Søren Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling: Dialectical Lyric by Johannes de silentio
Author & Text Features & Frontispieces
Author: Søren Aabye Kierkegaard (1813-1855, Copenhagen, Denmark)
Pseudonym: Johannes de silentio (Johannes = John; de silentio = of silence; Re: Grimm’s fairytale “The Faithful Servant”)
Why use a pseudonym? What is insightful about the choice of his pseudonym?
How can an author be silent? What is he silent about?
Title & Subtitle:
Biblical origin of “Fear and Trembling:” What does this mean? Why use it as the title?
(e.g.: “fear & trembling seized me and made all my bones shake” (Job 4:14); “Fear & trembling have beset me; horror has overwhelmed me” (Psalm 55:5); “his affection for you is all the greater when he remembers that you were all obedient, receiving him with fear & trembling” (2 Cor. 7:15); “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear & trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ” (Eph. 6:5); “as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear & trembling” (Phil., 2:12); “The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, ‘I am trembling with fear’ (Heb. 12:21); “Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth” (Mark 5:33); “I came to you in weakness & fear, & with much trembling” (1 Cor. 2:3); “Serve the LORD with fear & rejoice with trembling” (Psalm 2:11); “They will lick dust like a snake, like creatures that crawl on the ground. … come trembling out of their dens; they will turn in fear to the LORD our God & will be afraid of you” (Micah 7:17); “We have heard a voice of trembling, of fear, & not of peace” (Jer. 30:5); “Son of man, tremble as you eat your food, & shudder in fear as you drink your water” (Ezekiel 12:18); etc.)
“Lyric:” poem or song; poetic, personal expression, connected to feeling, esp. lightness, musicality;
Consider the conjunction: “dialectical lyric” & Recall Boethius’ prosimetrum
Epigraph:(on the title page just before the preface)
“What Tarquin the Proud said in his garden with the poppy blooms was understood by the son but not by the messenger” (Hamann; quoted in Kierkegaard, F&T, 39).
What is its story? What do you make of the quote? Why use it to preface the work? Indirect communication?
“Go further”—what is Johannes’ critique always going further? To what (for others and for Johannes)?
Explain & evaluate: “Even if one were able to render the whole of the content of faith into conceptual form, it would not follow that one had grasped faith, grasped how one came to it, or how it came to one” (43).
Explain the Hero and the Poet. Is Abraham a Hero? Did Abraham doubt?
What gives Abraham his greatness? Can we understand Abraham?
Problemata: “Preamble from the Heart” [“Preliminary Expectoration”]
Proverb’s application in ‘Outward World’ & ‘World of Spirit’ (57-58 ff.)
Doubt & Go Further (41-43) Paradox (63) Knights (66)
Anguish (“Angst,” aka ’Anxiety’, aka ’Dread’—all have no object, hence all vs. ‘fear’, which has an object)
“What is left out of the Abraham story is the anguish” (58)Connection of Anguish & Courage (60, 63)
Who? All (60); Johannes (60, 63); Abraham (75-77)
Ethical Language vs. Religious Language (60) Incommensurability (76, 80)
Absurd (absurdus: “out of tune, discordant, sense-less” (ab- “away, off” + -surdus “deaf, mute”); “that which is unheard of”)
Faith as absurd (63, 65, 69-70, 75)
Resignation (64-66) (to resign, but not as helpless abnegation, not giving up; it is an act of willing)
Infinite Movement (65): infinite act of willing impossibility into possibility as its very renunciation
Two-Step Movement (72): concentrate all to one wish; concentrate all to one act
Infinite Resignation (67: as movement of faith; 74: peace in pain; 75: last step to faith)
Knight of Faith
Knight of Infinite Resignation
[i]Genesis 22:1-24 (King James Version) 1: And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am. 2: And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah;* and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of. 3: And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him. 4: Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off. 5: And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you. 6: And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife; and they went both of them together. 7: And Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering? 8: And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together. 9: And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood. 10: And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son. 11: And the angel of the LORD called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I. 12: And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me. 13: And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son. 14: And Abraham called the name of that place Jehovahjireh: as it is said to this day, In the mount of the LORD it shall be seen. 15: And the angel of the LORD called unto Abraham out of heaven the second time, 16: And said, By myself have I sworn, saith the LORD, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son: 17: That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; 18: And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice. 19: So Abraham returned unto his young men, and they rose up and went together to Beersheba; and Abraham dwelt at Beersheba. 20: And it came to pass after these things, that it was told Abraham, saying, Behold, Milcah, she hath also born children unto thy brother Nahor; 21: Huz his firstborn, and Buz his brother, and Kemuel the father of Aram, 22: And Chesed, and Hazo, and Pildash, and Jidlaph, and Bethuel. 23: And Bethuel begat Rebekah: these eight Milcah did bear to Nahor, Abraham’s brother. 24: And his concubine, whose name was Reumah, she bare also Tebah, and Gaham, and Thahash, and Maachah. * Fear and Trembling’s Mount Moriah: is a mountain range named twice in the Old Testament, once as the site where Abraham took Isaac with the intent to sacrifice him upon command by God (Genesis 22:2), and again as the site near where Solomon built a temple (2 Chronicles 3:1)—but the latter refers to the site of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem (the range stretching between the Kidron and Hagai Valleys), while the former is likely a different mountain range, as it is described as steep and remote, although a number of traditional biblical commentators identify the two sites as one. Its/their name meant “ordained by the Lord” or “worship,” although its etymology is debated, perhaps coming from morah, “bitter,” or morh, meaning “sweet smelling,” from which we get the name myrrh (one of the magi’s gifts to baby Jesus), although can also mean “rebellious,” and likely contains a play on the words “to see” and “Jehova,” or a compound of the four words: “Jah, a name of God,” “shown,” “teacher,” and “fear,” (these last four options imply monotheistic worship much earlier than most historical and biblical accounts report). Rabbinical debate names Moriah as the mountain from which teaching or instruction has come as well as the mountain from which fear has come, and interpret the name to mean “land of worship” and “land of vision.” Some modern scholars interpret the name to mean “the land of the Amorites,” in reference to the ancient Semitic people, although this, too, is dubious, as Amorites may be referring to Moreh (Genesis 22:4), which places them in south central Israel, in a landscape too disparate from the one described as Abraham’s site, or to Hamorites (Jdg 9:28), which may be more accurate because it is, at least, in the biblical vicinity of Shechem, between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim, near to today’s Nablus and the highest mountains in the West Bank, although may be too far away for the biblical depiction of Abraham’s three day journey. Other scholars think the Moriah named in Abraham’s account refers to a place of the “fruitful” and “rebellious,” named after an event or character of its local inhabitants, whereas the name Moreh is somewhere else and takes its name from a person.
[ii]Speech in Praise of Abraham: Compare: “The poet is so to speak the hero’s better nature … therefore no one who was great will be forgotten” (49-50). “[When] it is with heroism that the father has to make that sacrifice. … for the well-being of the whole … every free-born man will understand [the hero], every stout-hearted woman admire him …” (86–ital. mine). To: “[Abraham was] great with that power whose strength is powerlessness, great in that wisdom whose secret is folly, great in that hope whose outward form is insanity, great in that love which is hatred of self” (50–ital. mine) … “He left behind his worldly understanding and took with him his faith” (50, ital. mine). “If only he had been disowned, cast out from God’s grace, he would have understood it better. As it was it looked more like a mockery of himself and his faith” (51–ital. mine).
Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling, Problema I: I) Is there a Teleological Suspension of the Ethical? Teleology: the study of causes, ends, purpose, goal (telos: that to which and for which things aim): Aristotle’s “function argument” (Nicomachean Ethics): every thing that is, is for some purpose/reason, which is its function; perfecting one’s function yields arête (Greek, “excellence,” “virtue”), e.g.: Thing: Function: Perfection: Knife To cut Excellent, sharp, strong knife Plant To grow, reproduce Excellent, vigorous, healthy plant Human “Activity of soul in accord w/reason” Excellent, virtuous, happy person Ethics: (ethos: “character” as related to “custom”) the study of moral character & about moral judgments; examines spirit, disposition, behavior, & attributes of one’s self & relations to others; however, for F&T, the ethical is defined as: 1) norms of the society or whole; 2) a way of living with regard to and for the whole. To ask: “is there a teleological suspension of the ethical,”asks: can we judge actions or their purposes if suspended from consideration and judgment are the norms by which a society coheres and lives? For Aristotle: can you judge a knife’s excellence without regard to its ability to cut? Can you judge a person’s character/actions without regard to whether their reason is properly ruling over their desiring and sensitive aspects? For Kierkegaard: Can you judge a person’s character/actions without regard to their accord with universal, societal moral codes, in regard to others individually and the collective whole? If we cannot answer yes: we cannot think/judge Abraham a good man, the father of faith; but only a criminal. II) The Ethical: vs. The Individual: universal (i.e., applies to all); particular; applies at every moment (i.e., always, for all); ethical task: express self in universal; immanent in itself (i.e., is its own telos (for itself)); assertion of particularity: sin, temptation; telos for all else (i.e., is the greatest good); redemption: reconcile one’s particularity with the furthest one can go (i.e., nothing higher, better, greater than it). universal (i.e., surrender part to the one). Thus … to “give oneself up” to the universal is “the highest that can be said of man and his existence,” is “a person’s eternal blessedness” (83). However … If the ethical is the highest end, the greatest good, then we are blameworthy for not “protesting loudly and clearly against the honour and glory enjoyed by Abraham as the father of faith when he should really be remitted to some lower court and exposed as a murderer” (84). Therefore … if we wish to uphold Abraham, whose movement is that of sin, we must suspend ethical judgment; for “faith is just this paradox, that the single individual is higher than the universal, though in such a way, be it noted, that the movement is repeated, that is, that, having been in the universal, the single individual now sets himself apart as the particular above the universal” (84). III) The Hero vs. Abraham: Stays within Ethical (no suspension of the ethical) Oversteps the Ethical (suspension of the ethical) Act’s telos expresses higher expression of the ethical Act’s telos in higher expression (faith) Parental ethical relation surrendered for societal ethical relation Parental suspended for faith relation IV) Consequences: We cannot understand him: we cannot understand hubris as piety, evil as good, and goodness as sin
“Then why does Abraham do it? For God’s sake, and what is exactly the same, for his own. He does it because God demands this proof of his faith; he does it for his own sake in order to be able to produce the proof” (88). So, go ahead, call Abraham’s act a trial, a temptation … but it is the ethical that tempts him from fulfilling God’s will.
He cannot explain: language is universal; he has transgressed the universal, has no recourse to it
“Abraham cannot be mediated, … he cannot speak. The moment I speak I express the universal, and when I do not no one can understand me. So the moment Abraham wants to express himself … he has to say that his situation is one of temptation, for he has no higher expression of the universal that overrides the universal he transgresses” (89).
How does he exist?
“as the particular in opposition to the universal” (90)—to us, this can only appear to be sin; to Abraham, it is existence as faith: “That is the paradox that keeps him at the extremity and which he cannot make clear to anyone else, for the paradox is that he puts himself as the single individual in an absolute relation to the absolute” (90).
Fear & Trembling Notes in More Detail
The Sickness Unto Death
Concept of Anxiety
Ch.IV: Anxiety of Sin or Anxiety as the Consequence of Sin in the Single Individual
Summation of proceeding: “The history of the individual life proceeds in a movement from state to state. Every state is posited by a leap. As sin entered into the world, so it continues to enter into the world if it is not halted. Nevertheless, every such repetition is not a simple consequence but a new leap. Every such leap is preceded by a state as the closest psychological approximation. This state is the object of psychology. To the extent that in every state possibility is present, anxiety is also present. Such is the case after sin is posited, for only in the good is there a unity of state and transition” (113).
Anxiety is not annulled by the leap
We presume it would be, since anxiety is generated by possibility (“anxiety is defined as freedom’s disclosure to itself in possibility” (111)), and once sin is posited (leap), thus becomes an actual sin, we assume possibility becomes actuality and thereby annuls the anxiety … this is not the case.
Once sin is posited, anxiety now stands in relation to what is posited and what is the future; Anxiety’s “object” is no longer possibility (hence, lacks an object), but is now a determinate something and its nothing is an actual something because we have now posited good and evil concretely (111).
Sin is posited in the particular individual by a qualitative leap; w/ this positing, good & evil come to be.
§1: Anxiety about Evil:
The posited sin is:
A) an annulled possibility as an unwarranted actuality
As such, anxiety can relate itself to it and undertake work to negate sin;
Sin signifies the concrete; anxiety wants the sin to go away, but not entirely (114)—Antipathetic sympathy and sympathetic antipathy—the simultaneous attraction-repulsion response;
Over time, this anxiety is most visible; anxiety desperate for repentance;
Repentance is always one step behind, always fails;
B) a consequence that is foreign to freedom
Anxiety here relates itself to the future appearance of this consequence, which is a possibility of a new state, knowing that no matter how low, one can sink lower;
Over time, this anxiety seems to fade, but spirit knows it is the most powerful;
“The only thing that is truly able to disarm the sophistry of sin is faith, courage to believe that the state itself is a new sin, courage to renounce anxiety without anxiety, which only faith can do; faith does not thereby annihilate anxiety, but, itself eternally young, it extricates itself from anxiety’s moment of death. Only faith is able to do this, for only in faith is the synthesis eternal and at every moment possible” (117).
§2: Anxiety about the Good:
Sin is posited (leap), and the individual continues in sin, and there are two formations in it:
A) formation in the good: in sin, and anxiety about evil
B) formation in evil (the Demonic): in sin, and anxiety about (& unfree relation to) good
The Aesthetic-Metaphysical View of the Demonic:
Demonic seen as misfortune, fate;
Approached sympathetically (not a good to sufferer; a means of protecting one’s own egotism: sympathy acquires significance/meaning by distinction of self from sufferer: “If the demonic is a fate, it may happen to anyone” (120));
The Ethical View of the Demonic:
Demonic see as something to be condemned;
Ethical judgment so severe to show “its sympathy was of a better quality” (121);
Identifies itself in thought with the phenomenon, which is shown to be guilt (hence, “the demoniac himself, according to his better possibility, would in fact desire all the cruelty and severity that was used against him” (121));
The Medical-Therapeutic View of the Demonic:
Demonic seen as something to be treated with medicine;
Viewed as purely physical and somatic;
“That three so different views are possible shows the ambiguity of the phenomenon and indicates that in a sense it belongs in all three spheres: the somatic [bodily], the psychic [mental], and the pneumatic [spiritual/of soul]” (122).
The Demonic: “there are traces of it in every man, as surely as every man is a sinner. … In innocence there can be no question of the demonic” (122). “The demonic is a state. Out of this state, the particular sinful act can constantly break forth. However, the state is a possibility, although in relation to innocence it is an actuality posited by the qualitative leap. The demonic is anxiety about the good.”
Freedom not posited as freedom; freedom’s possibility is anxiety in the individual;
Freedom is posited as unfreedom (freedom is lost); freedom’s possibility is anxiety in the individual; but the absolute difference: freedom’s possibility is in relation to unfreedom (the opposite of innocence), hence a qualification disposed toward freedom;
Demonic desires to close itself off (despite this being an impossibility)—hence:
“The demonic is inclosing reserve and the unfreely disclosed”(123).
Inclosing Reserve: “is precisely the mute, and when it is to express itself, this must take place contrary to its will, since freedom, which underlies unfreedom or is its ground, by entering into communication with freedom from without, revolts and now betrays unfreedom in such a way that it is the individual who in anxiety betrays himself against his will” (123).
Freedom is expansive; the Unfree closes in on itself;
Metaphysically expressed, evil is the negative; Ethically expressed, evil is inclosing reserve;
Breaking the silence of the Inclosing Reserve needs a higher demon or silence (125).
Disclosure: “The demonic is inclosing reserve, the demonic is anxiety about the good. Let the inclosing reserve be x, denoting the most terrible, the most insignificant, the horrible, whose presence in life few probably even dream about, but also the trifles to which no one pays attention. What then is the significance of the good as x? It signifies disclosure” (126-7).
May signify the highest (redemption) or insignificant (accidental remark);
Disclosure is the good because it is the first expression of salvation;