Lebenskünstler

Life actually lived rather than frozen in the amber of speculative thought – Edward Mooney, Kierkegaard, faith, and love

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 08/01/2013

Excursions with Kierkegaard: Others, Goods, Death, and Final Faith – Reviewed by Jeffrey Hanson

His book is fit for the educated person still open to wonder and a tonic for the academician whose passion has been dulled by bureaucracy and careerism, who has sold her birthright as a teacher in exchange for being — to use a Kierkegaardian term of ridicule — an assistant professor. And his book is for those who still feel the call to which the existentialist once responded: the whispered summons to traipse the wilderness rather than trace yet again the well-worn path to and from the office. Many of Mooney’s metaphors are drawn from the activity of walking and taking in landscapes — if he isn’t a walker himself like his beloved Kierkegaard (or Thoreau, whom he also admires), then he is to be congratulated for his fictive inventiveness, because his imagery strikes the reader as one that is born from life. Indeed, the many meditations in this text positively wriggle with the vitality of the first-hand, like a bucket of eels drawn from a sun-spangled river. Readers expecting a technical account of anything at all will be disappointed. Excursions with Kierkegaard is what its title suggests: more travelogue than treatise. And his companion on the way is lovingly and vividly rendered, a wry Virgil to any Dante who picks up this book. Kierkegaard appears here as by turns sober and wry, difficult and winsome, a poet, a preacher, a prophet, an ironic carnival barker, an astute observer, a friend to the man on the street and a guest of the king, a bon vivant and a Christian, a confidant and critic.

This ambivalence is part of the character of our experience, and Mooney seems to appreciate that. Reason goes weak in the knees when it falls in love because in love the giving of reasons rings hollow: Imagine a marriage proposal prefaced by a list of “Things I Really Like about You.” If Mooney is right (and I think he is) that love thrives where reasons leave off, then that is not because our experience just is equivocal and various means and attunements might disclose this but because this is the way love is, and love being what it is renders all experience equivocal. If God is non-metaphorical love par excellence, and I think for Kierkegaard God is, then the aesthetic approach, for all its beauty and splendor, needs the religious to rescue it. Mooney’s poetics are not incompatible with the religious — far from it — but it might help to be a bit clearer that while for Kierkegaard faith without poetics is inconceivable, poetics without faith is unsustainable.

Again it is Mooney’s vision that causes us to see Kierkegaard anew, and, as he would admit, no one has an unobstructed vista on the panorama of truth. If he brings us to a new vision, he does so not by force of syllogism but by inviting us to take up a strange and strained perspective. To ask for this fuzziness to be brought to perfect clarity would betray both Mooney’s characteristic tenor and the point of what he wants to convey, which is in no small part that for Kierkegaard ambiguity, openness, and subjective shading are endemic to life actually lived rather than frozen in the amber of speculative thought.

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