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This review is from: Kierkegaard: Fear and Trembling (Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy) (Paperback)
Kierkegaard saw two big-off problems with religion in western Europe in the 19th century; first, the church and, second, Hegel. The problem with the Church was that it had so seamlessly connected itself with the state-apparatus in each country that there was simply no real `Christianity' left in `Christendom'. The problem with Hegel was that he'd deified rationality and the historical/universal Spirit of his great System to such an extent that he'd made God somewhat redundant. So what's a poor believer meant to do? Well, Kierkegaard ditched his missus and devoted the rest of his life (dying at 42) to writing pseudonymous, caricaturised responses to the supposed Hegelian omnipresence, concentrating on internal and subjective aspects of life.
In Fear & Trembling the subject is faith; more specifically, faith as understood by a modern member of society, a merchant, a member of the herd. Kierkegaard's pseudonym for F&T is Johannes de Silentio, who describes himself as "outside of faith". So here we have the problem of a book about faith being written by the kind of citizen Kierkegaard would describe as the "empty believer" of the Danish State Church. But to be fair, Johannes' no prig; he's read his Bible and his Hegel like all good citizens, but he's also, like Kierkegaard, read complacency on the minister's face too.
The only thing Johannes can do is find some superhero of faith, someone he can copy and slowly become. Finding in Abraham (he of Isaac-slaying fame) just the guy, he starts trying to identify just what makes his faith `great'. The closest Johannes gets is a series of imaginative identifications with tragic literary heroes. Agamemnon, for example, is required to kill his daughter Iphigenia for the sake of Greece, but nonetheless fails to impress in the same way because his dilemma is understandable in ethical terms. Johannes sees Abraham as being locked in a dilemma no-one can understand; his relationship with God absolute and unmediated, no words justify his merciless killing of Isaac. He can only have faith that God will not take his son.
Fear & Trembling asks three questions;
1) Can ethical decisions be suspended for a greater good?
2) Is there an absolute duty to God?
3) Is my relationship with God translatable to other people?
In a nutshell, that's it. You're unlikely to answer them in exactly the way Johannes himself does, but then Kierkegaard saw himself as engaged in a Socratic process anyway, drawing out inquiry from his readers, drawing them out of their dogmatic slumbers.
Apparently, Fear & Trembling is THE undergraduate Kierkegaard text. The man himself said (cheerily), "when I am dead, [it] alone will be enough for an imperishable name as an author." I imagine it's the size as much as anything else, because the man did write some behemoths (Either/Or, well over 1000 pages). I liked this Cambridge edition. The 30-page intro (Evans) sticks pretty much to the meat of the text so you don't end up with a load of trivia which those 5-page biography intro's do. The index's of a useful size, there's a decent spurt of further reading, the cover's green, what more do you want? Definitely recommended.
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