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Chapter Seven
The Ghost of Irony in Kierkegaard’s Authorship
The aim of this study is to offer an interpretation of On the Concept of
Irony which focuses on Kierkegaard’s conception of irony as an existential position or worldview. Because much recent research has mined On
the Concept of Irony in search of Kierkegaard’s contribution to a theory
of literary irony, the focus of this study departs in many respects from
those of its immediate predecessors. Most importantly, I suggest that
Kierkegaard’s analysis of irony is centered on existential consequences
associated with it. Since critics in Kierkegaard’s time had already noted
that his analysis of irony is as much an investigation of ethics as it is
aesthetics, this reading returns to an earlier understanding of irony and
it is my hope that it brings to the fore some of the issues implicit in On
the Concept of Irony that have been neglected.
Although the focus of this study is On the Concept of Irony, I am
also hopeful that the results of this research can be used as a point of
departure for future studies of Kierkegaard’s other works. In particular,
I would like to suggest that an existential reading of On the Concept of
Irony underscores themes that recur throughout the authorship, including problems like finding meaningful practical guidelines in the finite
world, closing oneself off from relationships with the other, and opening
oneself to a divine power. For this reason, I think that the results of
this analysis of On the Concept of Irony can be helpful in interpreting
Kierkegaard’s corpus.
In this concluding chapter, I present both an overview of the results
of this study and offer examples of how these findings can contribute
to Kierkegaard studies in general. In section one, I summarize what
I take to be the essential arguments in each chapter, focusing on the
implicit existential movements of irony. In section two of this chapter,
I turn my attention to other works, including Either/Or, and some that
might not seem to be directly related to On the Concept of Irony, including


Chapter 7

Fear and Trembling. I suggest not only that the major theme in Fear and
Trembling, for examble—regaining finitude though the movement of
faith—is a development of themes from Kierkegaard’s dissertation, but
that the pseudonymous author, Johannes de silentio, is acutely aware of
the problem of “closedness and openness.” One might say that de silentio
continues the investigation of the “religious” consciousness that was identified by Kierkegaard as the key in On the Concept of Irony to a genuine
reconciliation with actuality. Finally, I conclude with some thoughts
about one of Kierkegaard’s later works, The Sickness unto Death.

I. A Glance at the Foregoing Chapters

In order to understand Kierkegaard’s strategy for treating irony as an
existential position, it was necessary at the outset to provide an interpretation of the general structure of this complicated book which begins
as a detailed philological study of the historical Socrates and ends as a
loosely-organized diatribe against romantic literature.
I argued in “Chapter One” that Kierkegaard has dual aims in his text,
one historical and another existential. With regard to the historical, he
employs a historical-philosophical methodology which shares many of
the features of a Hegelian analysis of history. At least on the surface,
one of Kierkegaard’s aims is to give a philosophical account of Socrates’ contributions to world-history. While Kierkegaard is ambivalent
or perhaps even unconcerned about the degree to which his project is
consonant with a strictly Hegelian approach to history, he is nonetheless
insistent that he has more accurately and persuasively identified the key
to interpreting Socrates’ activity and ultimately his personality: Socrates
was an “ironist,” he says, and contributed to world-history the possibility
of seeing the world through ironic lenses.
When Kierkegaard writes that Socrates is an ironist, he does not mean
that Socrates ironically acted as if he were ignorant about philosophically
important matters. As Kierkegaard sees it, the irony which permeated
Socrates’ speech and behavior was grounded in a genuine ignorance.
Socrates’ irony is characterized as a thoroughgoing skepticism with
regard to the culturally established “order of things.” Whether he knew
it or not, Socrates’ interrogating conversations with his contemporaries
illustrated a novel critical approach to the authority of the state. For

Irony in Kierkegaard ’s Authorship


Socrates showed that public laws, traditions and religious beliefs need
not be taken as the authoritative source for defining human purposes and
ends. Socrates showed that an individual also had the possibility to look
inward to find a guide for practical activity. In this sense, Kierkegaard
can argue that Socrates contributed a rudimentary understanding of
“subjectivity” to world-history.
Kierkegaard has a second aim with his investigation of Socrates,
however. Even more important for him than defining Socrates’ place in
world-history is getting an accurate picture of how the ironic worldview
is instantiated in Socrates’ personality. As we saw in “Chapter Two”
of this study, Socrates is said to inhabit an existential no-man’s-land.
On the one hand, he is isolated from his cultural environment because
he cannot accept its values as personally binding. He simply cannot
take seriously the social and political goals of Athenian culture. On
the other hand, he has not discovered any other standard which could
provide him with purpose or direction. Nor is he interested in finding
new ethical guidelines. Socrates is happy to hover in the nihilistic void
of ignorance and, crucially, he is said to house this emptiness within
himself. Kierkegaard’s Socrates is in no way an ethical hero who consciously argues for the sake of bringing a consciousness of the Good to
light. Socrates is said to be a mere critic who destroys all conceptions
of truth.
One might say that the “result” of this historical investigation in “Part
One” of the dissertation is a psychological characterization of the ironic
personality. For with this in hand, Kierkegaard then subjects the ironic
worldview to an existential analysis in “Part Two.” Here he turns his
attention to contemporary conceptions of irony and attempts to show
how irony can be viewed as both truth and untruth.
In the course of his existential assessment of irony in “Part Two,”
Kierkegaard sketches more clearly what we might call the “movements
of irony”—and in doing so, outlines a problem that exercises him
throughout his authorship. First, he suggests that the consciousness
of irony results in an alienation from a life of immediacy. The ironist,
who recognizes that ethical custom and inherited habits of mind are
ultimately arbitrary, frees him- or herself from serious engagement with
others and becomes psychologically “isolated” from his or her world. In
“Chapter Three” of this study, we saw that Kierkegaard defines irony in

204 Chapter 7 terms of the subject’s relation—or mis-relation—to his or her objective world. Or one can 2) open oneself to another possible source. This is the “truth” of irony—first made possible by Socrates’ contribution to world-history.or herself from a commitment to his or her “life conditions” and “relationships”: the ironist has broken with “actuality. One can either 1) close oneself off from sources that originate outside one’s own will. In essence. The finite world must become re-enchanted. is a necessary existential insight.” Kierkegaard presupposes that selfhood can never be achieved if this nihilistic vision continues to guide one’s activity. At the same time. in the strict sense. In short. and thus consult oneself in search of purpose—even if that purpose is to maintain a negative freedom from obligation. It has replaced an immediate world with “nothing. then. the worldview of “pure irony” is one in which the values of the objective world mean nothing.” he writes. Kierkegaard also notes that irony is “untruth”: it is “the way. to an existential crossroads: Kierkegaard suggests that. but not the “truth. the isolated individual must become “reconciled with actuality. apparently free from all merely inherited ethical rules and purposes.” Irony brings one. With this he means that one can never become a self or develop a personality without first becoming radically aware of oneself as a subject. Like Socrates. finite goals and tasks must be viewed as if there were some permanent non-finite purposes behind them. In fact. irony must be overcome. he insists it is necessary for every authentic human life. Kierkegaard insists that it is healthy. uncommitted to any of the rules that govern human interaction or personal consistency. The psychological recognition that one is ultimately completely alone. as is the case with many of Kierkegaard’s ironic figures.” As far as this first movement of isolation goes. The ironic individual is alone. he suggests. In order to act at all. The more extreme the discontinuity between the individual and the world.” Kierkegaard implies here that another movement is necessary if the full development of personality is to be realized. the more thorough the irony. It is the . The ironist who sees the world through the lenses of pure irony has removed him. one cannot live without some sort of guidelines. the movement of the ironic individual away from actuality has hollowed out actuality. the divine. one must find a way to overcome the ironic insight that there are no objective criteria for valuing one choice over another.

Furthermore. bringing the divine light of the infinite back to earth.” His hope is that by using the gift of “irony” or “wit. As we saw in “Chapter Four. As he sees it.Irony in Kierkegaard ’s Authorship 205 former option. Along with Hegel and Møller. And this is why he takes it to be problematic. he argues that the Schlegelian project does not lead to genuine reconciliation but rather rules it out. As the ironist plays with possible personalities. The gift of irony allows the romantic poet to serve as a prophet. he or she loses touch with the . Schlegel seeks his own “reconciliation with actuality. instead of taking ownership of the primitive inner life which is unique to each individual. romanticism ends in an empty egoistic closure. becomes reunited in an endless process of experimentation. Guided by a belief that artistic genius is an inner light originating from a divine infinite sphere. finitude is illuminated by infinitude. As Schlegel sees it. Following a host of his contemporaries. that by experimenting with the “destruction and creation” of personal ends and purposes. Schlegel’s authorship arises in a postKantian context in which the relationship of the finite and the infinite was a guiding philosophical problem. that romantic irony has chosen. he claims that the romantics have misunderstood the philosophical premises of their own arguments: they have assumed that idealist philosophy justifies their project of subjectively “creating” existential purposes.or herself. Kierkegaard.” he can transform the finite world. and who demands the wholeness that a spiritual meeting with the infinite promises. On the one hand. says Kierkegaard. the actual world. not a reintegration into the world. romantic irony celebrates the cultivation of fabricated moods. a series of fluid syntheses of the finite and infinite will emerge. Kierkegaard holds that as the romantic ironist “destroys and creates” the things that matter to him. however. he or she loses touch with the self that is already potentially present. Schlegel’s ironic literature can be read as an attempt to articulate the existential tension of an individual whose finite relationships have lost meaning. and the self which inhabits it. We saw in “Chapter Five” that Kierkegaard’s arguments against the romantic position rely extensively on those of his predecessors.” Schlegel—who is the prime example of what Kierkegaard has in mind with a “romantic ironist”—is interested in many of the same kinds of existential problems as those Kierkegaard addresses in On the Concept of Irony. is suspicious of the romantic “construction” of the self and its world.

the most tempting aspect of the romantic project is located in the claim that the individual has become reconciled with the world based on a kind of divinely inspired art. Thus. romantic irony not only lacks humility.” so to speak. Kierkegaard moves beyond the ethically oriented argumentation presented by many of his contemporaries in order to push an issue that was peripheral for many of his contemporaries.” but he or she creates God in his or her own image.” With this assertion. In fact. Despite the language of mysticism present in works of authors in the Schlegelian school. concrete circumstances in which a person finds him or herself. and closes in emptiness. but it celebrates a deification of one’s own private intuitions. is his claim that it is “irreligious” and thus ultimately “unpoetic. the ironist not only creates provisional principles of “morality and ethics. According to Kierkegaard’s interpretation of the romantics. the romantic project lacks an essential feature of a religious consciousness: an willingness to open oneself to a power that is greater than one’s own ego. As Kierkegaard sees it. it is also possible to see what Kierkegaard adds positively to a concept of irony.206 Chapter 7 unique self. On the other hand. however. as the ironist goes about redefining and redescribing his or her own purposes. As Kierkegaard sees it. arbitrary interests and moods of the artist rather than the actual. For Kierkegaard. the artwork he has in mind is the life of the artist. The most important aspect of Kierkegaard’s argument against romanticism. as Kierkegaard sees it. the constructed personality which emerges is aesthetically “empty” because it lacks the essential element which could give it “aesthetic validity. It is possible to infer the general direction he thinks one must go if there is to be a reconciliation . he or she undermines the consistency of his or her relationships with others. they have failed to recognize the distinction between a subjective will and a divine will. There is no development of personality since there are no relationships the ironic individual can identify as binding. The ironist closes out content. The romantic life builds on the private. The result of the ironic worldview is an individual who is closed off from the concrete conditions for selfhood. the artist’s personality. These “artworks” are said to be missing an ideal binding truth behind their appearance. With this negative criticism in place. the original an sich. this irreligious worldview results in the ultimate creation of irreligious and thus empty “artworks”—and here.

” For Martensen and Heiberg the solidarity implied in the humorous consciousness of fallenness is already a kind of salvation. signaling that the cleansed or transfigured world has been given back again. he underscores on several occasions that the first movement of an “authentic human life” is the movement away from immediacy to a psychological consciousness of isolation. the individual must also find a way back to finitude again if this life is to be meaningful. Kierkegaard had been working out the basic structure of irony and the accompanying problem of a “reconciliation with actuality. The ironist laughs at the world. Heiberg and Martensen. Kierkegaard writes that after the ironist—or humorist—has cut him. From the perspective of humor. but then discovers that his or her own subjective values are no more meaningful than those of his or her cultural environment. he or she cannot force the reconciliation. In “Chapter Six. looks at him. The humorist. In a biblical image which captures this movement. congratulating him. Kierkegaard writes that the ironist places him. The only hope. The humorist laughs at him. as Kierkegaard sees it. Like Noah. a genuine “reconciliation with actuality” presupposes that the subject accept his or her inability to be independently free. he or she “releases a dove” in hope of rejoining actuality again. but must wait for the dove to return to him or her. “we’re all in it together. a willingness to receive a transfigured world as a divine gift.or herself while laughing at the world. working out what he takes to be the essence of the ironic position by comparing it with the related position of humor. For Kierkegaard.or herself on having achieved this insight. This implies that at bottom. These early journals confirm that the solution to overcoming ironic isolation is an open willingness to accept the gift of a transfigured world.” In his early journals. The individual must still make a move of openness. .or herself off from the actual world as if he or she inhabited a solitary island.” we saw that even before he wrote On the Concept of Irony. Kierkegaard investigates a topical issue of his day.or herself with the same critical eye as the ironist. but once this consciousness of negative freedom is achieved. In general agreement with his Danish contemporaries. by contrast. this insight is still only a preliminary step. As noted above.Irony in Kierkegaard ’s Authorship 207 with actuality. lies in a subjective openness.or herself in a position of superiority with regard to the conventional world. Freedom must also become positive.

he writes in the concluding section. the formal discussion of romantic irony all but vanishes from the pages of Kierkegaard’s books and journals and one might conclude that the issues which engaged him in the dissertation fade in importance as well. Danish critic Hans Frederik Helweg noted as early as 1855 that On the Concept of Irony was the  CI 329 / SKS 1. I do not believe this is the case. For the most part. I will focus on the dilemma of ironic isolation: one can either attempt to create a concept of self based on one’s own subjective desires and interests—or one can cultivate oneself in faithful dependence on a higher being. Such theological considerations “lie beyond the scope” of his study. of how the problems identified with irony reappear. After Kierkegaard’s dissertation was published. A comprehensive treatment of these general themes in Kierkegaard’s authorship “lie beyond the scope” of this study as well.” Beyond the relatively undeveloped assertion that an authentic reconciliation with actuality requires an openness to the divine power that posited it. however. of course. As a matter of fact. the logic behind Kierkegaard’s argument in On the Concept of Irony reaches its provisional endpoint.208 Chapter 7 With this image of reconciliation. he is content to spell out the existential problems associated with the ironic subject who refuses to be a part of the actual world. 357. The Discussion of Irony Recast I suspect that the general claim that On the Concept of Irony anticipates themes from Kierkegaard’s pseudonymous works is not in need of much argumentation. Kierkegaard’s analysis ends with the suggestion that a humble “religiosity” is the key to a “reconciliation with actuality” and thus to a reconciliation with one’s original “self. More specifically. . II. without offering a full justification. the relationship has been observed in the secondary literature from the outset. lifelong interests for Kierkegaard. but I would like to offer some examples from a few pseudonymous works. The problems associated with overcoming isolation and becoming a self integrated into the actual world are. he does not explain how this spiritual openness is related to Christian concepts like sin and redemption.

helped by the sage who would not directly help anyone. University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press 1994.Irony in Kierkegaard ’s Authorship 209 springboard for Kierkegaard’s activity and his observation been repeated ever since. “Hegelianismen i Danmark. he had found the master key: his own interpretation of life. is of crucial importance. trans.” in Dansk Kirketidende 51-52.” [sic] a book of 300 pages. entitled “The Conception of Irony. by Lee M. are especially often noted. pp. Indeed. including Sylvia Walsh Living Poetically. republished by Gyldendals Uglebøger 1967. Hollander. 6. 841-852. 825-837. In his introduction. p. 1855. p.  This has been noted by a host of authors. It shows that. Søren Kierkegaard. A’s writings in the first part of Either/Or can be read as a literary staging of the ironic consciousness. 49. his magisterial dissertation. Hans Frederik Helweg. and one finds such sentiments in English language literature as early as 1923 via the first translator of Kierkegaard’s writings into English. the way these themes reappear is less often treated. Copenhagen: Gyldendal 1877. trans. and Howard and Edna Hong in their “Introduction” to Either/Or. Hollander. As has often been suggested. The Shadow of Irony in Either/Or The similarities between Kierkegaard’s critique of romantic irony and Kierkegaard’s first major pseudonymous work. New York: Anchor Books 1960.  . ix-x. 63-67. all the following literary output may be regarded as the consistent development of the simple directing thoughts of his firstling work. A. Austin: University of Texas Bulletin 1923. Hollander. Georg Brandes made similar claims in the latter part of the nineteenth century. pp. by Lee M.  Georg Brandes.  Selections from the Writings of Søren Kierkegaard. pp. But even if it is intuitively clear that On the Concept of Irony is the foundation for much of Kierkegaard’s later thought. with Constant Reference to Socrates. he notes that even though Kierkegaard did not consider On the Concept of Irony to be a part of his project as an author. reprinted as Selections from the Writings of Søren Kierkegaard. En kritisk Fremstilling i Grundrids. Lee M. Either/Or. Kierkegaard’s Existential Aesthetics.

And A is not simply an ironist. the most important ironic theme is this: A is an instantiation of a poet who wants to create and recreate himself. Indeed. and neither position is obviously victorious. Beyond these clear similarities. state. In his essay on ancient and modern tragedy. kindred.210 Chapter 7 while Wilhelm’s letter can be viewed as a critique of romantic irony. I do not think it an exaggeration to suggest that what Kierkegaard describes as the “romantic” or “ironic” consciousness in On the Concept of Irony is essentially what Wilhelm has in mind when he labels A’s worldview “aesthetic. Most importantly.” “boredom. it should be noted that Either/Or is organized as a sort of dialogue between an ironic aesthete and his critic.” Of course. however. 148. even if the project is doomed. and only the subject can reorder or recreate them. His consciousness might be better termed “post-ironic”: it is as if A has read and acknowledged the insights of Kierkegaard’s interpretation of romantic irony. All other categories that could serve as guides for shaping the self have becomes fragmented in modernity. the categories of “the beautiful” and “the interesting. it must turn the single individual over to himself in such a way that strictly speaking. for example. he becomes his own creator. we find the story of a young man in “The Seducer’s Diary” who tries to control and survive his own principles of re-creating the self. He is a hardened ironist well aware that he is unable “to be present to himself ” because he “lives outside himself.” Already here we see that Kierkegaard’s style in his pseudonymous works makes it difficult to simply label the ironic position the loser without recognizing that there is a truth to irony as well as an untruth. that the modern individual has no choice but to “create” an interpretation of the self.” and the liberation of eros from societal constraints. the seducer is careful to protect the possibility of re-creation by refusing to recognize his past behavior as his own.” In perhaps the best example of the despairing ironist. A seems to take it for granted. he notes that “our age has lost all the substantial categories of family. He is convinced that he must avoid objective demands like marriage since this sort of “ethical” obligation  EO1 149 / SKS 2. but chooses to embrace irony nonetheless. like Schlegel. “Part One” of Either/Or reveals several themes related to Schlegel’s works including the difference between ancient and modern thought. .

that while Wilhelm develops Kierkegaard’s critique of the ironist.Irony in Kierkegaard ’s Authorship 211 stifles and suffocates “love.” With these paradoxical formulations.” He is far more interested in creating situations that he will be able to recollect. congratulating himself that he has understood the deepest principle of unhappiness: not being present to oneself. In “The Unhappiest One” we find a similarly ironic perspective. Kierkegaard’s own instantiation of the ironist. The Diapsalmata are also replete with passages about hovering above actuality. But here A offers a slightly different interpretation of his refusal to take ownership of his behavior. the strength which allows him to distance himself from “the now” is also the stubborn strength that seals him into an impotent lack of self. unlike the analysis of romantic irony in On the Concept of Irony. In essence. returning to it to take memories away. but he also willingly admits to the inner pain of not being present to himself. In a sense. He cynically and sarcastically celebrates his own discontentment. as it were. from the perspective of an ironist who experiences the dissonance of irony and the lack of selfhood it entails. Of course. how can an ironist overcome his own ironic insight and become “reconciled with actuality. and this frees him to live with his own memories of erotic moments and situations. A’s writings do not treat the problems of poetic construction academically. he admits that the unhappiest people never live in the present and never obtain a realized past or a realizable future. These same melancholy insights are repeated in the Diapsalmata as well. In many cases A ironically praises his lack of self. the seducer argues that his reflective approach to love allows him to avoid the pitfalls of committing to anyone or anything. etc. Wilhelm is not speaking to Schlegel or any other particular historical “ironist. . Wilhelm’s letters to A in the second volume of Either/Or can be read as response to the fundamental problem introduced in On the Concept of Irony. however.” He is speaking to A. one reads about them from the inside. It is rather Kierkegaard’s interpretation and perhaps misinterpretation of  EO1 226 / SKS 2. Particular romantic ironists are not directly the issue here. 221-222.” It is also important to admit. namely. He speaks of the sadness of living “outside” oneself since one lives in a “recollected future” and a “hopeful past. reorganize and reinterpret—just as Julius speaks of in his introduction to Lucinde.

For as we saw. He can appeal to A to take his “self ” seriously. Wilhelm suggests that if A chooses to take ownership of his actions.  EO2 160 / SKS 3. present and future. so that you actually became several. the individual. influenced by this specific social milieu. Kierkegaard interprets Schlegel’s Lucinde such that his irony ends in emptiness and nothingness rather than the happy reconciliation Julius himself celebrates. In both of Wilhelm’s letters to A. the binding power of the personality? More directly addressing A’s perceived self-creative tendencies. just as that unhappy demoniac became a legion. 157-158. for he focuses first and foremost on how he might convince A that there is indeed an original self he could keep watch over. these passions.” To take just one example. these inclinations. Wilhelm seems to think A suffers from many of the same problems Kierkegaard mentions in his critique of romantic irony: a disillusionment with the traditions. even in On the Concept of Irony. an unengaged attitude with regard to the people he interacts with. he will indeed discover the self or “personality” that is bound up with the actual world in which he lives. by appealing to A’s sense of despair: Are you not aware that there comes a midnight hour when everyone must unmask?…. as this specific product of this specific environment. Wilhelm’s strategies for overcoming the self-creative tendencies of modern irony are also more nuanced that what we saw in On the Concept of Irony. then. these drives. and thus you would have lost the most inward and holy in a human being. he laments the fact that A is set upon defining himself at the expense of cultivating his self. becomes conscious as this specific individual with these capacities.212 Chapter 7 Schlegel and the romantic ironists. and a freedom from an original self. he writes that in the moment of choice. norms and ethical principles that govern human relationships. That being said. .can you think of anything more appalling than having it all end with the disintegration of your essence into a multiplicity. a freedom from the continuity of past. for example. He will experience a kind of “reconciliation with actuality.

when the soul comes to be alone in the whole world. As Tjønneland notes. 239. He does not hesitate over whether he will take this particular thing or not.  Eivind Tjønneland. 172-173. but the eternal power itself. more correctly. When around one everything has become silent. Kierkegaard returns EO2 251 / SKS 3. but the Kierkegaardian story of selfhood is. he takes upon himself responsibility for it all.Irony in Kierkegaard ’s Authorship 213 But as he becomes aware of all this. 1-2. far from exhausted. but he becomes himself. for he knows that if he does not do it something much more important will be lost. then before one there appears not an extraordinary human being. The consciousness integrates. for he chooses himself as a product. The problem of how religiousness is related to Christian doctrines like sin and faith is only touched upon briefly in Either/Or. then the heavens seem to open. EO2 177 / SKS 3. receives itself. solemn as a clear. starlit night. and the I chooses itself or. Ironie als Symptom. then the personality receives the accolade of knighthood that ennobles it for an eternity. he is in complete isolation. and he is himself. In the moment of choice. for he withdraws from his social milieu and yet at the same time he is in absolute continuity [with it]. On the Concept of Irony is also implicitly present there. He does not becomes someone other than he was before. Indeed. which no mortal eye can see and which can never be forgotten. Wilhelm writes. Wilhelm represents a general religious consciousness that takes seriously the search for a primitive self as opposed to A who is the instantiation of an ironic consciousness that wants to create itself. And echoing Kierkegaard’s assertion in On the Concept of Irony that a transfiguration of the conditions for selfhood is tied to a religious openness to the divine. Wilhelm’s admonitions to A in Either/Or give nuance to Kierkegaard’s critique of romantic irony. pp. Then the soul has seen the highest.: Peter Lang Verlag 2004. insofar as books like Repetition and Stages on Life’s Way are variations of themes from Either/Or. of course. Tjønneland adds Johannes Sløk and Josiah Thompson to the list of interpreters who see On the Concept of Irony as the starting point   . Frankfurt am Main. et al.

Johannes de silentio on Closure. namely Fear and Trembling. CI 297 / SKS 1. A Collection of Critical Essays. Kierkegaard. Copenhagen: Berlingske Forlag 1972.. 330-33. namely the problem of becoming reconciled with actuality via a religious consciousness. New York: Anchor Books 1972.  SLW 454-465 / SKS 6. Openness and a Reconciliation with Finitude As Kierkegaard’s pseudonym Johannes de silentio makes clear. religious life. Ironic Closure in Fear and Trembling 1. 131. cf.” Only a religious perspective. 420-429. See Johannes Sløk. B. My suggestion here is that Fear and Trembling can be read as a more detailed investigation of the very issue that troubles Kierkegaard in On the Concept of Irony. And in “Guilty? / Not-Guilty?” in Stages on Life’s Way. Frater Taciturnus mentions Schlegel directly. p. and Josiah Thompson. de silentio is fascinated to the point of sleeplessness by the Abraham story because it represents an aspect of the religious life that he is unable to grasp: the story of Abraham of Kierkegaard’s authorship.214 Chapter 7 indirectly to the problems raised in his Magister thesis in many of his early works like Repetition. the issue of a reconciliation with actuality is the motivating theme in Fear and Trembling. Shakespeare og Kierkegaard. but rather a “mediocre reconciliation. one finds a discussion of why poetry can never fully capture inward suffering. 120. it is not an exaggeration to say that on this issue—like Either/Or—Fear and Trembling also takes up where On the Concept of Irony left off. In the course of this exposition. he says. 423. can approach the inwardness necessary for appropriating subjective experience. More than anything else. To show how this study of On the Concept of Irony can cast light on yet another of Kierkegaardian pseudonymous works. I have chosen to examine a text which is rarely compared with On the Concept of Irony.  SLW 458 / SKS 6. where the key characters—the young man and Constatin Constantius—struggle with the problems of the poetic life vs. and repeats the crucial critique of irony from On the Concept of Irony: poetry is not a true reconciliation with one’s factical self. . p. In fact.

that things have their value nonetheless. FT. correspondingly.  As Hannay notes. finite world: “Abraham had faith. the attitudinal appendix to this. to attribute it to Abraham and his belief that what he is giving to God will be returned. It could symbolize the attitude that says that nothing in the world has value simply because one values it. 116. the truly amazing thing about Abraham is not his willingness to follow God’s absurd command to sacrifice Isaac. as it was but with its clarified status. Abraham’s faith transforms the circumstances of his existence right here and right now. and had faith for this life. It would be plausible to attribute this compound attitude to the shopman knight of faith. but rather his conviction that he will receive the finite world back again—in the person of Isaac—even though he has given it up as irretrievably lost.Irony in Kierkegaard ’s Authorship 215 promises that one’s relationships in the finite world can become valuable even after one has given up all hope in that possibility. 24. The key issue. This would be resignation about values generally.” writes de silentio.” In order to make Abraham’s movement of faithful reconciliation with the actual world as vivid as possible. Hannay’s italics. Hannay’s introduction. Hannay writes that de silentio’s account of resignation: could be read as symbolizing the way a person must look upon everything he values. as in Max Weber’s “disenchantment” (Entzauberung). The key in each case is the way   FT 53-54 / SKS 4. . in the temporal. Alastair Hannay nicely summarizes the critical issue explored in Fear and Trembling in the introduction to his translation. p. but they have them on their own account and from God. For as de silentio emphasizes. he suggests. de silentio contrasts faith with a number of incomplete modes of reconciliation. whether or not it is attainable. is the rediscovery of values in a world which has been emptied of anything that was once significant. Faith would be. the decisive category which enables reconciliation is of course faith—a more nuanced category within “the religious. De silentio is in awe of the fact that Abraham and other knights of faith are able to live in the finite world again after all rational hope for living happily in finitude has been resigned. but also of course.

his joy in this life would disappear. the sphere of human relationships which was once loved and valued immediately. The finite relationships which make life meaningful have become hollow. has been made relative. however. having given up all claims to finitude. I have changed the translation of Virkelighed from Hannay’s “reality” to “actuality” for the sake of consistency. and the individual who is saved by another.  . the individual has accepted that a deep happiness is not a part of existence. If he were tested as Abraham was. he says. but unlike Abraham.” It is important to note here that the most fundamental distinction is said to be the line which separates faith from a life of resignation. 78 / SKS 4. One of the best examples of a character living in resignation.216 Chapter 7 in which the individual relates to the actual finite world. Put differently. He is FT 70. or the pain which results from a loss of existentially orienting landmarks. As de silentio writes. the resigned individual’s given actual world. De silentio. at the very moment he were to receive such a command. the loss of others in death. In general. he would be courageous enough to follow God’s command. Whether this alienation from actuality stems from the disappointment of failed expectations. however.” De silentio’s first step in identifying the characteristics of faith is thus clearly to demarcate the line which separates faith from a host of worldviews which might seem to resemble faith. the relationship to actuality [Virkelighed] is “that upon which everything turns. As we will see. does claim to find some comfort. The knight of infinite resignation receives no consolation in actuality. this demarcation is marked by their respective “relationships to actuality. De silentio characterizes the infinitely resigned individual as one who lives as a stranger in the actual world. 130. admits that he does not expect to find fulfillment in this life. 143. de silentio himself.  FT 64-65 / SKS 4. Crucially. this is ultimately the line which de silentio uses to indicate that every worldview on the other side of faith falls into the category of self-sufficiency: it is the line which separates the individual who saves himself. What once was the center of the resigned individual’s life is no longer central and maybe not even important any longer. 136. I agree with Hannay’s choice since the less formal “reality” better captures Kierkegaard’s Virkelighed.

they own their flexibility to the individual’s incommensurability with actuality. in Martensen’s review of Heiberg’s Nye Digte. I know a little bit more about them than is to be found in German and German-Danish compendia. translation modified. He is reconciled with the world in this weak sense by giving a spiritual expression to his earthly love since he cannot give it an actual expression. While de silentio says that Hegel does not understand irony. The targets of de silentio’s accusations are likely Martensen and his students. As noted in the previous chapter. January 10-12. he claims that humor is a Christian category. 145. He writes that the distance resulting from an ironic worldview—and the humorous worldview which is closely related to it—falls under the category of infinite resignation. he writes: …our hero of faith was not even an ironist and humorist but something still higher. Humor. Fædrelandet. “Humor is the most inward background in every Christian view of the world.” . Drawing comparisons with the worldviews of irony and humor. Irony and humor reflect also upon themselves and so belong in the sphere of infinite resignation. particularly by people who have never succeeded in practicing them but who nevertheless know how to explain everything. draws the comparison between infinite resignation and the resigned distance which accompanies an ironic worldview. Hegel does not emphasize that humor or irony are essential aspects of Christianity (See also FT 136 / SKS 4. 1841. He writes: “[Humor] relates to irony just as depth of mind relates to sharpness of mind. but also the fullness of love and reconciliation.Irony in Kierkegaard ’s Authorship 217 “reconciled with existence” in some sense: his original passion for living in the finite world is redirected away from actuality and transformed into a love of God. It contains all the pain of the world conquered in a deep wealth of happiness. A lot is said in our time about irony and humor. the poetic justification over the fallen world.” See Martensen. FT 80 / SKS 4. I am not altogether unfamiliar with these two passions. It is in connection with the discussion of resignation that the category of irony explicitly reappears in Fear and Trembling. De silentio himself.   FT 72-73 / SKS 4. 199). In another small study Martensen writes. which belongs exclusively to Christianity. 398‑400. contains all irony. who claims to know a thing or two about irony. Therefore I know that these two passions differ essentially from faith. no. 138.

The paradoxical move of faith which receives the world at the same time as it is relinquished. 60. Grundrids til Moralphilosophiens System. devoid of the concretion of meaningful activity in the world. De silentio gives nuance to the idea of a faithful reconciliation when he moves to the three problemata in the last section of the book. de silentio will not only make explicit the ways in which he agrees with Hegel but also the ways in which ways he does not. he focuses on the philosophical structure. Abraham’s return to the world is the primary issue. “spiritual” actuality.” an abstract. p. De silentio’s abstract spiritual life does not include the most difficult move.A. Copenhagen: C. the goal of every individual is to discipline him. Reconciliation in the Problemata De silentio begins his dialectical discussion in the Problemata by sketching a position in which ethical and moral rectitude is taken to be the telos of human striving. As noted above.218 Chapter 7 It may be apparent already that this movement of resignation emerges from the basic categories Kierkegaard speaks of in On the Concept of Irony. however. he promises to “extract from the story of Abraham its dialectical element in the form of problemata in order to see how monstrous a paradox faith is. . 147. In this worldview. In other words. § 56. Reitzels Forlag 1841. This time. The knight of resignation consoles himself with a one-sidedly ideal version of actuality. Like the ironist who never returns to the harsher reality of actual ethical life but finds solace in his own “higher actuality”—a closed [indesluttet] and self-centered interpretation of actuality—the resigned individual admits that his movement toward the infinite transforms the finite into a kind of “higher actuality. but instead of focusing on the psychological aspects which make the story come alive.” Here Kierkegaard makes use of a discussion that was central to On the Concept of Irony: He draws upon the critique Schlegel which was inspired by Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. however. De silentio repeats this move in Fear and Trembling. Kierkegaard there argues that an ironic critical distance from the values of conventional life precedes the religious life.  FT 82 / SKS 4.or herself in such a way that his or her activity can always See Hans Lassen Martensen. 2.

so that the individual who stays at this stage is either in sin or a state of temptation. and a section of the Phenomenology of Spirit.” again in Practice in Christianity (PT 83 / SV1.  Louis Dupré. “Good and Conscience. the specific references to Hegel’s texts are limited to those which Kierkegaard studied in connection with his dissertation. an examination of the “Good and Conscience” chapter in Philosophy of Right reveals that it is not an explicit FT 83-84 / SKS 4.Irony in Kierkegaard ’s Authorship 219 be said to be an expression of a universal ethical demand. especially chapter 7. Kierkegaard as Theologian New York: Sheed and Ward 1963.” The point de silentio wants to highlight by introducing this apparently Hegelian position is clear enough: he wants to point out that Abraham’s faithful willingness to sacrifice Isaac cannot be justified if one accepts Hegel’s absolute ethical life as the telos of human existence. “then Hegel is right in his ‘Good and Conscience’ where he discusses man seen merely as the single individual and regards this way of seeing him as a ‘moral form of evil’ to be annulled in the teleology of the ethical life. 148-149. faith is a “moral form of evil. A person’s eternal happiness [Salighed] is said to be dependent upon the degree to which he or she is able to practice and attain a virtuous life.   .” But one might initially wonder why de silentio singles out this particular chapter of a book which Hegel conceives of as a philosophy of law. namely Hegel’s Lectures on Aesthetics. FT 83 / SKS 4. Why has de silentio chosen this section of text—the only specific reference to Hegel’s primary works cited in Kierkegaard’s authorship after Either/ Or —rather than a Hegelian text which deals with the relationship of ethics to faith? Furthermore. “Hegel’s View of Moral Conscience and Kierkegaard’s Interpretation of Abraham. de silentio attributes this position to Hegel.  See Jon Stewart Kierkegaard’s Relation to Hegel Reconsidered. Rather one must admit that from an ethical perspective. then it is impossible to praise Abraham for his faith. As noted above. Even in Either/Or. De silentio writes that if indeed it is the case that the purpose of human existence is to live an ethically upright life. 148-149. p. 83). De silentio argues here that if Hegel is correct in his assessment that the highest human telos is to surrender a particular will to a universal will. and refers the reader specifically to a discussion of the “Good and Conscience” from Hegel’s Philosophy of Right.” Kierkegaard refers to the very same chapter. 74.

It becomes apparent here that the aim and result of de silentio’s break with the Hegelian position is to uncouple faith from ethics. and an ethical worldview in which submission to the demands of ethics is central. we must admit that insofar as Abraham places his own subjective convictions about right and wrong above those we all accept as rational. For this is where Hegel argues that Schlegelian irony is an example of the worst form of subjective thinking. Abraham is no different that the ironist who also places his or her subjective particularity higher than ethics. Kierkegaard makes careful use of Hegel’s “Good and Conscience” in his discussion of Schlegel. he cannot use him to explain the position of faith. While Kierkegaard could use Hegel to argue against the egoism of irony. For him. Hegelian ethics cannot excuse the faithful individual like Abraham who is willing to break moral and ethical law at God’s command since Hegel requires the particular individual to act in accordance with universal principles. 184 / Jub. The key to understanding why de silentio alludes to Hegel’s “Good and Conscience” lies in On the Concept of Irony. For de silentio. it is not even an account of a fully developed ethical position. something which Hegel ultimately considers to be an unsatisfactory ground upon which to found law or ethics.” In essence. He calls attention to the difference between a faithful worldview in which submission to the will of God is an uncompromising absolute. De silentio’s next move. . 7. de silentio refers to “Good and Conscience” to support his claim that if we use Hegelian ethics to judge Abraham. an egoist like the ironist is nothing less than “evil. though. God and the Good are not identical. The “Good and Conscious” describes various subject-oriented ways of thinking about morality.220 Chapter 7 account of the highest human telos at all. There is no room for a justified suspension of ethics. As we saw in chapter five of this study. he begins to nuance his own position outlined in On the Concept of Irony. “the supreme form of moral evil. is to call the sufficiency of the Hegelian view into question—and in a sense. 222. and he forcefully insists  PR § 140.or herself.” Hegel’s calls the ironist the “particular individual” who refuses to accept the restrictions of any moral or ethical standard which does not originate in the particular desires and interests of the individual him.

de silentio places Hegel’s anthropology within the Greek tradition since for Hegel. In other words. But as de silentio pulls faith apart from ethics and makes the subjective relation to God central. . De silentio writes. By contrast. that which holds ironic subjectivity apart from faithful subjectivity. except in the sense of what is evil…then one needs no other categories than those of the Greek philosophers or whatever can be deduced from them. even without divine revelation. For de silentio. ought not to have kept quiet about. there is a crucial difference between an individual who is “related absolutely to the absolute. de silentio breaks with Hegel here because.” In other words.” and an individual who is “related absolutely to the universal. from the person of faith. Ethical principles are grounded in a divine rationality which orders and supports the universe. “If the ethical life is the highest and nothing incommensurable is left over in man. is rational and available for every seeker. For Hegel. de silentio wants to hold open the possibility that the task of existing as a human being is more complicated. Hegel’s position resembles that of the Greeks insofar as both assume an immanent theology. as he sees it. it is no longer clear by what authority ethics can demand that the particular subject respect the demand of the universal. the ethical truth. 149. the individual is absolutely committed to God regardless of the possible ethical judgments of the human community. one might wonder if another distinction becomes less clear.” In short. who “suspends  FT 84 / SKS 4. Hegel presupposes the ultimate harmony of just human laws and divine law. To use de silentio’s own terminology. who “suspends the ethical” for the sake of his own interests. at their core.Irony in Kierkegaard ’s Authorship 221 on holding the two apart: in the case of faith. who has after all made some study of the Greeks. the truth about the aims and goals of human life are immanently available. The truth about how one ought to live. In the case of the ethical person. an individual ought to be fundamentally committed to the common good. when the demands of ethics are made relative. namely. a divine rationality which is capable of being understood and articulated by the human mind. they are one and the same. God’s truth does not have to be identical with a rational conception of the ethical truth. Is it possible to distinguish the ironist. This is something which Hegel.

He is careful to note that the individual who has not disciplined him. In a more subtle argument 2). he reveals that pride and humility are the key factors. that he is in an odd position. they are both in a state of sin or temptation. when the “form” of the suspension of ethics is viewed “ideally”—the ironist and the person of faith cannot be distinguished. Viewed objectively. 161. however. hysteria and the rest. In order to underscore his point.or herself under the universal:   FT 90 / SKS 4. self-sufficient subjectivity of the ironist and the open. Despite the objective similarities.222 Chapter 7 the ethical” at the command of God? What is the objective difference between these positions now that Hegel’s objective criteria have been made relative? De silentio recognizes. When considered objectively—or as he puts it. A respect for the universal demands of the sort attributed to Hegel—and to the Greeks—is not in itself problematic. Objectively. from an objective perspective. De silentio’s first argument 1) is an appeal to a sort of developmental psychology which reveals that de silentio does not relinquish the notion of ethical discipline. the kind of faith de silentio advocates is in “ordinary company. de silentio is insistent that viewed from within the psyche of the individual subject. dependent subjectivity of the person of faith. . There are at least two ways de silentio holds these two subjective positions apart: 1) first. FT 97 / SKS 4. He argues that the internal seriousness which accompanies an ethical worldview is a prerequisite to faith.” In other words.or herself by following the dictates of the universal can never become a person of faith. there is a decisive distinction between the closed. however. 155. idiosyncrasy. of course. he repeats that this can only take place after the particular individual has gone through the phase of ethically disciplining him. he simply posits the claim that an ethical seriousness is a precondition for faith. it belongs with feeling mood. De silentio praises the ethically oriented person for taking up the task of self-examination and the search for an ethical mission. each time he describes the formal structure of the suspension of the ethical. it belongs to the same class of emotions as irony.

he can show that only through a dependence upon God can one find value in a world which has been stripped of meaning. de silentio can show how the attitude of “faithful” subjectivity is different not only from the category of “particular” subjectivity. openness or self-sufficiency vs. that only through an openness to the divine does a genuine reconciliation with actuality take place. but how it is different from any other non-faithful position he has mentioned. Ethical discipline comes prior to an absolute relation to the absolute. But this first way of explaining the difference between the “ironic suspension of the ethical” and the “religious suspension of the ethical” does not allow de silentio to give a full inventory of faithful subjectivity. let me return to de silentio’s discussion of “resignation vs. self-sufficient position of irony and the open humble position of the “religious” individual. 149. De silentio holds on to a central aspect of Hegel’s critique of the Schlegelian ironist. de silentio has simply asserted that ethical seriousness is a precondition to faith. . These are the decisive categories. With the category of self-sufficiency. that the single individual as the particular is higher than the universal. There are other features of faithful existence which have not yet been explicitly identified that will make the differences between ironic subjectivity and religious subjectivity unmistakable. divine dependency. having been subordinate to the universal as the particular. De silentio’s second way of explicating these differences sets the critical movement of faith into relief—and it is here we see the critical distinction made in On the Concept of Irony between the closed. To see this most clearly. whether it be the ironic or the ethical.  FT 84-85 / SKS 4. be it noted. At this juncture. now by means of the universal becomes the individual who as the particular stands in an absolute relation to the absolute. though in such a way. is justified before the latter not as subordinate but superior. that the single individual who. One must take the demand of ethics seriously before the move to faith takes place and thus before one can be authentically reconciled with actuality. my emphasis.Irony in Kierkegaard ’s Authorship 223 Faith is just this paradox. I begin with resignation. faith” and examine them in light of the category of self-sufficiency. For by framing the issue in terms of closure vs.

In fact. he admits. It is hardly a simple matter. . De silentio’s most intriguing example is de silentio himself. God’s love is his consolation. anyone who wants it…can discipline himself into making the movement which in its pain reconciles  FT 63-64 / SKS 4. 128-129. He goes to the infinite on his own. He emphasizes repeatedly that he—like other knights of resignation—makes the movement of renunciation by his own human strength. he receives an abstract consolation in the love of God. even if that something greater is “the infinite. But de silentio also claims to have a good idea of what faith is.” God’s love. Importantly. and relativizing these immediate loves to such a degree that one could live without them requires heroic discipline. or more specifically. The important aspect of de silentio’s resigned worldview for my purposes here is his description of how he makes the movement of resignation. A knight of infinite resignation is self-sufficient: In infinite resignation there is peace and repose. He understands it far enough to know he does not have it. And he admits it. but not an active element in his existence. a description of the source of his strength for making this difficult move. the pain of such a maneuver colors every aspect of finitude. He claims to have understood the pain of disappointment and to have understood the alienation of ironic skepticism. Many human relationships are immensely important to us. His otherworldly relationship with the infinite is the center of his existence. But he claims not to have faith. to give up all one’s finite hopes and interests for something greater than the finite world.224 Chapter 7 De silentio knows resignation intimately—for this is his own worldview. he takes consolation in this abstract spirituality. and when he cultivates his soul enough to sense the infinite. de silentio admits that he does not receive strength from a divine source. He claims that it takes great strength to resign oneself to an existence for which meaning and value are concentrated somewhere outside actuality. and I think he also has a good idea of why he does not have faith. making it impossible for the resigned person to ever fully enjoy the world. he says. And he claims that despite his loneliness and pain. But he never claims that he relies on a divine being to help him make that move. He resigns his happiness in the world on his own.

faith is convinced that God troubles himself about the smallest thing. however. 141. For he knows he is proud: I do not burden God with my petty cares. Infinite resignation is that shirt in the old fable. The ironist takes control of his own life when he recognizes that conventional ethical systems are questionable. But this “demand” is at the same time the most profound expression of humility. details don’t concern me. Or perhaps one ought to say that de silentio will not receive the world again. my emphasis.  FT 64 / SKS 4. bleached by tears. Anyone can inoculate him. De silentio is not humble enough to accept the FT 74 / SKS 4. Anyone can build up a defense against the arbitrariness of finitude. In this life I am content to be wedded to the left hand. faith is humble enough to demand the right. That is. the ironist tries to become reconciled with actuality by transforming it creatively. On this note. FT 75 / SKS 4. he shares something essential the romantic ironist: self-sufficiency. he receives the world again.or herself from actuality with the pain of disappointment or disillusionment. and shall never.   . 129. The thread is spun with tears. when compared with faith. He is amazed at the knight of faith who. faith demands a transformation of the actual world so that finite relationships become meaningful. and that it is indeed humility I don’t. like himself. the shirt sewn in tears but then it also gives better protection than iron and steel. As Kierkegaard describes it in On the Concept of Irony.Irony in Kierkegaard ’s Authorship 225 one to existence. de silentio will admit that the consolation of self-sufficiency pales when compared with a religious reconciliation. Faith demands the “right hand. He consciously creates a provisional value system based on his own desires. Everyone can understand this move. 140. I gaze only upon my love and keep its virginal flame pure and clear. “infinitely renounces the claim to love which is the content of his life.” he writes.” But then in a movement which de silentio cannot himself make. de silentio knows that despite his ethical seriousness. deny. Unlike the ironist Kierkegaard describes.

Creating the Self in The Sickness unto Death The problem of ironic self-creation. the power to bring about that reconciliation is not within the subject’s creative capacities. reappears most obviously in Kierkegaard’s anthropological study. But unlike the ironist. of course. whether that self-sufficient worldview is satisfied with a Schlegelian aesthetic construction of actuality. C. As noted. For Hegel. a reconciliation with actuality is a personal and subjective matter. De silentio argues. The “reconciliation with actuality” is complete when the particular individual again acts in accordance with the universal demands of ethics. For de silentio. Let me return to Hegel’s “Good and Conscience” and de silentio’s interest in this particular section of text. an egoistic “suspension of the ethical” is refuted by a demonstration that the ethical life is rational. In other words. The Sickness unto Death. In such a case. de silentio is as closed and self-reliant as the romantic ironist. so to speak. it must be given as a gift. When it comes to the final movement of faith. Kierkegaard and Hegel agree that an ironic lifestyle is a kind of sickness: the particular individual who views all moral and ethical principles as bankrupt egoistically closes him. The book is. that a faithful person might be compelled to “suspend the ethical” for a higher purpose. however.or herself off from the sphere of actuality. about “despair” understood as an imbalance in the potentially healthy self. or a Hegelian rational understanding of actuality. They offer different paths back to actuality. But Kierkegaard and Hegel do not agree on the treatment of the ailment. This imbalance can arise if the individual orients himself . The individual is not in a position to self-sufficiently make a home in the actual world. Kierkegaard can use Hegel’s discussion of irony because he agrees that the practical result of Schlegel’s literature is an ethically self-sufficient individual. as it is for the ironist. the world cannot be taken back through ethical discipline but must be given back.226 Chapter 7 offer of a world endowed with meaning. I have argued that de silentio contrasts the resigned figure with the faithful figure in order to show that faith ultimately requires an individual to sacrifice all worldviews which are grounded in self-sufficiency.

. 155-159. to yield to the necessary in one’s self.” Here Anti-Climacus looks at despair from the “inside. though this self ’s fantastically reflecting itself in possibility. i. By power of artistic genius or the “imagination. SUDP 63 / SV1 9. this form of despair arises because the individual is not attentive to his own concrete relationships and finite context. however.67 / SV1 9. Nor therefore is the misfortune of such a self not to have become anything in the world.Irony in Kierkegaard ’s Authorship 227 incorrectly to any of the essential relationships which constitute the self.. he charts an increasing awareness of the problem of selfhood from a psychological perspective. 144. 149. The most explicit treatment of the power of self-creation..” Similar descriptions are found in his discussion of a despair which lacks necessity.  SUDP 60 / SV1 9. what might be called limits. characteristically determined to become himself. SUDP 45-46 / SV1 9. like the ironic consciousness. that the self he is. The result of correcting the imbalance.   . he writes. he lost himself.” It is in a discussion of the most reflective form of despair. and thus the necessity.e. Cf.” i. is a quite definite something. After describing what he calls “unconscious despair”—where there is no proper concept of a “self ” since the idea of an self is missing from one’s understanding of human anthropology —Anti-Climacus speaks of various forms of “conscious despair. The despairer who lacks finitude is said to be governed by an “abstract” imagination.e. no the misfortune is that he did not become aware of himself. Instead.” which are described as existential positions that lack a proper relationship to “finitude” and “necessity. 146. is found in the section called “Despair considered with regard to consciousness.” respectively. is a realized “primitive” self: “For every individual human being is “primitively organized as a self.” We see the hallmarks of romantic irony in Anti-Climacus’ discussion of the “despair of infinitude” and the “despair of possibility. 130-131. the despair Cf.” one becomes a “fantastic self.  SUDP 72-77 / SV1 9.  SUDP 66. or limits: What is really missing is the strength to obey..

” Indeed. the self wants in despair to rule over himself. or severing it from the conception that there is such a power. like the romantic ironist. in this concrete set of circumstances. make the self the self he wants to be.  SUDP 99 / SV1 9. That is to say. One interprets the “self ” on one’s own terms—which means. for the defiant despairer. the threat to the self is not that “one does not want to become oneself.” but rather just the opposite: that one “wants to become” a self one “creates. has indeed necessity and limits. the most abstract possibility of the self. But by means of the infinite form. However. he has discovered that a conception of self can be poetically constructed in the space opened up by negative reflection. In short. determine what he will have and what he will not have in the concrete self. but “in the beginning. self-defined “self ” is never realized. does not want to see his task in his given self. 179 . the negative self. His concrete self. And it is this self the despairer wants to be. the despairer is reflective enough to realize that he is capable of defining something that he calls a self.” that Kierkegaard’s analysis of romantic thought reappears. severing the self from any relation to the power which has established it. interpreting the self is a continuous process in which one consults oneself about who and what the self is and ought to become. to construct it himself. By means of this infinite form. This capacity to “create” a self-conception in this empty space is here called a “consciousness of an infinite self ” or a consciousness of the “most abstract form of the self. with these aptitudes. or his concreteness.” he does not want to don his own self. or create himself. there must be a consciousness of an infinite self. of course. he wants first to undertake to refashion the whole thing in order to get out of it such a self as he wants.” He writes: In order to want in despair to be oneself. he wants by virtue of being the infinite form. Here. etc. this infinite self is really only the most abstract form of the self. is this quite definite thing. produced by means of the infinite form of the negative self—and it is in this way he wants to be himself. he wants to begin a little earlier than other people. not at and with the beginning. etc. predispositions. that the original self that resides beneath the inauthentic.228 Chapter 7 of “defiance.

just when it seems on the point of having the building finished. SUDP 98-105 / SV1 9. absolutely (as one says) its own master. over “nothing”: All these experimental virtues look very splendid…Yes they do that for wants to take credit for this poetic [digteriske].  CI 281 / SKS 1. that would threaten his creative autonomy.Irony in Kierkegaard ’s Authorship 229 It is also apparent from this passage that Anti-Climacus is attuned to the critical spiritual move Kierkegaard discussed in On the Concept of Irony: the defiant despairer must detach himself from the conception of a higher power. at any moment.” For as Anti-Climacus sees it.. The self wants in despair to savour the full satisfaction of making itself into itself. it can.” As AntiClimacus sees it. 178-185. the defiant despairer says to himself: I will define myself exactly as I want. and exactly this is the despair. 317. Anti-Climacus would agree with the following analysis from On the Concept of Irony: “the ironist most often becomes nothing. when he spoke of the ironist’s tendency to appropriate the creative powers that “bind and unbind” heaven: The negative form of the self exerts the loosening as much as the binding power. And in the end. but also what it regards as its pleasure and joy [Nydelse]. at a whim it can dissolve the whole thing into nothing. a rival deity as it were. Anti-Climacus describes this form of despair in language similar to that of Kierkegaard’s thesis written almost ten years earlier. 180-181. 180. because what is not true for God is true for man—only nothing can be created from nothing. masterly project.  SUDP 100 / SV1 9. start quite arbitrarily all over again…The self is its own master.   . Defiant despair “recognizes no power over itself.. 180. its own way of understanding itself. For I am a better creator than a god if indeed a god has created the flawed individual I am. and beneath it all there is nothing.  SUDP 101 / SV1 9. And yet what it understands itself to be is in the final instance a riddle. SUDP 100 / SV1 9. the self-creative despairer rules over an empty self.

is the path toward a reconciliation to actuality and the self.230 Chapter 7 One final important parallel with Kierkegaard’s discussion of irony ought to be mentioned. is precisely what sin is—and thus the cultivation of faith. I hope.or herself to the will of the creator—and here the creator’s will can be summarized simply as the demand that the creature willingly realize the potential self it was created to become. . It is a problem bound up with the will. Though the discussion of the religiosity required for authentic selfhood was described cryptically in On the Concept of Irony— and is still incomplete in many of the early pseudonymous works—AntiClimacus adds more detail concerning what he considers the authentic religious consciousness to be. Anti-Climacus suggests that the refusal to become oneself. Kierkegaard has not said his last word here about overcoming the sin of self-creation or the cultivation of faith. In short. before God. that the issues tied to irony that Kierkegaard addressed as a student are very much alive in the later authorship. nor is it an ethical problem solved by living virtuously. he says. the counterpart to sin. The root of the problem is said to be that the individual will not to open him. But it is apparent. Even here. His assertion in On the Concept of Irony that the only true reconciliation happens “for me” in “religious” openness is a conclusion that becomes a premise for his authorship as a whole. solved via a proper rational understanding. Sin is not an epistemological problem.