Home > Uncategorized > The present impossibility of revolution

The present impossibility of revolution

One of my courses this fall is on what’s called Kierkegaard’s ‘second authorship,’ which begins, more or less, with A Literary Review—a very long review, about a hundred pages, of a contemporary novel. It’s a really enjoyable read, and actually very suggestive as a genre: he manages to portray the details and spirit of the novel really well, at the same time as he spins out some interesting philosophical threads he sees reflected in the action. For those interested writing ‘constructive commentaries,’ who, like me, prefer to think within the thinking of another, the form of this book is a really interesting example.

Anyway, here’s one amusing snippet. The novel being reviewed tells two stories of two families belonging to two ages, and part of K’s procedure is to specify the general spirit of each age—’The Age of Revolution’ and ‘The Present Age.’

As against the age of revolution, which acted, the present age is the age of advertisement, the age of miscellaneous announcements: nothing happens, but what does happen is instant notification. An uprising in the present age is the most unthinkable of all; such a show of energy would strike the calculating sensibleness of the age as ludicrous. A political virtuoso, on the other hand, might be able to perform a feat of artistry that was amazing in quite another way. He could word an invitation, proposing a general meeting for the purpose of deciding on a revolution, so carefully that even the censor would have to pass it. And then on the evening in question he could give the gathering an impression so deceptive that it seemed as thought they had achieved the uprising; whereupon they would disperse quite peacefully, having spent a very pleasant evening. (62)

Or another, more relevant selection:

A profound religious renunciation of the world, and of what is of the world, adhered to in daily self-denial, would be unthinkable to the youth of our time; yet every second theology graduate would be virtuoso enough to do something far more marvellous: he would be able to propose a social foundation with no less a goal than to save all who are lost. The age of great and good actions is past; the present age is the age of anticipation. (ibid.)

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  1. Elizabeth
    August 31, 2010 at 8:15 pm

    Lovely. You’ll have to tell me the days that you are doing _The Sickness Unto Death_. That is my favorite theological text that I have ever been assigned.

  2. myles
    September 1, 2010 at 2:39 am

    Gives new meaning, I think, to the phrase “the revolution will not be televised”, in that–if there is a revolution–it could not possibly be that which could be televised, digestible by media.

  3. September 1, 2010 at 8:18 am

    E., I’m already ecstatic you made me take this course. I’m getting the sense that every book we read is going to be among my favorite theological texts I’ve ever been assigned.

  4. September 4, 2010 at 12:06 am

    I’m also taking a course on Kierkegaard’s later works at the moment, although we are focusing on different texts (this may be because I am in a philosophy program). We are starting with Postscript, which isn’t a later text exactly, but it sets the stage for one of our major questions in the course. We are also looking at his relationship to Christianity (the Anti-Climacus writings) and his own evaluation of his authorship (Point of View). What else are you reading?

    I’ve read a decent bit of Kierkegaard, and Two Ages is my favorite work. It makes me wonder what we could have had if Kierkegaard had been more inclined to think about social and political questions and address them in his writings. This work is basically an occasional piece, which is pretty impressive.

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