M.G. Piety

Archive for the ‘News from Copenhagen’ Category

Correction!

In Conference news, News from Copenhagen on October 8, 2013 at 5:50 pm

This is embarrassing. I had written in the last post that Pia Søltoft was the director of the Søren Kierkegaard Research Center at the University of Copenhagen. Sylvia Walsh Perkins corrected me, however, in a recent email exchange. Niels Jørgen Cappelørn is the director of the center, she said. He had told her so himself. That makes sense given the penchant the Danish press had for referring to Cappelørn as the director of the center, even after everyone in the U.S. (and one can presume the rest of the world outside Denmark) had been notified that Pia Søltoft was the director of the center. What gave me pause, however, was the fact that Pia had told me herself that she was the director of the center. Or more correctly, she had answered my question as to whether she was the director of the center with an affirmative “yes.” I’d asked her that precisely because there’s been lingering ambiguity about who is the center director (see my inaugural post to this blog). Pia explained that she was, in fact, the director for now, but that she would not be the director for much longer because now that the center had been incorporated into the theology faculty of the University of Copenhagen, the head of the theology faculty would be the director of the center.

I thought I’d do a web search to see what the website for the center said and was surprised to discover that there were actually two websites for the center, the old one, when the center was not affiliated with the university and one that reflects its new affiliation. Neither lists Pia Søltoft as the director though, so I’m not sure what her role is re the center and why she did not explain the situation. Maybe even she does not understand it. Also, I was surprised to learn that the Theology Faculty bio for Pia to which I had included a link in the earlier post no longer works. It worked when I wrote the piece last week, but it doesn’t work now, so I included an older link above.

News!

In News from Copenhagen, Publishing News on December 7, 2012 at 9:35 pm
Drexel's Main Building interior

Drexel’s Main Building interior

I’ve moved my website. Its official launch was last Monday and for two days it got more hits than this blog! That’s saying a lot because, as a result of my tireless efforts to promote this blog, it now gets a steady stream of hits even when I don’t put up any new posts for long stretches of time. My old website will still be up for a while, but I will no longer update it and will eventually take it down.

The new website is much nicer. Check it out. The URL is simply mgpiety.org. I have a blog on that website as well, but it is not on Kierkegaard. I cover a variety of topics on that blog including religion, philosophy, and culture more generally. I very often mention Kierkegaard in posts, however, even when the post is not specifically about Kierkegaard. His name appears, for example, in my most recent post “The War on Fairness,” which is a response to an article entitled “In Defense of Favoritism” by the philosopher Stephen T. Asma that appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education, as well as in “Hedonic Adaptation,” a response to an article in the New York Times entitled “New Love: A Short Shelf Life.” It’s in many of the older posts as well, so you might want to peruse them all.

My new website is not my only news though. Peter Tudvad is completing a novel based on the historical details of Kierkegaard’s life and he’s agreed to allow me to publish an English translation of a short excerpt! I have to say that it was very clever of Tudvad to decide to do a novel rather than a straight biography because he has in that way effectively made himself immune to the kinds of criticisms he advanced against Joakim Garff’s biography of Kierkegaard. (Garff, despite his cavalier attitude toward historical accuracy, can be a formidable intellectual opponent. I was scared out of my wits when he mentioned to me last year that he was going to come to my paper at the AAR. I never prepared so thoroughly for a presentation in my entire career! Fortunately, he was very gracious and did not ask any questions, or even make any comments).

Garff has a project in the works as well. A “surprise” he said last year. I’m hoping he’ll let me in on it so that I can give readers a preview of it here.

I have several other interesting posts planned for the future–so stay tuned!

Joakim Garff on “Kierkegaard’s Christian Bildungsroman”

In Conference news, News from Copenhagen on January 11, 2012 at 9:33 pm

Garff at the 2011 AAR meeting in San Francisco

It’s rare that Danish scholars venture outside Denmark. So it was a treat to hear Joakim Garff deliver a paper at the 2011 AAR meeting in San Francisco last November. (I’m sorry about the quality of the photo. I didn’t think to bring my camera, so I had to take it with my iPod Touch). Garff is trained as a theologian but his métier is aesthetics and literary theory. There’s been a lot of interest among contemporary Kierkegaard scholars in Kierkegaard’s aesthetics and his relation to art and rightly so. Kierkegaard is a consummate story teller as well as a lover of music. He often disparages art, but he is himself a type of artist, so his relation to art and, in particular to literature as a type of art, is deeply ambivalent.  Garff’s paper, as the title of this post indicates, was an argument that Kierkegaard’s Practice in Christianity can be read as a Christian Bildungsroman.

The paper, Garff explains, presents “a reading of the third section of Practice in Christianity in order to visualize the sophisticated movements that Anti-Climacus performs between an aesthetic-rhetorical mimesis and a specific theological imitatio Christi.” It is Garff’s contention that Practice in Christianity can be read as “a refined and condensed Bildungsroman that constitutes a representation of Christian individuation: An aesthetic image (Billede) of the crucified savior, with which a child is dramatically confronted, is gradually transformed int a religious examplar (Forbillede).” Garff’s analysis, he asserts “testifies to the fact that the aesthetic dimension in Kierkegaard’s theology is a ‘theology of autopsy,’ which seeks to reduce or suspend, through an extensive use of rhetorical tools, the temporal distance between a modern reader and Jesus of Nazareth.”

I’ll confess that I’m uncertain precisely what he means by “theology of autopsy,” or perhaps I should say I’m uncertain why he’s chosen that expression, because the latter half of that sentence makes perfect sense. That is, I think Garff is correct in his claim that Kierkegaard uses his rhetorical skills as a means of creating a semblance of contemporaneity in his reader with the historical person of Jesus. Few scholars would dispute that, though I believe most would argue that establishing what Kierkegaard would consider genuine contemporaneity in the spiritual sense is ultimately beyond the scope of rhetoric no matter how skillfully employed.

The ambiguity of the relation between literary form and spiritual substance is one that runs throughout Kierkegaard’s entire authorship and which thus deserves to be treated in more detail. There are already some excellent works on the topic of Kierkegaard’s aesthetics, including Sylvia Walsh’s Living Poetically: Kierkegaard’s Existential Aesthetics (Penn State Press, 1994), but the topic is far from exhausted.

I would argue that the specific topic of the Bildungsroman in Kierkegaard’s works deserves fuller treatment. Repetition, for example, is clearly a Bildungsroman, and one could argue that the whole of the authorship, particularly in light of Kierkegaard’s own comments on it in The Point of View, could be read as an extended Bildungsroman.

Garff made a comment in passing that was so important it deserves to be repeated here. Someone asked him what he made of the pseudonymity of Practice in Christianity and he replied that he didn’t think it was particularly important. He said he thought scholars made too much of the issue of the pseudonymity of many of Kierkegaard’s works, that in some instances, at least, pseudonyms were last minute additions to works he’d originally planned to publish under his own name. I could not agree with Garff more an that point. Anyone who has spent any time reading Kierkegaard’s journals and papers, as well as the works he published under his own name, knows that the view contained in the pseudonymous works, more often than not, reflect Kierkegaard’s own views. I believe the pseudonyms were an aesthetic device, something to give a particular work a kind of symmetry, or closure, that the name of a real flesh and blood author affixed to them could not do.So there we are, back to aesthetics.

Garff mentioned that he had a new book coming out soon, but would not divulge the topic.

Damning with Faint Praise: Bizarre Defense of Kierkegaard in Danish Newspaper

In Kierkegaard and the Jews, News from Copenhagen on December 16, 2011 at 9:23 pm

Just when you thought the debate surrounding Peter Tudvad’s book Stadier på antisemitismens vej: Søren Kierkegaard og Jøderne (stages on the way of anti-Semitism: Søren Kierkegaard and the Jews) (Rosinante, 2010), had probably died down, it’s actually flared up again. Ole Jørgensen published what has got to be the most bizarre defense of Kierkegaard yet. Jørgensen’s article, “Sjusk med ord. Søren Kierkegaard var ikke antisemit” (Linguistic carelessness. Kierkegaard was not an anti-Semite) appeared in Monday’s edition of Kristeligt Dagblad (Christian daily news). The title might lead one to suppose that Kristeligt Dagblad is a relatively obscure paper. It isn’t. Remember, Denmark has a state church. The Danish Lutheran Church is the official church of the Danish people. This undoubtedly explains why Jørgensen took it upon himself to defend not only Kierkegaard, but also Martin Luther against the charge of anti-Semitism. Luther, he asserts, merely “chastens the Jews in his book On the Jews and their Lies.” One might be tempted to conclude from that remark that Jørgensen hasn’t actually read Luther (or Tudvad either since Tudvad quotes extensively from Luther’s works where they bear on the Jews).

It’s not clear whether Jørgensen has seriously studied Luther on this issue. What is clear, however, is that Jørgensen has what one could charitably call a rather idiosyncratic understanding of what constitutes anti-Semitism. He observes, for example, that far from being an anti-Semite, “Kierkegaard even had a Jew in his employ for several years: Israel Levin, who […] was thus able to advance himself, in the manner Jews are so good at, both economically and socially.” That is, Jørgensen apparently does not see the generalization that Jews are particularly good at advancing themselves economically and socially as in any way anti-Semitic, which is bizarre given such a generalization buys into stereotypes concerning Jews and money, and that there is hardly a worse crime in the eyes of the Danes than social climbing.

Jørgensen observes that “[o]ne should use some other word than ‘anti-Semitism’” to apply to Kierkegaard. “[I]t was more Kierkegaard’s [religious] zeal,” he continues, “that led him to rein in [lægge mundbidslet på] these occasionally mischievous [frække] Jews.”

It wasn’t merely Kierkegaard, or even Luther, who felt it necessary, according to Jørgensen, to “rein in,” or “chasten” the Jews. Christ himself, observes Jørgensen, “pulls no punches” (lægges der virkelig ikke fingre imellem) when he “says to the Jews: ‘You are of your father the devil and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and a father of lies’” (John 8:44).

“See how closely,” asserts Jørgensen, “lies and murder are connected with each other–both with the Jews and with Hitler. The lies of the Jews crucified Christ. Hitler’s lies murdered six million Jews.” Jørgensen’s digression on what he claims is the connection between lies and murder is not merely a stylistic flaw in his piece; his attempt to use this purported connection to draw an analogy between the Jews and Hitler suggests he may be suffering from some sort of cognitive disorder. How could anyone trot out the stereotype of the Jews as “Christ killers” (a stereotype so offensive that even the pope was forced recently to officially repudiate it) in an article that purports to defend someone, anyone, against the charge of anti-Semitism?

“Søren Kierkegaard was not an anti-Semite,” concludes Jørgensen, “That’s a careless us of language and an [attempt to] exploit Kierkegaard’s good name for personal gain.” That is, Kierkegaard was no more an anti-Semite than Luther was, or than Jørgense’s “careless use of language” make him appear to be. Wow, that puts a whole new spin on the expression “damning with faint praise.” It makes the textbook example of “For a fat girl, you don’t sweat much,” seem positively considerate!

 

 

 

 

Conference News!

In News from Copenhagen on June 24, 2011 at 1:58 pm

Guldaldersalen (the "Golden-Age" room) Hotel Prindsen

It’s spring and I am here in Denmark. Not Copenhagen this time, Roskilde, at the beautiful Hotel Prindsen, where, I understand from Peter Tudvad, Kierkegaard probably stopped to eat on his way to Jutland in the summer of 1840!  The hotel actually dates back to the 17th century. I’m here for the annual conference of the PsyArt Foudation. The PsyArt Foundation is a really cool group of which I am now a member by virtue of having paid my conference registration fee. There’s a great group of people here, very international. There are scholars and psychotherapists from Iran, Hungary, Israel, the Czech Republic, Finland, Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany and France (to name just a few of the countries represented), as well as from the U.S., and, of course, Denmark.

The conference is being sponsored jointly by the PsyArt Foundation and Roskilde University. It was organized, at least in part, however, by Bent Sørensen from Aalborg University. Bent very thoughtfully provided his cell number to all the conference participants. That came in handy this morning when I woke up after the session at which I was scheduled to present my paper had actually started. I’d already missed the bus from the hotel to the university and I had not yet showered or dressed. “No worries,” Bent said, cool as a cucumber. “I’ll move your presentation to the end of the session. Just get a cab over here as quickly as you can.” I made it and the presentation was well received despite the fact that I had not yet even had a cup of COFFEE!

My presentation was not actually about Kierkegaard, so I won’t tell you about it here. It is part of a larger book project that I’ll start on as soon as I finish with Fear and Dissembling. There was a presentation on Kierkegaard at the conference though. It was by Rainer Kaus from the Psychology Dept. of the University of Cologne. The title was “Søren Kierkegaard’s Concept of Existence.” Here is the abstract:

“Kierkegaard’s thesis on truth and existence is complex. His major focus is on subjectivity as the bearer of truth. For Kierkegaard, subjectivity is put into the polarity of reason and sacrifice and culminates in a radical turning-away from the official doctrine of Christianity, represented by the institutionalized church and its teachings. Kierkegaard’s presentation of the development of the concept of the subject’s interiority and its existence in the world evidenced a high degree of seduction by linguistically aesthetic means. The central question remains whether, in the face of dwindling religiosity and the institutional erosion of all churches, as well as the confusing diversity of all the psychoanalytic perspectives (which, in turn, are seeking a unity), Kierkegaard still has something essential to contribute in the twenty-first century.”

I was unfortunately unable to hear the presentation, but I understand from other participants that it was good. Another scholar, Murray Schwartz, from Emerson College in Amherst, MA, told me that he is going to mention Kierkegaard in his presentation “Jonathan Lear as Psychoanalytic Interpreter,” so Kierkegaard seems very popular with this crowd. If you are looking for new venues for presenting your work, you should consider submitting a paper to the PsyArt Foundation for next year’s conference. It’s going to be in Ghent, Belgium. That could be a nice ghetaway, don’t you think?

Exhibition on Jews in the Danish Theater takes a Page from Tudvad’s Book!

In Kierkegaard and the Jews, News from Copenhagen on May 29, 2011 at 10:09 pm

There is a new exhibition entitled “Teater og kultur” (theater and culture) in the museum that is part of Hofteatret (the court theater) at Christiansborg Palace on Slotsholmen in Copenhagen. It concerns the relation between theater and the social-political life in mid-nineteenth-century Denmark. This was an extremely tumultuous period in Danish history. It was the beginning of genuine democracy in Denmark as well as the period of the Three Year’s War in Schleswig, a war as divisive for much of Danish society as was the Civil War for American society.

There are three parts to the exhibition. The first is entitled “Breve fra et grænseland” (letters from a borderland) and concerns the effect of the Three Year’s War on Fridolin Banner, a soldier on the Schleswig front, and his father, Johan Daniel Bauer an actor in the Danish Royal Theater who endured not merely constant rumors relating to the conflict in which his son was involved, but also a raging cholera epidemic in Denmark’s capital.

The second part of the exhibition is entitled “Kærlighed og magt I korridoreren” (love in the corridors of power) and concerns Frederik the Seventh and his lover, Louise Rasmussen, also known as Grevinde Danner (Countess Danner), to whom he was “married” as the Danes say “til venstre hand” (to the left hand).

Finally, the third part of the exhibition is entitled “Salomon, Esther og Shylock–jøder på scenen” (Salomon, Esther and Shylock–Jews on the stage). The following is a quotation from the AOK-Guide online (AOK stands for “Alt om København” which translates as “everything about Copenhagen”):

“As Peter Tudvad shows in his book Stadier på antisemitismens vej (stages on the way of anti-Semitism) (2010), Søren Kierkegaard went about in the middle of Golden-Age Copenhagen and contributed to the debate concerning the assimilation of Jews into Danish culture. One can also read in Tudvad’s book about the view of Jews in the theatrical community and their role in the Danish theater. The Theater Museum at Slotsholmen has taken up this thread from Tudvad’s book with an exhibition entitled “Salomon, Esther and Shylock–Jews on the stage.” The exhibition covers the period of Kierkegaard and Johanne Luise Heiberg up until the premier of Henrik Nathansen’s “Indenfor Murerene” at the Royal Theater in 1912–the same year the theater was opened.”

Click here for the AOK-Guide. The article didn’t say for how long the exhibition will be up. My suspicion is that it will be up all summer, so if you are planning a trip to Copenhagen this summer, you should definitely check it out.

I will have more on Tudvad’s book soon!

Kierkegaard’s Copenhagen

In News from Copenhagen, Publishing News, Resources for Kierkegaard Scholarship on March 3, 2011 at 8:45 pm

Kierkegaards København

I wrote earlier that hitherto unknown caricatures of Kierkegaard had been found a few years ago in a publication called Folkets Nisse (the people’s elf) (see “Newly Discovered Caricatures of Kierkegaard,” post from 1/31/11). Well, those aren’t the only hitherto unknown caricatures of Kierkegaard to have been discovered recently. Peter Tudvad discovered some in the satirical newspaper Corsaren (the corsair).

Yes, we’ve known Kierkegaard was caricatured in the pages of Corsaren, but it had been assumed the caricatures appeared only in 1846. Tudvad discovered, however, that Corsaren continued to publish caricatures of Kierkegaard after 1846 and, in fact, right up until his death in 1855. That is just one of what the then director of the Søren Kierkegaard Research Center in Copenhagen, Niels Jørgen Cappelørn, called the “monumental” discoveries Tudvad published in his best selling book Kierkegaards København (Kierkegaard’s Copenhagen) (Politiken, 2004). Tudvad’s discoveries, asserted Cappleørn, “cast an entirely new light on Kierkegaard’s character.”

“One of the myths among Kierkegaard scholars,” explained Cappelørn in an article in the Danish newspaper Information, “is that Kierkegaard kept monotonously repeating the same criticism against Corsaren for its lampooning of him long after the practice had stopped. People had seen this as a sign of Kierkegaard’s hypersensitivity, as evidence that he was so sensitive that he simply couldn’t forget this brief attack. Now we have to rethink this conception of him.”

How is it that scholars failed to look at any of the issues of Corsaren after 1846? It would appear, explains Cappelørn, that what we have here is a phenomenon “we are familiar with from other areas of scholarship. One reads the secondary literature and simply repeats what earlier scholars have said without going to the original sources.”

That caricatures of Kierkegaard continued to appear in Corsaren long after scholars had earlier assumed they had stopped, is not the only revelation in Tudvad’s book. Kierkegaards København is full of important revelations. Unfortunately, it is also full of beautiful color illustrations so, although I’ve tried to get an English-language publisher interested in issuing it in translation, I have not yet had any luck with that project. I’m afraid that for now, anyway, you are going to have to make do with the Danish edition. I can’t say I feel very sorry for you though. It is an absolutely gorgeous book! Check it out.

Is Christianity Anti-Semitic? Danish Theologian Defends Tudvad’s Book.

In Kierkegaard and the Jews, News from Copenhagen on February 9, 2011 at 1:42 pm

“Long before Peter Tudvad’s book Stadier på Antisemtismens Vej: Søren Kierkegaard og Jøderne [Stages on the Way of Anti-Semtism: Søren Kierkegaard and the Jews] appeared, the theological rationalizations were already lined up,” writes Danish theologian Lone Fatum in Kristeligt Dagblad. “No one had read the book, but everyone had an opinion on it. When the book finally appeared, on the anniversary of Kristalnacht, reviewers immediately banded together. ‘Kierkegaard was not anti-Semitic–end of discussion!’”

Tudvad explained in my interview with him, as well as in the Danish media, that he believes that what really incensed critics of his book was less that he had charged Kierkegaard with anti-Semitism than that he had argued there was a disposition toward anti-Semitism in Christianity itself. Denmark, after all, still has a state church, the Danish Lutheran Church. Christianity, for many Danes, is as much a cultural institution as a religious one. Danes have prided themselves, and not without reason, on their historically liberal attitude toward Jews and Judaism. To argue as Tudvad does in his book that Christianity has inherently anti-Semitic tendencies is thus to strike at something that is very near the heart of Danish culture.

Fatum asserts that the numerous efforts to explain away Kierkegaard’s anti-Semitic remarks “appear to support Tudvad’s claim that [the persistence of subtle forms of anti-Semitism] is an problem people are unwilling to face.” Fatum argues, however, that the disposition toward anti-Semitism in Christianity is more pronounced than even Tudvad suggests. All the Gospels, she asserts, were written after the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in the year 70, which many early Christians saw as God’s punishment of the Jews for their having killed Christ. Anti-Semitic sentiment, she asserts, is clear throughout the Gospels, but particularly in John (e.g., John 8: 21-47 where Jesus appears to assert that the devil, not Abraham, is the father of the Jews).

But are the Gospels really that anti-Semitic? There is no question that Fatum is correct in her claim that there are numerous passages throughout the Gospels that lend themselves to interpretation as anti-Semitic. According to many New Testament scholars, however, there was a great deal of ambivalence among early Christians concerning their relation to Judaism and this ambivalence is reflected, I would argue in at least the synoptic Gospels, if not in the entire New Testament canon.

There can be no dispute, however, concerning the presence of strong anti-Semitic tendencies among the early church fathers and later Christian thinkers such as Martin Luther, just as there can be little doubt that Kierkegaard was influenced by these thinkers. It is less clear whether Kierkegaard’s anti-Semitic attitudes came directly from this tradition or whether their evolution had a more subtle and complex origin. That’s part of what makes Tudvad’s book such an important work. He attempts to trace the evolution of Kierkegaard’s views on Jews and Judaism. Scholars who actually engage with his arguments may come to have legitimate disagreements with him and one hopes that other treatments of this important topic will eventually emerge. For now, though, all we have is Tudvad book. It is nice to see that it is beginning to receive the recognition it deserves.

Yet Another Review of Tudvad’s Book by Someone Who Hasn’t Read It?

In Kierkegaard and the Jews, News from Copenhagen on February 5, 2011 at 9:09 pm

Well, OK, I can’t really be certain that Trond Berg Eriksen, whose review “Antisemitten Kierkegaard?” appeared in the Norwegian newspaper Morgenbladet, didn’t read the book. If he did read it though, he appears to have a very different edition than the one I have. He claims Tudvad charges that Kierkegaard was a Nazi, but I haven’t come across that charge in my copy of Tudvad’s book.

The review starts off well. Eriksen acknowledges that Tudvad’s presentation of anti-Semitism in Danish politics and literature in the first decades of the 19th century is “thorough, long overdue, and groundbreaking,” and that his “presentation of Jews and Judaism in Kierkegaard’s thought is not bad either,” but complains, in a manner that clearly begs the question, that the two things have nothing to do with each other.

Tudvad acknowledges, in the beginning of the book, that Kierkegaard was far from the worst anti-Semite of his day. His argument, he explains, is that many of the things Kierkegaard says about Jews and Judaism would be deeply offensive to Jews of any period and that they should thus be acknowledged as part and parcel of an anti-Semitism that was pervasive in Europe in the 19th century and which was thus a forerunner to the more virulent form of anti-Semitism that came to such horrific expression in the rise of National Socialism. That’s a relatively modest thesis and Tudvad marshals what appears to be more than enough evidence to support it.

That Kierkegaard was anti-Semitic should not surprise us, because, as many scholars have pointed out, anti-Semitism was pervasive during the period when Kierkegaard lived.  What is surprising is the number of scholars who have used this historical fact to try to discredit Tudvad’s position. The argument goes something like this: Everyone was anti-Semitic back then. Kierkegaard was just like everyone else. Ergo, Kierkegaard was not really anti-Semitic.  The flaw in that logic is so obvious it needs no explanation.

Eriksen’s review, as I observed, starts off well, but then, it appears, he was struck down by some sort of spontaneous brain disease. Not only does he use the same obviously flawed logic described above in an attempt to discredit Tudvad’s thesis, he also undermines his own fallacious argument with the even more bizarre charge that “anti-Semitism,” along with “racism,” is a concept that belongs to a later period. Say what? Anyone who knows anything about history knows that anti-Semitism is as old as Judaism. And, as I explained in an earlier post (see 1/7/11), racism as both a concept and a phenomenon obviously predates Darwin.  Our concept of race changed after Darwin, but the concept goes back at least as far as ancient Greece and is probably as old as human history.

Eriksen’s whole review is a straw man argument in that it is directed at discrediting a much more extreme position than the one Tudvad advances in his book. But then Eriksen, apparently still in the grip of the aforementioned ailment, admits this himself when he acknowledges, toward the end of the review, that Tudvad does not actually make any of the outrageous claims that have so incensed him, but only “insinuates” them.

Enough said.

Stay tuned. There was an excellent article on Tudvad’s book in Kristeligt Dagblad Today. I’ll have a summary of it for you soon!

Newly Discovered Caricatures of Kierkegaard

In News from Copenhagen, Once Upon a Time in Denmark, Resources for Kierkegaard Scholarship on January 31, 2011 at 10:08 am
Caricature

Women fight over one of Kierkegaard's shirts

One of the most important discoveries Peter Tudvad made when working on his book, Kierkegaards København (Kierkegaard’s Copenhagen), was that the attacks on Kierkegaard in the satirical newspaper The Corsair, were not confined to 1846, as scholars had assumed, but actually spanned the period from 1846 until Kierkegaard’s death in 1855. This makes Kierkegaard’s continued preoccupation with the Corsair, and its merciless caricaturing of him, appear less neurotic than has been assumed. He continued to be preoccupied with the newspaper because it continued to be preoccupied with him. Kierkegaard was, therefore, not exaggerating when he described himself as an object of public ridicule.

The situation was even worse though than scholars have assumed. The Corsair was not the only paper to ridicule Kierkegaard. Another paper, Folkets Nisse (the people’s elf) also published caricatures of or relating to Kierkegaard over an extended period. The drawing above is one such caricature. Apparently, Kierkegaard’s effects were auctioned off after his death. The drawing depicts two women fighting over one of Kierkegaard’s shirts. It’s interesting not simply as an example of a hitherto unknown collection of contemporary caricatures but also because it tells us something about how Kierkegaard was viewed around the period of his death. Scholars have often portrayed him as a marginal figure in Danish history, one whose brilliance was really first discovered beyond the borders of of his own country. The drawing makes clear, however, that he had become a kind of cult figure by the time of his death and that there was thus probably far more sympathy with his attack on the Danish Lutheran Church than is ordinarily assumed.

There are many more drawings like the one above in Folkets Nisse. I cannot claim credit for having discovered them. They were discovered by Paul A. Bauer in the late 1990s when he purchased a bound volume of Folkets Nisse from an antiquarian book dealer in Copenhagen. I am indebted to Anne Marie Furbo of the The Royal Library in Copenhagen for tracking down this particular drawing which I had remembered only vaguely but which I wanted to use for the cover of my forthcoming book, Fear and Dissembling: The Copenhagen Kierkegaard Controversy.

If you plan to go to Copenhagen, stop by The Royal Library. I’m sure the folks there will be similarly helpful to you if you want to track down more of these hitherto unknown caricatures.

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