Kierkegaard: A Biography
traces the evolution of a character who himself was made up of many characters of his own creation. Søren Kierkegaard's writings, published under various pseudonyms, were made in response to "collisions" with significant individuals (including his father, his brother, a fiancé whom he rejected, and a prominent Danish bishop). The development of these pseudonymous characters reflect Kierkegaard's growing sense of self, and his discovery of that self as being essentially religious. With considerable mastery of the political, philosophical, and theological conflicts of 19th century Europe, Alastair Hannay's biography also serves as an excellent introduction to Kierkegaard's philosophy and faith. From sentence to sentence, the book is full of small pleasures, particularly Hannay's judiciously employed, humanizing vernacular phrases. (As a young man, "Søren," like so many people, "blamed his father for messing up his life.") And like his subject, Hannay is a shrewd observer of the often-misleading relationship between appearance and reality. For instance, he suggests that "it does seem plausible to suppose that a main motivation behind the huge effort that writers put into their poetic products stems often from a sense of lacking in themselves the very substance that their works appear to convey." --Michael Joseph Gross
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From Publishers Weekly
Kierkegaard wrote publicly, under a variety of inventive pseudonyms simultaneously revealing and concealing aspects of his self-scrutinizing personality, and privately, in his journals, under an increasingly paradoxical sense of self challenging any would-be biographer to faithfully render his life. And yet, like the writer of a mystery novel, he does drop clues to the puzzle of himself, for which veteran Kierkegaard scholar Hannay (professor emeritus of philosophy at the University of Oslo) has a keen detective's eye. Kierkegaard saw his life as a series of "collisions" with a few key individuals, and over the course of his life, he gradually realized a persona that was fundamentally religious. Hannay traces that dramatic unfolding through his sustained counterpoise of Kierkegaard's journal entries with his published oeuvre. In Hannay's hands, Kierkegaard's treatises, novels and journalistic essays are brilliant literary reflections of troubled personal encounters with an imperious father (Michael), a self-divided older brother (Peter), a rejected fianc?e (Regine Olsen) and a complacent bishop (Jacob Mynster), who embodies, for Kierkegaard, the established church of Denmark. The infinitely interpretable Kierkegaardian themes of irony and despair, seduction, the exceptional individual, paradox and life alternatively inflected by aesthetics, ethics or religion become newly accessible under this rigorous biographic gaze. For instance, Kierkegaard's efforts to justify the exceptional individual by excusing him from universal norms (in his own case, marriage) appear less as proto-existential heroism than as a sophisticated intellectual's attempt to protect a simple faith (such as Michael Kierkegaard's) from the pretensions of Hegelian philosophy to subsume it. Hannay's judiciously selected quotes from Kierkegaard will surely seduce those who are not already in thrall to this master stylist into reading at least some of his works firsthand. 8 pages of photos. (Sept.)
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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