| The Primeval Writ|
Read by a Genius
Geniuses are like thunderstorms: they go against the wind; terrify mankind; cleanse the air. Thus wrote Søren Kierkegaard in 1849 in a journal entry with clear autobiographical overtones.
He considered himself a genius. There is something of the great about me, but because of the poor state of the market I am not worth much. And he related his genius to that of being in the minority. He always went against the wind, against the prevailing currents and formation of systems, and did this because he was of the opinion that The truth is always only to be found in the minority.
In contrast to the majority, the abstract, he placed the concrete, the individual. "Only when the single individual has achieved an ethical attitude within himself in spite of the whole world, only then can the question of truly uniting be taken up.
Søren Kierkegaard was born May 5, 1813 as the youngest of seven children. His peculiar upbringing in the family home on Nytorv [New Square] in Copenhagen was influenced by his fathers pietism and melancholia. In 1830 he finished secondary school and immediately afterwards matriculated at the University of Copenhagen to study theology. However, theology quickly slipped into the background as literature, theater, politics and philosophy and a dissolute life, in part a revolt against the strict and gloomy Christianity of his home, gained favour.
But after a religious crisis in May 1838 and the death of his father in August the same year, he again took up theology and in July 1840 completed his theology degree with honours.
Two months later he became engaged to Regine Olsen. But, since he in a religious sense, already in early childhood had been betrothed to God, he could not marry her. After thirteen intense and stormy months he broke the engagement in October 1841. This unhappy love affair left deep traces in the rest of his life and set him going as an author with Either - Or and Two Edifying Discourses in 1843.
He had, however, already published his first book in 1838. From the Papers of One Still Living, a critical review of H.C. Andersens novel Only a Fiddler. And in 1841 he had defended his dissertation On the Concept of Irony for his doctorate in philosophy.
His philosophical, psychological, religious and Christian works, which make up 40 titles, fall into two phases: 1843-46 and 1847-51. In addition to Either - Or and a series of edifying discourses, the first phase includes titles such as: Fear and Trembling, The Concept of Anxiety, Philosophical Fragments, Stages on Lifes Way, and Concluding Unscientific Postscript, which is the turning point between the two phases. The second, Christian, phase is made up of works such as: Edifying Discourses in a Different Spirit. Works of Love, Christian Discourses, The Sickness unto Death, and Practice in Christianity, as well as Two Discourses at the Communion on Fridays, which concludes the works.
To this must be added the large number of drafts for many of the printed works and a wealth of posthumous papers, journals and notebooks, bound sheets and loose sheets, scraps and strips of paper. The roughly 75 journals and notebooks, which Kierkegaard kept from 1833 to 1855, provide insight into his workshop, his rehearsal behind the scenes.
Out on the stage, in the published works, Søren Kierkegaard wanted - as his own kind of poet and thinker - to read through the primeval writ of the conditions of individual, human existence, the old, the well-known, that handed down by the fathers, yet once again, if possible, in a more profound way, as he himself expressed it, when, in the late summer of 1851, he had reached a conclusion of his works proper.
In these works he describes the various possibilities of existence, especially its three major stages, which he calls spheres of existence, the aesthetic, the ethical and the religious, demonstrating their insufficiency in relation to the truly Christian. Man becomes an authentic self first when he stands in relation to God as one of His creation. And man becomes a true self first by confessing Christ and receiving His forgiveness of sins. But in addition to confessing Christ, it is also necessary to act as a Christian. Therefore the truth is always a truth in action, just as faith is always a faith within works.
Søren Kierkegaard perceived himself as a religious author whose task was to present Christianity. He wanted to cleanse the air, to strip away all sensory illusions and all hypocrisy, and return to "the Christianity of the New Testament."
With this background he attacked the official preaching of Christianity and the clerical authorities. He started his attack on the church, a flashing thunderstorm, at the end of 1854 with a series of articles in the newspaper Fædrelandet and continued it with great harshness, radicalism and journalistic flair in the pamphlets Øieblikket [The Moment] no.s 1-9.
In October 1855, sick and exhausted, he collapsed on the street, and was brought to Frederiks Hospital (now the Museum of Industrial Design), where he died on November 11.
Søren Kierkegaard was rediscovered around the turn of the century and achieved international significance after the First World War. He was the great source of inspiration for dialectical theology and for existential philosophy. From the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s he was out of fashion. Since then he has undergone a tremendous renaissance, not only among scholars, but also among a broader public, both in Denmark and internationally - also in the countries which had been subject to Marxist thought and understanding of existence. In addition, new disciplines such as the philosophy of language, phenomenology and literature have discovered him.
This renewed interest in Søren Kierkegaard is due to a renewed interest in attaining a comprehensive understanding of existence, not only on the scholarly philosophical plane, but also on the ethical-existential. It is also related to a new searching for answers to the fundamental questions about the significance of the individual, the basis of ethics and the relationship between religion and Christianity, on the one hand, and society on the other.
"There are two kinds of genius. Characteristic of the first kind is a roll of thunder, whereas lightning is infrequent, and rarely strikes. The characteristic quality of the other kind is inner reflection, which represses the self or its thunder. But then the lightning is all the more intensive; with the speed and certainty of lightning the designated specific points are struck - fatally.
Søren Kierkegaard belonged to the latter kind.
Based on the catalogue of the exhibit "Kierkegaard. The Secret Note", The Round Tower, Copenhagen, May 6 - June 9, 1996, arranged under the auspices of The Søren Kierkegaard Research Center by Niels Jørgen Cappelørn and The Søren Kierkegaard Society by Joakim Garff .
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