The philosophy of deconstruction, most famously pushed forward by Jacques Derrida, has left an undeniable dent on contemporary thought, and even religion has found itself in deconstruction’s sights, with Church, faith and even God put under philosophical scrutiny. But is this a one-way street, or is there something faith might teach deconstruction? This way of framing the relation is itself questionable, since deconstruction itself is an indifferent, impersonal force, something that simply happens as part of reality, but this gives it a certain seduction for theorists who don’t simply want to bear witness to it’s work but to master it as a tool, wielding it as they please, unwittingly falling into the very sort of traps deconstruction often unravels.
This is one of the main ideas Chris Boesel wants to remind us of with his new book, In Kierkegaard’s Garden With the Poppy Blooms: Why Derrida Doesn’t Read Kierkegaard When He Reads Kierkegaard (Fortress Academic, 2021). Written as part academic monograph, part dialogue between a philosophy professor and theology student, the book stages a confrontation between Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling and Derrida’s The Gift of Death, where he claims to draw deconstructive lessons from Abraham’s famous ‘leap of faith’, although Boesel finds the lessons he draws questionable. In fact, Boesel contends, Derrida doesn’t seem to have read the text at all! Derrida, renowned for his capacity to find the smallest cracks on the margins and in between the lines of philosophical and literary texts, blatantly misses many of the actual points Kierkegaard was trying to make, and in doing so illustrates the uniqueness of Kierkegaard’s inquiries into the nature of faith and subjectivity. In critically analyzing Derrida’s work, Boesel finds opportunity to remind us of what deconstruction can (and can’t!) do in animating commitments for justice, while also suggesting that a Kierkegaardian faith may offer a more productive possibility for thinking through those same commitments.
Chris Boesel is an associate professor of theology at Drew University. His other publications include Reading Karl Barth: Theology That Cuts Both Ways and Risking Proclamation, Respecting Difference: Christian Faith, Imperialistic Discourse, and Abraham.