Sunday, April 4, 2010

Kierkegaard and Dickinson?

Abraham to kill him- by Emily Dickinson

Abraham to kill him—
Was distinctly told—
Isaac was an Urchin—
Abraham was old—

Not a hesitation—
Abraham complied—
Flattered by Obeisance
Tyranny demurred—

Isaac—to his children
Lived to tell the tale—
Moral—with a Mastiff
Manners may prevail.

The last two lines help me to vocalize my questions about Kierkegaard's philosophy. Some argue that Dickinson's skepticism of God was made evident in her usage of the last two lines to paint God as a figure who uses intimidation to get humans to do his will. Now let's back up, Emily Dickinson was pretty tragic with her dashes and obsessions with snakes in the grass and what not, but I think she's also making a point about the lesson she garnered from the story of Abraham. By using the word "Mastiff" I think Dickinson intended to describe God as an intimidating figure, as one who uses his size to belittle those under him. I also think Dickinson could be making a point here that God uses the story of Abraham to instill a fear based on the threat of being hurt by God so that we may obey his will. Because it seems like that's all this really breaks down to, right? Who should we obey, our morals or our God? But didn't God put an idea of morality in our mind so that we may have the free will to decide if an action is in line with the moral or not based on our own opinion? All questions that have been asked before this blog post, yes, but I think Emily's poem asks them in a more tongue-in-cheek way. "Morals--with a Mastiff." I think Dickinson is using this specifically dueling imagery to make a criticism that morals aren't really serving their full function unless the imminent threat of harm is tied to them. The "Mastiff" would then be the impending punishment from God if Abraham were to decide not to go through with God's plan for his son. But we must also note that morals do prevail because God TELLS Abraham that His word should not be acted upon. God goes back on his words! Why is God allowed to pull the bait and switch on Abraham, but Kierkegaard writes a whole philosophy about Abraham pulling the bait and switch on Isaac? Maybe Dickinson's poem is saying that our ideal of moral is what ultimately prevailed because it was the decision enforced, not necessarily the decision that was carried through. I think Dickinson did not have any faith in the absurd, (which is sort of odd for a poet, but I'll buy it) to influence her decision to write such a controversially unorthodox view of the Biblical event.

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