Upbuilding as unedifying

Well it was a fairly quick tear through Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits.  Overall, as I mentioned in my last post, I was not impressed.  It was piece of simple and thoroughgoing introspection.  The basic thrust was that every individual is able to live joyously, but joy comes through suffering because suffering is the teacher of obedience and obedience of all things is necessary for joy.  I continue to grant Kierkegaard some margin on this stream of his thinking because it seems apparent that our contemporary subjective constitutions remain relatively flaccid.  However, where I see a necessary and critical rejection is in how this plays out in some of his examples.  Kierkegaard typically wants to drive a qualitative distinction between external influences and internal formation.  It is important for him that there is nothing external that can overcome an appropriate internal orientation (alone before God).

There are many assumptions inherent to this position.  It assumes a form of suffering based on recognition (i.e. people knew Kierkegaard was a genius, but perhaps also insane).  This assumes a rejection.  It does not explore the enmeshed relationship of abuse in which the very form of relating (and identity) can create a double-bind in the experience of the abused (an abusive spouse can express absolute need and revulsion in almost the same moments).  Kierkegaard concedes, in good Pauline literalist fashion, that if someone can choose their freedom then they should do so but then goes on and uses the actual example of a woman who bears “all the difficulties and caprices and insults of her husband” (I think you mean “shit” Kierkegaard . . . although I don’t know the original Danish) so that on the outside it looks like “a happy marriage”.  There is no redeeming the direction Kierkegaard takes this and in fact I would argue it goes against his very premise of individuality.  To “suffer meekly” in this instance is bind herself perversely to her husband and not “stand alone before God”.

Next is Works of Love.  I have read through it twice already.  I remember the second half holding the most engaging portion.  I am feeling the first signs of real lag in this reading schedule.  My pace is great but this last volume took a little wind out of my sails.  It did, however, raise an interesting conflict in my mind.  To what extent should I skim those works I am not interested in or agree with?  I know that is up to me and doesn’t really matter.  However, I have often given up reading something because it somehow attained lower worth.  Given that I have invested so much time in Kierkegaard (and have a thesis project with him on the horizon) it seemed important to practice the discipline of reading ‘unedifying discourses’ for the very purposes of understanding the logic that reacts against my thinking.


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