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from Kierkegaard: A Biography by Joakim Garff

Here’s another nomination for the Summer Reading Klub. I found a hardback edition on sale for about 10 rixdollars last summer, and I’ve been meaning to read it ever since. I read the introduction last night, and does it ever look good. Garff’s prose is extremely lucid, or at least the translation from the original Danish certainly is, and I like what I understand to be his general take on the difficulty of coming to any kind of comprehension about Søren Kierkegaard’s life. And yet, how necessary. For many of us, anyway, lest we suffer the same fate as this guy. Here are a few paragraphs from his introduction:

Israel Levin, who had served as Kierkegaard’s secretary for years, surveyed the problem form the opposite side – absolutely from within, so to speak – but he, too, found the prospect of a Kierkegaard biography no less suspect than did Brøchner: “Anyone who wants to deal with Søren Kierkegaard’s life must take care not to burn his fingers: This is a life so full of contradictions that it will be difficult to get to the bottom of his character. He often refers to double reflections; all his own words were more than sevenfold reflection. he fought to achieve clarity for himself, but he was pursued by all manner of moods and was such a temperamental person that he often alleged things that were untrue, deceiving himself into believing that they were the truth.”

Levin’s reminder is important because it emphasizes the capricious nature of the source materials and indirectly reveals the infinite care with which Kierkegaard planned his posthumous rebirth. So if one wishes to write biography of Kierkegaard, one must come to terms with the fact that over much of the expansive terrain one is crisscrossing an already existing autobiography. Consequently the danger of being an unintentional collaborator in writing the myth of Kierkegaard lurks everywhere in the materials, as they provide optimal conditions for uncritical praise of this genius. My task is more critical, more historical, less reverential. It is my intention not only to tell the great stories in Kierkegaard’s life but also to scrutinize the minor details and incidental circumstances, the cracks in the granite of genius, the madness just below the surface, the intensity, the economic and psychological costs of the frenzies of writing, as well as the profound and mercurial mysteriousness of a figure with whom one is never really finished. Thus it is my intention that this book provide a comprehensive description of the Kierkegaard complex.

It’s huge, of course – close to 1000 pages. So maybe we would need two summers.


  1. Rufus McCain says

    Or more likely, to borrow a phrase from the Beach Boys, we will need and Endless Summer. (A concept upon which SK could put a nice spin, methinks.) Anyway, yeah, I could go for that. I think Henri already read it. Henri?

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