Chris Boesel invites readers into a Kierkegaardian style literary conceit, creating two pseudonymous voices—one philosophical and deconstructive, one theological and confessional—in order to stage an encounter between two commentaries on Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling. On one level, the contest between the two commentaries demonstrates the extent to which an encounter between deconstruction and Kierkegaard has not taken place in the one place everyone thinks it has, in Derrida’s reading of Fear and Trembling in The Gift of Death. On a deeper level, Boesel argues that Derrida’s misreading of Fear and Trembling is both source and symptom of a wider problem: an apophatic blind spot in deconstructive engagements with Christian theology in philosophy of religion and postmodern theology. This blind spot erases the theological and ethical possibilities of what Boesel calls a Kierkegaardian confessional faith, possibilities rooted in a “deconstructive deconstructibility” that produces its own deconstructive-like effects. As a corrective to this blind spot, the encounter between deconstruction and Kierkegaard staged here shows how these effects do the very things heralded by self-proclaimed apophatic remedies of “confessional faith”: disrupt human mastery over God and neighbor while calling for concrete commitments to justice for the widow, orphan and stranger.
Chris Boesel is associate professor of Christian Theology at Drew Theological School.
Part One: Introductions, Devices, Contexts
1.Derrida, Kierkegaard and What Remains To Be Said
2.Deconstruction, Kierkegaardian Faith and Competing Commentaries on Fear and Trembling
3. A “Sustained Consideration of Religion”? The Professor’s Introduction to The Gift of Death
Part Two: Derrida Reads Patočka on Responsibility: The Impossibility of Responsibility
4.Responsibility and the Deconstructive Figure of the Secret
5.The Secret, the Figure of Death and the Impossibility of Responsibility
Part Three: Derrida Reads (and Does Not Read) Kierkegaard on Faith:
Abraham as Figure of the Impossibility of Responsibility
6.God is Silent /God Speaks!
7.Abraham’s Blind Unknowing/Divine Promise and Abraham’s Informed Expectation
8.Abraham Gives Up Isaac without Hope/Abraham Holds to Isaac in the Assurance of Faith: The Double Movement
9.A Constructive Theological Interlude: The Incognito of Faith, Baptism and the Substitutable Marks of the Christian Life
10.Abraham Has Nothing to Say/What Abraham Has to Say Cannot Be Understood
11.Abraham Is Everyone and Everyone Is God/The “Clearance Sale” and the “Vanishing Point”—Derrida Plays Hegel
Part Four: An Accidental Encounter
12.The Gift, Economy and Abraham’s Calculated Sacrifice of Calculation/Derrida’s Accidental Reading of Fear and Trembling
13.An Unconcluding Theological Postscript: The Deconstruction of Kierkegaardian Faith as a Limit of Deconstruction?
Appendix: Where Are They Now?
Deconstruction is justice. Or maybe not. In a provocative and yet witty book, Chris Boesel invites us to consider the problems with a deconstruction that doesn’t turn its critical lens upon its own progressivism. Offering Kierkegaardian Christianity as a constructive alternative, Boesel argues that we need an actual God defined by embodied relational love if we are to go beyond mere structural logics of alterity and begin to care for the widows, the orphans, and the strangers in our midst. No one is safe from this book. But we are all better because of it.
A compelling analysis and argument for the claims 1) that deconstruction is too formal to provide any warrant for the secular, left-wing politics of Derrida and many of his admirers, 2) that Derrida is a poor reader of Kierkegaard, and 3) that properly understood, deconstruction can help a confessional Christian theology with Kierkegaardian overtones to maintain a proper humility. The form of presentation makes the reading easy and fun.
Boesel has managed to write a book that is at once meticulous and light-hearted, both generous and uncompromising. It makes a strong case for the confessional Kierkegaard who makes so many philosophers twitchy, forcing what one might call a genuine decision about this notoriously slippery thinker. Whether the argument delights or offends you, it will challenge and impress you.
There may simply be no other book that comes so close to Kierkegaard’s voice, to the ironic interplay of his philosophical and his theological personae, to the disarming immediacy of his faith. In this relentlessly intimate reading of Derrida mis/reading Kierkegaard, deconstruction and confession tremble in their difference and in their proximity. With its brilliant nuance and good humor, Chris Boesel’s challenge—to Christian clichés, postmodern evasions, dishonest justice—requires no propositional agreement. Every sentence breaks open the next question. But the question does not foreclose the answer.
Here at last is a robust theological engagement with deconstructionist readings of Kierkegaard that accepts and endorses the deconstructionist critique of the God of metaphysics and yet, when this God is rendered mute, finds, as Kierkegaard does, an altogether other God who acts and speaks in the disreputable and lowly figure of Jesus. This is an astute and compellingly argued contribution to Kierkegardian and theological scholarship.