- Kierkegaard on Faith and Love
Contemporary scholarship on Kierkegaard is frequently confronted by two problems. First, there is the question of Kierkegaard’s worldliness: does Kierkegaard have anything substantial to say about politics, society, and the ethical dilemmas of intersubjective existence? Second, there remains the perennial problem of the rhetorical singularity of Kierkegaard’s writings: can anything conceptually coherent be salvaged from the panoply of pseudonyms, indirections, and ironies? And, if so, to what extent do such abstractions falsify the richness of a particular text? The virtue of Krishek’s Kierkegaard on Faith and Love is that it answers both these questions in a radical and challenging manner. To the problem of worldliness, Krishek responds by insisting on the presence of a disposition to “full concreteness” or “a full return to the world” in Kierkegaard’s account of love (128). In answer to the problem of rhetorical singularity, Krishek embraces Kierkegaard’s incoherence, so as to affirm Fear and Trembling against Works of Love (or “Kierkegaard versus Kierkegaard,” as she puts it on p. 138).
Kierkegaard on Faith and Love is a sustained investigation into the status and structure of love in Kierkegaard’s corpus. It thus takes its place alongside Evans’s Kierkegaard’s Ethics of Love (Oxford, 2004), Ferreira’s Love’s Grateful Striving (Oxford, 2001), Amy Laura Hall’s Kierkegaard and the Treachery of Love (Cambridge, 2002), Ronald L. Hall’s The Human Embrace (Penn State, 2000), and Mooney’s Love and Faith in Kierkegaard (Indiana, 2008) as one more contribution to the recent explosion of literature on the subject. However, Krishek is distinctive in limiting her scope to romantic love alone; she steadfastly reconstructs [End Page 302] a Kierkegaardian phenomenology of romantic attitudes toward the beloved—the proper and improper modes of comportment when in love.
The first half of the book is split into three chapters, which together present a hierarchy of these different comportments. The reader passes by inadequate attempts to hold onto the beloved through recollection (chapter 2) and resignation (chapter 3) to arrive at the Kierkegaardian ideal of faithful or “faith-full” love. Modelled on the knight of faith of Fear and Trembling, the faith-full lover accomplishes a double movement in which he resigns himself to the loss of the beloved while simultaneously trusting in her return. Unfortunately, on the way to this ideal, some of the great lovers of Kierkegaard’s writings (Don Juan, the Seducer) are brushed aside in an overly schematic way. This is a shame because they surely have much to teach us about his views on romantic love. Nevertheless, the effect of Krishek’s whistle-stop tour through the aesthetic works is to quickly bring us face to face with Fear and Trembling, in which, she contends, we find a positive model of romantic love. Making the early, pseudonymous Fear and Trembling determinative of Kierkegaard’s conception of love is a bold move, especially in light of the tendency in recent Kierkegaard scholarship to valorize the “rediscovered” religious works. Yet it pays off: Krishek’s choice not only allows a rich and affirmative description of romantic love to emerge; it also sheds light on Fear and Trembling itself, especially the Merman episode.
The final three chapters of Kierkegaard on Faith and Love take up the task of justifying this ideal of faith-full love. First, Krishek attempts to show its conceptual plausibility by appealing to non-Kierkegaardian examples: the novel On the Way Home, Kubrik’s Eyes Wide Shut, and Almodóvar’s All About My Mother. Second, she engages at length with existing scholarship, employing the double movement of love abstracted from Fear and Trembling to great effect to overturn the orthodox emphasis on resignation, failure, and asceticism in Kierkegaard’s account of love. Finally, Krishek turns to Works of Love, which is usually regarded as Kierkegaard’s mature and definitive statement of a philosophy of love. She challenges the derogatory attitude Kierkegaard takes therein to romantic or “preferential” love with her more affirmative model drawn from Fear...