SKC Project Seminar: Amber Bowen

(Redeemer University, USA)

Kierkegaard on the Importance and Limits of Critique

Across his authorship, Kierkegaard demonstrates both the importance and the limits of suspicious critique. Whether pseudonymous or signed, each text seeks in some way to save Christianity from Christendom, or to restore genuine faith from complacency and idolatry. To that end, Kierkegaard heavily critiques Hegelian philosophy and its all-too warm reception by Danish theologians, and he demasks the nominalism and nationalism promoted by the Danish state church in his day. However, despite his notoriously scathing critiques, Kierkegaard also warns of the dangers of pervasive suspicion, especially when it hardens into a disposition, or becomes a mode of existence. In this paper, I explore one such warning in his early writing, From the Papers of One Still Living, as well as in his later work, A Literary Review. In both texts, Kierkegaard “critiques” the literary criticism of his day as petty and destructive, and therefore “in crisis.” To better understand why Kierkegaard critiques his peers in this way, I first offer a historical description of how they practiced criticism. This context lends insight into what Kierkegaard thinks makes critique counterproductive. Secondly, I proffer that by urging deeper subjectivity and affectivity, Kierkegaard offers a constructive alternative that redirects suspicious critique away from detached “objective criticism” that is often more punitive than purificatory. Finally, I situate this historical analysis in my broader claim that while Kierkegaard often philosophizes with a hammer and has a gaze into the human condition that is uniquely piercing, his use of critique is positioned within a broader horizon of purpose: namely, the upbuilding of the reader. As such, I present him as a much-needed model for a hermeneutics of suspicion that finds its relief in a hermeneutics of edification.