Soren Kierkegaard

Soren Kierkegaard: A Biography

Joakim Garff
translated by Bruce H. Kirmmse
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 896
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  • Book Info
    Soren Kierkegaard
    Book Description:

    "The day will come when not only my writings, but precisely my life--the intriguing secret of all the machinery--will be studied and studied." Søren Kierkegaard's remarkable combination of genius and peculiarity made this a fair if arrogant prediction. But Kierkegaard's life has been notoriously hard to study, so complex was the web of fact and fiction in his work. Joakim Garff's biography of Kierkegaard is thus a landmark achievement. A seamless blend of history, philosophy, and psychological insight, all conveyed with novelistic verve, this is the most comprehensive and penetrating account yet written of the life and works of the enigmatic Dane who changed the course of intellectual history.

    Garff portrays Kierkegaard not as the all-controlling impresario behind some of the most important works of modern philosophy and religious thought--books credited with founding existentialism and prefiguring postmodernism--but rather as a man whose writings came to control him. Kierkegaard saw himself as a vessel for his writings, a tool in the hand of God, and eventually as a martyr singled out to call for the end of "Christendom." Garff explores the events and relationships that formed Kierkegaard, including his guilt-ridden relationship with his father, his rivalry with his brother, and his famously tortured relationship with his fiancée Regine Olsen. He recreates the squalor and splendor of Golden Age Copenhagen and the intellectual milieu in which Kierkegaard found himself increasingly embattled and mercilessly caricatured.

    Acclaimed as a major cultural event on its publication in Denmark in 2000, this book, here presented in an exceptionally crisp and elegant translation, will be the definitive account of Kierkegaard's life for years to come.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4960-4
    Subjects: History, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-xii)
  3. Maps
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
    (pp. xvii-xxii)
    (pp. xxiii-xxiv)
    Joakim Graff

    This book is a labor of love, begun and concluded in the late evening hours, but the atmosphere of the Søren Kierkegaard Research Centre, where it is my privilege to work, has been immensely inspiring. I have been the beneficiary of many textual commentaries and explanatory notes that have been produced in connection with the continuing publication ofSøren Kierkegaards Skrifter[Søren Kierkegaard’s Writings].

    I would like to thank a series of friends and associates and other experts who have listened to my disentanglements along the way, have read greater or lesser portions of the manuscript, and have given valuable...

    (pp. xxv-xxv)
    Bruce H. Kirmmse
    (pp. xxvi-xxvi)
  8. Part One
    • 1813–1834
      (pp. 3-46)

      Kirkkegaard, Kirkegaard, Kiersgaard, Kjerkegaard, Kirckegaard, Kerkegaard, Kierckegaard, Kierkegaard.

      The parish registers provide plenty of testimony that the name is a tricky and a volatile one. It of course has something to do with a churchyard [Danish:kirkegaard, “churchyard,” usually in the sense of “cemetery”], but not in the usual sense. The name in fact stems from a couple of farms located next to the church in the village of Sædding in the middle of the Jutland heath, about a dozen miles southeast of Ringkøbing. In common parlance the two farms were termed “churchyards” because of their close proximity to the...

    • 1835
      (pp. 47-59)

      Apparently the family tragedies that periodically plunged Peter Christian into complete inactivity had no effect, or perhaps even the opposite effect, on his younger brother. Søren Aabye’s journals, to which he devoted more and more attention as time went by, are as silent as the grave in regard to deaths, without even so much as a little cross to note them. Therefore it is all the more striking when one suddenly reads the following: “I have had grief since I last wrote you. One of the signs by which you will perceive this is the black sealing wax that I...

    • 1836
      (pp. 60-101)

      After the French Revolution and the unrest that followed in its train, the absolute monarch Frederick VI issued a long series of ordinances and decrees to discourage in advance those who might entertain liberal or revolutionary sympathies. On September 27, 1799, he decreed: “For the person who merely denigrates, ridicules, or spreads hatred and dissatisfaction concerning the present constitution and government, or who merely denigrates the monarchical form of government in general, or who undermines belief in the existence of God and in the immortality of the human soul—for this person the punishment provided is exile for life or...

    • 1837
      (pp. 102-125)

      Kierkegaard’s Faustian period was very costly, both existentially and financially. During these years, the fellow who had been called “Søren Sock” by his schoolmates emerged from his woolly cocoon and developed into a foppish dandy, tailor-made, as it were, for the late romantic age. Living on credit and borrowing money in a manner completely foreign to the Moravian frugality of his family home, Kierkegaard acquired amazingly extravagant habits. He spent large sums on the theater, on purchasing volumes of philosophy and literature, at cafés, and on chic coats—the coat the color of red cabbage was replaced by a lemon-yellow...

    • 1838
      (pp. 126-146)

      Toward the end of 1837 Kierkegaard sat reading one of the folk songs with which he relaxed. He was strangely withdrawn into himself, feeling almost like an ancient ruin. It was a quietly touching song about a girl who sat waiting for her sweetheart on a Saturday evening, weeping “so bitterly.” Suddenly a scene opened before his eyes, he saw the Jutland heath, its unspeakable solitude, and a solitary lark way up in the air: “Then one generation after another rose before me, and all the girls sang for me, and wept so bitterly, and sank into their graves again....

    • 1839
      (pp. 147-170)

      Søren Aabye inherited more than his father’s “transfigured image.” When the estate was settled in March 1839, the merchant’s total assets were calculated to be 125,341 rixdollars, 2 marks, and 8 shillings. The two brothers each received outright one-quarter of the total, which amounted to the tidy sum of 31,335 rixdollars, 2 marks, and 2 shillings. In December 1838 the house at 2 Nytorv was sold at auction to the two brothers for 19,000 rixdollars. The rest of the assets were placed in bonds, stocks, and other commercial paper. Thus neither of the brothers had any need to concern himself...

  9. Part Two
    • 1840
      (pp. 173-191)

      “A rather diminutive, white-haired old lady with the friendliest of expressions opens the door for me the first time I ring the doorbell at the corner house at Nørrebrogade and Sortedamsdossering. She is dressed in a black silk dress and wears a fringed cap. Just about a year ago she was left the widow of Privy Councillor Schlegel, a highly respected civil servant, who was most recently prefect in Copenhagen and formerly governor of the Danish West Indies. The councillor has left a very large library—a sort of universal library including all sorts of books—the type of library...

    • 1841
      (pp. 192-198)

      “An arrow of pain has been lodged in my heart since my earliest childhood. As long as it remains there I am ironic. If it is drawn out, I will die.” In this retrospective reflection from 1847, Kierkegaard made irony into a condition that had been inescapablyhis ownfor as long as he could remember. But doesn’t irony presuppose a consciousness that a child does not possess, a mentality that is foreign to the child? Perhaps. A child may be satisfied with employing a bit of irony, with pretending, with crawling into the shelter of a lie, with using...

    • 1842
      (pp. 199-213)

      Despite the fact that the scholarly evaluators found fault with the dissertation’s stylistic pranks, the master of irony became a magister in irony. The university rules were followed in every detail. An audience that was almost as learned as it was curious showed up for the oral defense. In Latin. The show was a great hit at the box office and lasted seven and one-half hours, though in the middle of the day there was a recess of a couple of hours. No fewer than nine opponents rose to debate Kierkegaard. Sibbern and Brøndsted appeared as official opponents. Theex...

    • 1843
      (pp. 214-265)

      “Here I stand, then, face to face with the reading public at this important moment. I confess my frailty: I have written nothing, not a line. I confess my weakness: I have no part in the whole thing, or in any of it—no part, not in the slightest way. Be strong, my soul: I confess that there is a good deal of it which I haven’t read.”

      This penitential confession was put forward in the article “Public Confession,” which Kierkegaard felt compelled to publish inFædrelandeton June 12, 1842. The occasion was his embarrassment at having for some...

    • 1844
      (pp. 266-300)

      “I am sitting and listening to the sounds within myself, to the joyous intimations of the music and the profound seriousness of the organ. Synthesizing them is a task not for a composer but for a human being, who in the absence of greater challenges in his life, limits himself to the simple task of wanting to understand himself.” This journal entry, in all its demanding modesty, is from the early autumn of 1843, shortly before Kierkegaard began to compose the draft ofThe Concept of Anxiety, in which it is precisely introspection, the investigation of the self, that is...

    • 1845
      (pp. 301-372)

      “Some of my countrymen probably think that Copenhagen is a boring town and a small town. To me, on the contrary—refreshed as it is by the sea on which it is situated, and unable, even in winter, to abandon its memory of beech forests—it is the most favorable habitat I could wish for. Big enough to be a major city, small enough that there is no market price on human beings.”

      Thus doesStages on Life’s Wayexpress an infatuation with Kierkegaard’s Copenhagen, which according to the census of 1845 had 126,787 inhabitants. The small, compact, fortified city...

  10. Part Three
    • 1846
      (pp. 375-462)

      One spring day in 1843, Meïr Aron Goldschmidt took the initiative to arrange a not entirely ordinary symposium, sending written invitations to two people. Only one of them reacted, namely P. L. Møller; the other did not even bother to reply to the invitation. This was all the more lamentable because he was the real occasion of the symposium and the point of the party. No one could reasonably blame him for his silence, however, because this absent person was none other than Victor Eremita, the pseudonymous author ofEither/Or.

      Despite the absence of the guest of honor, Goldschmidt’s dinner...

    • 1847
      (pp. 463-528)

      The 1840s were the first decade of steam power in Denmark, and during his wanderings along the ramparts Kierkegaard could see how, one after the other, the windmills went over to steam-driven grindstones. This efficient power source penetrated from the suburbs to the outskirts of the city and was soon within the ramparts of the city itself; factory chimneys sprung up everywhere. People complained about the noise and the stinking coal smoke, but manufacturers and clever investors saw that there was quick money to be made, and before long the entire town was full of smoke and steam, all the...

  11. Part Four
    • 1848
      (pp. 531-573)

      “Then an apartment at the corner of Tornebuskegade became vacant, an apartment I had been infatuated with ever since the place was built.” The new house which had set Kierkegaard’s heart aflutter was at the corner of Tornebuskegade [Danish: “Thornbush Street”] and Rosenborggade [Danish: “Rose Castle Street”] and belonged to J. J. Gram, owner of a tannery firm. It was built in the late classical-revival style, four stories high, with four windows facing the street. It had become available for occupancy in the summer of 1847.

      Kierkegaard had agreed to Easter Day 1848 as the day he would vacate the...

    • 1849
      (pp. 574-641)

      Kierkegaard’s relation to the literary scene was in fact not nearly as unequivocal as he liked to portray it in his bleakest moments. Thus, for example, when he reissuedEither/Oron May 14, 1849 (the same dayThe Lily of the Field and the Bird of the Airappeared), he saw to it that a judicious selection of “this country’s writers” received individual copies of the former: “I felt it was my duty. And now I could do it, for now it was no longer possible to form a coterie in support of a book—because of course the book...

    • 1850
      (pp. 642-667)

      After the summer’s exchange of letters with Rasmus Nielsen, the remainder of 1849 settled back into the regular ritual of Thursday strolls, but on January 17, 1850, the professor had to beg off, “seeing as and inasmuch as it has pleased an esteemed head cold to dictate that I be placed under several days’ house arrest.” On February 22 Nielsen was again unable to walk with Kierkegaard, though this time he did not indicate a reason, just as (“embarrassingly enough!”) he had to miss their walk on April 4. On Thursday, April 11, they were able to take their stroll,...

    • 1851
      (pp. 668-683)

      Kierkegaard knew well that withPractice in Christianityhe had gone too far, and he imagined that Mynster would perhaps reprimand him with a “little dig in a sermon.” He was mistaken about this. The bishop chose another tactic. In mid-March 1851 Mynster entered the debate on civil marriage with a fifty-page essay titledFurther Contributions to the Negotiations concerning Ecclesiastical Relations in Denmark, a copy of which he sent to Kierkegaard, whom he had cited a couple of times. Kierkegaard immediately read it and saw himself mentioned as “the gifted author.” And in a way that was fine. What...

    • 1852
      (pp. 684-691)

      In Copenhagen, moves from one apartment to another generally took place on the third Tuesday in April or the third Tuesday in October. In this way, furniture, servants, and other necessities could be where they needed to be by May 1 or November 1, respectively. When people moved, they tended to remain within the same neighborhood. Hans Christian Andersen lived at fifteen different addresses in Copenhagen, but always near the Royal Theater and Kongens Nytorv, which constituted a sort of focal point for him. Kierkegaard always chose to live near the Church of Our Lady and the old episcopal residence....

    • 1853
      (pp. 692-724)

      “I have read what I must call the most monstrous of all the polemics that have ever been written against me,A Life in the Underworld. The author is anonymous, but in reality it is Rasmus Nielsen, just as surely as I am the person writing this letter.” The person writing the letter was Martensen; the letter was addressed to Gude; the date was February 21, 1853. “I am the person who is depicted as ‘A Soul after Death’—naturally, without naming me by name—and I am found guilty of having done absolutely nothing for the sake of Christ,...

  12. Part Five
    • 1854
      (pp. 727-739)

      “Now he is dead. It would have very desirable if, at the end of his life, he could have been prevailed upon to make the confession to Christianity that what he has represented was not really Christianity but a toned-down version, for he carried the entire age. … Now that he is dead without having made that confession, everything is changed; now all that remains is that his preaching has mired Christianity in an illusion.”

      This was Kierkegaard’s first reaction to Mynster’s death. It had come quite suddenly. During the previous summer he had been able to make his usual...

    • 1855
      (pp. 740-814)

      Kierkegaard did not, in fact, write a book on the topic, but if all the various individual documents connected to the case are gathered together, they quickly come to constitute an entire archive of pamphlets, in which the tone varies from shrill indignation to sober condescension. Thus on January 9, 1855,Berlingske Tidendecarried a lengthy, anonymous review of Jens Paludan-Müller’s essayDr. Søren Kierkegaard’s Attack on Bishop Mynster’s Posthumous Reputation. The reviewer pointed out that Paludan-Müller, resident curate at the cathedral in Aalborg, had convincingly proved that both the “standard of measure” Kierkegaard had employed, as well as the...

    (pp. 815-816)
  14. NOTES
    (pp. 817-844)
    (pp. 845-854)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 855-870)