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Kierkegaard: A Biography

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Written by one of the world's preeminent authorities on Kierkegard, this biography is the first to reveal the delicate imbrication of Kierkegard's life and thought. To grasp the importance and influence of Kierkegaard's thought far beyond his native Denmark, it is necessary to trace the many factors that led this gifted but (according to his headmaster) 'exceedingly childi Written by one of the world's preeminent authorities on Kierkegard, this biography is the first to reveal the delicate imbrication of Kierkegard's life and thought. To grasp the importance and influence of Kierkegaard's thought far beyond his native Denmark, it is necessary to trace the many factors that led this gifted but (according to his headmaster) 'exceedingly childish youth' to grapple with traditional philosophical problems and religious themes in a way that later generations would recognize as amounting to a philosophical revolution. Although Kierkegaard's works are widely tapped and cited they are seldom placed in context. Nor is due attention placed to their chronology. However, perhaps more than the work of any other contributor to the Western philosophical tradition, these writings are so closely meshed with the background and details of the author's life that knowledge of this is indispensible to their content. Alastair Hannay solves these problems by following the chronological sequence of events and focusing on the formative stages of his career from the success of his first, pseudonymous work ^Either/Or through to The Sickness Unto Death and Practice in Christianity. This book offers a powerful narrative account which will be of particular interest to philosophers, literary theorists, intellectual historians, and scholars of religious studies as well as any non-specialist looking for an authoritative guide to the life and work of one of the most original and fascinating figures in Western philosophy. Alastair Hannay is Professor Emeritus in the department of philosophy at the University of Oslo. He is the co-editor of The Cambridge Companion of Kierkegaard (1998) and is also translator of several works by Kierkegaard in Penguin Classics.


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Written by one of the world's preeminent authorities on Kierkegard, this biography is the first to reveal the delicate imbrication of Kierkegard's life and thought. To grasp the importance and influence of Kierkegaard's thought far beyond his native Denmark, it is necessary to trace the many factors that led this gifted but (according to his headmaster) 'exceedingly childi Written by one of the world's preeminent authorities on Kierkegard, this biography is the first to reveal the delicate imbrication of Kierkegard's life and thought. To grasp the importance and influence of Kierkegaard's thought far beyond his native Denmark, it is necessary to trace the many factors that led this gifted but (according to his headmaster) 'exceedingly childish youth' to grapple with traditional philosophical problems and religious themes in a way that later generations would recognize as amounting to a philosophical revolution. Although Kierkegaard's works are widely tapped and cited they are seldom placed in context. Nor is due attention placed to their chronology. However, perhaps more than the work of any other contributor to the Western philosophical tradition, these writings are so closely meshed with the background and details of the author's life that knowledge of this is indispensible to their content. Alastair Hannay solves these problems by following the chronological sequence of events and focusing on the formative stages of his career from the success of his first, pseudonymous work ^Either/Or through to The Sickness Unto Death and Practice in Christianity. This book offers a powerful narrative account which will be of particular interest to philosophers, literary theorists, intellectual historians, and scholars of religious studies as well as any non-specialist looking for an authoritative guide to the life and work of one of the most original and fascinating figures in Western philosophy. Alastair Hannay is Professor Emeritus in the department of philosophy at the University of Oslo. He is the co-editor of The Cambridge Companion of Kierkegaard (1998) and is also translator of several works by Kierkegaard in Penguin Classics.

30 review for Kierkegaard: A Biography

  1. 5 out of 5

    Justin Evans

    Recently I complained that a biography of Rousseau spent too much time on the kind of bosom Rousseau preferred, and too little on his ideas. Alastair Hannay heard me, and wrote this book, and now I have to apologize, because I really would like a bit more of the "bosom preference as revelatory of character" approach. But not really. Hannay's biography is not biography in any way that non-readers of philosophy would recognize it. The bulk of the text is taken up with long descriptions and analyse Recently I complained that a biography of Rousseau spent too much time on the kind of bosom Rousseau preferred, and too little on his ideas. Alastair Hannay heard me, and wrote this book, and now I have to apologize, because I really would like a bit more of the "bosom preference as revelatory of character" approach. But not really. Hannay's biography is not biography in any way that non-readers of philosophy would recognize it. The bulk of the text is taken up with long descriptions and analyses of Kierkegaard's work. Hannay uses Kierkegaard's journals, and his own extraordinary understanding of nineteenth century Danish intellectual history, to bring out what Kierkegaard was probably trying to do. But he also admits that Kierkegaard's late claim to have been always going in the same direction isn't very plausible. This is all exactly as it should be for the history of ideas, but it can get a little dense (I say this as a reader of Hegel). Hannay wrote his book, it is clear, for people who already know about Kierkegaard and his books. If you don't know about him, or about his books, this book will make approximately no sense. I knew a little about him, and a little about his books, and even then I was occasionally lost. Hannay's prose doesn't help. It's clear, provided your understanding of 'clear' is 'clearer than the average german idealist.' That is not the case for most readers of Kierkegaard. I certainly understand more about K than I did before I started, and I want to read more of his books. I'm still not convinced that his arch-enemy Martenson wasn't right to label him an individualist, a doctrine which "represses the sympathetic element in human nature [and] leads every individual to labour autopathically for his own perfection." Hannay's last chapter is a surprisingly interesting comparison between K and Lukacs. It is true, as Hannay suggests, that "Kierkegaardian subjectivity is not at all undialectical." But the real difference between K (or most philosophers) and Lukacs is that Lukacs accepts the importance of history and society in the shaping of ideas and human life. Kierkegaard does not. This biography is short on anecdotes, but I will forever remember that K allowed Either/Or to be reprinted because that would let him pay for the printing of his later works against Christendom. Lukacs could write a book about that decision and what it reveals about Kierkegaard as a thinker. For Kierkegaard, on the other hand, this was just everyday life.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Shane Eide

    www.emergenthermit.com Alastair Hannay’s Kierkegaard is, over all, an exemplary contribution to the very peculiar genre that is the biography of the philosopher. Biographies on philosophers tend to make a few common mistakes. The first would be a mistake common in any kind of biography: the writer highlights a few sensational aspects of the subject’s life as if in desperate competition with writers of detective novels and erotica. Another common trap is when the writer tries too hard to synthesiz www.emergenthermit.com Alastair Hannay’s Kierkegaard is, over all, an exemplary contribution to the very peculiar genre that is the biography of the philosopher. Biographies on philosophers tend to make a few common mistakes. The first would be a mistake common in any kind of biography: the writer highlights a few sensational aspects of the subject’s life as if in desperate competition with writers of detective novels and erotica. Another common trap is when the writer tries too hard to synthesize the ideas of the philosopher with the events of his life, which the writer accomplishes by acts of grammatical ingenuity that are often awkward in execution or just downright disingenuous. Hannay not only avoids these traps but offers a well rounded account of the philosopher’s life and work. His style is almost entirely contextual. Any means of getting an idea across—whether it be about Kierkegaard’s personal life or his work—could be said to come about through a kind of dialogue. Sometimes it is Hannay’s dialogue with history. Sometimes it is how one philosopher’s work compares to another’s and what the intellectual climate of Copenhagen or different parts of Europe were at different times. There is Kierkegaard’s dialogue with his own work, with other thinkers and with the people in his own community—which include the journalists that antagonized him and the church that he antagonized. For a book this large, it’s impressive that Hannay goes so long without resorting to personal speculation or opinion. We’re given accounts of friends, pieces of letters, journal entrees and excerpts from the news. It has often been said of Kierkegaard’s short life that it was ‘uneventful.’ That may be the case if we talk about the mere number of major events, but the events themselves were significant in the body of work he left behind. We’re given a picture of him as a young man in school, constantly outwitting and annoying boys twice his size and more physically capable and carried through university by his highly polemic nature and by the seemingly inexhaustible abilities of his mind. He’s painted as something of a cheerful dandy, highly sarcastic and playful in public, melancholy and obsessive in private. He keeps detailed journals that offer up the fruits of his thinking and the instant points of his obsession, while relaying little of the rest of his days—days much the same in which he reads and writes for hours in cafes, takes walks and runs up bills all over town. It is inevitable that all accounts of his life are bisected between what happened before and after the events surrounding his canceled engagement to Regina Olsen, and it is only right that they do so. One wouldn’t be exaggerating much to say that this was the pivotal turning point of his life. Not only did it prompt him to tuck himself away and write book after book for the last two decades of his life but the engagement, in some way, pervaded all of his work. John Updike rightly described Kierkegaard’s first work, Either/Or as a very flirtatious one, full of hints and seductive turns as if meant for only one reader. His subsequent works were just as haunted by the matter, this obsession being a luxury he allowed himself through his anonymity (he had dozens of pseudonyms). When it comes to Kierkegaard’s philosophy, Hannay takes neatly constructed detours from the ‘life’ of the man as he tackles the ideas from a historical standpoint and from a contextual standpoint within the spectrum of philosophy. It is interesting to see how this private figure related to his contemporaries. He lived on the tail end of academic Hegelianism, a system he was determined to wander far outside of, no matter how all-encompassing its proselytizers claimed it to be. We learn that he felt more of a kinship with Schopenhauer than one might expect. As it happens in some biographies, the prose can be compromised by the sheer volume of information it tries to convey in a short space so as to move on quickly to the next subject instead of breaking it up, as in this knotty sentence: 'Whether a dramatist and novelist like Arthur Schnitzler (1862 – 1931), who has many Kierkegaardian traits, actually read Kierkegaard is largely academic, as is whether, if he did do so, he read him well.' The book is surprisingly brief in its detailing his attack on the institutional church of his community, though it could just be that the event was brief despite his most concentrated preoccupation with it. The book’s concluding chapter details the complex relationship his works have had on subsequent philosophers and different artists until now. Clear and well-executed, it’ll be a work invaluable to anyone interested in the author’s work and its direct relationship to both his life and the history surrounding it. www.emergenthermit.com

  3. 5 out of 5

    Nathaniel

    I have read sections for research. I would love to read the whole thing through soon. The writing is entertaining as well as informative. This Biography gives great insight into a fantastic philosopher.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Daniel1974nlgmail.com

    A very good and detailed biography of his short life. Like always the Cambridge Philosophical biographies are first rate and extremely useful in developing a better understanding of K. work.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Rusty

  6. 4 out of 5

    Eric Black

  7. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

  8. 4 out of 5

    Deborah Rankin

  9. 4 out of 5

    Adil Kocabaş

  10. 5 out of 5

    Michael S. Holko

  11. 4 out of 5

    Hakan G

  12. 5 out of 5

    David

  13. 5 out of 5

    Luke

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jerry Delince

  15. 4 out of 5

    Trevor Petty

  16. 5 out of 5

    T

  17. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

  18. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

  19. 4 out of 5

    Gulsum Esen

  20. 5 out of 5

    Caleb Tankersley

  21. 4 out of 5

    Burcu Yurtsever

  22. 5 out of 5

    Matt Southward

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    Joshua Yang

  24. 4 out of 5

    James Velasquez

  25. 4 out of 5

    Andres Bellido

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan Biascan

  27. 4 out of 5

    B. Rule

  28. 4 out of 5

    Harry

  29. 5 out of 5

    Yosef

  30. 5 out of 5

    James

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