Kierkegaards Fear and Trembling: A Critical Guide

History of Western philosophy
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It looks like you are located in Australia or New Zealand Close. Visit the Australia site Continue on UK site. Visit the Australia site. Continue on UK site. But given the task as assigned to Abraham, he himself has to act; consequently, he has to know in the crucial moment what he himself will do, and consequently, he has to know that Isaac is going to be sacrificed.

Fear and Trembling by Søren Kierkegaard Book Review

The task God gave to Abraham was so horrifying that he could tell no one about it because no one would understand him. Ethics forbade it as well as aesthetics. Kierkegaard says, "wishing to be in the wrong is an expression of an infinite relationship, and wanting to be in the right, or finding it painful to be in the wrong, is an expression of a finite relationship! Hence, it is upbuilding always to be in the wrong-because only the infinite builds up; the finite does not!


Remain faithful to his commitment to God. He accomplished that by actually lifting the knife with the intention of carrying out his mission. In short, he acted. Here the intention was more important than the result. He had faith and had to go no further to please God. Faith is the highest passion in a person. There perhaps are many in every generation who do not come to faith, but no one goes further. Whether there are also many in our day who do not find it, I do not decide.

I dare to refer only to myself, without concealing that he has a long way to go, without therefore wishing to deceive himself of what is great by making a trifle of it, a childhood disease one may wish to get over as soon as possible. But life has tasks enough also for the person who does not come to faith, and if he loves these honestly, his life will not be wasted, even if it is never comparable to the lives of those who perceived and grasped the highest.

But the person who has come to faith whether he is extraordinarily gifted or plain and simple does not matter does not come to a standstill in faith. Indeed, he would be indignant if anyone said to him, just as the lover resents it if someone said that he came to a standstill in love; for, he would answer, I am by no means standing still. I have my whole life in it. Yet he does not go further, does not go on to something else, for when he finds this, then he has another explanation. Although I ordinarily do not desire any comment from the critics, I almost desire it in this case if, far from flattering me, it consisted of the blunt truth "that what I say everyone knows, every child, and the educated infinitely so much more.

If there were anyone who did not know it, I would be thrown off balance by the thought that I could possibly teach him the requisite preparatory knowledge. What occupies me so much is precisely what the educated and cultured say in our time-that everyone knows what the highest is. This was not the case in paganism, not in Judaism, and not during the seventeen centuries of Christianity. Fortunate nineteenth century! Everyone knows it. What a progress since those ages when only a few knew it.

Would a balance possibly require that in return we assume that there is no one at all who would do it? Knowledge can in part be set aside, and one can then go further in order to collect new; the natural scientist can set aside insects and flowers and then go further, but if the existing person sets aside the decision in existence , it is eo ipso lost, and he is changed. Kierkegaard says, "By my own strength I cannot get the least little thing that belongs to finitude, for I continually use my strength to resign everything.

By my own strength I can give up the princess, and I will not sulk about it but find joy and peace and rest in my pain, but by my own strength I cannot get her back again, for I use all my strength in resigning. On the other hand, by faith, says that marvelous knight, by faith you will get her by virtue of the absurd. But this movement I cannot make. As soon as I want to begin, everything reverses itself, and I take refuge in the pain of resignation. I am able to swim in life, but I am too heavy for this mystical hovering.

The story of the princess and of Agnes and the merman can be interpreted autobiographically. Here Kierkegaard is using the story of Abraham to help himself understand his relationship with Regine Olsen.

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She was his only love as far as "finitude" is concerned and he gave her up. He is no longer finitely concerned about what the princess does, and precisely this proves that he has made the movement [of faith] infinitely. Kierkegaard also mentioned Agnes and the Merman in his Journals: "I have thought of adapting [the legend of] Agnes and the Merman from an angle that has not occurred to any poet. The Merman is a seducer, but when he has won Agnes' love he is so moved by it that he wants to belong to her entirely.

He despairs and in his despair plunges to the bottom of the sea and remains there, but Agnes imagines that he only wanted to deceive her. But this is poetry, not that wretched, miserable trash in which everything revolves around ridiculousness and nonsense. Such a complication can be resolved only by the religious which has its name because it resolves all witchcraft ; if the Merman could believe, his faith perhaps could transform him into a human being.

Kierkegaard tasted his first love in Regine and he said it was "beautiful and healthy, but not perfect. He couldn't explain to Regine how it happened that he changed anymore than Cordelia could explain what happened between her and the seducer in The Seducer's Diary. When one has a dream he can tell it, it was real, and yet when she wished to speak of it and relieve her troubled mind, there was nothing to tell. She felt it very keenly.

No one could know about it except herself, and yet it rested upon her with an alarming weight. Criticism is mixed with regards to this particular writing of Kierkegaard. However, Kierkegaard repeatedly writes that "Abraham wanted to murder Isaac [sic]. Others have praised the book as one of the lynchpins of the existentialist movement. It was reviewed in Kierkegaard's own time and his response to the review is in Kierkegaard's Journals.

Hans Martensen , a contemporary of Kierkegaard's, had this to say about his ideas,.

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Therefore he declares war against all speculation, and also against such persons as seek to speculate on faith and strive after an insight into the truths of revelation: for all speculation is loss of time, leads away from the subjective into the objective, from the actual to the ideal, is a dangerous distraction; and all mediation betrays existence, leads treacherously away from the decided in actual life, is a falsifying of faith by the help of idea. Although he himself is amply endowed with imagination, yet the course of his individuality, throughout the various stages of its development, may be described as a continued dying to the ideal in order to reach the actual, which to him is the true, and which just receives its value from the ideal glories, which must be cast aside in order to attain it.

Faith is to him the highest actual passion, which, thrilled by the consciousness of sin and guilt , appropriates to itself the paradox in defiance of the understanding , and from which all comprehension, all contemplation are excluded, as it is of a purely practical nature, a mere act of the will. An article from the Encyclopedia of religion and ethics has the following quote, "in writing B's Papers [59] [Kierkegaard] had personally attained to a deeper grasp of Christianity, and had come to feel that there was a stage of life higher than the ethico-religious standpoint of B.

It was now, probably, that he became more fully cognizant of his plan, and of what was necessary to its development.

The higher and more distinctively Christian form of religion is set forth in 'Fear and Trembling, the message of which is illustrated by the fact that Abraham was commanded to do what was ethically wrong, i. Such faith is no common or easy thing, but is a relation to the Absolute which Defies reason, and can be won and held only in an infinite passion. In David F. Swenson wrote, "Fear and Trembling uses the story of Abraham's sacrifice of his son. Abraham is not a tragic hero, for he cannot claim, like Jephtah or the Roman consul, a higher ethical justification for his deed.

His intention to sacrifice his son has a purely personal motivation, and one which no social ethic can acknowledge; for the highest ethical obligation that his life or the situation reveals is the father's duty of loving his son.

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Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling: A Critical Guide and millions of other books are available for Amazon Kindle. Kierkegaard: Fear and Trembling (Cambridge Texts in the History of. Daniel Conway is Professor of Philosophy and Humanities at Texas A & M University. Cambridge Core - Theology - Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling - edited by A Critical Guide . Chapter 2 - Fear and Trembling's “Attunement” as midrash.

Abraham is therefore either a murderer, or a hero of Faith. The detailed exposition elucidates Abraham's situation dialectically and lyrically, bringing out as problemata the teleological suspension of the ethical, the assumption of an absolute duty toward God, and the purely private character of Abraham's procedure; thus showing the paradoxical and transcendent character of a relation in which the individual, contrary to all rule, is precisely as an individual, higher than the community.

In Lee Hollander wrote the following in his introduction to Fear and Trembling :. Abraham chooses to be "the exception" and set aside the general law, as well as does the aesthetic individual; but, note well: "in fear and trembling," and at the express command of God! He is a "knight of faith. Reason recoils before the absolute paradox of the individual who chooses to rise superior to the general law.

Jean-Paul Sartre took up Kierkegaard's ideas in his book, Existentialism and Humanism like this:. By its very disguise his anguish reveals itself. Where are the proofs? Who then, can prove that I am the proper person to impose, by my choice, my conception of man upon mankind?

I shall never find any proof whatever; there will be no sign to convince me of it. In Helmut Kuhn wrote of the dread of the choice to follow God. Choice, as the term is generally understood, is the act of giving preference to one among several possibilities or of deciding in favor of one or two alternatives. And since every choice has, at least potentially, a moral significance, the primary alternative, which underlies all other alternatives, will be that of good and evil. Choice, according to this common-sense view, lies between good and evil.

Kierkegaard and his modern followers entertain an altogether different idea of choice. In the first place, the act under consideration, they insist, is not to be confused with those insignificant decisions with which in every minute of our waking existence we carry on our lives. Each one of these "little choices will reveal itself under analysis as the choice of a means towards a predetermined end.

They give effect to a prior determination which underlies and guides them. Not with that merely executive activity are we chiefly concerned as moralists and philosophers. It is this Great Choice which, as the organizing principle, animates the little choices of our daily lives. Bernard Martin asked, "Was the revelation to the biblical Abraham of the divine command to sacrifice his son, we may ask following Kierkegaard , demonic possession or ecstasy? Josiah Thompson wrote a biography of Kierkegaard's life, and in it he said,.

A hundred pages later he ends on a similarly commercial note: "One time in Holland when the market was rather dull for spices, the merchants had several cargoes dumped into the sea to peg up prices. On the one side is the world of commerce and sanity-the commercial men with their dollar calculi and the academics who, according to Johannes Silentio: "live secure in existence These special individuals, their psyches stretched on the rack of ambiguity, have become febrile.

Minds inflamed with absurdity, their lives burn with an unearthly glow. Mark C. Taylor, of Fordham University writes, "The Abrahamic God is the all-powerful Lord and Master who demands nothing less than the total obedience of his faithful servants. The transcendent otherness of God creates a possibility of a collision between religious commitment and the individual's personal desire and moral duty. Should such a conflict develop, the faithful self must follow Abraham in forgoing desire and suspending duty-even if this means sacrificing one's own son or forsaking one's beloved.

The Absolute Paradox occasions an absolute decision by posing the absolute either-or. Either believe or be offended. From the Christian perspective, this crucial decision is of eternal significance. Another scholar writes, "By writing about Abraham, Kierkegaard can perform a pantomime of walking along the patriarch's path, but he will remain incapable of the leap of faith that was necessary to accomplish the sacrifice. The poet can attain to the movement of infinite resignation, performed by tragic heroes such as Agamemnon who sacrificed his daughter to placate the gods, but this gesture will forever remain only a surrogate of Abraham's absolute faith.

Abraham believed by virtue of the absurd, whereby the impossible will happen and all human calculation is abandoned. The commentator strains to approximate the knight's gesture of the absurd, yet lacking faith, he is forbidden to effectuate the transcendent leap.

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Even when exaggerated and amplified, however, these expressions pose no threat to the conservative, contractionary structure of the ethical life of the community in question. My aim in this essay is to pair Kierkegaard with the German-born philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche The individual in question is none other than Johannes de silentio , the pseudonymous author and presumed narrator of Fear and Trembling. And although it may be tempting to equate the ascetic priest, as presented by Nietzsche, with the knight of morality, as presented by Kierkegaard, especially with respect to the complex role each plays in the community he is obliged to tend, it is sufficient for my purposes to note the family resemblance that obtains between these two pathological types.

Part One: Introducing the Knight of Morality. Rather than establish their distance from or immunity to the crisis in question, their common penchant for hyper-rational analysis and abstract diagnosis confirms their immersion in this crisis. That they are able to reflect on the spiritual failings of others is evidence not of their success in leading spiritually enriched lives, but of their failure to avoid the pandemic spiritual poverty they both expose and decry. What Kierkegaard both realizes and dramatizes, in short, is that diagnosing the spiritual illness of others, as his pseudonyms are inclined to do, can be a powerful symptom of this illness in oneself.

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We often find, moreover, that the pseudonyms unwittingly bespeak, or manifest, a structural element of the spiritual crisis they seek to document. For example, Kierkegaard employs the figure of Johannes de silentio , the pseudonymous author of Fear and Trembling, to dramatize the enduring purchase of morality, broadly construed, on the lives of educated, progressive, urbane, high-functioning, and seemingly self-possessed modern agents. As he reaches the limits of this thought-experiment, he recoils from the faith of Abraham and relaxes into the comprehensive totality of the ethical universal.

In such a culture, we learn, the emphasis is laid not on an absolute standard of excellence or flourishing, but on a comparative or relative standard. The problem with a comparative standard of flourishing, however, is that it provides an incentive not only to build oneself up, but also to tear others down. We thus notice, for example, that Johannes regularly makes snide, offhand observations about his contemporaries, to whom he clearly believes himself superior.

In addition to his potentially admirable labors of spiritual enrichment, that is, he is actively engaged in a campaign to ridicule and belittle his contemporaries. This latter point is complicated by the likely accuracy of his observations. In other words, Johannes is clearly onto something when he rebukes his contemporaries for their materialism, their philistinism, and their breezy sense of entitlement to the faith they thoughtlessly claim for themselves. Indeed, we know from those writings to which Kierkegaard affixed his own signature—e. Still, one may wonder why Johannes is so preoccupied, even obsessed, with the spiritual failings of his contemporaries.

Indeed, he presents his own efforts at spiritual enrichment, like his silence, as belonging to the past, as if they were either completed or indefinitely suspended. In his new role, as doomsayer and scold, he concerns himself with the spiritual struggles and failings of others, to whom he favorably compares himself. Rather than attend to his own impoverished spirituality, in fact, Johannes busies himself with his occasionally insightful reckonings of the real and imagined failings of his contemporaries.

In doing so, he secures for himself transient experiences of artificially enhanced passion, which he then wishfully misinterprets as signs of his surging vitality. He asserts and mistakenly believes that these transient bursts of passion separate him decisively from his enervated contemporaries. For the most part, this celebration of petty advantages is either comic or pathetic. We encounter Johannes in exuberantly fine form, for example, when he skewers the pretensions and lampoons the manners of his contemporaries.

But this jaunty aspect of his narration also reveals a deeper, and potentially troubling, unease. As we shall see, Johannes is not content simply to take the measure of his laughable contemporaries. He also presents himself as the measure and judge of Abraham, despite claiming, repeatedly, that the greatness of Abraham defies all human metrics.

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Hugh S. Plato's Symposium Pierre Destree. Book Description Cambridge University Press, Notwithstanding its ominous and ostensibly disruptive presentation, the faith of Abraham is actually an extremely safe goal for Johannes to propose to his readers—or so he presumes. Bernard Martin asked, "Was the revelation to the biblical Abraham of the divine command to sacrifice his son, we may ask following Kierkegaard , demonic possession or ecstasy? Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Arguments of the Philosophers , rev.

Despite failing to place Abraham in the various categories he proposes for consideration—including those of hero, ironist, knight of faith, intellectual tragic hero, etc. As we shall see, Johannes presents this failure as sufficient to authorize our resentment of Abraham and to renounce our allegiance to him as a moral exemplar. Johannes thus appears in Fear and Trembling as what I call, though Kierkegaard does not, a knight of morality: Despite the various challenges he presents to the primacy of ethical universality, he reflexively defends the priority of the ethical sphere of existence and the validity of the moral law.

In presenting Johannes as manifesting these particular needs, Kierkegaard thus exposes the extent to which the ethical sphere of existence cultivates for its laws and norms an appreciative and ultimately uncritical clientele. Despite the many material benefits it confers, we learn, the ethical sphere of existence leaves nothing to chance in securing the allegiance of its clientele: Those whom it recruits as its knightly defenders are rewarded for their fidelity with the opportunity to measure themselves against others and to mark their superiority with authorized expressions of power and violence.

The slave revolt in morality begins when ressentiment itself becomes creative and gives birth to values: the ressentiment of natures that are denied the true reaction, that of deeds, and compensate themselves with an imaginary revenge. GM I [6]. Nietzsche famously neglects to offer his readers a proper definition of ressentiment. He also refuses, perhaps with good reason, to translate the word into his native German. Although he no doubt benefited rhetorically from the elasticity of an undefined term of apparently technical application, his readers are understandably keen to receive a more precise formulation.

Ressentiment is a self-poisoning of the mind which has quite definite causes and consequences. It is a lasting mental attitude, caused by the systematic repression of certain emotions and affects which , as such, are normal components of human nature. Their repression leads to the constant tendency to indulge in certain kinds of value delusions and corresponding value judgments. The emotions and affects primarily concerned are revenge, hatred, malice, envy, the impulse to detract, and spite. As is his wont, Nietzsche offers a fairly reductive physiological account of the role and utility of ressentiment in the vital economy of the human animal organism.

His idea, in brief, is that the accumulation and explosive discharge of ressentiment enables suffering and otherwise impotent individuals to gain relief from their pain. In the context of developing what amounts to a pioneering diagnosis of depression, he explains,. Every sufferer instinctively seeks a cause for his suffering; more exactly, an agent [9] ; still more specifically, a guilty agent who is susceptible to suffering—in short, some living thing upon which he can, under some pretext or other, vent his affects, actually or in effigy: for the venting of his affects represents the greatest attempt on the part of the sufferer to win relief, anesthesia —the narcotic he cannot help desiring to deaden pain of any kind.

This alone, I surmise, constitutes the actual physiological cause of ressentiment …: a desire to deaden pain by means of affects. GM III Nietzsche thus identifies the accumulation and discharge of ressentiment as a natural if crude internal mechanism for anaesthetizing oneself. In seeking to vent their copious ressentiment , that is, the slaves had no reasonable expectation of actually confronting, much less prevailing over, their healthy oppressors.

As Nietzsche notes in the extracted passage above, an effigy often would suffice. They hoped simply to deaden their pain and looked no further into their future. Their oppressors, whether real or imagined, furnished them with a proximate target and a guiding pretext for an analgesic discharge of ressentiment.

As we have seen, both Nietzsche and Scheler emphasize the sheer toxicity of ressentiment , which functions essentially as an endogenic poison. This means that even when its discharge succeeds in relieving pain, ressentiment debilitates and sickens the sufferer in question. As such, it can be considered a remedy or cure only in an extremely restricted sense. In short, the discharge of ressentiment makes no one better; it simply allows the sick to feel better and, so, to endure their suffering. Why, then, does Nietzsche attribute the success of the slave revolt in morality to the creative, value-generative power of ressentiment?

Under what conditions does such a toxic affect become anything but corrosive? So long as the slaves vented their ressentiment toward the nobles, they risked either provoking a response they would not survive, or drawing attention to themselves as easy targets of retaliatory and gratuitous abuse. As a solution to the problem of the unruly slaves, the knightly nobles appointed the priestly nobles to quell the lower orders. They were able to prevail over the priests, apparently, by virtue of their superior physical power and force, which the priestly nobles would have been foolish to test GM I This does not mean, however, that the priestly nobles accepted or reconciled themselves to their demotion to second-class status among the nobles.

They seethed in silence, feeding their hatred of the knightly nobles while plotting their revenge. Nietzsche is primarily concerned here to document the ministry conducted by one particular kind of priest: the ascetic priest , who persuaded the slaves to vent their ressentiment not toward the knightly nobles, but toward themselves. He did so by convincing them to find themselves responsible for their suffering and, subsequently, to implement an exacting regimen of self-surveillance GM III Scanning their barren souls for signs of unpaid debts and broken promises, the slaves acquired a knack for the kind of introspection that prepared them to cultivate the quiet virtues of patience, obedience, cooperation, and perseverance.

Under the supervision of the ascetic priest, the slaves were molded into a productive and docile social collective, which Nietzsche affectionately calls the herd. As members of this collective, the slaves became proficient in almsgiving, mutual aid and support, reciprocal caretaking, and various rote mechanical tasks. These miserable sufferers were thus granted the opportunity to identify themselves with the rising fortunes of the collective, which was a welcome distraction from their dim prospects as individuals.

In this form, moreover, the slaves no longer disturbed the knightly nobles, who, in turn, expressed little interest in the measures employed by the priest to quell the lower orders. Had they paid closer attention, the knightly nobles might have observed, and taken note of, the following stroke of genius on the part of the ascetic priest:.

It will do so, Nietzsche suggests, if the members of the collective are allowed or indirectly encouraged to look down on those whom they help and to engage in modest competition with other neighbor-lovers and almsgivers. In addition to doing good, that is, members of the collective will come to feel relatively good about themselves. Prior to the redirection of their ressentiment , the slaves experienced their suffering as gratuitous, senseless, undeserved, and as an objection to their existence. Following the redirection of their ressentiment , the slaves experienced their suffering as meaningful, deserved, indicative of their core goodness, and, so, as a seduction to life.

Knowing themselves to be at fault, they eagerly set out to discover the source of their suffering, which they invariably located in the animal residuum they shared in common with the knightly nobles, i. As they became accustomed to this ascetic regimen, their sense of their own worth, qua herd members, gradually acquired a positive characterization. In re-directing the ressentiment of his followers, we might note, the priest simply adjusted their natural mechanism for anaesthetizing themselves. In that event, one convincing pretext—e.

As we have seen, moreover, their inward discharge of ressentiment also served to obviate the potentially mortal risks involved in an outward discharge directed at the nobles. The slaves were better off poisoning themselves than desperately taunting the cruelty-inclined nobles. In perfecting this adjustment in his followers, the priest also discovered that their need for anesthesia was so great that it trumped even their fear of death.

Until he intervened, after all, they were fully prepared to vent their ressentiment against their actual oppressors, despite knowing that any such discharge would be likely to provoke a fatal, retaliatory response. The priest thus surmised that his followers would hazard their own annihilation if they believed that doing so would relieve their suffering. This means, as he no doubt observed and filed away for future reference, that they might be persuaded, under certain circumstances, to activate and express their will to nothingness , i.

As we shall see, this realization would eventually allow the priest to transform his peaceful ministry into a vehicle of revenge. The significance of this achievement can scarcely be overstated. In redirecting the ressentiment of the slaves, the ascetic priest saved them from their own imprudent impulses, quieted their rancor, tasked them with esteem-building projects of self-improvement, and created a stable, viable collective.

In doing so, of course, the priest also positioned himself to seek and gain his revenge. What the priest understood, apparently, is that ressentiment is always corrosive, even when redirected and repurposed in support of the day-to-day maintenance of a docile collective.

In the case of the herd, the destructive effects of redirected ressentiment are masked by its countervailing analgesic effects. Thus we see that the neighbor-love prescribed by the priest and perfected by the herd is motivated by, and laced with, neighbor-contempt. This is important to bear in mind, for, as we shall see, the priest eventually would have the occasion to increase the dosage and thereby deliver an ecstatic experience of happiness.

First of all, he explains that and how the affect of ressentiment may be redirected and repurposed to contribute to the formation of a stable, tranquil social collective. As a degenerate form of social organization, that is, the herd was never meant to stage the kind of social experimentation that is most likely to contribute to the production of exotic human beings, which according to Nietzsche, is the business of politics. As we shall see, in fact, the comparative advantage Johannes claims for himself is indicative of the conservative nature of the challenge he poses to himself and his readers.

Johannes de silentio opens Fear and Trembling by introducing himself to his readers. No longer able to keep his eponymous silence, he feels compelled to report the spiritual crisis at hand. In the process of introducing himself, he also contrasts himself—and, by extension, the members of his target audience—with his nameless, faceless contemporaries, whom he ridicules for their uncritical, herdlike embrace of modern ideas.

His Preface in fact offers a series of witty, biting observations of his contemporaries, in comparison to whom he is meant to appear both knowing and discerning. He is in fact superior to his contemporaries, as are those readers whom his Preface is meant to flatter. Let us begin by reviewing a representative sampling of the critical observations found in the Preface to Fear and Trembling :. Not only in the business world but also in the world of ideas, our age stages ein wirklicher Ausverkauf [a real sale].

Everything can be had at such a bargain price that it becomes a question whether there is finally anyone who will make a bid… FT 5. Every speculative monitor who conscientiously signals the important trends in modern philosophy, every assistant professor, tutor, and student, every rural outsider and tenant incumbent in philosophy is unwilling to stop with doubting everything but goes further… FT 5.

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In our age, everyone is unwilling to stop with faith but goes further. It perhaps would be rash to ask where they are going, whereas it is a sign of urbanity and culture for me to assume that everyone has faith, since otherwise it certainly would be odd to speak of going further The present author…writes because to him it is a luxury that is all the more pleasant and apparent the fewer there are who buy and read what he writes. He easily envisions his fate in an age that has crossed out passion in order to serve science… FT 7. Respectfully, Johannes de silentio FT 8.

What are we to make of this aggressively buoyant mode of self-presentation? The first thing we note is that Johannes introduces himself in the Preface as a throwback, an anachronism. This is a rhetorical gambit that Kierkegaard later employs productively under his own signature in A Literary Review. He presents himself there as longing for the passion and drama of the Age of Revolution but obliged, sadly, to navigate the swampy decadence of the Present Age. On the strength of this distancing gesture, both Johannes and Kierkegaard lay claim to the detached, ironic perspective of the outsider inside, the droll critic who pretends not to fathom the depths of an age he knows at a glance to be superficial.

At least in the case of Johannes, moreover, this claim is not simply an act or a ruse. As we shall see, Johannes is very much a throwback: As an unwitting knight of morality, he labors to enliven an age that no longer believes in passion, much less avenging knights.

In short, he intimates, he is not to be confused with his dull, obtuse, lifeless contemporaries.