Journal Article

The Poetics of Distance: Kierkegaard's Abraham

Chris Danta

in Literature and Theology

Volume 21, issue 2, pages 160-177
Published in print June 2007 | ISSN: 0269-1205
Published online June 2007 | e-ISSN: 1477-4623 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/litthe/frm009
The Poetics of Distance: Kierkegaard's Abraham

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Søren Kierkegaard's existential identification with the story of Abraham in Genesis 22 is well known. In 1852, Kierkegaard imagined himself waking one morning to the thought: ‘What you are experiencing is similar to the story of Abraham’, only to add almost in the same breath: ‘But he did not understand Abraham or himself’. The correct rhetorical name for this uncanny act of identification, which attributes the incomprehensibility of the present to something in the distant past, is metalepsis. In this article I claim that Kierkegaard thereby presents Abraham in Fear and Trembling as the metaleptic figure par excellence. Kierkegaard's Abraham, I argue, denominates a special type of figurative substitution in which the inconsolability of the present is expressed via a poetics of distance.

It is no small sacrifice to part with the assurance that life and immortality have been brought to light, and to be reduced to the condition of the great spirits of old who looked yearningly to the horizon of their earthly career wondering what lay beyond: but I cannot think the conviction that immortality is man's destiny indispensable to the production of elevated and heroic virtue and the sublimest resignation.

                    –– George Eliot, The Letters, 1842

Journal Article.  7692 words. 

Subjects: Literature ; Religion and Art, Literature, and Music

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