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Humour and Irony in Kierkegaard's Thought.
Basingstoke-London-New York: Macmillan Press/St. Martin's Press 2000. XII, 210 S. 8. Geb. ISBN 0-333-77667-4 u. 0-312-23474-0.
M. Jamie Ferreira
Kierkegaard could well have claimed of himself what his pseudonym, Johannes Climacus, did: "If there is anything I have studied thoroughly, from A to Z, it is the comic." In this wonderfully illuminating exploration of Climacus's views of the relevance and roles of the comic, Lippitt reaches out to other Kierkegaard texts and themes as well as to contemporary philosophical and religious thought, suggesting a whole myriad of ways in which we can think about generic categories like the comic, irony, and satire, and about Kierkegaard's literary methodology.
Beginning with the indispensable yet basic distinction between the comic and humour (the comic includes irony, humour, and satire), L.s locates Climacus's view in relation to other theories of the comic and probes the generic ways in which the comic can play a role in ethical and religious development. In these respects, the author engages with and builds on works that address issues outside of the context of Kierkegaard studies - issues like virtue theory, exemplarity, moral perfectionism, and the ethical legitimacy of uses of irony and satire. But an even more valuable contribution is found in the way L. makes intriguing new connections between the comic and other Kierkegaardian themes, building on other studies of Kierkegaard to highlight the relevance of the comic to the role of imagination in transformative transitions as well as to the strategies of indirect communication. In particular, L. gives us a remarkable summary discussion (pros and cons) of the vexing questions of whether Climacus is a negative or positive exemplar and how Climacus's famous "revocation" at the end of the Postscript is to be construed, as well as an original investigation of why two forms of the comic (humour and irony) are used by Kierkegaard as border territories between the classic existence spheres of the esthetic, ethical, and religious. L.s focus on the humourist author of Philosophical Fragments and Concluding Unscientific Postscript is of special importance because they are two immensely popular texts, both for introducing new readers to Kierkegaard and for scholarly work in philosophy of religion; any future reading of either one will have to take account of and will benefit from L.s clarifications concerning the range and implications of the work of a humourist. However, the book ranges beyond the humourist Climacus, offering (for example) a way to make sense of Kierkegaard's own journal comment that Christianity is "the most humourous view of life in world-history" by means of a creative discussion of the relation of humour to religion.
In short, I find this a fascinating book - engaging written, bold in its engagements with disputed aspects of Kierkegaard exegesis, and ambitious (and successful) in its attempt to develop wider perspectives on the relevance of the comic to both the ethical and religious life in general.