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Søren Kierkegaard

1813-55. "Geniuses are like thunderstorms ­ they go against the wind, terrify people, cleanse the air". Thus wrote Søren Kierkegaard in 1849. He saw himself as a genius and related his intellectual brilliance to "being in the minority".

Søren KierkegaardSøren Kierkegaard always went against the wind, against prevailing movements and systems, and he did so because he believed that "truth is always only to be found in the minority". In opposition to the majority, the abstract, Søren Kierkegaard posited the concrete, "the single individual".

Søren Kierkegaard lived all his life in his native city of Copenhagen. His peculiar childhood in his home on Nytorv bore the stamp of his father's pietism and melancholy.

Søren Kierkegaard studied theology at the University of Copenhagen 1830-40; for a considerable period, however, theology played a secondary role and was replaced by literature, theatre, politics and philosophy ­ and a dissolute life that was partly fashioned as a challenge to the strict and sombre Christian views that characterised his home.

But after a religious awakening in 1838 and his father's death that same year, Søren Kierkegaard once more set about studying theology and graduated in that subject in July 1840.

Two months later, Søren Kierkegaard became engaged to the nine-years- younger Regine Olsen. But since "in a religious sense", he had "from childhood been promised" to God, he could not marry Regine. After thirteen intense months, he broke off the engagement in October 1841.

The unhappy love affair made a deep impression on him for the rest of his life, and set him going as the author of Either-Or and Two Edifying Discourses, which were published on the same day in 1843. However, as early as 1838 Søren Kierkegaard had published his first book, From the Papers of One Still Living, a critical analysis of Hans Christian Andersen's novel Only a Fiddler, and in 1841 he had defended his doctoral dissertation, On the Concept of Irony.

Søren Kierkegaard's philosophical, psychological, religious and Christian publications, which make up some 40 titles, fall into two phases: 1843-46 and 1847- 51. In addition to Either-Or and a number of edifying discourses, the first phase includes titles such as Fear and Trembling, The Concept of Anxiety, Philosophical Fragments and Concluding Unscientific Postscript, this latter representing the transition between the two phases.

The second, Christian, phase, consists of works such as Works of Love, Christian Discourses, The Sickness unto Death and Practice in Christianity. In addition there are the journals, some 64 notebooks and diaries which Søren Kierkegaard kept from 1833 to 1855, and which give an insight into his way of working, into his "back-stage rehearsals".

In his work, Søren Kierkegaard describes the various possibilities of existence, especially its three principal stages, which he calls "spheres of existence": the aesthetical, the ethical and the religious, demonstrating their insufficiency in relation to the truly Christian. Man only becomes an authentic self by relating himself to God who created him. And he can only become a true self by professing his faith in Christ and having his sins forgiven by Him.

But "in addition to professing Christ, there is also the demand to act as a Christian". Therefore truth is always a truth in action, just as faith is always a faith in works.

Søren Kierkegaard saw himself as a religious author with the task of "presenting Christianity". He wanted to "clear the air", to have all sense illusions and all hypocrisy scraped off and to find his way back to "the Christianity of the New Testament". On this background, he embarked during his last years on an attack on the church authorities and the Christianity they officially preached.

Søren Kierkegaard started his "battle with the Church" at the end of 1854 with a series of newspaper articles and continued it with great astuteness, radical views and journalistic flair in the pamphlets he called The Moment 1-9.

In October 1855 he collapsed in the street, ill and burned out; he was taken to hospital where he died five weeks later. Through German translations, Søren Kierkegaard's fame became established outside Denmark about the turn of the century, and his work achieved great international significance after the First World War. For instance, Søren Kierkegaard became the great source of inspiration for dialectical theology, for existential philosophy, the philosophy of dialogue and for existential theology.

From the 1960s to the middle of the 1980s he fell into neglect, but since then his work has undergone a dramatic renaissance, not only among scholars, but also in the broader public, both nationally and internationally - not least in the countries that have been fashioned by marxist thoughts and views of life.

In addition he has been discovered by fresh disciplines such as linguistic philosophy, phenomenology and literary theory. The renewed interest in Kierkegaard is partly connected with the longing for an overall understanding of life on both a scientific and philosophical level and also an ethical and existential level. And likewise, it is linked to a renewed search for answers to the fundamental questions on the meaning of the individual, the foundations for ethics and the relationship between religion/Christianity and society.

"There are two kinds of geniuses. The characteristic of the one is roaring, but the lightning is meager and rarely strikes; the other kind is characterized by reflection by which it constrains itself or restrains the roaring. But the lightning is all the more intensive; with the speed and sureness of lightning it hits the selected particular points ­ and is fatal." Søren Kierkegaard belonged to this latter kind of genius.


Niels Jørgen Cappelørn, Gyldendal Leksikon

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