What people say about Soren Kierkegaard

The various determinates of faith are by Kierkegaard concentrated in the single category of the absurd, since the movement of faith seems paradoxical to the ordinary consciousness from which faith emerges. The paradox is Kierkegaard’s careful and precise development of a thought which the Greeks dimly shadowed forth as the divine madness (Plato’s Phaedrus).   Walter Lowrie, Preface to Fear and Trembling 1941

SOCRATES: And of madness there were two kinds; one produced by human infirmity, the other was a divine release of the soul from the yoke of custom and convention.
SOCRATES: The divine madness was subdivided into four kinds, prophetic, initiatory, poetic, erotic, having four gods presiding over them; the first was the inspiration of Apollo, the second that of Dionysus, the third that of the Muses, the fourth that of Aphrodite and Eros. In the description of the last kind of madness, which was also said to be the best, we spoke of the affection of love in a figure, into which we introduced a tolerably credible and possibly true though partly erring myth, which was also a hymn in honour of Love, who is your lord and also mine, Phaedrus, and the guardian of fair children, and to him we sung the hymn in measured and solemn strain.
PHAEDRUS: I know that I had great pleasure in listening to you.

Phaedrus by Plato

Some thirteen years ago I was eyeing the shelves of a book repository when the queer title of an unassuming volume cap tured my attention. It was Kierkegaard’s “The sickness unto death,” in a Swedish translation, the main opus of his second or religious period, as the famed “Either-Or” (1843) of his first, or psychological-esthetic period. Out of sheer curios ity I read that deep, but difficult analysis of “religious despair as the sickness unto death.” Strange phraseology, novel form, profound paradoxes made the task rather tantalizing. All I at that time gained was the mysterious sense of a mind of emi nent power and of a spirit at home in the intensest toils of the human soul, able to pierce beneath all the glittering shams of life to the fundamentals. His keen dialectics, lyric rhapsodies, flashlight visions into the soul-depths, original labor in the interest of Christian personality, religious seriousness and triumphant Christian love in spite of his irony and superb scorn of the mean, all deeply impressed me.

Soren Kierkegaard in his life and literature by Adolf Hult 1906

We had in Denmark a great man who with impressive force exhorted his contemporaries to become individuals. But Soren Kierkegaard’s appeal was not intended to be taken so unconditionally as it sounded. For the goal was fixed. They were to become individuals, not in order to develop into free personalities, but in order by this means to become true Christians.

An essay on the aristocratic radicalism of Friedrich Nietzsche by George Brandes 1919

Kierkegaard said more than a century ago that if Luther were alive then he would have said the exact opposite of what he said in the sixteenth century. I believe he was right. p. 53-54

It almost looks to-day as though the Church alone offers any prospect for the recovery of the sphere of freedom (art, education, friendship and play, ‘aesthetic existence’, as Kierkegaard called it). I am convinced of the truth of this, and it would help us to a new understanding of the Middle Ages. What man is there among us for instance who can give himself with an easy conscience to the cultivation of music, friendship, games or happiness? Surely not ethical man, but  only the Christian. p. 93-94

Letters and Papers from Prison by Dietrich Bonhoeffer 1906-1945

Those who are faithful to the original grace of Protestantism are precisely those who, in all depth, see as Luther saw that the “goodness” of the good may in fact be the greatest religious disaster for a society, and that the crucial problem is the conversion of the good to Christ. Kierkegaard sees it, so does Barth, so does Bonhoeffer, so to the Protestant existentialists.

Thomas Merton 1968 Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander p. 170

Nietzsche consciously employed the methods of indirect communication which had also been Kierkegaard’s enigmatic tool. Instead of speaking himself, he makes Zarathustra speak, or the “free spirit”, and many of Nietzsche’s extreme statements are meant to produce agreement as well as opposition or the divining of half truth. …. Kierkegaard’s key word is spirit. Nietzsche’s emphasis was on life, power, and instinct, all threatened by intellect and spirit, perverted by a misfit culture, and to be defended by an undefinable vitalism.

William Hubben 1952 Dostoevsky, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Kafka p. 101

The leap does not represent an extreme danger as Kierkegaard would like it to do. The danger, on the contrary, lies in the subtle instant that precedes the leap. Being able to remain on that dizzying crest – that is integrity and the rest is subterfuge.

Albert Camus 1955 The Myth of Sisyphus

The streets of Copenhagen were in fact a large reception room for him, where he wandered early and late, and talked to everybody he wanted to. When he left us, and I was to meet his well-known and loving figure no more, it seemed to me as if the whole town had suddenly become empty and strange. (Henriette Lund-Soren’s niece) p. 64

I have often been asked since the death of my famous brother, Soren, whether I could not bring myself to relate at least the straight-forward outer facts concerning the three occasions when, partly during his working period and partly immediately afterwards, I spoke about him in public. … Now, when Soren has been dead a full twenty-five years, I have been asked again, and this time it is almost a demand. (Peter Christian Kierkegaard) p. 117

Soren’s condition is distressing, in all likelihood it is an affectation of the spinal cord, with paralysis of both legs, so that he cannot support himself or keep upright. He lies now in Frederk’s Hospital, and all things considered, is content with the treatment and the nursing. Whether his sickness can be cured, it is impossible to decide.  (Michael Lund October 7, 1855) p. 101

T. H. Croxall 1952 Glimpses and Impressions of Kierkegaard p. 64, 117, 101,

Humanism is as scornfully rejected by Kierkegaard as it is by Marx, and on the grounds that it is antithetic to human nature. If it meant the same thing to be cultured and to be a Christian, then the latter would be a problem of cleverness and sensibility alone, and would fall subject to fate and the reign of inequalities. Other collectives, like the race or class or nation, have some determinate content and concreteness, by comparison with the ideal of pure humanity. Kierkegaard regarded the latter as the culmination of the trend to place equality on a purely secular basis and to apotheosize the public. It is a hinderance to man’s creaturely recognition of God’s sovereignty and of the worth of each single individual.

James Collins 1953 The Mind of Kierkegaard p. 202-203

Repetition (1843) (Constantine Constantius) takes up the problem of lost happiiness, and, against a background of the story of Job and Plato’s doctrine of recollection, explains how it might be restored (repeated). As long as he seeks a restoration outside of himself, he will seek for ever in vain. He himself must be restored to himself, and then, in a re-established integrity, he will find happiness everywhere one again.  p. 28

George Price 1963 The Narrow Pass p. 28

Kierkegaard indicates two principal types of the single individual, namely, the single individual within the human sphere and the single individual in relation to Christianity. But for both types it holds true that in order to become the single individual a person must first of all realize the insufficiency and uncertainty (fraudulence) of the purely temporal. Only then can a person relate to the eternal truth, which is the positive condition for becoming the single individual.

Gregor Malantschuk, Controversial Kierkegaard 1976, 1980 Hong translation  P. 18

“Few philosophers’ lives can boast comic (or, for that matter, tragic) material comparable to Kierkegaard’s aborted engagement to Regine Olsen, the bizarrely exaggerated symbolic significance he attached to it, his firm expectation of death before the age of thirty-four on account of some unnamed sin of his father’s, his intentional provocation of a feud with the satirical review The Corsair, or his splenetic quarrels with the Danish Lutheran church (and so on).”

David Bentley Hart The Laughter of Philosophers

From an ethical point of view, Hegel’s philosophy – as Kierkegaard demonstrates – is not a progression but a regression to a type of paganism which existed prior to the time of Socrates. Pagan Socrates’ outlook went beyond the much acclaimed views of Hegel. Socrates believed in a higher order of things than the state, and he tried to actualize this conviction in life. Hegel, with his concept of the state as the highest entity, signals man’s flight away from the eternal. Thus Hegel’s philosophy creates the theoretical basis for the deification of the state and temporal life, just as by exalting the state as supreme it cuts man off from faith in a transcendent world.

Gregor Malantschuk 1963 Kierkegaard’s Way To The Truth p. 15

Today most Danes first read Kierkegaard in the Gymnasium, where he is studied as a master stylist. The remarkable lightness and flexibility he brought to Danish, his ear for the music of words, his eye for the limpid image, the pure metaphor, his ability to dress the most abstract idea in the garments of concreteness, to unravel complexity into simplicity – these characteristics of his extraordinary style are duly noted and admired by successive generations of seventeen-year-olds.

Kierkegaard by Josiah Thompson 1973 p. 140

“There is no doubt that Kierkegaard saw his own mission as a writer as that of assisting his readers to the consciousness of their own despair. And it is equally clear that he saw the progression to ‘spirit’ as one that requires the facing rather than the shelving of inherent difficulties.”

Alastair Hannay 1989 Preface to Sickness Unto Death

“If the age of Kierkegaard was the age of individualism, is our own not the age of super-individualism? If the age of Kierkegaard was also the age of romanticism, is ours not the age of super-romanticism? And if in a deeper sense Kierkegaard’s age was neither that of individualism nor that of romanticism but rather in essence the age of the crowd, what is our own if not the age of the super-crowd?”

Karl Dusza Appropriating the Parado

“There are Christians who call themselves Kierkegaardians, much as others call themselves Augustinians or Thomists or Barthians. But Kierkegaard provides no school of thought, and most emphatically no “system,” that can be a secure resting place for one’s Christian identity. Kierkegaard offers only a mode of being, of thinking, of living that has no end other than the end of being “contemporaneous” with Jesus Christ, true man and true God, who has no end.”

Richard John Neuhaus Kierkegaard for Grownups 

“The “Kierkegaard complex,” it turns out, is not so different from the Oedipus complex. The author suggests that Kierkegaard’s overbearing father made it impossible for him to enter into normal human relationships, especially with women. Pent-up libidinal desires resulting from an overactive super-ego inevitably led to revolt and misery, which was soothed but never healed by the therapeutic sublimation of artistic production.”

Gregory R. Beabout Kierkegaard’s Voices 

“Kierkegaard is placing himself as poet in relation to his hero, Abraham. But he also trying to show that recollection is a lesser form of life than that of the hero, who becomes great “in proportion to the greatness of that which he loved” or “great in proportion to his expectancy.” The greatest hero of all is the hero who has expected the impossible, and who has “struggled with God.” Abraham is such a hero, who has become great by virtue of a mad hope in God.”

Peter Leithart 2007 Fear and Trembling

Kierkegaard matters in the twenty-first century because, for those immersed in Western intellectual history, his authorship stimulates a self-conscious decision to test the validity of truth claims by whether they can be lived, without self-deception, by conscious and free subjects. P. 17 (Wanda Warren Berry)

Johann Gottlieb Fichte is someone Kierkegaard evaluates in much the same way as he does Fichte’s mentor, Kant. In his dissertation, The Concept of Anxiety (1841), Kierkegaard presents Fichte as someone who paves the way for Friedrich Schlegel’s and Ludwig Tieck’s “extreme subjectivity,” and Kierkegaard rejects the way these two Romantic ironists imagine they have “the absolute power to do everything” (CI, p. 275). p. 42 (Andrew Burgess)

When I say that Kierkegaard matters because he is Platonic, I follow Mackey in highlighting the seamless connection between what Kierkegaard says and how he says it, in affirming that “the literary techniques of Kierkegaard cannot be interpreted as devices for the expression of a content independently intelligible. … For those of us beginning our studies during the Analytic Captivity of Philosophy, Kierkegaard mattered intensely because both the what and the how of his writings bespoke an entirely different understanding of philosophy than the one then prevailing. p. 72-73 (George Connell)

In the fall of my second year of college, I encountered Kierkegaard along with Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Sartre in a large lecture course on Existentialism taught by George Schrader (Yale University). The fact that Schrader focused on Either/Or rather then Fear and Trembling has doubtless been important for my subsequent path. His lectures on Kierkegaard were the best in the course; his explanation of the Judge’s insights and shortcomings, and his critique of the aesthetic were truly amazing. But for me, the idea that there was a “choice” between the aesthetic and ethical, before the choice between good and evil, was a fundamental challenge to the whole conception of ethical I had build up for myself in the previous five years. p. 90 (John Davenport)

Why Kierkegaard Matters Edited by Marc Jolley and Edmond Rowell Jr. 2010  p. 17, 42, 72-73, 90

“Kierkegaard’s philosophy is not so much a salve as a thorn in the flesh. To his atheist admirers, he presents a challenge, for they want to celebrate his intellect yet reject his belief in Christianity as the center of truth.”

William Doino Jr.  Kierkegaard’s Burning Witness 

“My sorrow is my castle. His books were read
but ridiculed. Cartoons mocked his deformities.
His private journals fill seven thousand pages.
You could read them all, he claimed, and still not know him.
He who explains this riddle explains my life.”

Dana Gioia Homage to Søren Kierkegaard 


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