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Sunday, March 31, 2019

Philosopher of the Heart: The Restless Life of Søren Kierkegaard by Clare Carlisle – review | Books - The Guardian

The philosopher was shaped by his fear of ridicule and scorn for Christian Copenhagen, as this compelling biography reveals, says Adam Phillips, The Guardian.

A drawing of Søren Kierkegaard around 1845, by Peter Klaestrup. 
Photo: Granger/Rex/Shutterstock
When Søren Kierkegaard wrote: “It is quite true what philosophy says, that life must be understood backward. But then one forgets the other principle, that it must be lived forward”, he was creating an interesting problem for his biographers. Our past may be the only thing about us that we can possibly understand, but the biographer, unlike her subject, knows at virtually every moment of her biography what happened next. For Clare Carlisle, in other words, it can look as though the life she is recounting has a coherence – that there was one thing after another for good reasons – that a life mostly doesn’t have when you live it.

This simple fact goes to the heart of Kierkegaard’s often recondite and obscure philosophy, as Carlisle shows in this lucid and riveting new biography, which at once rescues Kierkegaard from the scholars and makes it abundantly clear why he is such an intriguing and useful figure: that we want, above all, to be reassured about our lives rather than find out what about our lives matters to us.

Carlisle writes her biography partly in the present tense, as though Kierkegaard’s life is unfolding as it happens, which gives us an uncanny sense of the spectacular complexity of a life that Kierkegaard was at such pains to reveal...

Kierkegaard was the youngest of seven children and between the ages of 19 and 27 he lost his university mentor, his father and three of his siblings. At 24, in the middle, not incidentally, of these catastrophes, he fell in love with the now infamous Regine Olsen, proposing three years later, and two years after that breaking off the engagement to devote his life to God and writing. And to spending the rest of his life tormented by his decision and obsessed by her memory. He wore the engagement ring he had given her for the rest of his life, a life that can be read as a series of failed love affairs – not least with himself – and of the kinds of success that can come of such failures.

Source: The Guardian