The Incognito of a Thief: Johannes Climacus and the Poetics of Self-Incrimination

In Adam Buben, Eleanor Helms & Patrick Stokes (eds.), The Kierkegaardian Mind. London, UK: pp. 409-420 (2019)
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In this essay, I advance a reading of Philosophical Crumbs or a Crumb of Philosophy, published by Søren Kierkegaard under the pseudonym Johannes Climacus. I argue that this book is animated by a poetics of self-incrimination. Climacus keeps accusing himself of having stolen his words from someone else. In this way, he deliberately adopts the identity of a thief as an incognito. To understand this poetics of self-incrimination, I analyze the hypothetical thought-project that Climacus develops in an attempt to show what it means to go further than Socrates. In my reading, I distinguish between a Socratic and a non-Socratic conception of education, both of which rely on an incognito. Socrates takes on the maieutic incognito of an ignorant bystander in order to force his interlocutors to turn inward so that the truth that is already within them can be born. In contrast, the non-Socratic education that Climacus advances as a hypothesis relies on what I call ‘the incognito as a true form’. It is an incognito insofar as it confronts the pupils with a paradox on which the understanding runs aground. It is a true form insofar as its immediate appearance is not a disguise, but a true form. This indirect mode of communication is necessary, without it pupils will not be able to encounter a truth that is not inherent within them. Climacus’ poetics of self-incrimination, I argue, tries to repeat this indirect mode of communication by adopting the incognito of a thief as a true form.
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