On Kierkegaard, On Subjective Writing

(The beginning of a class handout. The rest is linked.)

I realize the last few days of class may have been difficult for you to pull into manageable shape. I’ve allowed myself the liberty–in part, a compliment to you–of simply coming into class and thinking aloud, allowing my own indecision about how to read sections of Kierkegaard to find its voice. My hope has not been to confuse you or to suggest any unwillingness to dig in and make a decision on my part, but instead to pull you into the mazeways of Kierkegaard’s qualitative dialectic–to get you involved in Kierkegaard’s mysteries.  You might even say that I have been trying to subjectify (in Kierkegaard’s sense) Kierkegaard’s text, to keep you from simply treating it abstractly, as another here-we-go-again! philosophical system. For me, there is always the worry that teaching Kierkegaard is a betrayal of Kierkegaard, because the teaching we do at the University falls naturally into the objective, the aesthetic. But keep in mind that Kierkegaard wanted to be read subjectively, indeed religiously, at least at the end of the day.

What does that mean–to want to be read subjectively? It is to write so as to secure a confrontation between your reader and himself. Not between your reader and yourself. Not between your reader and anyone else. Not between your reader and his thought, doctrine. Not between the reader and your thought, doctrine. Not between the reader and anyone else’s thought, doctrine. No; no. You write so as to secure a confrontation between the reader and himself. Not himself as he was; not himself as he hopes to be; but himself as he now is. If you stop–stop–and really consider wanting to do this, you will get at least a glimpse of how surpassingly hard it is to do.

Kierkegaard’s_Categories 1

3 responses

  1. As chance would have it, just as you were writing your blog, Kelly, I was talking to an audience of Kierkegaard scholars who so often make a mess (in my view) of those famous remarks in Postscript om subjectivity. Here’s what I said in San Francisco in a Marriott conference room:
    As you might guess, I find Kierkegaard’s writing to be irresistible and complex, like the great poetry of Rilke, or prose of Melville, or essays of Montaigne, or dialogues of Plato, or travels of Thoreau or Henry Bugbee.

    I take part of his allure to be his ability to call his reader into question. That means that his thought is not something to be boxed or domesticated for broad dissemination, appropriately labeled: rationalist or irrationalist, Christian or Socratic, Jewish or Romantic, Realist or Irrealst.

    It is thought and writing to savor and wrestle with, each solitary reader monitoring her or his individual response, and learning something new or forgotten from that response; and then sharing it, if she so chooses, with other readers.

    “Truth is Subjectivity” is a phrase meant to encourage this responsiveness to otherness. It is not an epistemological dicta or doctrine but a quasi ethical, religious, and aesthetic plea that we take our personal responses to writing and the world and other people, quite seriously – as essential to the way we, and other subjects, are and will become. We are not scientific or scholarly researchers all the time, 24/7, Santa’s elves adding to the burgeoning storehouse of objective knowledge to be distributed once a year. We must give ourselves time – subjective time – to decide, one by one, how we will shape or receive or reject a life, in its many phases and tiny temporal moments.

    “How should I live?” What should I do or feel or think – right now ?” are for Kierkegaard as for Socrates, subjective questions, with answers that — so far as we form them — are subjective. They are the truths of our living and dying, not to be proclaimed or marketed or globalized, but truths to be endlessly explored, wrestled with.

    The phrase ‘truth is subjectivity’ reports no new discovery about a purportedly universal truth, but pleads that we take our lives as containing true worth, that I take mine as of worth, at least worth attending to. You and I are not trivial.

  2. Ed, again — Postscript “on” subjectivity, of course, and I forgot to say how happy I am that you are so ‘spot on’ in your wish to ‘subjectify’ Kierkegaard and save him from University objectification.

    Have a most happy Thanksgiving and beyond !!

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