“The Vanishing Point of Existence: Kierkegaard and the Ethics of the Novel”

The Department of English will host Yi-Ping Ong, associate professor of comparative thought and literature at Johns Hopkins University, for the Stonum Lecture in Poetics. She will present “The Vanishing Point of Existence: Kierkegaard and the Ethics of the Novel” Friday, Oct. 25, from 3:15 to 4:15 p.m. in the Mandel Community Studies Center, Room 108.

About the lecture

The rise of the realist novel changes the representation of the everyday in philosophy of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. For thinkers such as Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Heidegger, Sartre, Beauvoir and Camus, the conceptualization of important aspects of everyday life and of social reality is influenced by their reception of the realist novel. Bringing together novel history with a significant turning point in the history of philosophy, this talk explores an influential encounter between Kierkegaard and the realist novel.

Kierkegaard’s review of Thomasine Gyllembourg’s novel Two Ages, published as A Literary Review (1846), is widely considered by critics to be a key text for the study of his social and political thought. The extent to which his critique of contemporary society relies upon a detailed analysis of the novel’s poetics, however, has yet to be fully recognized. The novel, Kierkegaard argues, evokes a mode of contemporary subjectivity that is self- and world-annihilating. In so doing, it confronts the central crisis of contemporary existence.

About the speaker

Ong is the author of The Art of Being: Poetics of the Novel and Existentialist Philosophy (Harvard University Press, 2018). Other work on the novel and on 19th- and 20th-century philosophy and literature has appeared or is forthcoming in PMLA, Philosophy and Literature, Twentieth-Century Literature, Comparative Literature, nonsite and Post45. Ong is executive co-editor of the Comparative Literature Issue of Modern Language Notes.