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By Sylviane Agacinski

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Additional resources for Aparte: Conceptions and Deaths of Soren Kierkegaard (Kierkegaard and postmodernism)

Sample text

We should recall that, in its context, what is at issue is not merely "seeing" the head of Napoleon or rather not seeing it as "mere" head. Kierkegaard introduces the reference to the engraving by saying, "Allow me to illustrate my meaning with an image" and thus tells us the story of the head not for its own sake but rather as a means of understanding his meaning more easily. Napoleon's head becomes a figure for what, in this case, just happens to be the difficulty involved in understanding the meaning hidden in the ironic words of Socrates.

It follows that in order for irony to be "good," its negativitylike Socrates' questionshas to be "timely," that is, it has to correspond to the needs of the historical moment in which it originates. In the case of Socrates, this meant that the empty substantiality of the Greeks was ready to be negated and replaced by the dawning subjectivity of Socrates. Otherwise, the negativity of subjective play is merely gratuitous and of no "use" whatsoever, like the arbitrary playfulness of the romantics that empties objectivity of its content but is not geared toward replacing the void it creates with any ideal positivity of its own.

It was not until the early seventies, in fact, when some of the urgency and even fashionableness of the first inquiries had begun to fade and when pressures from the increasingly sophisticated interpretative tools provided by literary and linguistic analysis made it seem appropriate to place both the philosophical and religious dimensions of Kierkegaard's writing within a general examination of the mode of their communication prior to their meaning or value, that the study of Kierkegaard in this country was prepared to encounter in a productive way the kind of readings that had been taking place in Europe at least since the early forties.

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