Thoughts on Reading Kierkegaard

I was recently re-reading Kierkegaard’s Either/Or, when I came across this gem in the “Diapsalmata”::

In addition to my numerous other acquaintances I have still one more intimate friend—my melancholy. In the midst of pleasure, in the midst of work, he beckons to me, calls me aside, even though I remain present bodily. My melancholy is the most faithful sweetheart I have had—no wonder that I return the love.

I’ve always enjoyed Kierkegaard, ever since I first encountered his works when I was an undergraduate. More recently, I’ve begun reading him again after taking a prolonged break. But no matter how long it’s been, there’s this feeling I get when I start reading Kierkegaard after having not done so for some time, especially The Sickness Unto Death and Either/Or, where I feel as if I’m reconnecting with an old, lost friend. Some thinkers have the power to express more than the mere articulation of an idea through their work. This is what separates the “thinker” from the mere academic philosopher. True philosophy gives rise to a feeling as if the author is speaking directly to you as an individual, and gripping you at the very core of your being.

Heidegger certainly had a sense of this. In the Introduction to Metaphysics, he grapples with the question, “What good is philosophy?”

It is entirely correct and completely in order to say, “You can’t do anything with philosophy.” The only mistake is to believe that with this, the judgment concerning philosophy is at an end. For a little epilogue arises in the form of a counterquestion: even if we can’t do anything with it, may not philosophy in the end do something with us, provided that we engage ourselves with it? – M. Heidegger, Introduction to Metaphysics.

Kierkegaard’s thought has a way of making you view yourself, and the world, from an entirely different perspective; while at the same time rejecting any grandiose attempt  at constructing an all-encompassing system or world-view in the vein of Hegel and other contemporaries. To be sure, reading Kierkegaard involves a lot of work. He’s got a very idiosyncratic style and prose that sometimes makes it difficult to understand exactly what he’s trying to get at. But I find it helpful if the reader always tries to keep in mind the phenomena Kierkegaard is trying to explain, and the rest will (somewhat) follow. For me, the end result from reading Kierkegaard, just like Heidegger, is well worth the time and effort of a careful and studious reading.

I think a lot of people who have never been properly introduced to Kierkegaard’s thought may be put off by his Christianity, which undeniably plays a fundamental role in his philosophy. I’ll be the first to admit that this was my first obstacle. I’ve never counted myself as a “believer” of any kind. But taking seriously what Kierkegaard has to say doesn’t require one to be a Christian or believer of any kind to grapple with the existential issues that Kierkegaard raises. And in fact, I do think it’s possible for people who consider themselves atheist or agnostic to still find Kierkegaard’s works both enjoyable and worth the effort/time. Naturally, there are some works which will definitely be more appealing to non-christian readers, including his treatment of dread/anxiety, the self, and freedom; whereas others may be too entwined in Kierkegaard’s Lutheran theology to have much meaning (but still interesting, nonetheless). .

 

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2 comments

  1. Kell

    It shocks me a bit how your opinion of Kiekegaard mirrors my own thought. Wading through his belief is a small price to pay considering his style indeed.

  2. Kell

    It shocks me a bit how your opinion of Kierkegaard mirrors my own thought. Wading through his belief is a small price to pay considering his style indeed!

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