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:

American Politics: Nothing New Under the Sun

July 29, 2016

Halberstam, the fiftiesI’m reading a great book, David Halberstam’s The Fifties.  It’s a journalistic look at major cultural (e.g., Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe) and political (e.g., Joseph McCarthy, Eisenhower) moments in America in the 1950s.

Here are three excerpts from chapters on political trends.  Although describing political dynamics in the 1950s, they are also a commentary on conservative politics today:


The crisis of the postwar years was . . . still the crisis of isolationism versus internationalism.

It was not by chance that so much of the resistance to America’s new internationalism came from the great center of the country. In some ways the heartland was still apart, instinctively resistant to any greater American involvement in Europe and wary of those Eastern leaders who would tie us closer to any nation in Europe, traditional ally or not. Part of the reason for the resistance was geographic, for the American Midwest remained a vast insular landmass that bordered on no ocean and still felt confident and protected by its own size.

Richard Gid Powers has described Hoover’s ethos as “a turn-of-the-century vision of America as a small community of like-minded neighbors proud of their achievements, resentful of criticism, fiercely opposed to change. As twentieth-century standards of the mass society swept over traditional America, subverting old values, disrupting old customs and dislodging old leaders, Americans who were frightened by the loss of their community saw in Hoover a man who understood their concerns and shared their anger, a powerful defender who would guard their America of memory against a world of alien forces, strange people and dangerous ideas.”

Even today, American politics still turns on issues of internationalism vs. isolationism, and the way in which this contradiction maps onto geography, with the urban, coastal centers leaning toward internationalism and the country’s interior sympathetic to isolationist, America-first impulses.

Not related to politics, but a great quotation anyway:

Design [of automobiles in Detroit] became the critical decision. . . . Engineering became steadily less important. . . . .  All three major auto companies became caught in a vicious syndrome: a worship of the new at the expense of the old, even if on occasion the old was better.

This quotation nicely summarizes the triumph of vacuous image over reality in American culture.