Academic journal article Philosophy Today

A Feminist Interpretation of the Leaps in Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

A Feminist Interpretation of the Leaps in Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling

Article excerpt

Traditional spiritualist philosophies such as those of Plato, Plotinus, or Augustine of Hippo, have tended to immure themselves within a binary framework according to which there is an antinomy between the finite and the infinite, between the here and now and the eternal. Within this framework, the material world, the body, and even human love have often been considered to be hindrances in our quest for the infinite and the eternal. Throughout the ages, established religions such as Hinduism, Islam, and even Christianity have had the propensity to slide into the same binary position. In Fear and Trembling, Johannes de Silentio's knight of infinite resignation, who in his attempt to reach faith or his "eternal consciousness" renounces the finite with no hope of getting it back, is an excellent example of this position. The deep faith in God of his counterpart, the knight of faith, impels him to give up "the dearest things," yet miraculously enables him to fully participate in the joys and simple pleasures of life. Kierkegaard offered this visionary model to his Lutheran compatriots in 1843 as a subtle but forceful corrective to their model of religiousness according to which-in complete opposition to other-worldly spiritualist philosophies and religions-godliness had become a this-- worldly "frank-hearted enjoyment of life."1 When reexamined through a feminist lens, the knight of faith model proves to be a powerful paradigm in today's post-modern climate.2

Silentio's Two Leaps

The metaphor of the leap which Silentio uses to try to pinpoint the essential difference that exists between the attitude of the two knights is forceful, but his analytical exegesis of that difference is rather misleading, as shall become evident in this essay. According to Silentio, as the knights come down from their leap, the knight of resignation vacillates for an instant, but the knight of faith touches the ground firmly and "transforms the leap of life into a walk" (FT 52).

Silentio, a professed knight of infinite resignation, explains that his is a single movement which makes him a stranger in the finite. He cannot enjoy it, cannot relate to it. In other words, he is not embodied. There is in him a break between the finite and the infinite. He cannot abandon himself to either-- thus he vacillates when he lands. He insists that "to exist in such a way that my opposition to existence is expressed as the most beautiful and assured harmony with it, is something I cannot do" (FT 60). Note his 44 opposition to existence"-the key to his disembodiment and lack of abandon to both the finite and the infinite.

He greatly envies the knight of faith's full involvement in life-the fact that he takes delight in everything-the water in the sound, the rat in the gutter, the children playing in the street-all with the nonchalance of a girl of sixteen. As the knight of faith is walking home with the gait of a tax collector, he imagines that his wife has prepared his favorite dish-a calf's head. When he arrives home, he finds that she has not, but he is not in the least bit disappointed (FT 50).

For he has made, according to Silentio, a double movement, having renounced the one he loves best, he is still able to enjoy finiteness and live joyfully. Abraham is for Silentio the model of the knight of faith. He believed, "in virtue of the absurd" (FT 60), that when he sacrificed Isaac-as God had asked him to do-he would get him back, and he did. This is a prodigy, according to Silentio. And he insists throughout much of Fear and Trembling that he cannot understand this prodigy and that he cannot do it himself (FT 48).

But he suggests at one point, that the prodigy might be less elusive, and the difference between the relation to reality of each of the knights a little easier to delineate, if he concretized both his own movements as knight of infinite resignation and those of the knight of faith, by viewing them through an allegory, that of the young swain who falls in love with a princess. …

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