Since art is essential to the love of one’s neighbor as oneself and to love’s chief goal of building up one another, we cannot understand love without also understanding its art. Observing that praise is ubiquitous in Søren Kierkegaard’s writings, Richard McCombs interprets Kierkegaard’s Works of Love as a eulogy of love’s arts of forgiveness, peace-making, and building up one’s neighbor in maturity and charity. Kierkegaard stresses love's ability to achieve results, calling love irresistible and almost magical in overcoming obstacles to its purposes; living the life of faith and love involves skillful attention to the specificity of the episodes in an individual’s life, and the creative imagining of new ways of enacting these virtues. McCombs argues that Kierkegaard’s ideas about the art of love reveal limits or exceptions to his individualism and to his anti-consequentialism in ethics. Art and Praise in Kierkegaard’s Works of Love explores Kierkegaard’s distinct praises of love through texts like Works of Love, The Brothers Karamazov, and Middlemarch to illustrate, complement, and sometimes correct Kierkegaard’s profound account of love’s art and wisdom, suggesting ways that the art of praise bears on other questions in aesthetics, ethics, and religion.
Richard McCombs teaches at St. John’s College in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
List of Abbreviations
Chapter One: The Poetry of Faith in Fear and Trembling
Chapter Two: Love’s Art of Upbuilding
Chapter Three: The Arts of Forgiveness, Reconciliation, and Peace-Making
Chapter Four: The Art of Praising Love
Chapter Five: Two Examples of Praising Love
Chapter Six: Love’s Equality
Appendix: The Wisdom of Love
About the Author
This outstanding work focuses the spotlight on an often-neglected aspect of Kierkegaard’s authorship, arguing that much of it can be read doxologically, as an encomium to such Christian virtues as faith and love. Richard McCombs aptly observes that Kierkegaard was convinced that praising love was an essential strategy for building up love in the neighbor. For Kierkegaard this praise must employ Socratic pedagogy and aesthetic devices, even devious art, because love is offensive to merely human values. McCombs intriguingly suggests that the need for artful strategies is reinforced by the fact that loving properly is also an art, for love requires wisdom and practical know-how. This book emphasizes Kierkegaard’s central contention that all people can become virtuosos of the art of love, artfully expressing essential human equality despite inessential worldly inequalities.
It’s hard to imagine a more illuminating and inspiring study of Kierkegaard’s Works of Love than this one. But it is more. This book proposes that we read his entire authorship in a fresh, new way, as that of a poet whose primary task is to praise things admirable and to evoke our admiration of them. This includes faith, as presented pseudonymously in Fear and Trembling, and then love (in greater detail) as presented in Works of Love. The extensive use of illustrations from Middlemarch and The Brothers Karamazov lends concrete everydayness to the detailed textual analysis.
Boldly violating the shibboleth in Kierkegaard studies regarding the mixing of the esthetic and the ethical-religious spheres of existence, and provocatively situating his proposal within a study of Kierkegaard’s Works of Love, McCombs proposes to reclaim art and esthetics as essential elements of the existential task of ethical-religious striving. Compelling, responsible, and sufficiently nuanced to engage any reader of Kierkegaard who is unwilling to dismiss the undertaking a priori.