Once Upon a Time in Denmark

I was going through my email a couple of days ago, trying to file some of it to keep it from crashing, when I found an announcement of an event over at Haverford. Hubert Dreyfus is giving a talk there on October 29th entitled “Rationality and Embodied Coping.”

I’m going to have to go to that one even though there’s another important philosophy event, The Greater Philadelphia Philosophy Consortium Public Issues Forum on Philosophy for Children, that same day. The GPPC event starts at 1:00 though and Dreyfus’s talk isn’t until 4:00, so maybe I can catch both. I want to go to Dreyfus’s talk because not only do I like him, but because it’s been a long time since I’ve seen him and I want to see if he remembers me.

I met Dreyfus years ago when I was living in Denmark. He and his brother Stuart came to Denmark to lead a seminar on their book Mind Over Machine. The seminar took place on a property owned by Aarhus University and extended over a period of several days. The conditions at our camp were so Spartan that one of the other participants joked that it was a “skjult overlevelseskursus” (thinly veiled survival course). I don’t remember what all the problems were, but I think among them was the fact that we didn’t have hot water.

It was a fun course though and since we all lived in close quarters and took all our meals together for several days we got to know one another pretty well. I was sad when it ended, but happy when about a year later, I learned that Dreyfus was coming back to Denmark to give a talk at the Philosophy Faculty at the University of Copenhagen. I wrote to Dreyfus to arrange to have dinner with him. He told me he thought the Philosophy Faculty was arranging a dinner for him, but that I should contact them to make sure. I wrote to them and they confirmed that they were indeed planning a dinner for him on the Friday of his lecture, but that there was nothing planned for the following evening. I’d hoped they would invite me to the Friday dinner, but they didn’t so I made arrangements to have dinner with Dreyfus the following evening.

The talk that Friday was great. I went up to talk to Dreyfus at the break and he greeted me warmly. “We’re going to dinner this evening,” he said, “you should come along.” I explained that I hadn’t been invited, by Dreyfus ignored my protestations and escorted me over to the woman whom he said was making the arrangements. I knew they didn’t really want me along that evening, but I didn’t want to be rude to Dreyfus, who seemed convinced that the extension of an invitation to me simply hadn’t occurred to them. Dreyfus introduced me and explained that he thought I should come to dinner with them. The woman looked at me skeptically and then responded. “Well,” she said slowly, “the arrangements have already been made. It would be difficult to add another person at this point. You would have to pay for yourself,” she added with an air of finality. The Danes are nothing if not polite. I knew they could not come right out and tell me that they didn’t want me along and I was suddenly annoyed that I’d been excluded and decided that I’d exploit what I had learned about the Danish character and use it to my advantage.

“Oh that’s all right,” I responded cheerfully, “I don’t mind doing that. I don’t mind at all!” and then I slipped quickly back into the reception crowd before she had time to think of a retort.

There was wine and cheese at the reception so it went on for a while. I’d brought my boyfriend and I began to feel guilty about the fact that I was going to go off to dinner without him. I didn’t really relish returning to my stunned hostess and asking if I could bring a guest, but I felt like I had no choice.

“Can my boyfriend come to dinner too?” I asked when I finally found her again. The look of horror on her face was quickly replaced by thinly concealed rage.

“I thought,” she said slowly through clenched teeth, “that you weren’t coming because you had to pay for yourself.” I’m sure she assumed that I’d get the hint that time, even if I hadn’t before.

“Oh no,” I replied smiling, “I don’t mind paying.”

There were actually some advantages, I realized, to hailing from a country so uncivilized as the U.S. I could pretend I didn’t understand that she was trying make it clear to me that they didn’t want me coming along to dinner and she would have to accept that I was incorrigibly uncultured and hence incapable of taking a hint. She, on the other hand, as a good, upper-class Dane, could not allow any chink in her own breeding to show, she would just have to accept my presence and the presence of my equally backward boyfriend at their exclusive soirée.

The evening took an unexpected turn, however, when we found our wine was corked (for readers who are unfamiliar with this term, it means the wine has taken on a mildewed flavor and nose from a bad cork). My boyfriend, who knew something about wine, discovered this at once and insisted we be brought new wine. The company could not have been more impressed and entreated him to pick a new wine himself. I don’t remember what he picked, but he picked well and charmed everyone with both his choice of the wine and his excellent command of Danish. It was a lovely evening. He was the star. I think they may even have liked me by the end.

I’m hoping that’s the how Dreyfus remembers it, anyway, as I have no dinner plans for the 29th!

Kierkegaard’s Psychology

Forgive me for taking so long to put up this post. I was doing two posts a week during the winter because I don’t teach in the winter. Drexel is on quarters, and because my husband, the legal scholar Brian J. Foley, teaches in Florida and we have a house there, Drexel very kindly allows me to teach the spring-summer-fall terms rather than the standard fall-winter-spring.

Well, I’m teaching again, and that has slowed down my blogging activity considerably. I’m not stopping though, just slowing down. I anticipate being able to do one post every two weeks, and possibly even more frequently, until the summer. The summer should be a little better because that tends to be a light term and I am teaching only one small seminar class this summer.

But enough about my schedule. I wanted to pass on to you a bit of information I came across recently that I thought was very interesting. Years ago, when I was a graduate student at Bryn Mawr, George Kline, one of my professors there, told me that the former Kierkegaard scholar Josiah Thompson, had left his post at Haverford College to become a private detective. I remember at the time thinking that that was one of the strangest things I’d ever heard. What possible relation, I thought, could there be between philosophy and detective work?

OK, I was naïve. For those few readers, however, who do not immediately understand the connection, I have a little story for you. The title of this post promises to tell you something about Kierkegaard’s psychology. This is really only a teaser though. The real substantive entries on Kierkegaard’s psychology will come later. Still, I ran across a book that I didn’t know existed and which I thought people interested in Kierkegaard ought to know about. It is a book by the German artist-physician-philosopher Carl Gustav Carus. Never heard of him? Read on.

“I am happy,” writes Kierkegaard in his journals,

“to acknowledge that Carus’ book (Psyche) is excellent, and if he will give the qualitative its due, then I will gratefully take a few of his good psychological observations. At all decisive points he makes unqualified room for the miracle, for the creative power of God, for the absolute expression of worship, and says: This no one can grasp, no science, neither now nor ever. Then he communicates the interesting things he knows.” (JP, 3:2818.)

I read this entry years ago and was intrigued by it. Who was this Carus? What were the interesting things he knew? How could I get my hands on a copy of this book? I searched antiquarian bookshops in Denmark and in Germany without any luck. I looked both in person and on line. Once I found a copy in German on Abebooks and tried to buy it only to be informed, after having added it to my basket, that it had already been sold.

Last year, finally, I found the book, in an English translation, in an esoteric bookstore in Cambridge, MA. It was in the section on Jungian psychology. It was $25 because, the owner of the shop informed me sheepishly, it was out of print. It’s a short book, under one hundred pages, but it is indeed very interesting. I cannot tell who was responsible for the translation, but there is an introductory note by the famous Jungian analyst James Hillman. Apparently, Jungians are interested in Carus because Jung himself was influenced by Carus.

My friend, and publisher, Eric von der Luft, informs me that Carus was strongly influenced by Schelling. Interestingly, Kierkegaard appears to have had a higher opinion of Carus than of Schelling. I found out something else though that I thought would be of interest to readers. Carus’s view of the relation between the mind and the body is strikingly similar to the “physicalism” of John Searle’s The Rediscovery of the Mind. This “physicalism,” though in a perhaps less well-defined form, appears to have come from Schelling, Schelling influenced Heidegger and Heidegger influenced Hubert Dreyfus. Dreyfus is a friend of John Searle…

Maybe we should all try our hands at private detective work if this philosophy thing dries up!