Dante Clementi (Bio)

Disorienting Upbuilding: Ricoeur and Kierkegaard on Spiritual Transfiguration through Reading

Kierkegaard’s advocation of religious silence in his 1849 discourses, The Lily of the Field and the Bird of the Air, is, on one reading, meant to performatively demonstrate the representational limits of language by its ironic expression through language (Shakespeare 2001). This reading, however, ignores the discourses’ literary artifice — in this case, parable, and literary narrative - which indicates that how these discourses are to be experienced by the reader is different than merely countenancing a performatively illustrated philosophical thesis. This paper addresses the questions of why Kierkegaard employs parable as part of his religious literature and how it is meant to be experienced by the discourses’ reader. Drawing on his account of reading scripture in For Self-Examination, this paper suggests that Kierkegaard tries, through a highly stylized literary medium, to engender silence within the reader by shifting the reader’s way of attending to the discourses themselves, a shift from objectively dissecting the text to quietly contemplating the text as if it were about oneself. How this shift in attending to the discourses occurs can be clarified through Paul Ricoeur’s conception of parables — developed in his “Biblical Hermeneutics” (1974), and across various smaller works - as disorienting their reader to re-orient them, a disorientation that affects a new vision of the world in the parables’ reader. What emerges from the Ricoeur-Kierkegaard dialogue is a more explicitly theorized account of how language’s figurative possibilities still the reader’s discursive interpretation such that they become immersed in the text. As this paper will suggest, this immersion occurs by the text working in the reader to engender a contemplative, quiet reception of its, the text’s, voice, a voice that draws the reader into the text to imaginatively find themselves within the text.