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.
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!
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 Practicein 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.