Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Kierkegaard and the Staging of Desire: Rhetoric and Performance in a Theology of Eros

Kierkegaard and the Staging of Desire: Rhetoric and Performance in a Theology of Eros

Carl S. Hughes
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 256
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Kierkegaard and the Staging of Desire: Rhetoric and Performance in a Theology of Eros
    Book Description:

    Theology in the modern era often assumes that the consummate form of theological discourse is objective prose--ignoring or condemning apophatic traditions and the spiritual eros that drives them. For too long, Kierkegaard has been read along these lines as a progenitor of twentieth-century neo-orthodoxy and a stern critic of the erotic in all its forms. In contrast, Hughes argues that Kierkegaard envisions faith fundamentally as a form of infinite, insatiable eros. He depicts the essential purpose of Kierkegaard's writing as to elicit ever-greater spiritual desire, not to provide the satisfactions of doctrine or knowledge. Hughes's argument revolves around close readings of provocative, disparate, and (in many cases) little-known Kierkegaardian texts. The thread connecting all of these texts is that they each conjure up some sort of performative "stage setting," which they invite readers to enter. By analyzing the theological function of these texts, the book sheds new light on the role of the aesthetic in Kierkegaard's authorship, his surprising affinity for liturgy and sacrament, and his overarching effort to conjoin eros for God with this-worldly love.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-5726-3
    Subjects: Performing Arts

Table of Contents

  1. Prologue: Theology and Fairy Tales
    (pp. 1-7)

    The fairy tale that Kierkegaard’s pseudonym Johannes Climacus begins to tell above is meant to shed light on no less an elevated theological topos than the Incarnation.¹ It is the centerpiece of the second chapter ofPhilosophical Fragments, by any measure one of the weightiest and most central texts of Kierkegaard’s authorship. Throughout the book, Climacus studiously avoids mentioning Christ, Christianity, or the Incarnation by name—though few readers could avoid connecting his hypothetical “thought-project” and “poetical venture” to Christian theology. Instead of writingdirectlyabout the Incarnation, as most theologians would, Climacus “stages” another drama—one more accessible to...

  2. Introduction: Staging Desire, with Constant Reference to The Concept of Irony
    (pp. 9-45)

    With his 1976 bookKierkegaard, the Myths and Their Origins, the Danish literary scholar Henning Fenger established himself as the bête noire of a generation of Kierkegaard scholarship. Fenger’s book calls into question the pieties that were dominant in the field when it was first published—tendencies that remain widespread, if less engrained, today. I do not begin by citing this text because I see it as perfect or even exemplary. It is now dated, and, as will soon become clear, I disagree fundamentally with the opposition it draws between literary and theological approaches to Kierkegaard’s writings. Nonetheless, I think...

  3. 1. Desiring “The One”—in Vaudeville, Marriage, and Beyond
    (pp. 47-79)

    Instantly evocative, equally clichéd, the phrase “the first love” names one of the most recurring themes inEither/Or, as well as a play by Eugène Scribe to whichEither/Or’s two main authorial voices, Aesthete A and Judge William, each respond. First love is a quintessentially Romantic ideal, the dream of a singular and absolute passion transcending all compromises and torpor. As Aesthete A explains it, “The fi rst love is the true love, and one loves only once.”¹ To find “first love” is to find “the One”—a goal as familiar in our own time as it was in Kierkegaard’s....

  4. 2. Vor Frue Kirke as Stage: Aesthetics and Desire in Liturgy and Sacrament
    (pp. 81-113)

    The transition from Aesthete A’s scribblings oncomédie-vaudevilleto Kierkegaard’s sober meditations on the Eucharist may not qualify as a “leap” in the technical Kierkegaardian sense of the term, but it is jarring nonetheless. The chronological gap betweenEither/Orand the Eucharistic Discourses¹ is wide. Published in 1843,Either/Oris the first text in what Kierkegaard came to refer to as his “authorship”; the Eucharistic Discourses, spanning the years 1848–51, belong to his career’s penultimate phase.² Thematically, the distance betweenThe First Loveand the Eucharistic Discourses is even wider. In nineteenth-century Danish Lutheranism, a Eucharistic Discourse was a...

  5. 3. “The Woman Who Was a Sinner”: A New Statue in Vor Frue Kirke
    (pp. 115-129)

    Synderinden,” “The Sinful Woman,” or, as she is more commonly referred to in English, “The Woman Who Was a Sinner”: these titles conjure one of the New Testament’s most arresting characters and vivid scenes.¹ Luke 7:36–50 tells a story about Jesus, to be sure, but the woman who places herself at his feet steals the show. Jesus is eating dinner in the home of a Pharisee, when a “woman in the city, who was a sinner” bursts in uninvited.² She lies down at Christ’s feet: weeping, bathing his feet with her tears, drying them with her flowing hair, and...

  6. 4. Theatrical and Eucharistic Transformations: From the Farce Theater to the Feet of Christ
    (pp. 131-163)

    In “The Woman Who Was a Sinner,” Kierkegaard fashions from words a new and most likely unwelcome “statue” amid Vor Frue Kirke’s marble elegance. As we saw in the last chapter, he claims to know virtually nothing about the woman “herself”: neither her name nor her backstory nor what happens to her after she encounters Jesus. All that matters to him is her title: Shewasa sinful woman, and shebecomesa welcome lover of Christ. The generic nature of Kierkegaard’s portrayal is woefully inadequate as history, yet its purpose is not to provide an objective account of her,...

  7. 5. Sacramental Writing, Sacramental Living: Eros in Existence
    (pp. 165-194)

    Just as Kierkegaard’s aesthetic writings gesture beyond themselves toward a religious sphere that they cannot contain, so too his Eucharistic Discourses impel the reader outside Vor Frue Kirke’s walls, toward a communion with Christ lived out amid the everyday. His tableaux, ventriloquized voices, liturgical stage settings, and imagined sermons all use their theatrical half-light to point beyond their dim shadows toward the daylight of actuality. No text in Kierkegaard’s authorship is more squarely focused on the actuality of Christian living thanWorks of Love. Published in 1847, the book is chronologically prior to the Eucharistic Discourses, but it is thematically...

  8. Epilogue: Renewing Theology—Kierkegaard beyond Barth
    (pp. 195-200)

    In the standard narratives of the history of Protestant theology, Søren Kierkegaard is often accorded the role of a kind of “John the Baptist.” The textbooks present him as a lonely prophet wandering in the wilderness of “cultural Christianity,” proclaiming the “infinite qualitative difference” between the temporal and the eternal more than a half century before ears were ready to hear it. Every theology student knows for whom Kierkegaard is supposed to be preparing the way: Karl Barth, the most influential theologian of the twentieth century. Throughout this book, I have focused on differentiating Kierkegaard more from Anders Nygren than...