Academic journal article Philosophy Today

The (IN-)Appropriateness of Using the Feminine as Paradigm: The Case of Kierkegaard

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

The (IN-)Appropriateness of Using the Feminine as Paradigm: The Case of Kierkegaard

Article excerpt

Kierkegaard has not escaped a recent tendency of feminist theory to reexamine in a positive light texts in which a male thinker privileges the feminine for both sexes.1 First identified in-or adopted by-practitioners of deconstruction, the positioning has increasingly been projected back onto philosophers of past centuries-particularly on those who have proffered a complementary ideal, to wit, a harmonious balancing of masculine and feminine qualities in individuals of either sex. Indeed, over against the notion of a subject capable through knowledge and action to exercise control and mastery over the object-the world and the other-the Danish philosopher, both directly and indirectly via his Christian pseudonyms. sought to release the feminine from women and to extend its solicitation to men as well. In The Sickness unto Death (1849), Anti-Climacus. the pseudonym closest to Kierkegaard, declares the basic structure of selfhood, hence the task of achieving a balanced synthesis of the elements constitutive of the self, to be the same for both sexes. This little book, which Kierkegaard acknowledges as editor, has much to impart through its gender based. and perhaps also gender biased, analysis of despair: however. the focus of the following pages will not be the modalities of the self, but Anti-Climacus's presentation of the feminine mode of relating as the pattern for Christian life. To this text must be added "The Woman Who Was a Sinner" (1850), its natural complement insofar as Kierkegaard in person expresses much the same thought. In the "Poetic Venture" (23-48) of Philosophical Fragments (1844), Johannes Climacus2 shows via his parable of the king and the maiden how to bring about the ideal of a less hierarchically structured, hence feminine (in the traditional acceptation of the term) relationship between God and human beings, between human beings among themselves. Because the vertical relation binding individuals to the divinity is a two-way relation, the highest pseudonym and his author logically concentrate their attention on the ascending movement. the non-Christian pseudonym on the descending one. Our analysis will therefore have to take this dual process into consideration.

Ever since Simone de Beauvoir, some feminists have been saying: "Let us develop our masculine side and let the men develop their feminine side. Let us abolish a difference that has only served to exploit us." "Why is it." we wish to ask, "that at the moment when something positive occurs on the woman's side. there immediately arises a discourse of androgyny. of non-sexual difference?" By an unexpected twist, a corollary of this position has been the lavishing of much praise by neo-. as well as by classical, feminists, on male writers who have tendered, or at least been thought to tender, an androgynous model of selfhood. But can the desire to view Kierkegaard as a protodeconstructionist and favorably to interpret his injunctions (in person, or in persona) to heed the feminine voice be dissociated from a questionable reliance on metaphysical assumptions that perpetuate the roles traditionally assigned to the sexes? Can men (and women) be encouraged to adopt a feminine position without the underpinning being a compulsory dyadic value system which ultimately relies on the dimorphic structure of human anatomy and on the distinction between the male and the female roles in reproduction? What happens to actual women when the feminine first assigned to them becomes an ethico-religious category shared by both sexes?

The Feminine as Paradigm for the Human-Divine relation

In the crucial footnote of The Sickness unto Death where he declares the sexual difference erased in the God-relationship and the realization of full selfhood equally available to women and men, Anti-Climacus shows the proper way for the self to acquire selfhood: "It holds for men as well as for women that devotion is the self and that in the giving of oneself the self is gained. …

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