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PPR Seminar - Tom Grimwood (PPR, Lancaster University) 'Kierkegaard's Demonic Narratives'

Date: 2 November 2011 Time: 4.00-6.00 pm

Venue: FASS MR3

A recurring figure throughout Kierkegaard's aesthetic works, and one that is often overlooked or downplayed, is that of the 'demonic'. Far from being a simple remnant of religious superstition, in many senses Kierkegaard prefigures Tillich's observation that the depth of the demonic lies in its dialectic between creative and destructive power, and as such remains a constituent part of the modern self. Kierkegaard introduces demonic figures (usually in the form of over-emphasised representations of characters already known to the reader) at specific points in his work, which point to the risks of miscommunication, self-absorption and failure that accompany a narrative conception of the self. This underlies Kierkegaard's challenge, in books such as Stages on Life's Way, to the very possibility of representing the authentic 'truth' of thought without succumbing to ambiguity, error or failure. This paper argues that while much work has been done on Kierkegaard's mode of narrative discourse as a successful form of 'indirect communication', far less has been done on the formative role of miscommunication and error in his work.

Using case examples from The Sickness Unto Death and Stages on Life's Way, the paper argues that the demonic aspect of Kierkegaard's work bears a specific relationship to the integration and conditioning of the 'narrative self' with the technologies of repetition and reproduction (from writing in pen and ink to the mechanics of the printing press). The demonic, in this sense, seems to show a self conditioned through its modes of communication; in a way that very much preludes Arthur Kroker's argument (1992) that, while the early modern self is identified primarily as a Lockean 'possessive' self, the late modern self is 'possessed' by the creative structures and techniques of subjectivity that define it. As such, Kierkegaard's demons are not simply a reversal of his more well-known narrative of the self's journey to authentic or religious truth. Rather, the demonic narrative is one that highlights mis-reference and ambiguity as a formative feature of the reproduction of the self as a narrative identity.




Kierkegaard, S. (1988). Stages on Life's Way. Trans. H. & E. Hong. Princeton University Press

Kroker, A. (1992). The Possessed Individual: Technology and the French Postmodern. Palgrave MacMillan

Tillich, P. (1936). The Interpretation of History. C. Scribner's Sons


Who can attend: Anyone


Further information

Organising departments and research centres: Politics, Philosophy and Religion PPR


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Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Lancaster University
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