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A Call To The Task: The Attunement Of Fear And Trembling

1767 words - 7 pages

In the “Attunement” of Soren Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling, the author produces four beautiful variations on God’s temptation of Abraham in Genesis 22. In each, Abraham fails at his test in some way; even though in each he offers his son, he misses the full movements of philosophy and faith that the true Abraham completed. Each is closed by a brief image of a child being weaned, presumably a metaphor of the past story. Characteristically of Kierkegaard’s non-prescriptive style, we are told that these stories are the way in which a certain man has tried to understand Abraham; we are invited, but not forced, into contemplation of these various stories. There exist a wealth of connections between each Abraham narrative and the later text, but the motive or meaning behind this proliferation of Abrahams remains unclear, and the metaphors remain even less so. Examining the source of the stories and our own process of understanding them in terms of the forces of thought and faith, we can see the emergence of Kierkegaard’s self-styled role of poet in the form and purpose of these Attunement narratives.
These stories are given to the reader secondhand, as the labors of a man Kierkegaard knows or imagines. It is important for the reader to know the man’s reasons for producing these alternative possibilities of Abraham’s trial, and what this man seeks to gain from examining each. This man is presented paradoxically as “no thinker, [who] felt no need to go further than faith.” At the same time, he is no perfect example, let alone a knight, of faith. Even though he is not a thinker, he is nonetheless using his worldly, rational powers to produce and analyze these stories. It is the “shudder of thought” that drives his obsession with Abraham. Furthermore, the everyday worries of life have “divided what had been united in the child’s pious simplicity,” referring possibly to both his spirit and the now-fragmented story of Abraham.
The man’s reliance on both thought and faith to contemplate Abraham is well represented in the vignettes through the dual components of narrative and metaphor. Each narrative is generated by applying the rational, earthly question “What if?” to the story of Abraham in Genesis. By examining the narratives, we can yield a concise description of the error that Abraham makes in each, and this error often echoes a specific passage in the text where Kierkegaard describes such a possible error in the philosophical and religious movements Abraham makes. For example, the second Abraham makes the movement of resignation, acknowledging that his finite desire to have Isaac will not be fulfilled and that he will only have Isaac in the infinite, and thus makes the sacrifice. However, this Abraham is unprepared for the absurd, and thus “only keeps Isaac with pain.” In the third, Abraham tries to think up a plausible, non-absurd answer to the paradox he sees in God’s commandments to him, forgetting that “faith begins precisely...

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