A Call to the Task: The Attunement of Fear and Trembling Essays

A Call to the Task: The Attunement of Fear and Trembling Essays

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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 w...


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...that he has succeeded as the first example of the hero-loving poet at work in this new order. The best image of this poet Kierkegaard offers is as one who “wanders round in front of everyone’s door with this song and his speech, so that all can admire the hero as he does, be proud of the hero as he is.” In the narratives and metaphors, we have heard Kierkegaard’s song. It is tightly constructed, divided into choruses and refrains, as a song should be. Like the words of a song, it resists being nitpicked to produce false meaning. It is meant to be pocketed and later contemplated at whatever place and time suits its contemplation. It is a call to come outside, but forces nobody to follow. If a listener chooses to join the poet, the song does exactly what it promises to and baffles the listener, who now can admire Abraham just as Kierkegaard does: in bafflement.

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