The Sublime in the Pedestrian: Figures of the Incognito in Fear and Trembling

History of European Ideas 47 (3):500-513 (2021)
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This article demonstrates a novel conceptualization of sublimity: the sublime in the pedestrian. This pedestrian mode of sublimity is exemplified by the Biblical Abraham, the central figure of Kierkegaard’s pseudonymous Fear and Trembling. It is rooted in the analysis of one of the foundational stories of the three monotheistic religions: Abraham’s averted sacrifice of his son Isaac. The defining feature of this new, pedestrian mode of sublimity is that is remains hidden behind what I call a total incognito. It is similar to the classical ‘elevated mode of sublimity’ as developed by Burke, Kant, and Schiller insofar as it denotes two contrasting feelings at once: repulsion and attraction. It is different insofar as Kierkegaard’s pedestrian mode of sublimity remains hidden from view and can only be shown indirectly. This article expounds the new, pedestrian mode of sublimity by investigating the relation between the incognito and the sublime in Fear and Trembling. It achieves that goal by engaging three perspectives: (1) the sublime failure that comes to the fore in the incognitos of an imaginary Abraham; (2) the ‘fear without being afraid’ that is invoked by God’s incognitos; (3) the total incognito of the pedestrian which conceals Abraham’s sublimity.

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Martijn Boven
Leiden University


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