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

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 use 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!

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!

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!