Illegible Salvation: The Authority of Language in The Concept of Anxiety

In Joseph Westfall (ed.), Authorship and Authority in Kierkegaard’s Writings. London, UK: pp. 121-137 (2018)
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This essay examines the analysis of language in The Concept of Anxiety and argues that language ultimately reveals itself as both dangerous and salvific. The pseudonymous author, Vigilius Haufniensis, is suspicious of language, for it divides the individual from herself and thereby makes possible the self-forgetfulness of objective chatter. Indeed, this warning (which commenters have tended to follow uncritically) is a legitimate one – yet it fails to grasp that by rendering the self other than itself, language constitutes the self. In other words, the individual’s very existence depends on language. Moreover, the attempt to establish oneself as absolutely self-identical is precisely sin. Language opens us to alterity, and for this reason the demonic cannot endure it and seeks to control it. Language is uncontrollable, however, to the point that no sign permits us to be certain that we have rightly distinguished good from evil, the salvific from the demonic – and salvation can come only if we renounce the attempt to establish distinctions that are beyond our power. By employing a pseudonymous figure who views language with suspicion, Kierkegaard shows that language is dangerous, even deadly, but also allows us to realize that language is the condition of possibility for salvation.
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