Antigone and Abraham in Melancholia

One of the most striking scenes in Melancholia comes when Justine and Claire step outside the mansion to see the sky lit up by two large heavenly bodies: the moon and the planet Melancholia. Claire suddenly notices that Justine is missing, and when she finds her, Justine is splayed out nude, basking in the uncanny light. This is a striking contrast to Justine’s previous behavior — during the wedding sequence, she can muster up no desire for her new husband, and when she takes aside a young man and has sex with him, it is more an expression of dominance and spite than lust. In the second half of the movie, she has difficulty sustaining any kind of affect whatsoever, recoiling from a warm bath and declaring that a favorite meal tastes like ashes. Yet here she is, responding to the prospect of the world’s annihilation with unmistakable erotism.

This scene serves, for me at least, as a kind of “quilting point” tying Melancholia to the story of Antigone. Read the rest of this entry »

Further thoughts on separating theology and “belief”

What is the difference between philosophy and theology if it’s not the personal belief stance of the thinker in question? What makes the pursuit of something like theology distinctive compared to what one would normally call philosophy? I should say from the first that I think this has to be regarded as an open problem, because philosophy and theology are both critical and speculative discourses undertaken in dialogue with a historical tradition. Given such similarities, it is understandable that one would cast about for factors external to the discourse itself, such as the “personal belief” of the thinker. I think that such a difference is both nonsensical and boring, however, and I propose that a more reasonable and interesting difference must be found within theological discourse itself.

Read the rest of this entry »

Scattered thoughts inspired by the teaching of Fear and Trembling

  • I had always thought that the “everyday” knight of faith in the Preliminary Expectoration was strangely disproportionate to the extraordinary act of Abraham, but this time around I realized that Abraham’s huge achievement was not to murder his son — surely not an uncommon or extraordinary act.
  • When I asked the students to compare the “everyday” knight of faith with Augustine’s self-assessment in book X of the Confessions, the first section thought he was only a knight of infinite resignation and the second thought he hadn’t even attained that level yet.
  • Bruce Rosenstock once said in comments or in an e-mail to me that Hegel believed that the only consolation for modern people was philosopy — we can never have the holistic, harmonious life putatively enjoyed by the Greeks, but at least we’ve reached a point in history where we can “comprehend our era in thought.” If this is an accurate reading of Hegel, perhaps Kierkegaard’s critique is more precise than many seem to think, insofar as “infinite resignation” ultimately means exchanging the realization of your desire for an idealized, eternal, spiritual/intelligible version of it — that is, “infinite resignation” simultaneously negates and preserves the desire. The dialectic of thought can move on from this point in many ways — for instance, by demonstrating how the desire itself was inadequate — but the dialectic of faith moves beyond it in action.

Kierkegaard’s System

Last weekend, I spent a lot of time going back over Kierkegaard texts, in preparation for an exam (miraculously already graded and passed, so I must be an expert on this topic). I was struck with a vertiginous sense that all of this, the play of names, the variety of genres, etc. — all of it fits together into a unified whole. All of it can be taken into account and systemaized. In fact, “systematized” might not be the right word: it already is a system, one revealed progressively from a variety of perspectives, but integral and coherent.

I obviously can’t demonstrate this in the context of a blog post, but if I ever do demonstrate it, it will be in a book entitled Kierkegaard’s System — a book of under 200 pages, most likely.

Kierkegaard and Hegel

Can the Kierkegaardian triad of Aesthetic, Ethical, and Religious be mapped out onto the triad of Skepticism, Stoicism, and Christianity in the “Unhappy Consciousness” section of Phenomenology of Spirit?


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