Kierkegaard and the Ends of Language

Kierkegaard and the Ends of Language

Kierkegaard and the Ends of Language

Kierkegaard and the Ends of Language

Synopsis

A timely and original intervention in our understanding of this major philosopher through the lens of his influence on others.

In mutually reflective readings of Kierkegaard’s foundational texts through the work of three pivotal authors—Franz Kafka, Theodor Adorno, and Rainer Maria Rilke—Hale shows how each of these writers draws attention to the unwavering sense of human finitude that pervades all of Kierkegaard’s work and, with it, the profoundly unsettling indeterminacy in which it results.

Excerpt

The difficulty we confront in reading Kierkegaard begins with the author. Who was Kierkegaard? What sort of work did he write? Philosophy? Theology? Literature? Who decides? And to what end? Is it the author alone who makes this distinction? Under what auspices? Or is it our responsibility as readers to categorize these texts and pave the way for their proper understanding at the start? On whose authority? The question is now conventionally assumed to be resolved by his use of pseudonyms. Kierkegaard's pseudonymous texts, we are assured, are “indirect communications.” That is, they are to be understood as merely indirect expressions of the religious truth expressed directly in the theological texts that he signed with his own name. The signature, then, should tell the whole story. As soon as we know “who” wrote each text, we ought to know how to understand it.

Straightforward as this assumption appears to be, however, it amounts to nothing less than the refusal to recognize the problem of authorship altogether. Rather than articulating the inescapable disjunction between “authorship” and “authority” that was so clearly delineated by Kierkegaard throughout his work, the assumption that the signature itself indicates the correct way to understand each text requires that authority concern nothing more than Kierkegaard's ability to determine the meaning of what he had written. The author “Kierkegaard,” therefore, always indicated how we . . .

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