November 04, 2005

The Merman in Fear and Trembling

Adam Kotsko says, if I understand him aright, that he doesn't understand the bit about the merman in Fear and Trembling. My reading of F&T is of a most superficial sort--not helped by a tendency to confuse it with Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (OK, not really)--but I did, once, have a thought about the merman. It's embarrassingly stupid enough, I'm sure, that I'm going to put it below the fold. (I'm also not going back to the book, which is anyway in the office.)

This is--throughout the first couple of problemata Silentio emphasizes the possibility of a teleological suspension of the ethical, with Abraham or the knight of faith taking actions that cannot be justified by any sort of universal principle, but only on the strength of the absurd. Whatever reasons they have for their actions, they cannot communicate them to anyone else.

Now, I believe that Silentio is suggesting that in Abraham's case these actions were somehow divine. The book starts from a contemplation of what must be true if Abraham is to be a great man. But is there any guarantee that these teleological suspensions of the ethical will lead to greatness? The merman, perhaps, is a teleological suspension of the ethical that is demonic rather than divine.

OK, that's all I got. I have no way of cashing out the demonic, nor do I know how this might fit into later books by other pseudonyms. Fear and Trembling on the Campaign Trail and like that.

Posted by Matt Weiner at November 4, 2005 08:09 PM