Tuesday, 28 May 2019

Fear and Trembling

I am reading Alastair Hannay’s translation of Søren Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling (Fear and Trembling by Søren Kierkegaard; Translated by Alastair Hannay; Penguin Classics). In the final section of his 30 page Introduction to the book, Hannay suggests that there are parallels between the theme of Fear and Trembling and Kierkegaard’s life. He notes that as an expert psychologist Kierkegaard was quite capable of using the medium of his literary work to reflect on the issues in his life. Here’s an excerpt from Hannay’s Introduction (Page 35):

"Fear and Trembling belongs to the series of works (Either/OrRepetitionStages on Life’s Way) concerned with ‘realizing the universal’, a theme close to Kierkegaard’s heart in view of his decision not to proceed with his marriage. But in Fear and Trembling this theme is set in sharp juxtaposition with two others, faith and sacrifice. The relevance of the latter, and thus also the appeal to Kierkegaard of the story of Abraham and Isaac, is obvious enough. In one respect Kierkegaard was sacrificing Regine, who obviously wanted the marriage; in another he was sacrificing himself, since he obviously wanted Regine; and in yet another he perhaps felt that his whole life had been sacrificed through his father (Abraham?), at least ruined as far as being healthily adapted in mind as well as body to accepting the responsibilities and pleasures of family life and a solid job is concerned, and therefore a preparation for some higher mission. As an expert psychologist Kierkegaard was well able to sort out these possible constructions of his situations for himself, and to question the corresponding motives, as well as his own motives for adopting any of them. Thus, to think of the pain he caused Regine as a sacrifice to a higher mission the pain his father caused him had somehow prepared him, and maybe even specially him, to carry out, could well be a stratagem to conceal some less worthy motive. The ways in which he thought of handling the break with Regine are repeated (from his journal) in the final version he constructs of the legend of Agnete and the merman. So too with faith. In his journals he wrote that if he had had faith — faith for his life — he would have stayed with Regine. But that too would have required sacrifice, at least of his career as a writer and all that his life had seemed to be a preparation for."

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