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Kierkegaard, Fire, and the Prolixity of Filling Time
Abstract

Abstract:

According to Marthe Robert, the novel Don Quixote raises the question of the truth of literature: "What place do books have in reality? Are they absolutely true or true only relatively?. . . If they are false, their very fascination makes them useless or harmful and they must be rendered null and void, or better still, burned." This article explores the pertinence of this question to the writings of Kierkegaard, who was preoccupied by images of fire and burning as well as by questions of the ultimate adequacy of literature, including his own "prolix literature," to communicate Christian truth. Throughout his authorial career, and increasingly in his final years, Kierkegaard expresses concerns over what Johannes Climacus calls "the inadequacy of language." Incited by Jesus's arsonist declaration "I came to cast fire upon the earth" (Luke 12:49), which he invokes as part of his attack on the established Danish Church, Kierkegaard becomes convinced that the "prolixities" of false Christendom "must go." Yet, as his journals and authorship reveal, he remains haunted to the end of his life by thoughts about his (and his pseudonyms') own sheer verbosity, his authorial needs for "filling up" time and narrative, and the ultimate "superficiality" of his literary vocation.



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