–73, 176, 178–9, 185–7, 193–7 as a capacity 69–73, 120–2, 126–8, 144–8, 159–60 world 15–16, 25, 44, 48–57, 65–7, 91, 97–8, 104–9, 118, 121, 126–9, 161 Ziolowski, Eric 8, 31