Søren Kierkegaard 200 Years (+ Either/Or Book Review)
If Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard had still been alive, he would today, on the 5th of May 2013, have turned 200 years old. In honour of this anniversary I have decided to republish the following review from my old blog:
I’ve been reading a book with excerpts from one of the most famous Danish philosophers Søren Kierkegaard‘s most known book “Either/Or” (Enten-Eller in Danish). The original book was published in 2 parts, for a total of 700 pages, and it is known for being rather incoherent (in that he develops several different ideas in the book, and not necessarily in an easy to understand order).
Kierkegaard has been called a philosopher, a theologist and the father of existentialism – both in its theist and atheist versions, as well as a poet, literary critic, humourist, psychologist and a social critic. Incidentally, he was very critical of the work of contemporary Hans Christian Andersen (the fairy tale writer, and probably the only Danish writer more world famous than Kierkegaard).
Quotes by Kierkegaard have long made him one of my favourite philosophers, here’s just a short selection:
- A man who as a physical being is always turned toward the outside, thinking that his happiness lies outside him, finally turns inward and discovers that the source is within him.
- During the first period of a man’s life the greatest danger is not to take the risk.
- Face the facts of being what you are, for that is what changes what you are.
And then the quote that rather sums up his work Either/Or: “I see it all perfectly; there are two possible situations – one can either do this or that. My honest opinion and my friendly advice is this: do it or do not do it – you will regret both.”
Either/Or is one of Kierkegaard’s earliest works of some monument. In it, he is still greatly affected by his unresolved relationship to his father, which also to a great deal resembled his relationship with God. Furthermore, his views on love and marriage is greatly affected by his broken relationship to Regine Olsen. The couple is generally believed to have been in love, but he broke off the engagement, believing his melancholia made him unsuitable for marriage. She, however, remained a muse for his writings.
Although I cannot say that I agree with everything Kierkegaard wrote, in the excerpts I have read from Either/Or, I always enjoy reading thought-provoking philosophy. I think I’d like to read a full biography on Kierkegaard, to learn even more about this fascinating man, his ideas and his writings.
The book I read was published in 1995, but had elected to leave the writings as is. Danish has changed a lot since Either/Or was published almost 160 years ago, so it was a little challenging at times. As usual when reading a book in Danish, the translation of the quotes is done by me. His writings, in English, can be found here
“What is a poet? A miserable human, who hides huge troubles in his heart, but whose lips are made in such a way that the sigh and the scream, which flow out over them, sound like beautiful music. … And the humans gather around the poet and tell him: sing again soon, that is, if only new sufferings would torment your soul and if only the lips would continue to be shaped as previously; for the scream would only make us anxious, but the music is sweet.”
“In addition to my numerous social circle I have yet another intimate confidante – my melancholia; in the middle of my happiness, in the middle of my work he waves at me, calls me to his side, even as I remain physically present. My melancholia is the most faithful mistress I have ever know, what wonder is it then, that I love back.”
“Get married, you will regret it; do not get married, you will also regret it; get married or do not get married, you will regret both; whether you get married, or you do not get married. Laugh at the stupidities of the world, you will regret it; cry because of them, you will also regret it; laugh at the stupidities of the world or cry because of them, you will regret both; whether you laugh at the stupidities of the world or cry because of them, you will regret both. Trust a girl, you will regret it; do not trust her, you will also regret it; trust a girl or do not trust her, you will regret both; whether you trust a girl or do not trust her, you will regret both. Hang yourself, you will regret it; do not hang yourself, you will also regret it; hang yourself or do not hang yourself, you will regret both; whether you hang yourself or do not hang yourself, you will regret both.”
“It is genuinely Greek that Philoctetes [one of the warriors, who were supposed to have gone to Troy, but had to stay on the island Tenedos, because he was bitten by a poisonous viper, and since his brothers in arms could not stand to listen to his screams, they left him there. After the gods had healed his wound, he later joined the war, in which he brought down the Troyan prince Paris] complains that there are no one who knows, how he suffers, it is a profound, human urge to want others, to know this; the reflecting pain, however, does not want this. It does not occur to Antigone [the daughter of Oedipus and Jocasta, his mother] to wish that someone should know of her pain, on the contrary she feels it in her relationship with her father, feels the justice, which lie in mourning, which is as aesthetically just, as it is to suffer the punishment when once has done wrong.”
“The exterior might then be the object of our observation, but not of our interest; thus the fisher is sitting his eyes fixed on the river, but the river does not interest him at all, but rather the movements at the bottom. The exterior therefore has some importance to us, but not as an expression of the interior, but as a telegraphic report that something is hiding deep inside.”
“The unhappy being is therefore absent. But one is absent, when one is either in the past or in the future.”
“Then receive our wishes, good wishes: we wish no one would understand you, but everyone envy you; we wish no friend would join you, we wish no girl would love you, we wish no secret sympathy will suspect your lonely pain, we wish no eye would understand your distant pain; we wish no ear would find your sighs! Or does your proud soul reject such sympathetic wishes, does it despise the relief, then we wish the girls would love you, we wish those who are pregnant in their fear would turn to you; we wish the mothers would set their hope to you; we wish the young ones would join you, we wish the men would build upon you; we wish the old man would reach for you as for a walking stick – we wish the whole world would believe you capable of making it happy. Then live well you the unhappiest! Although, what am I saying: the unhappiest, the happiest I should say, since this is exactly a present of happiness, which no one can give to themselves. Look the language breaks, and the thought is confused; since, who is the happiest without the unhappiest, and who is the unhappiest without the happiest, and what is life except madness, and faith except foolishness, and hope except postponing the inevitable, or love except vinegar in the wound.”
“It [marriage] matures the whole soul, as it at the same time gives one a feeling of importance, but also the weight of responsibility, which you can’t explain away, because you love.”
“In marriage you will not get anywhere with great passions; you cannot take anything up in advance, you cannot be loving one month with big gestures to make up for another time; here the rule is that every day has its own trouble, but also its own blessing.”