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Interview with Peter Tudvad

As I mentioned last week, Peter Tudvad was in New York recently doing research for his forthcoming book on Bonhoeffer. He graciously consented to be interviewed about the controversy surrounding his new book on Kierkegaard and anti-Semitism. The first part of that interview is below. I will post the second part next week.

Piety: Not much is known in the English-speaking world about the controversy over your new book. Can you give a brief summary of it?

Tudvad: That might be difficult as the row lasted for about two months, and was very intense. A newspaper, Berlingske Tidende, published an interview with me about three weeks before the book was actually published. The reporter was shocked by the quotations I had included in the preface, which I let him see, such as Kierkegaard writing that the Jews were typically usurers and as such bloodthirsty, that they had a penchant for money (due to an abstract character, as Kierkegaard supposes), and that they dominated the Christians. As I told the reporter, Kierkegaard was of the opinion that the Jews would eventually kill the European Christians – something which he wrote in an entry in his diary, but which was omitted from the Hong’s translation, I guess on purpose – and that they had an extraordinary sexual appetite and thus many children. They were, according to Kierkegaard, mundane and had no real spirit, no quest for the eternal bliss.

Never mind, the former head of the Søren Kierkegaard Research Center at the University of Copenhagen, Niels Jørgen Cappelørn, was interviewed too for the very same edition of the newspaper, and he actually agreed with me that what Kierkegaard had said about the Jews was something which we today must term antisemitism. He agreed, too, that the reason that we have seldom discussed this aspect of his theology might be that we were afraid of damaging his image, his reputation, thus losing the prostrate respect many have for one of the few internationally renowned Danish authors. Nevertheless, the day after, in another newspaper, Cappelørn said the opposite. Many other people seemed to be offended by my labelling Kierkegaard as an antisemite and began polemicising against me without ever having read my book. Especially theologians were eager to make the case smaller than I think it is, saying that it was only in entries in Kierkegaard’s private diary that he wrote bad things about the Jews – which, by the way, is not true, even though I don’t see why we should not discuss his “private” antisemitism, when we have discussed so many other “private” aspects of his thoughts. His diaries have always been considered a key to the understanding of his published works, so if one, for example, with the help of his entries can link his antisemitisme with his theology, and vice versa, I think we really ought to discuss the problem seriously

The rest of the interview with Tudvad will appear next week.

Glowing Review of Tudvad’s book on Kierkegaard and Anti-Semitism

Well, finally, we have a review by someone who actually read the book. The literary critic Michael Nielsen reviewed Stadier på Antisemitismens Vej: Søren Kierkegaard and the Jews (Stages on the Way of Anti-Semitism: Søren Kierkegaard and the Jews) in Kultunaut an online journal of culture. Here’s what Nielsen has to say:

“Tudvad is first and foremost a driven arkivrotte [this translates literally as ‘archive rat,’ but is probably better translated as ‘scholar’ since we have no idiomatic expression in English that corresponds to ‘archive rat’] who conscientiously combs through original sources and meticulously documents the claims he makes in his books. […] It’s clear, however, in this important book on Kierkegaard’s views on Jews, that Tudvad has striven to write in a more flowing prose and to divide the material in a more reader-friendly manner which makes this book, in my opinion, his best to date.”

“Tudvad is the first [scholar] who has had the courage to conduct an investigation [of the question of Kierkegaard’s views on Jews and Judaism] with the sobriety, objectivity and thoroughness it requires.”

“Tudvad presents Kierkegaard’s views in relation to both earlier and contemporary theologians and uses references from his journals and published works to show how his views developed throughout his authorship. All this is extremely competent and convincing.”

This book, Nielsen concludes, is a “must have” for anyone interested in “intellectual history.”

That last point is very important because what many of the early articles on the book seem to miss is that it is an enormously rich resource of information about Jews and Judaism in 19th-century Denmark. There is nothing else like it in Danish and I feel fairly confident in saying that there is probably nothing else like it in any other language. Of course it is not surprising that the early articles about the book missed this, because most of them were written by people who acknowledged that they had not read the book. Now that people have had time to read it, I expect we’ll see more reviews like Nielsen’s.

Tudvad is in New York now doing research for his forthcoming book on Bonhoeffer. I met with him there last weekend and hope to post a short interview with him soon.

 

Bad News and Good News…

I have some bad news and some good news. The bad news is that Google, does not, in fact have the complete text of Repetition and Philosophical Crumbs online, but only a portion of it. Also, the site that promises a free ebook version of it is bogus. I’m indebted to Don Anderson for alerting me to these facts. This means that there is no searchable electronic version of this volume, or at least not one in general circulation. I have such a version, but Oxford would have my hide if I started sending it out to people. It was like pulling teeth to get them allow me to publish excerpts in the online journal The Smart Set.

I have a plan though. I am going to make an index for the volume myself and make it available free of charge to anyone who wants it. I probably won’t have it done until sometime this spring. I will let you know, though, when I’ve finished it.

The reason I won’t have the index done until spring is that I am hard at work on my new book Fear and Dissembling: The Copenhagen Kierkegaard Controversy. This book is going to be a collection of English translations of some of the articles that appeared in the Danish media on the controversy over Joakim Garff’s book SAK (GAD, 2000), or Søren Kierkegaard, A Biography (Princeton, 2005). Both Garff and his critic, Peter Tudvad, have tentatively agreed to be involved in the project. I will send each a list of the articles I plan to include for his approval and each is free to recommend additional articles he would like to see included. Garff has also suggested that a few original essays could be appended to the end of the book. I’m all for that if it we can get a good group of contributors and it doesn’t delay the project too much.

I think you’ll like this book. It won’t simply be about Kierkegaard, but about larger issues such as the nature of biography and how difficult it can sometimes be to draw a line between fact and fiction.

Postscript: I have abandoned the idea of doing an index for Crumbs because Oxford has brought out an ebook version that is searchable.