A Lesson from Soren Kierkegaard


So, I’m working on a book on reading the Bible, specifically on a chapter on the reader’s role in the phenomenon of meaning.  (I’ve experienced a long interruption in the form of another book; I received a contract to write a small book on the Trinity and, as they say, a contract in the hand is worth two books on spec.  Having finished the book on the Trinity, I return to the Bible.)

Couldn’t sleep last night, so I decided to read from a book about Søren Kierkegaard that I started last Summer and never finished.

The book is Steven M. Emmanuel, Kierkegaard and the Concept of Revelation (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1996).  On p. 19 I found this quotation:

Each pseudonymous text [of SK] is brought forth from the perspective of its author, and is then opened up to interpretation and appropriation from the perspective of the reader.  In this way, Kierkegaard recognizes the efficacy of the incomplete as a stimulus for transforming those who read his works. . . .  Kierkegaard is in substantial agreement with Nietzsche’s view that an author’s true task is not merely to impart information, but to be an occasion for the reader’s self-activity. . . .  Writing emerges as a means of communication, not in the sense of a direct transmission of meaning or truth between individuals or between text and reader, but rather as an incitement to further activity in and through the individual’s subjective appropriation of ethical-religious truth.

fra_angelico_-_conversion_de_saint_augustinIn a moment of inspiration, I realized that these words were utterly a propos of the chapter I’m currently working on.  I was like Augustine in the garden, being told to take and read.

What I realized is that SK’s many works, some under his name, others under fictitious names, is an analogy of the Bible: many works, many authors.  Further, SK’s fictitious authors frequently comment on the writing of other fictitious authors, offering a parallel to the Bible’s intertexuality–the way in which one biblical text quotes or comments on or alludes to other biblical texts.

Reader response theory comes into view when one sees that, just as the reader of SK’s works must try to make sense of his entire body of work, with its multiple authors and points of view, so the reader of the Bible must do the same with the Bible’s many authors and points of view.

Attribution of images:

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