The moment of self-transformation

Kierkegaard on suffering and the subject

Samuel Snow

pp. 161-180

In his self-published periodical The Moment, Søren Kierkegaard warns his reader against the possibility of "useless suffering" (unyttig Lidelse). Not only that, he urges the reader to make use of her suffering. Taking this caution as a point of departure, I investigate the pseudonymous Johannes Climacus' deliberations on ethico-religious suffering in the Postscript. I demonstrate that Climacus construes suffering as useful, and with that outlines an economy of suffering that Kierkegaard delineates across his pseudonymous and non-pseudonymous work. The paradigmatic expression of this is the use the subject makes of her suffering in "the moment" (Øieblikket), in which suffering is defined according to its relation with the eternal. Suffering is thus a key element of the individual subject's self-development: The subject is transformed, and transforms herself, in suffering. Finally, I argue that this economy of suffering produces a notion of the subject as actively involved in securing the contribution her suffering can make to her self-transformation. I criticize this notion, showing it renders problematic any ethical or ethico-religious account of the response of the subject to the suffering of the other: The subject is not first and foremost attuned to the other's suffering, rather she is attuned to the possibility of her own transformation. Suffering becomes in this way both a key exegetical tool for understanding Kierkegaard's view of the subject and, more significantly, a way to problematize Kierkegaard's ethical account of the subject's response to others' suffering.

Publication details

DOI: 10.1007/s11007-016-9379-z

Full citation:

Snow, S. (2016). The moment of self-transformation: Kierkegaard on suffering and the subject. Continental Philosophy Review 49 (2), pp. 161-180.

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