Troubling the normal: Contemporary encounters with Kierkegaard

Ada Susanne Jaarsma, Purdue University


Taking seriously Michael Warner's descriptions of the “trouble with normal,” this dissertation argues that Kierkegaard's project of inwardness proffers critical resources for contemporary identity politics. I take up Kierkegaard's distinction between faith, which he defines as subjective and inward, and belief, which he defines as objective and dogmatic. Each chapter then sets out a conversation between one Kierkegaardian text and a later writer in order to assess the political potential of each thinker for strategically troubling the relations between faithful individuals and the ethical community. In the first chapter, I examine Habermas's conception of discourse ethics and put forth a definition of homophobia as a form of procedural violence in which culturally endorsed prescriptions of identity are falsely normalized as universal. In the second chapter, turning to psychoanalysis, I argue that because queer denotes a generalized perversion that is universal in its potential and scope, this perversity calls the meaning of normal as such into question. The idolatry of homophobia is thus the idolizing of the normal itself. The third chapter examines the politics of the work of love invoked by Kierkegaard and Beauvoir. Where Beauvoir looks to the ambiguities of selfhood, Kierkegaard posits the need for divine mediation. In the final chapter, I read Kierkegaard's pseudonymous Stages on Life's Way through Harriet Jacobs' slave narrative, which describes a movement towards freedom that is urgently literal, social, and material. Jacobs' text enables us to question the embodied aspects of how Kierkegaard's pseudonyms dramatize the path towards religious inwardness. Through these encounters with Kierkegaard, I argue that an inauthentic, false understanding of faith—whether through its conflation with objective statements of belief or through its expressions of false gods—leads to a legitimated hence violent imposition of communitarian values. Homophobia, as one example of such violence, is thus exposed as idolatrous, as the project points the way towards a religious queer ethics. The project concludes with a programmatic proposal for an inwardly rooted, richly embodied freedom and its requisite community of love.




Matustik, Purdue University.

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