SKC Project Seminar: Elisabeth Li

(Princeton University, USA)

"Rescuing Thought: Søren Kierkegaard and Gillian Rose on the Value of Difficulty"

Throughout his authorship, Kierkegaard repeatedly reminds us—and at times admonishes us—that difficulty [Vanskelighed] should not be shied away from. For Kierkegaard it is not just that the task of the existing person is difficult—it a task that must be made difficult. For as he remarks both in his journals and pseudonymously, difficulty delights the noble [Ædle] and high-minded [Højhjertede]. More than a century later, the British-Jewish social philosopher, Gillian Rose would similarly emphasise the philosophical importance of difficulty suggesting that the human preference for easy answers is partly to blame for a crisis she identifies in the philosophy of her time. I will therefore explore the nature of difficulty in the thought of Rose and Kierkegaard to discover why and how difficulty is something towards which we should orient ourselves. By exploring their use and invocation of ambiguity and aporia to inscribe difficulty into their works—or, in the words of Climacus, make “difficulties everywhere”—I will argue that both Kierkegaard and Rose see difficulty as something that has the capacity to encourage, even “rescue” thought. Some critics have protested that Kierkegaard and Rose are simply being obscure for the sake of it. However, I hope to show that each thinker’s upholding of difficulty reveals a shared desire not to leave us thoughtless, but to forge a more open and resilient form of thinking able to engage the conflicts, uncertainties, and contradictions of human experience.