The Temptation of Symmetry: Hamann, Herder, Kierkegaard, and Henry James
Year of Dissertation:
The texts that The Temptation of Symmetry: Hamann, Herder, Kierkegaard and Henry James treats, by J. G. Hamann (Aesthetica in nuce), J. G. Herder (Zerstreute Blaetter), Kierkegaard (Fear and Trembling and Stages on Life's Way), and Henry James (The Sacred Fount), are united by a shared skepticism toward systematic thought and by a quirk of writing that pairs truncated figures of symbolic speech with broken bodies. These preoccupations seem at first to have little relation to each other. But in the works under examination in this project, they coalesce around an emblematic structural trope: symmetry. This study examines how and why symmetry is such a loaded issue in these texts. Symmetry, after all, would seem to be an inherently desirable principle, eternally beautiful and valid across disciplines and centuries, able to unite opposition and create a unified whole out of miscellany and fragmentation. I propose that each of these writers explodes symmetry as a temptation and a false ideal.