Is Role-Play Gaming a Religious Exercise? Thoughts on Tolkien, Campbell and Role-Playing Games (pt. xii)

            In this regard, Kierkegaard’s discussion of imagination and the novel seem relevant, since writing and gaming are both imaginative activities by most people’s definition.  He writes that, “The poet knows imagination’s way out; this author knows actuality’s way out; the religious person knows religion’s way out.  The life-view is the way out, and the story is the way.”[1]  What does that mean?  Kierkegaard seems to feel that this novel is closer to “actuality” than a typical poem, which simultaneously transfigures its content into some higher ideality while avoiding the actual concrete reality.[2]  A casual scholar can get a clue what he means by looking at the characters he himself created and which he describes as “poets:”  the Young Man in Repetition, Johannes de silentio in Fear and Trembling, A in Either/Or, for examples.  These are characters who quickly lose themselves in the “intoxication” of their poetic activity.  They do not deal directly with reality and life, but rather deal in abstractions and a mystical sense of union with the eternal; even de silentio discussing Abraham does not deal with Abraham but imaginatively reconstructs him, while admitting that he himself never finds the easy peace with actuality that Abraham does.  Kierkegaard’s models for the poetic are the Romantic and Hegelian poets who were popular in his time, such as Adam Oehlenschläger and  J. L. Heiberg, who always moved away from actuality towards grand spiritual vistas.  Kierkegaard writes that “Where poetry to all intents and purposes stops, this author (of the novel) begins.”  That is, a poet would have taken one of the troubled love affairs and set out to discuss the grand universal power of Love, so that the heroine found her consolation not in actually gaining her beloved but in losing herself in the eternal current of Love flowing through the cosmos.  The novel instead takes the heroine who has fallen under the power of Love and, rather than stopping with a celebration of that power for its own sake, begins instead to look for a way for her to actually find an actual resolution with her actual beloved.  Kierkegaard says this is higher, more advanced, moving in the direction of the religious rather than remaining merely within esthetic boundaries as poetry does.  In his pseudonymous writings, the characters described as “poets” are generally seeking to escape reality and some pain or hardship; for example, the Young Man in Repetition becomes a poet as a result of his own failed love affair and his inability to enter into a concrete relationship with an actual woman.  The religious response, as presented in Kierkegaard’s writings, would be to acknowledge the impossibility and yet to have the faith to remain engaged with actuality (see Abraham, or the merman in Fear and Trembling). 

To be continued…..

[1] Two Ages, p. 15

[2] Two Ages, pp. 14-15

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