One of the most enjoyable aspects of Søren Kierkegaard’s writing is the poetic quality of thought that successfully leads one to ponder the ways of living a more meaningful and authentic life. This is due to the fact that Kierkegaard focuses in on the single individual rather than some abstract concept of being defined by a transcendence.
In Fear and Trembling, Kierkegaard delivers an exposition on the leap of faith. The leap occurs in two movements which Kierkegaard represents through the depictions of the knight of infinite resignation and the knight of faith. Part of the reason Kierkegaard writes about the knight of faith is to illustrate that the majority of people take the word faith for granted as if it is some obvious given. However, faith is something that is a bit of a mystery that can’t easily be pinned down. More importantly, within this exposition, Kierkegaard highlights a way to live authentically. That is the message that I extract and adopt from reading this book.
The first movement is that of the knight of infinite resignation who renounces everything. This knight is characterized by having the “power to concentrate the whole substance of his life and meaning into one single desire” unlike the person that lacks that concentration and has a soul which is “dissipated in multiplicity from the beginning” preventing him from making any type of movement at all (Fear and Trembling, III 93). The soul that is dissipated can never consolidate himself or herself into one authentic act. This individual will never find time to do so because there will be a persistent trend of “running errands in life” and in the moment that he or she approaches that movement, the individual will discover that he or she has forgotten something and goes back to sinking “deeper and deeper into the mire” (Fear and Trembling, III 93).
The individual that sinks into the mire lacks the passion and focus it takes to make such a movement, and acts shrewdly in life like the “financiers who put their resources into widely diversified investments in order to gain on one if they lose on another” (Fear and Trembling, III 93). This type of individual is unable to gather himself or herself into any kind of single, authentic act.
On the other hand, the knight of infinite resignation has the power to gather himself or herself together into one single desire by a focused single act of consciousness. Through this act, the knight succeeds in achieving an authentic and meaningful existence without merely stringing himself or herself along in life. Kierkegaard gave a powerful example of the knight that has encountered a situation in which it is impossible to have the one he loves. For the sake of that love, he renounces everything and all other prospects of love. He understands that he cannot have or marry his beloved; nevertheless, he remains true and faithful to that love even if his beloved marries another. The authentic resolve about this love will involve the constant recollection of it and the commitment he has made to the love and to his beloved. Furthermore, this act of recollecting is the pain that will be the source for reconciling his existence.
“The knight, then, will recollect everything, but this recollection is precisely the pain, and yet in infinite resignation he is reconciled with existence. His love for the princess would become for him the expression of an eternal love, would assume a religious character, would be transfigured into a love of the eternal being, which true enough denied the fulfillment but nevertheless did reconcile him once more in the eternal consciousness of its validity in an eternal form that no actuality can take away from him… Spiritually speaking, everything is possible, but in the finite world there is much that is not possible. The knight, however, makes this impossibility possible by expressing it spiritually, but he expresses it spiritually by renouncing it” (Fear and Trembling, III 94).
In other words, the love that he continually recollects and reconciles with in pain becomes an expression of an eternal love that will take on a religious character. Him and his beloved age, but the love will remain with a constant vibrancy that never ages. The knight becomes one of those deeper natures that never forgets himself or what he is through his recollection of everything because this recollection is precisely what he is. He does not need to see the princess because he has a transfigured image of his love that is infinite and this act requires to be driven by passion. For Kierkegaard, this is the last stage before faith. The knight of infinite resignation does not have faith because his movement stops here. He renounces everything and does not believe that he will get it back.
On the other hand, the knight of faith represents the movement toward faith. The knight of faith, just like the knight of infinite resignation, renounces the substance of his life and love and too reconciles his existence with his pain. However, the knight of faith makes an additional movement. He makes the movement of faith where he says that he will get his beloved. The knight of faith says: “Nevertheless I have faith that I will get her—that is, by virtue of the absurd, by virtue of the fact that for God all things are possible” (III 97).
The knight of faith surrenders the finite but believes he will get back what was lost. It is for this reason that Kierkegaard elevated Abraham as the true representative of faith when Abraham says to Isaac that we will come back to the donkey that carried them instead of just I will come back. This is unlike the knight of infinite resignation, who resigns the finite for the sake of the infinite, and carries the pain for the pain is his or her form of reconciliation, and it stops there. But in faith, you resign the finite for the sake of the infinite but believe you will get the finite back by virtue of the absurd.
For both, it is a leap into resignation with passion. Kierkegaard is a religious thinker, however, non-religious persons can find value in his thought. This is because the main focus is on the single individual with an existentialist emphasis. Both of these knights offer an incredible display of a focus and resolve that would be valuable for anyone that is in pursuit of a goal. Apply such a focus to the goal of being a writer, or any kind of work, and the work will be of incredible quality. However, the goal is also to find something that one can truly be passionate and committed to because then one is approaching this desire with passion.
This is why I like Kierkegaard so much. I adore him because of his deep reverence for passion in general. In a footnote in Fear and Trembling he wrote:
“Every movement of infinity is carried out through passion, and no reflection can produce a movement. This is the continual leap in existence that explains the movement, whereas mediation is a chimera, which in Hegel is supposed to explain everything and which is also the only thing he never has tried to explain… What our generation lacks is not reflection but passion” (Fear and Trembling, 42n).