Saturday, October 07, 2006

Technorati Profile
Kierkegaard the Novelist and Three Kierkegaardian Novels:
The Moviegoer, The Sportswriter and Rabbit, Run

My intention is not here to write about Kierkegaard as novelist, though that would be an interesting subject. After all, each of his pseudonymous works is in a sense an attempt to extend the range of fiction as well as philosophy, and I can see no good reason why they should be dumped in a box marked 'Philosophy' while Sterne's Tristram Shandy or Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground are dumped in one marked 'Literature'.1

I begin this discussion of the influence of the writing of the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard on three American novelists with an account of a broken engagement, a personal crisis in Kierkegaard's life that was crucial to the development of his work. The episode shows how Kierkegaard's life and thought were closely, elaborately and artfully integrated, to the extent that we can consider him a master of the representation of reality and character through fictional prose narrative – as a novelist – as much as a philosopher. This literary dimension of his work gives it special value to novelists, particularly those whose works are under consideration.

Kierkegaard was born into a prosperous Copenhagen family; in 1840 (aged 27) he completed his dissertation in theology, and expected to begin a career in academia or the church. That year, he made an ardent proposal of marriage to a teenage girl named Regine Olsen. It seemed like an ideal match: her background was similar to his; their families approved; and they began a civilized courtship of family visits and walks in the city.

Almost as soon as the engagement began, Kierkegaard was tormented by doubts and anxieties about the relationship. These grew so intense that after a year he felt compelled to return his ring and break off the engagement. He sent Regine a note that said, 'Forget him who writes this, forgive a man who, though he may be capable of something, is not capable of making a girl happy.'2 Regine resisted his decision, tried to win him back, and after two months her father arranged a meeting between the two of them to discuss the matter. In this encounter, Kierkegaard 'decided to repel her with a show of careless indifference in the belief that, as he later put it, this was the only thing he could do to “push her into marrying someone else”.'3 He believed, he wrote later, that:

[T]o get out of the situation as a scoundrel, a scoundrel of the first water if possible, was the only thing there was to be done in order to work her loose and get her under way for a marriage.4

In other words, he adopted a deliberately artificial psychological persona, a mask, as a tactic to effect his withdrawal from the engagement: his overt aim was to make Regine dislike him, to make her think him unworthy of her hand in marriage. Covertly (because he never explicitly states his real psychological or emotional motives), he assumed this mask to protect against any examination of his feelings by Regine or anyone else, including himself. Clearly, he was unsuited by disposition for marriage, and found any state of living other than solitude and celibacy unbearable.

The prospect of marriage to Regine and the breaking of his engagement to her were a seed that germinated and grew prolifically, with astonishing speed, into a vast body of work that can be seen as the core of his entire life's output (which, in its English translation, fills fourteen volumes, about a metre of shelf space). Soon afterwards, he began writing his first major work, Either/Or. He took eleven months to write its two volumes, which amount to some 800 pages. It was published in 1843.

The ideas in Either/Or are presented in the form of a convoluted and ingenious fiction. Its title page does not mention Kierkegaard's name. Instead, the work purports to be edited by one Victor Eremita (Latin for the Victorious Hermit); the editor explains that the work has two authors, named only as A and B. A, the author of most of the first volume of Either/Or, is a young man of a romantic disposition, somewhat adrift in the world; B, the author of most of the second volume, is an older, married man who had once served as a judge. His words are a reply to A in the form of a long didactic epistle. Victor Eremita explains that he found the papers of these two otherwise anonymous writers hidden in a secret drawer in a writing desk that he had smashed open with an axe while in a rage. The desk had caught his eye in the window of a second-hand shop that he passed during his regular daily walk through the streets of Copenhagen. This frame-narrative draws the reader into the work.

As academic philosophy, this work and the others that followed are perplexingly oblique and obscure. A and B reflect opposite points of view: which view did Kierkegaard himself hold? The use of this 'indirect approach,' as Kierkegaard called it, allowed him to use a literary approach – rooted in recognisable language and instances – that rings true, and arouses our direct participation. His writing uses no concepts that are abstracted from life as the individual experiences it: he has his own terminology and definitions for such experience, but he explains them, gradually, as you persevere through his writing: you don't need to be a philosopher to read him. 'What was required – in the first instance at least – was to bring home to people what “it means for you and me and him, each for himself, to be human beings.”'5 His writing takes account of the human personality in all its strengths, weaknesses and inconsistencies, as a novelist does; unlike a novelist, he is more concerned with ordering these things into a satisfactory statement of meaning than with offering an account of this experience as a work of art or entertainment. The 'indirect approach' -- the use of many voices in a single work, across his corpus – allows Kierkegaard the author to appear as a God-like figure, directing his creations from afar, invisibly, letting them 'communicate without direct explanation from the author.'6 The absence of agreement between A and B is a way of conveying Kierkegaard's belief in the impossibility of expressing the paradoxical: in the lack of agreement between A and B, an intimation of the paradoxical glimmers darkly through.

In following this approach, Kierkegaard was reacting against the philosophy of Hegel, the dominant European philosopher of the day. Kierkegaard saw Hegel's philosophical system of teleological abstractions – famously expressed in the progressive sequence of thesis, antithesis and synthesis – as allowing the individual to escape his responsibility for understanding his own life: his moral character, his actions, and their consequences could too easily be explained away by reference to Hegel's abstractions, leaving the individual as nothing more than a symptom, an example, a point on a curve of Hegel's formula.

Kierkegaard saw himself as following the philosophical approach of Socrates: involving the reader in a dialogue in which more than one point of view is presented, and no easy conclusion is offered, leaving the reader to be a responsible and active participant in the discovery of a conclusion, one that rang true in the tribunal of his own conscience, and which he would be compelled therefore to accept without compromise, unless he chose to betray himself. Kierkegaard called this approach 'maieutic,' from the Greek word for midwife, meaning that the approach should assist in bringing forth something original from the patient, rather than presenting a version of the truth as it were on a plate. This is not to say that Kierkegaard did not have an ultimate philosophical purpose in his writing: he certainly did, but he deliberately took the reader through this difficult process so that the reader would adopt Kierkegaard's philosophy as his own.

It would be hard to infer the whole of Kierkegaard's philosophy in a reading of Either/Or. The work is designed as a part of a whole; to get a sense of the complete course of Kierkegaard's intention requires further reading in his body of work. But glimpses of his ultimate meaning are possible.

The theme of Either/Or seems at first glance to be apparent in its title: it deals with the question of binary choices in life. Do I do this, or do I do that? And why? The form of the work would seem, if written as an outline, to express this simply enough: A is a young man who is living, in Kierkegaard's term, 'aesthetically.' In Kierkegaard's lexicon the aesthetic is the realm of sensual and intellectual sensation, of living in and for the moment, without responsibility. Part I of the work is -- in part -- an account of A's experiments in living purely in this realm. Part II is a reply, in a knowing and superior tone, to A's narrative by B, who represents an 'ethical' way of life, which again has a particular meaning for Kierkegaard: the ethical is the realm of stable self-acceptance, self-realization, self-control and personal responsibility. Is it better to live the stable life of a happily married family man, or to live as an observer, contemplating life objectively and intellectually, and in experimenting coldly with the affections of women?

Kierkegaard's scheme for discussing the question of 'either/or' in life is put in literary rather than dialectical terms; that is, as a gradually and unpredictably unfolding process, like the plot of a novel. Early in A's papers (a mass of writing of great variety and invention, often only distantly related to the main theme as expressed in the title7) the following tirade – almost manic in tone – appears. It is the first, embryonic expression in the work of the 'either/or' question. It reads like an amusing parody of a romantic, pessimistic outlook, and certainly contributes to the development of A as a fictional character:

Marry and you will regret it. Do not marry, and you will also regret it. Marry or do not marry, you will regret it either way. Whether you marry or you do not marry, you will regret it either way. Laugh at the stupidities of the world, and you will regret it; weep over them, and you will also regret it. Laugh at the stupidities of the world or weep over them, you will regret it either way. Whether you laugh at the stupidities of the world or you weep over them, you will regret it either way. Trust a girl, and you will regret it. Do not trust her, and you will also regret it. Trust a girl or do not trust her, you will regret it either way. Whether you trust a girl or do not trust her, you will regret it either way. Hang yourself, and you will regret it. Do not hang yourself, and you will also regret it. Hang yourself or do not hang yourself, you will regret it either way. Whether you hang yourself or do not hang yourself, you will regret it either way. This, gentlemen, is the quintessence of all the wisdom of life.

It is not merely in isolated moments that I, as Spinoza says, view everything aeterno modo [in the mode of eternity], but I am continually aeterno modo. Many believe they, too, are this when after doing one thing or another they unite or mediate these opposites. But this is a misunderstanding, for the true eternity does not lie behind either/or but before it.8

A's pairs of opposites are absurd. Where, then, does one draw the boundary of choice in life? Kierkegaard identified three spheres of existence in his philosophy: the aesthetic, the ethical and the religious. Either/Or deals mainly with the first two of these spheres, and only hints at the third, which he sees as superior: briefly, the religious in Kierkegaard's thought is a subjective metaphysical experience that transcends and is superior to all other modes of living. While the ethical is superior to the aesthetic, the religious is superior to both. Thus Either/Or shows the contention of the aesthetic and the ethical ending in stalemate: 'for the true eternity does not lie behind either/or but before it.'

Marry; laugh or weep at the stupidities of the world; trust a girl; hang yourself: these are clearly choices that Kierkegaard himself faced in the crisis over Regine Olsen. In content, the whole work is preoccupied with this crisis, exploring aspects of it from different points of view, composing variations on it and transposing it into a variety of keys. The central narrative of the first volume of Either/Or, 'The Seducer's Diary,' is the clearest expression in the work of the aesthetic point of view. It is a fictionalised account of his courtship of Regine. She is its assumed addressee, and the account A gives of his heartless courtship of Cordelia (modelled on Regine) develops the persona Kierkegaard presented in his final meeting with her, in which he sought to repel her with a show of careless indifference and make her see him as 'a scoundrel of the first water.' It is an account of a cold-hearted experiment, in which A seeks to make Cordelia fall in love with him. He meticulously plots his attack, leading her on, manipulating her psychologically to make her think that she is in control of the situation. His purpose in doing this is to observe from a distance, analytically, the spectrum of his own and her emotional and psychological responses. Once he has succeeded, he abruptly ends the experiment. Updike called it 'a feverishly intellectual attempt to reconstruct an erotic failure as a pedagogic success, a wound masked as a boast, a breast blackened to aid a weaning.'9 As B, the judge, writes in the second volume (addressing A):

it is manifest that every esthetic view of life is despair, and that everyone who lives esthetically is in despair, whether he knows it or not. But when one knows this, and you certainly do know it, then a higher form of existence is an imperative requirement.10

Walker Percy's The Moviegoer is the most obviously Kierkegaardian of the novels under consideration. Superficial clues to the philosopher's influence are immediately apparent: the novel's epigraph is a quotation from Kierkegaard's The Sickness unto Death ('...the specific character of despair is precisely this: it is unaware of being despair.'); its Epilogue invokes 'the great Danish philosopher'11 in questioning the authority of the narrator as a credible teller of the tale we have just read. But The Moviegoer's debt to Kierkegaard is profound.

Percy made no secret of his debt to Kierkegaard: he mentioned it frequently in interviews, and gave precise explanations of how Kierkegaard's philosophy and method helped shape and directly inform the fictional approach and philosophical preoccupations of his novels. He said, 'I would have written Moviegoer without Kierkegaard but it was helpful, exciting, stimulating to have the categories there – to have them so clearly seen by Kierkegaard. It is a theoretical frame of reference.'12

How Percy came to Kierkegaard shows his unique formation as a philosophical novelist. His education was scientific, not literary. After graduating as a chemistry major, he trained as a medical doctor, but gave it up while convalescing from a case of tuberculosis which he contracted while working in a pathology ward in a New York hospital:

Dewey: Did you read any Kierkegaard in the sanitorium?
Percy: No, I was reading novels mostly, and linguistic philosophy, the philosophy of language. I was much more interested in Ernst Cassirer's philosophy of symbolic forms along with people like Susanne Langer and the logical positivists of the time. The existentialism came later. [...] But after I began reading the French existentialists I soon realized the Kierkegaard was the founding father of the movement. They all gave him credit for that, even the atheistic existentialists – Sartre, Heidegger.13

So Percy's motive for writing fiction was originally intellectual and philosophical. His novels do not use exotic locations or extensively researched historical settings: instead, they concern themselves with how individuals relate to the worlds they live in and make sense of their own lives.

The main character of The Moviegoer is a young stockbroker named Binx Bolling. The plot of the novel is quite simply Binx's search for and choice of a way of living. His motivation for this search is a near-death experience he had after being wounded as a soldier in the Korean conflict. Binx's understated recollection of this moment launches the plot:

But things have suddenly changed. My peaceful existence in Gentilly [the suburb of New Orleans where he has chosen to live] has been complicated. This morning, for the first time in years, there occurred to me the possibility of a search. I dreamed of the war, no, not quite dreamed but woke with the taste of it in my mouth, the queasy-quince taste of 1951 and the Orient. I remembered the first time the search occurred to me. I came to myself under a chindolea bush. Everything is upside down for me, as I shall explain later. What are generally considered to be the best times are for me the worst times, and that worst of times was one of the best. My shoulder didn't hurt but it was pressed hard against the ground as if somebody sat on me. Six inches from my nose a dung beetle was scratching around under the leaves. As I watched, there awoke in me an immense curiosity. I was onto something. I vowed that if I ever got out of this fix, I would pursue the search.14

At the time this 'possibility of a search' occurs to him, Binx has been living a Kierkegaardian aesthetic way of life, living purely as an observer, experimenting with sensations, aloof from the world, alone, participating in life at a calculated distance from it, like A in Either/Or. A native of New Orleans, he has chosen not to live in one of the city's better-known, more colourful quarters (which, it is made clear, he could if he wanted to, as a member of one of the city's old, affluent white families), but to live a life of obscurity in Gentilly, a characterless suburb (a real place, not an invention).

'The search,' Binx explains, 'is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life.'15 What he is searching for is not stated explicitly, although it is clear enough by the end of the novel, and Binx gives us a teasing hint. 'What do you seek – God? you ask with a smile. ¶ I hesitate to answer...'16 He goes on, 'Truthfully, it is the fear of exposing my own ignorance which constrains me from mentioning the object of my search.'17

The three Kierkegaardian spheres of existence – what Kierkegaard himself called 'stages' and Percy (in the interview quoted above) called 'categories' -- clarify the nature of this search. There is the aesthetic, there is the ethical and there is the religious. To the dismay of his family, particularly his aunt, who represents parental authority in Binx's life, Binx persists through most of the novel in living in the aesthetic sphere. His Aunt Emily would prefer Binx to take his place in the ethical sphere: to live like B in Either/Or: to marry, settle down, raise a family, and assume a responsible and respectable place in society. After reawakening to 'the possibility of a search,' Binx continues to explore the aesthetic way of life, while opening himself to glimpses, not of the ethical sphere, but of the religious sphere. By the end of the book, he has made a leap of faith directly into the religious sphere. Percy was a Catholic convert, and the religious sphere which Binx enters at the conclusion of his search is distinctly Catholic in character.

Binx has a glimpse of the religious sphere in his relationship with his severely disabled younger half brother, Lonnie, who dies at the end of the novel. Lonnie endures his physical suffering with great courage, while at the same time actively pursuing a life of mature piety through (Catholic) religious observance. Lonnie's fatal illness provokes Binx into making the final leap of faith, connecting with his remaining half-siblings in a close and loving way, overcoming the cold distance of the aesthetic posture. In the following dialogue, Binx speaks from within the religious sphere, though still entirely in character, as laconic as ever:

Therese catches sight of me and sticks her sharp little face out of the window. 'How is Lonnie?' she asks, trying a weaving motion.
'He is very sick.'
'Is he going to die?' Therese asks in her canny smart-girl way.
'Yes.' I sit around backwards to see them. Kate smiles in at them and stands a ways off. 'But he wouldn't want you to be sad. He told me to give you a kiss and tell you that he loved you.'
They are not sad. This is a very serious and out-of-the-way business. Their eyes search out mine and they cast about for ways of prolonging the conversation, this game of serious talk and serious listening.
'We love him too,' says Mathilde with a sob.
'Kiss us first!' cry Donice and Clare from the back seat.
Mathilde sobs in my neck and Therese eyes me shrewdly. 'Was he anointed?' she asks in her mama-bee drone.
'Very good.'
Only the two girls are sad, but they are also secretly proud of having caught onto the tragedy.
Donice casts about. 'Binx,' he says and then appears to forget. 'When Our Lord raises us up on the last day, will Lonnie still be in a wheelchair or will he be like us?'
'He'll be like you.'
'You mean he'll be able to ski?' The children cock their heads and listen like old men.

In confidently assuring his half-siblings of Lonnie's status in the afterlife in two brief replies to their questions, Binx is speaking in a way he has never spoken in the course of the novel: he has acquired the authority to speak of the religious sphere from the religious sphere.19 This is a profoundly Kierkegaardian moment. Kierkegaard emphasised the radical difference in kind between utterance from the aesthetic and ethical realms and the religious. Utterance from the religious realm enters this world as if from out of the blue, without connection to reason. It is the speech of prophets, of the divinely inspired.

In this connection, Percy said in an interview:

The most important single piece that Kierkegaard wrote is something I seldom hear about and a lot of people don't know too well. It's his essay called 'The Difference between a Genius and an Apostle.' This was tremendously important to me. Kierkegaard says that a genius is a man who arrives at truth like a scientist or a philosopher or a thinker. [...] whereas an apostle has heard the news of something that has happened, and he has the authority to tell somebody who hasn't heard the news what the news is. [...] The whole structure of Binx's search is based on it. [...] Kierkegaard said if he hearer of the news asks the apostle, 'On what grounds am I supposed to believe this news?' the apostle simply replies that 'I have the authority to tell it to you, and if you don't believe it it is your fault. If I didn't have the authority, I wouldn't be telling you.'20

The apostle's utterance is the only kind of speech that can express the paradox that is at the heart of religion. No amount of dialectic comes close to expressing it. In the work cited by Percy, Kierkegaard writes (in a vehement, scornful and unforgiving tone):

What, exactly, have the errors of exegesis and philosophy done in order to confuse Christianity, and how have they confused Christianity? Quite briefly and categorically, they have simply forced back the sphere of paradox-religion into the sphere of esthetics. [...] If the sphere of paradox-religion is abolished, or explained away in esthetics, an Apostle becomes neither more nor less than a genius, and then—good night, Christianity. Esprit and the Spirit, revelation and originality, a call from God and genius, all end by meaning more or less the same thing. [...] They talk in exalted terms of St. Paul's brilliance and profundity, of his beautiful similes and so on—that is mere estheticism. [...] As an Apostle St. Paul has no connection whatsoever with Plato or Shakespeare, with stylists or upholsterers [Paul was a tentmaker], and none of them (Plato no more than Shakespeare or Harrison the upholsterer) can possibly be compared with him. A genius and an Apostle are qualitatively different. [...] All thought breathes in immanence, whereas faith and the paradox are a qualitative sphere unto themselves. [...] Genius is [...] immediateness [...] genius is born. [...] An Apostle is not born: an Apostle is a man called and appointed by God, receiving a mission from him. [...] Authority is the decisive quality.21

In The Difference Between a Genius and an Apostle, Kierkegaard considered himself a genius, not an apostle, and that he wrote without this authority.22 Certainly, a novelist can express this vision: Percy does it in the passage quoted above. The task Kierkegaard set himself – in the first phase of his writing, when he wrote exclusively under pseudonyms – was more difficult and complicated than the novelist's: he believed he could only express this vision indirectly, through his multiple personae with their contradictory points of view, leaving the reader to infer the intended paradox: for the religious is too sublime for a mere genius to express:

If such is one's vision of the world, then what strategy lies open to the writer who would bear an active witness to another world, to a Christian vision? Kierkegaard insists – and insists and insists – that one may do so only through an ironic indirection [...] Given a world that is, if not bad, at best mediocre, it is only through a strategy of ironic indirection that an author with a Christian vision may gain a purchase upon that world.23

But in taking this position, Kierkegaard is contradicting himself. His use of irony and multiple personae allow glimpses of the religious sublime which he asserts is impossible to express. It is as if Kierkegaard were not in control of his own, sprawling system, that he cannot help expressing the religious sublime that he has tried to show cannot be expressed directly:

He is the instrument of a consuming and unrelenting muse, meaning in one respect, as he says, that even he cannot understand his own writings in their wholeness, often discovering in them more than he understood them as saying when he wrote them. An intention is captured there larger than the writer's, and so the text becomes an inspired scripture.”24

In this, as in many ways in his work, he is like a novelist, in thrall to a creative faculty that surprises him with insights impossible to the rational intellect.

Percy's interest in Kierkegaard in general, and in The Difference Between a Genius and an Apostle in particular (for its recognition of the difficulty of expressing the paradox of religion), leads him to adopt a similar approach of 'ironic indirection' in The Moviegoer. Through Binx, he is exploring the world as a kind of devil's advocate, showing us the shortcomings of the aesthetic realm which Binx inhabits, in a way which rings true as the reflection of the kind of life a person can live in this world. The motif of Binx's way of life in the anonymous suburb is moviegoing.

In the evenings I usually watch television or go to the movies. Week-ends I often spend on the Gulf Coast. Our neighborhood theater in Gentilly has permanent lettering on the front of the marquee reading: Where Happiness Costs So Little. The fact is I am quite happy in a movie, even a bad movie. Other people, so I have read, treasure memorable moments of their lives: the time one climbed the Parthenon at sunrise, the summer night one met a lonely girl in Central Park and achieved with her a sweet and natural relationship, as they say in books. I too once met a girl in Central Park, but it is not much to remember. What I remember is the time John Wayne killed three men with a carbine as he was falling to the dusty street in Stagecoach, and the time the kitten found Orson Welles in the doorway in The Third Man.25

One kind of experience is as good as another to him, but the experience of going to the movies is better than others simply because it costs so little. (Or so he says: there is a subdued beauty, a poignant tone of resignation in Binx's descriptions of visiting movie theatres, while – in contrast -- his descriptions of the banal movies he claims to like deliberately reflect spiritual emptiness.) With the same indifference, Binx courts and seduces a string of women, all of whom work for him as a secretary. Like A in Either/Or, Binx conducts these conquests dispassionately, with great attention to erotic detail, and with a taste for the sexual gratification they offer, but with no emotional involvement. But Binx's moviegoing is disrupted by the reawakening in him of 'the possibility of a search,' the way out of the aesthetic life:

To become aware of the possibility of the search is to be onto something. Not to be onto something is to be in despair.
The movies are onto the search, but they screw it up. The search always ends in despair. They like to show a fellow coming to himself in a strange place – but what does he do? He takes up with the local librarian, sets about proving to the local children what a nice fellow he is, and settles down with a vengeance. In two weeks time he is so sunk in everydayness that he might just as well be dead.26

(This typical banal ending is a parody of the 'ethical' way of life – of stability, a place in society and so on – which his aunt urges him to adopt.)

The tension in the plot of The Moviegoer lies in the uncertainty about how long Binx will continue to live his aimless life in Gentilly. He persists in his aesthetic experiments, avoids the call to the ethical realm, and dithers about the search: he thinks about it, gets clues about what it might lead to during a visit to his mother and half-siblings, but does not make the leap of faith until the very end of the book. In Binx's Kierkegaardian experiments, he even uses Kierkegaard's own terminology:

Tonight, Thursday night, I carry out a successful experiment in repetition.
Fourteen years ago, when I was a sophomore, I saw a western at a movie-house on Freret Street, at a place frequented by students and known to them as the Armpit. The movie was The Oxbow Incident and it was quite good. It was about this time of year I saw it, for I remember the smell of privet when I came out and the camphor berries popping underfoot. (All movies smell of a neighborhood and a season: I saw All Quiet on the Western Front, one of my first, in Arcola, Mississippi in August of 1941, and the noble deeds were done, not merely fittingly but inevitably, in the thick singing darkness of Delta summer and in the fragrance of cottonseed meal.) Yesterday evening I noticed in the Picayune that another western was playing at the same theater. So up I went, by car to my aunt's house, then up St Charles in a streetcar with Kate so we can walk through the campus.
Nothing had changed. There we sat, I in the same seat I think, and afterwards came out into the smell of privet. Camphor berries popped underfoot on the same section of broken pavement.
A successful repetition.
What is a repetition? A repetition is the re-enactment of past experience toward the end of isolating the time segment which has lapsed in order that it, the lapsed time, can be savored of itself and without the usual adulteration of events that clog time like peanuts in brittle.27

Repetition, in Kierkegaard, differs significantly from the definition Binx gives. Kierkegaard's experiment in repetition – as with Binx, an attempt to relive a meaningful moment of life -- and its outcome are described (in a work of the same name) in an elaborate, idiosyncratic and frequently very funny fictional narrative that is more like a novel in technique even than Either/Or. The essence of the experience that the experimenter strives for is a kind of spiritual perdurance, a timeless moment of higher meaning.

The narrator of Repetition, Constantin Constantius, travels to Berlin to revisit his former lodgings, 'one of the most pleasant apartments in Berlin,' a place where he experienced an intense awareness of beauty and contentment. Unlike Binx's successful experiment in repetition, Constantius's experiment is a failure: the experience could not be recaptured. Ending the experiment, Kierkegaard writes, 'I went home:

My desk was in place. The velvet armchair was still there, but when I saw it, I became so furious that I almost smashed it to pieces. [...]
My home had become dismal to me simply because it was a repetition of the wrong kind. My mind was sterile, my troubled imagination constantly conjured up tantalizingly attractive recollections of how the ideas had presented themselves the last time, and the tares of these recollections choked out every thought at birth. I went out to the café where I had gone every day the previous time to enjoy the beverage that, according to the poet's precept, when it is “pure and hot and strong and not misused,” can always stand alongside that to which the poet compares it, namely, friendship. At any rate, I prize coffee. Perhaps the coffee was just as good as last time; one would almost expect it to be, but it was not to my liking. The sun through the café windows was hot and glaring; the room was just about as humid as the air in a saucepan, practically cooking. A draft, which like a small trade wind cut through everything, prohibited thoughts of any repetition, even if the opportunity had otherwise offered itself.28

In his failure to rekindle the essence of experience through repetition, he gains the following insight:

Satisfied, completely, absolutely satisfied in every way, this one never is, and to be more or less satisfied is not worth the trouble, so it is better to be completely dissatisfied. Anyone who has painstakingly pondered the matter will certainly agree with me that it has never been granted to a human being in his whole life, not even for as much as half an hour, to be absolutely satisfied in every conceivable way.29

He demonstrates this point with an anecdote about the nearest he ever came to this elusive state. On the morning of an otherwise normal day, he found the sensation of satisfaction closing in on him. 'My sense of well-being increased incomparably until noon; at precisely one o'clock, I was at the peak and had a presentiment of the dizzy maximum found on no gauge of well-being, not even on a poetic thermometer.'30 Then, things started to go wrong:

[S]uddenly something began to irritate one of my eyes, whether it was an eyelash, a speck of something, a bit of dust, I do not know, but this I do know – that in that same instant I was plunged down almost into the abyss of despair.31

Here lies the important difference between Percy the novelist and Kierkegaard the philosopher. While Kierkegaard seeks not just to transcend 'the stupidities of the world,' a world that if it is not bad is mediocre, but also to transcend his own authorial self as a philosopher, on the grounds that he has no authority to speak of the religious sphere to which he is committed by faith, Percy accepts that, like Kierkegaard, he has no authority to speak of the religious sphere either, but accepts that he is in and of the world and its stupidities, in a fallen state, unredeemed. In the Epilogue to The Moviegoer, Binx says,

As for my search, I have not the inclination to say much on the subject. For one thing, I have not the authority, as the great Danish philosopher declared, to speak of such matters in any way other than the edifying. For another thing, it is not open to me even to be edifying, since the time is later than his, much too late to edify or do much of anything except plant a foot in the right place as the opportunity presents itself – if indeed asskicking is properly distinguished from edification.32

In 'Questions They Never Asked Me,' an interview with himself, Percy says,

You don't act or talk like a Christian. Aren't they supposed to love one another and do good works?
Yes. [...]
In fact, if I may be frank, you strike me as being rather negative in your attitude, cold-blooded, aloof, derisive, self-indulgent, more fond of the beautiful things of this world than of God.
That's true.
You even seem to take a certain satisfaction in the disasters of the twentieth century and to savor the imminence of world catastrophe rather than world peace, which all religions seek.
That's true.
You don't seem to have much use for your fellow Christians, to say nothing of Ku Kluxers, ACLUers, Northerners, Southerners, fem-libbers, anti-fem-libbers, homosexuals, anti-homosexuals, Republicans, Democrats, hippies, anti-hippies, senior citizens.
That's true – though, taken as individuals, they turn out to be more or less like oneself, i.e., sinners, and we get along fine.33

The difference between the novelist and the philosopher is that the novelist is 'more fond of the beautiful things of the world than of God.'

Richard Ford's The Sportswriter is indirectly a Kierkegaardian novel; rather than reflecting an explicitly Kierkegaardian scheme, as Percy does in The Moviegoer, it absorbs Kierkegaard by osmosis, through a conspicuous debt, a family resemblance, to The Moviegoer.

The narrator and main character of The Sportswriter, Frank Bascombe, is a temperamentally solitary but even-tempered man who chooses to live, like Binx, a life of severe ordinariness in an anonymous American town (the fictional Haddam, New Jersey). There is pain in his past – a failed marriage, and the death of a young son – but Frank chooses to live in the present, avoiding regret, observing the world closely and appreciating what the moment brings. He has settled into a compromise with the world: he asks moderately of life, and in return gets a quietness of mind which is more of a muteness than a true peace of mind, but it is enough for him. Like Binx, he has a succession of girlfriends, though he is more emotionally involved with them than Binx, and like The Moviegoer, the plot turns on a disastrous trip with a woman to a distant city. 'Both [Binx and Frank] are watchers: one watches movies, the other watches sports. Each is essentially passive.'34 Both are 'in that line of reflective and somewhat paralyzed well-bred, well-mannered, and well-educated young southern white males who tell their stories in the first person and are moved by the need to connect.'35

Frank is a sportswriter: this is part of the compromise he has made with the world following the breakup of his family. He used to be a writer of conventional literary ambition: he had an early success with a volume of short stories which earned him a lot of money, and wrote 'half of a short novel.'36 Before the novel opens he was offered a job as a sportswriter on a magazine: he accepted it, and abandoned the novel. One of the themes of The Sportswriter that keeps us reading, out of curiosity about Frank, is why he made this break: it is unsaid but implicit that he accepts this change as a response to the crisis in his personal life -- the loss, first, of his son, and, later, of his wife. He accepts his new professional and personal status, and the new and different way of seeing the world that goes with it, without looking back, only avoiding regret. In this, the novel is a brilliant literary illusion: the novel that one is reading is the work of a man who has deliberately abandoned the writing of novels and who thinks of literature as a kind of lying. Yet what we are reading – which is not a novel – is preoccupied with truth. The truth, as Frank finds it, is a business of fragmentary glimpses which do not add up to a didactic whole.

Sportswriting therefore isn't writing; but it is a way of looking at and interpreting the world. It is a particularly apt metaphor, given that Frank has renounced the pursuit of the exaltation of self that goes with literary ambition in favour of an ordinary existence in the American mainstream. Sport is a kind of religion in American life: the values of the athlete – competition, masculinity, singleness of purpose, disregard for the life of the intellect or reflection, an ethic of teamwork, hero worship – are interchangeable with the values of American manhood almost everywhere you go in America outside of the big cities, and the journalists who cover sports for even the smallest local newspaper are prominent figures: their writing has a tradition of touching the heart of American life in plain but lofty prose. Sportswriting, for Frank, is a way of engaging the world he lives in. Reading the sports pages of the Detroit Free Press, Frank observes:

There is a place for literature, but a bigger one for sentences that are meant to be read, not mused over: 'Former Brother Rice standout, Phil Staransky, who picked up a couple timely hits in Wednesday's twi-nighter, on the way to going three-for-four, already has plenty of experts around Michigan and Trumbull betting he'll see more time at third before the club starts its first swing west. Pitching Coach Eddie Gonzalez says there's no doubt the Hamtramck native “figures in the big club's plans, especially,” Gonzalez notes, “since the young man left off trying to pull everything and began swinging with his head.”'37

The anonymous America that Frank inhabits resembles but does not correspond to the aesthetic sphere of A in Either/Or. Kierkegaard makes clear that A's way of life is incomplete; Frank insists that he has achieved a way of life that is philosophically complete. The reward for him in his patient acceptance of a mediocre world is glimpses of mystery, a glimpse of higher meaning: 'There is mystery everywhere,' Frank says, as he aimlessly watches trains arrive at a commuter railway station, 'even in a vulgar, urine-scented, suburban depot such is this.'38

Like Binx, and like Kierkegaard's fictional protagonists, Frank has his own personal system of terms for classifying his perceptions. One of them is what he calls 'dreaminess.'

[T]oward the end of our marriage I became lost in some dreaminess. Sometimes I would wake up in the morning and open my eyes to X [his ex-wife] lying beside me breathing, and not recognize her! Not even know what town I was in, or how old I was, or what life it was, so dense was I in my particular dreaminess. I would lie there and try as best I could to extend now knowing, feel that pleasant soaring-out-of-azimuth-and-attitude sensation I grew to like as long as it would last, while twenty possibilities for who, where, what went by. Until suddenly I would get it right and feel a sense of – what? Loss, I think you would say, though loss of what I don't know.39

Later in the novel, Frank attempts a definition of “dreaminess”:

Dreaminess, is among other things, a state of suspended recognition, and a response to too much useless and complicated factuality. Its symptoms can be a long-term interest in the weather, or a sustained soaring feeling, or a bout of the stares that you can not even know about except in retrospect, when the time may seem fogged. When you are young and you suffer it, it is not so bad and in some ways it's normal and even pleasurable.40

Slyly, what Richard Ford is giving us is an evocation of old-fashioned melancholy blended with the complicated modern syndrome of depression, in Frank's case exacerbated by grief over the loss of his son.

Richard Ford was asked about these categories in an interview.

EAW: Yesterday you said that if you were smarter you'd write philosophical novels...
RF: But I'm not....
EAW: Well, don't you find that tone of Frank Bascombe's a musing, philosophical...
RF: Dalliant. I find him dalliant. [Laughs.] Not to be taken so seriously. The first question that you asked me yesterday was about all of those names [such as 'dreaminess,' 'factualism,' 'literalist' that appear in The Sportswriter], and I don't know if, even if I sat down with the books, I could completely plot them all out. But I would think if you were an ardent and skilful philosopher that you'd be able to make all of those things dovetail. I might could. It could be that at one time I had them all nicely dovetailed. I can probably explain the 'Existence Period' quite nicely, and I can explain 'dreaminess.' As concepts they're provisional ways of getting experience released from mute sensation and giving them a name. That's what writers are supposed to do.41

What is most Kierkegaardian about The Sportswriter is its emphasis on the importance of morally responsible free choice. Kierkegaard wrote, in Either/Or, in the persona of B, the judge and married man, and the representative of Kierkegaard's 'ethical' sphere:

Now, if you are to understand me properly, I may very well say that what is important in choosing is not so much to choose the right thing as the energy, the earnestness, and the pathos with which one chooses. In the choosing the personality declares itself in its inner infinity and in turn the personality is thereby consolidated. Therefore, even though a person chose the wrong thing, he nevertheless, by virtue of the energy with which he chose, will discover that he chose the wrong thing. In other words, since the choice has been made with all the inwardness of his personality, his inner being is purified and he himself is brought into an immediate relationship with the eternal power that omnipresently pervades all existence. The person who chooses only esthetically never reaches this transfiguration, this higher dedication. Despite all its passion, the rhythm in his soul is only a spiritus lenis [weak aspiration].42

Frank says, reflecting this higher dedication, 'Stop searching. Face the earth where you can.'43 Frank may have made the wrong choice – there is no hint in the novel of the elusive religious sphere in The Sportswriter – but he has dedicated himself wholeheartedly to the way of life he has freely chosen, however strange, empty or vulgar it may seem to us, however poignant its ironies. In a transposition of Kierkegaard's description of the ethical sphere (as represented by B) to contemporary America, Frank Bascombe is showing us how Kierkegaard's idea of the ethical life can be lived now: he is a family man post-divorce, a settled man in a culture of rootlessness; a married man by aspiration, if not in reality, but one who has both understood and accepted his lot, and his own personality, for better or worse, as the result of his own conscious free choice. Frank is more B than A; Binx is more like A than B.

John Updike's Rabbit, Run is suffused with the sense of theological dread to be found in Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling rather than the ironic, systematic fictional strategies found in Either/Or or Repetition. It represents a very different response to the philosopher's work to that of his other prominent advocate, Walker Percy.

Updike has often spoken in his interviews and journalism of the effect his reading of Fear and Trembling had on him as a young man. In an article entitled 'In response to a request from The Independent on Sunday, for a contribution to their weekly feature “A Book That Changed Me,”' Updike wrote,

[W]hen I search for a book that changed me, the me who lives as well as writes, I come up with Søren Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling [...] It came out in 1954; I read in 1955 or early 1956, as a nervous newcomer to New York City, husbandhood, and paternity. Amid my new responsibilities I felt fearful and desolate, foreseeing, young as I was, that I would die, and that the substance of earth was, therefore, death. My quest for consoling contradiction of this syllogism had already led me to books. [...] [B]ut it wasn't until I entered the Kierkegaardian torrent that my trepidation washed away, or at least began to erode.
Kierkegaard's torrential, mesmerically repeated evocation, at the outset of the book, of Abraham's setting forth to sacrifice Isaac, an incomprehensible act that marked the beginning of Judaic faith and God's stated covenant, established a feverish pitch that corresponded to my state of inner alarm. As Kierkegaard proceeded to discuss – to torment, as it were – the outrageous miracle of Abraham's faith, the fussy terminology of high German philosophy had a strangely reassuring effect on me. [...] Eagerly I took from Kierkegaard the idea that subjectivity too has its rightful claims, amid all the desolating objective evidence of our insignificance and futility and final nonexistence; faith is not a deduction but an act of will, a heroism. So I took courage and thumbed my nose, in a sense, at the world, in imitation of Kierkegaard's proud, jeering, disorderly tone. Reading Fear and Trembling relieved my dreadful solitude; his voice – luckily an abundant voice, which I pursued in volume after volume as they tumbled forth from the university presses in those postwar years – gave me back my right to live. After Fear and Trembling, I had a secret twist inside, a precarious tender core of cosmic defiance; for a time, I thought of all my fiction as illustrations of Kierkegaard.44

Updike began writing Rabbit, Run soon after this moment of revelation. “[T]he hero of Rabbit, Run was meant to be a representative Kierkegaardian man, as his name, Angstrom, hints.”45 Rabbit, Run is the story of Harry 'Rabbit' Angstrom, a young married man who had known early fame and success as a high school basketball player; when the novel opens he is living in a shabby apartment in his home town in Pennsylvania (a town much like the one Updike grew up in), working at a dead end job and living with a pregnant, alcoholic wife and their two-year-old son. He has not found anything in life to substitute for the fulfillment he found as a teenage athlete. His surname (according to Updike himself) refers to 'angst' ('anxiety, anguish, neurotic fear, guilt, remorse,' according to the OED), rather than Ångström, a unit of measure equal to a hundred-millionth of a centimetre ('used in measuring wavelengths of light, x-rays, etc.' -- OED; though this reading of the surname is not without meaning, suggesting cosmic insignificance 46).

The plot is elegantly simple, though the way it is elaborated is not. Faced with choices that are beyond his immediate ability to comprehend them, Rabbit always runs away. His running is not simply an avoidance of responsibility: he runs as an assertion of individuality, as a way of beginning to come to terms with his problems through his own faculties, however limited these might be. He runs from his wife, Janice (driving through the night to West Virginia); he runs from his wife again after their baby daughter is born and Janice refuses to have sex with him; he runs from his newborn baby daughter's funeral; he runs from his mistress when she tells him she is pregnant. ('[H]re runs,' the novel ends. 'Ah: runs. Runs.'47)

Rabbit seems an unpromising candidate to be the hero of a theological novel, but that is the point. His weak character and bad behaviour emphasise the dire predicament of a man, of man in general, as Updike puts it, 'in a state of fear and trembling, separated from God, haunted by dread, twisted by the conflicting demands of his animal biology and human intelligence'48.

Trying, with mixed results, to guide Rabbit through these crises is an Episcopalian minister, Jack Eccles, a comical figure who goes out on a limb in his conviction that Rabbit is not a lost cause. We readily agree with him when he calls Rabbit 'monstrously selfish' ('You're a coward. You don't care about right or wrong; you worship nothing except your own worst instincts.'49): Rabbit has the sexual morals of a dog. So why do we care about this bum? There is something heroic about him, for all his faults. But what is it?

His mistress, Ruth, tries to get to the bottom of this mystery:

'Oh, all the world loves you,' Ruth says suddenly. 'What I wonder is why?'
'I'm lovable,' he says.
'I mean why the hell you. What's so special about you?'
'I'm a mystic,' he says. 'I give people faith.' Eccles has told him this.50

Lovable: Rabbit has put his finger on it here. Eccles loves him; his former coach, Tothero, loves him, though neither says so. Women love him especially. He has sexual charisma: sex is the nearest thing he has found that can compensate for the loss of basketball stardom in his life. Eccles's wife, Joyce, recognises this dangerous gift: '”you're not afraid of women,”' she says.51 (She later hangs up the telephone on him in disgust when Rabbit suggests they have sex.) The old lady for whom he works as a gardener says:

You kept me alive, Harry; it's the truth; you did. All winter I was fighting the grave and then in April I looked out the window and here was this tall young man burning my old stalks and I knew life hadn't left me. That's what you have, Harry: life.52

As for being a mystic, Eccles told him this: therefore we can't be sure Rabbit means it, or understands it. But later in his conversation with Ruth he gives his own explanation, which both suggests his heroic individuality but also his shabby morals: '”When I ran from Janice I made an interesting discovery. [...] If you have the guts to be yourself [...] other people'll pay your price.”'53

It is Updike's art as a novelist and as a creator of character that keeps us interested in Rabbit: he is a complex character, and in developing him in this way Updike is giving us a realistic, unidealised representation of a human being: a mixed bag. But Rabbit is also the protagonist of a theological examination, inspired by Updike's reading of Fear and Trembling.

Like Either/Or and Repetition, Fear and Trembling was written in the aftermath of the crisis over Kierkegaard's broken engagement to Regine Olsen. Its account of the biblical story of Abraham's obedience to God in sacrificing his son Isaac can easily be read as an extended metaphor of Kierkegaard's obeying a higher summons to sacrifice that which is most dear to him: that is, Regine.

'[J]ust as God created man and woman, so he created the hero and the poet or orator,'54 Kierkegaard writes in Fear and Trembling. In this work, Kierkegaard (through the medium of his pseudonymous author, Johannes de Silentio) takes the role of the poet or orator, expounding the greatness of the hero, Abraham. Essentially, the author shows how Abraham entered the realm of faith by choosing to renounce the ethical realm: out of his love of God he chose to perform an act – sacrificing his only son – that would be considered by any good person to be not just unethical but horrifying. Abraham's choice is impossible to understand by any rational means: it is a paradox which cannot be resolved.

Abraham could have heard God's injunction to sacrifice Isaac and chosen to disobey it. He would then have been able to return home happy from Mt Moriah with Isaac, and continue to lead a blameless existence. He would not have violated the demands of the ethical sphere, which forbids murder: in doing so, he would have been seen as a good man. Had he done that, he would have had the same status as B in Either/Or: at one with himself, his family, his society. Kierkegaard emphasises the merits of this way of life (in one of his ironic literary postures). Such people can be seen anywhere: they lead upstanding lives, follow the commandments of religion, and at the end of the day go home to a good dinner of 'roast lamb's head with vegetables.'55 He calls the man who lives this way 'the knight of infinite resignation.'56 'In infinite resignation there is peace and rest:'57 the knight of infinite resignation is reconciled to existence.

Abraham, on the other hand, is a 'knight of faith.'58 While the knight of infinite resignation lives in the ethical sphere (Kierkegaard also calls it the universal in this work), in common with the rest of mankind, he does so at a distance from faith, from God, and as such from what Kierkegaard calls the absolute. The knight of faith lives in a radical individuality: he has a direct relation to the absolute, to God, but he is necessarily alone in doing so, and whatever turmoil he endures in this state is incommunicable. 'The single individual,' the knight of faith, Abraham, 'is superior' to the knight of infinite resignation, because:

the single individual stands in an absolute relation to the absolute. This position cannot be mediated [i.e., understood rationally], for all mediation takes place only by virtue of the universal; it is and remains for all eternity a paradox, impervious to thought.”59

'Thinking about Abraham,' he writes, 'I am shattered.'60

Rabbit is more like the knight of faith than the knight of infinite resignation. Certainly, he shows none of the ethical conformity of the latter. But nor is he a model of the former: rather, Updike places Rabbit and Abraham in parallel, showing us how Rabbit resembles and does not resemble Abraham:

Harry has no taste for the dark, tangled, visceral aspect of Christianity, the going through quality of it, the passage into death and suffering that redeems and inverts these things, like an umbrella blowing inside out. He lacks the mindful will to walk the straight line of a paradox.61

Yet there are moments when Rabbit does resemble a knight of faith. Certainly, he is aware above all of the primacy of his own will, of his indissoluble individuality, and that this is what drives him. When he tells his pregnant girlfriend Ruth that he wants her to have their baby, she asks him why he wants this. He replies, '”I don't know. I don't know any of these answers. All I know is what feels right.”' He has glimpses of the relation to the absolute that Kierkegaard found too shattering to contemplate. Running through the forest, after he has escaped his baby daughter's funeral, he feels the dreadful presence of the God Abraham encountered on Mt Moriah:

He feels more conspicuous and vulnerable than in the little clearings of sunshine; he obscurely feels lit by a great spark, the spark whereby the blind tumble of matter recognized itself, a spark struck in the collision of two opposed realms, an encounter a terrible God willed.62

Updike's God -- Rabbit's God -- is a 'distant, difficult'63 God. Rabbit cannot dream of the experience of Abraham: the best he can hope for is a mere fragment of it, a bit of stardust. Otherwise, he remains lost in the woods, in darkness. As Kierkegaard wrote in Fear and Trembling:

People who are profoundly lacking in learning and are given to clichés are frequently heard to say that a light shines over the Christian world, whereas a darkness enshrouds paganism. This kind of talk has always struck me as strange.64


1. Josipovici, Gabriel, 'Kierkegaard and the Novel,' The Singer on the Shore, Manchester: Carcanet, 2006, p. 130.

2. Quoted in Updike, John, 'Introduction to “The Seducer's Diary,” a Chapter of Either/Or,' More Matter: Essays and Criticism, London: Hamish Hamilton, p. 141.

Gardiner, Patrick, Kierkegaard: A Very Short Introduction, p. 9.

4. Quoted in Updike, John, 'Introduction to “The Seducer's Diary,” a Chapter of Either/Or,' More Matter: Essays and Criticism, London: Hamish Hamilton, p. 141.

5. Gardiner, Patrick, Kierkegaard: A Very Short Introduction, p. 42.

6. Storm, D. Anthony. D. Anthony Storm's Commentary on Kierkegaard. Available at HYPERLINK "" Accessed 3 September 2006.

7. In particular, the twenty or so pages of aphorisms ('Diapsalmata'), often blackly hilarious, that open the first volume, e.g.: “Salmon is in itself very delicious eating, but too much of it is bad for the health, inasmuch as it is a heavy food. For this reason, once when there was a great catch of salmon, the police in Hamburg ordered each master of a household to give his servants salmon not more than once a week. Would that there might be a similar police notice with regard to sentimentality.” [Either/Or I, p. 42.]

8. Kierkegaard, Søren, Either/Or Part I (Kierkegaard's Writings, III), ed. & tr. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1987, pp. 38 – 39.

9. Updike, John, 'Introduction to “The Seducer's Diary,” a Chapter of Either/Or,' More Matter: Essays and Criticism, London: Hamish Hamilton, p. 143.

10. Kierkegaard, Søren, Either/Or Part II (Kierkegaard's Writings, IV), ed. & tr. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1987, p. 192.

11. Percy, Walker, The Moviegoer, p. 237.

12. Dewey, Bradley R., 'Walker Percy Talks about Kierkegaard: An Annotated Interview,' in Lawson, Lewis A., and Kramer, Victor A., Conversations with Walker Percy, Jackson, Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 1985, p. 116.

Dewey, Bradley R., 'Walker Percy Talks about Kierkegaard: An Annotated Interview,' in Lawson, Lewis A., and Kramer, Victor A., Conversations with Walker Percy, Jackson, Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 1985, p. 106.

14. Percy, Walker, The Moviegoer, p. 11.

15. Percy, Walker, The Moviegoer, p. 13.

16. Ibid., 13.

17. Ibid., p. 14.

18. Ibid., p. 240.

19. This passage occurs in the novel's Epilogue, a brief section of only seven pages. Of equal importance in the novel's denouement, also contained in this section, is Binx's announcement that he has married his psychologically fragile cousin, Kate, a kindred spirit of Binx whose search for a way of life parallels his own. His loving acceptance of her weaknesses, and his willingness to shoulder them in marriage, is of the same substance and meaning as his understanding of Lonnie's fate.

Dewey, Bradley R., 'Walker Percy Talks about Kierkegaard: An Annotated Interview,' in Lawson, Lewis A., and Kramer, Victor A., Conversations with Walker Percy, Jackson, Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 1985, pp. 113 -- 114.

21. Kiekegaard, Søren, The Difference Between a Genius and an Apostle, cited in Storm, D. Anthony. D. Anthony Storm's Commentary on Kierkegaard. Available at HYPERLINK "" Accessed 3 September 2006.

22. Storm, D. Anthony. D. Anthony Storm's Commentary on Kierkegaard. Available at HYPERLINK "" Accessed 3 September 2006.

23. Montgomery, Marion, 'Kierkegaard and Percy: By Word, Away from the Philosophical,' in Walker Percy: Novelist and Philosopher, eds., Gretlund, Jan Nordby and Westarp, Karl-Heinz, Jackson, Mississippi and London: University Press of Mississippi, 1991, p. 100.

24. Ibid., p. 104.

25. Percy, Walker, The Moviegoer, p. 7.

26. Ibid., p. 13.

27. Ibid., pp. 79 – 80.

28. Kierkegaard, Søren, Repetition, pp. 169 – 70.

29. Ibid., pp.. 172 – 73.

30. Ibid., p. 173.

31. Ibid., p. 173.

32. Percy, Walker, The Moviegoer, p. 237.

33. Percy, Walker, 'Questions They Never Asked Me,' Signposts in a Strange Land, pp. 417 -- 418.

34. Hobson, Fred, 'The Sportswriter: Post-Faulkner, Post-Southern?', p. 96.

35. Ibid., p. 96.

36. Ford, Richard, The Sportswriter, p. 9.

37. Ford, Richard, The Sportswriter, p. 149.

38. Ibid., p. 348.

39. Ibid., p. 16.

40. Ibid., p. 48.

41. Walker, Elinor Ann, 'An Interview with Richard Ford, ' in Conversations with Richard Ford, ed. Huey Guagliardo, Jackson, Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 2001, p. 136.

42. Kierkegaard, Søren, Either/Or Part II (Kierkegaard's Writings, IV), ed. & tr. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1987, p. 167.

43. Ford, Richard, The Sportswriter, p. 59.

44. Updike, John, 'In Response to a request from The Independent on Sunday, of London, for a contribution to their weekly feature “A Book That Changed Me,” Odd Jobs: Essays and Criticism, London: Andre Deutsch, 1992, pp. 843 – 844.

45. Updike, John, 'Remarks upon receiving the Campion Medal, bestowed by the Catholic Book Club, in New York City, on September 11, 1997,' More Matter: Essays and Criticism, London: Hamish Hamilton, 1999, p. 852.

46. In support of this latter reading, see Rabbit, Run p. 98, where an uncompromising Lutheran minister reprimands Eccles, the Episcopalian minister who is trying to help Rabbit mend his ways. “How big do you think your little friends look among the billions that God sees?”

47. Updike, John, Rabbit, Run, p. 177.

48. Updike, John, 'Remarks upon receiving the Campion Medal, bestowed by the Catholic Book Club, in New York City, on September 11, 1997,' More Matter: Essays and Criticism, London: Hamish Hamilton, 1999, p. 852.

49. Updike, John, Rabbit, Run, p. 77.

50. Ibid., p. 83.

51. Ibid., p. 138.

52. Ibid., p. 129.

53. Updike, John, Rabbit, Run, p. 86.

54. Kierkegaard, Søren, Fear and Trembling/Repetition (Kierkegaard's Writings, VI), ed. & tr. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1983, p. 15.

55. Kierkegaard, Søren, Fear and Trembling/Repetition (Kierkegaard's Writings, VI), ed. & tr. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1983, p. 39.

56. Ibid., p. 38.

57. Ibid., p. 45.

58. Ibid., p. 46.

59. Ibid., p. 56.

60. Ibid., p. 33.

Updike, John, Rabbit, Run, p. 137.

62. Ibid., p. 172.

63. Geoffrey Hill, 'Ovid in the Third Reich'

64. Kierkegaard, Søren, Fear and Trembling/Repetition (Kierkegaard's Writings, VI), ed. & tr. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1983, p. 55.



Primary Sources

Ford, Richard, The Sportswriter, London: Hamish Hamilton, 1986.

Kierkegaard, Søren, Either/Or Part I (Kierkegaard's Writings, III), ed. & tr. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1987.

----- , Either/Or Part II (Kierkegaard's Writings, IV), ed. & tr. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1987.

-----, Fear and Trembling/Repetition (Kierkegaard's Writings, VI), ed. & tr. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1983.

Percy, Walker, The Moviegoer, London: Methuen, 2004.

Updike, John, A Rabbit Omnibus: Rabbit, Run; Rabbit Redux; Rabbit is Rich, London: Penguin, 1991.

Secondary Sources

Bailey, Peter J., The Drama of Belief in John Updike's Fiction, Madison, Teaneck, New Jersey: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2006.

Gardiner, Patrick, Kierkegaard: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988.

Lawson, Lewis A., and Kramer, Victor A., Conversations with Walker Percy, Jackson, Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 1985.

Mackey, Louis, Kierkegaard: A Kind of Poet, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1971.

-----, Points of View: Readings of Kierkegaard (Kierkegaard & Post-modernism), Tallahassee, Florida: Florida State University Press, 1986.

Percy, Walker, Signposts in a Strange Land, London: Bellew, 1991.

Plath, James, ed., Conversations with John Updike, Jackson, Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 1994.

Articles and Essays

Hobson, Fred, 'The Sportswriter: Post-Faulkner, Post-Southern?', in Perspectives on Richard Ford, ed. Guagliardo, Huey, Jackson, Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 2000.

Josipovici, Gabriel, 'Kierkegaard and the Novel,' in The Singer on the Shore, Manchester: Carcanet, 2006.

Lodge, David, 'Kierkegaard for Special Purposes,' in Consciousness and the Novel: Connected Essays, Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2002.

Montgomery, Marion, 'Kierkegaard and Percy: By Word, Away from the Philosophical,' in Walker Percy: Novelist and Philosopher, eds., Gretlund, Jan Nordby and Westarp, Karl-Heinz, Jackson, Mississippi and London: University Press of Mississippi, 1991.

Updike, John, 'Introduction to “The Seducer's Diary,” a Chapter of Either/Or,' in More Matter: Essays and Criticism, London: Hamish Hamilton.

-----, 'Remarks upon receiving the Campion Medal, bestowed by the Catholic Book Club, in New York City, on September 11, 1997,' in More Matter: Essays and Criticism, London: Hamish Hamilton, 1999.

-----, 'In Response to a request from The Independent on Sunday, of London, for a contribution to their weekly feature “A Book That Changed Me,” in Odd Jobs: Essays and Criticism, London: Andre Deutsch, 1992.

-----, 'The Fork,' in Picked-up Pieces, London: Andre Deutsch, 1976.

Walker, Elinor Ann, 'An Interview with Richard Ford,' in Conversations with Richard Ford, ed. Huey Guagliardo, Jackson, Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 2001.


Storm, D. Anthony, D. Anthony Storm's Commentary on Kierkegaard: