M.G. Piety

Posts Tagged ‘Joakim Garff’

Getting Kierkegaard Wrong

In Publishing News, Repetition and Philosophical Crumbs, Uncategorized on November 13, 2016 at 4:52 pm

I think of scholarship as egalitarian. I don’t know about all disciplines, but most academic journals in the field of philosophy do what’s called “blind” reviewing. Scholars send articles to journal editors. The editors then send those articles along to experts in the relevant fields (e.g., Plato, Kant, contemporary ethics, the philosophy of mind) without identifying the author of the article. The people vetting the articles don’t know who wrote them. They don’t know whether the author is already a recognized authority in the relevant field or a complete newcomer. They don’t even know whether the author has an academic appointment, is an “independent scholar,” or even a lowly graduate student. All they have is the article, so they are more or less forced to evaluate it on its own merits. The system isn’t perfect, of course. Unconventional or iconoclastic work is not always evaluated fairly, and the work of the more prominent scholars in given fields can sometimes be identified even without their names being attached.

Still, blind reviewing goes a long way toward ensuring that good work gets recognized and promoted. Unfortunately, book publishing is not so egalitarian. Some publishers do blind reviewing, but many do not. Once a scholar has attained a name for him or herself in a given field, that is, once a scholar has become what one might call an academic celebrity, they are given a wide berth in terms of their perceived authority. Big name scholars can often get away with speaking, and sometimes even writing books, on subjects outside their area of expertise.

Daphne Hampson’s new book on Kierkegaard, Kierkegaard: Exposition and Critique (Oxford, 2013) is a case in point. Hampson is a prominent U.K. theologian, not a Kierkegaard scholar. She gives the impression that she is a Kierkegaard scholar by throwing around a few Danish terms. She refers, for example to Kierkegaard’s book The Concept of Anxiety as The Concept Angst. When I saw that I immediately did a Google search to see if there were a new English translation of this work of which I was unaware. There isn’t. Hampsen’s substitution of the Danish Angst for “Anxiety” in the title of this work is simply an affectation.

Kierkegaard is one of the few philosophers who are beloved by people who are not themselves scholars; hence reviews of new editions of his works, and occasionally even of new scholarly books on his thought, sometimes appear in the illustrious New York Review of Books. The Nov. 10th edition, in fact, contains a review of Hampson’s book entitled “Kierkegaard’s Rebellion.” The reviewer is a Peter Gordon, Amabel B. James Professor of History at Havard and the author of Adorno and Existence (Harvard, 2016)

It isn’t all that clear why the NYRB decided to review Hampson’s book, or why they chose Gordon to review it. While both Hampson and Gordon have a certain familiarity with Kierkegaard because of their respective areas of scholarly expertise (Hampson’s in the history of theological thought and Gordon’s in modern European intellectual history), neither is a Kierkegaard scholar. The book is riddled with problems, problems that will be conspicuous to most Kierkegaard scholars, but which Gordon failed to spot. Hampson gets Kierkegaard’s epistemology wrong. She claims erroneously that Kierkegaard “has very little hold on the idea that there is a regularity to nature” (p 29). She falsely accuses him of being unfamiliar with David Strauss’s ground breaking book on the historical Jesus, Das Leben Jesu kritisch bearbeitet (The Life of Jesus Critically Examined) (1835).

These are just a few of the problems with Hampson’s book, problems to which Gordon fails to alert prospective readers. In fact, Gordon says very little about the content of the book, but restricts himself to giving a general overview of Kierkegaard’s works and his place, or presumed place, in the history of thought that has little directly to do with Hampson’s treatment of Kierkegaard.

It’s generally dangerous to venture to write a book on a thinker, as well as to review a book on a thinker, on whose thought you do not specialize. And, to quote Kierkegaard, “what is worse for those brave souls who nevertheless dare to undertake such a project, the difficulty is not one that will confer celebrity on those who preoccupy themselves with it” (Philosophical Crumbs, p. 113). Unfortunately, Hampson’s book is so off base, at least in its chapter on Kierkegaard’s Philosophical Crumbs, that it amounts to a caricature of scholarship.

A single example will suffice to make this point. Hampson accuses Kierkegaard scholars of failing to appreciate a crucial fact about his view of the natural world. Kierkegaard, she charges, “thinks the world a kind of random place in which just about anything can happen.” Kierkegaard, she continues, lacks any sense for “the regularity of nature” or that natural events are subject to natural law (p. 92).

Unfortunately for Hampson, Kierkegaard scholars have not missed this aspect of Kierkegaard’s thought because this isn’t an aspect of Kierkegaard’s thought. Kierkegaard did believe in the existence of laws of nature. Hampson rightly observes that Kierkegaard “picks up the distinction in Aristotle between a ‘change’ which consists in a coming into existence (kinesis) and a change which presupposes existence (alloiosis) (what we might call a change taking place within the causal nexus),” but she fails to appreciate the significance of this distinction for Kierkegaard.

Hampson even goes so far as to remark that it is “strange” that Kierkegaard “does not appreciate that there is any real distinction between the two kinds of ‘change’“ (p. 91) identified by Aristotle, given that he refers to them himself when speaking about the change of coming to be. She chastises Kierkegaard for writing “150 years after Newton,” and yet failing to have any “sense of the regularity with which change takes place in predetermined fashion within a causal nexus” (91).

It would be pretty weird if Kierkegaard failed to have any sense for what one could call the “regularity of nature.” As most Kierkegaard scholars know, however, Kierkegaard does have such a sense, as is easily seen by anyone who pays careful attention to the portion of the Crumbs from which Hampson gets this strange impression. After Kierkegaard explains that “[e]verything that has come to be is eo ispo historical, he goes on to say that

That thing, the becoming of which is a simultaneous becoming (Nebeneinander, Space), has no other history than this, but even seen in this way (en masse), independently of what an ingenious consideration in a more specific sense calls the history of nature, nature has a history.

…. How can one say that nature, despite being immediately present, is historical, if one does not view it from this ingenious perspective? The difficulty comes from the fact that nature is too abstract to have a dialectical relationship, in the stricter sense, with time. Nature’s imperfection is that it has no history in any other sense, and its perfection is that it has the intimation of a history (namely that it has come to be, which is the past; and that it is, the present) (p. 143, emphasis added).

That is, nature’s whole “history” is that it came to be at some point. After that, the “changes” that characterize nature do not represent change in Aristotle’s sense of kinesis but only in his sense of alloiosis. Kierkegaard takes pains to be clear on this point. Purely natural events are changes in something (i.e., nature) that already exists. They do not come about freely, but are subject to natural law. That’s why nature “has no history.” It has only an “intimation of a history” in that it came to be at some point. Mountain ranges do not become mature in the same sense that people do. Human beings have choices. Human events are not like plate tectonics.

How could Hampson miss that? It’s right there in the text. That’s why the purported fact of Kierkegaard’s failure to appreciate “the regularity of nature” has been given what Hampson calls “scant recognition” by Kierkegaard scholars. They don’t recognize it because it isn’t there. It is hard to imagine a more spectacularly erroneous interpretation of Kierkegaard than Hampson’s on this point.

How could Hampson have gotten Kierkegaard so wrong? My guess is that it is because her reading of Kierkegaard is driven by her political agenda. She appears determined to see Kierkegaard as a kind of throwback to a “premodern” view of reality.

Good thing readers of the NYRB have Gordon to alert them to this gross error in Hampson’s book! Except that Gordon doesn’t do that. Indeed, there are a host of problems his misses.

Like Hampson, Gordon isn’t a Kierkegaard scholar, so he doesn’t know enough about Kierkegaard to be able to identify when Hampson’s reading goes awry. He seems, in fact, to have a somewhat caricatured view of Kierkegaard himself. He’s correct, for example, in his claim that, according to Kierkegaard, there’s “an absolute chasm between God and humanity,” but not in his claim that that chasm makes God “wholly other” from human beings.

“[I]f God is absolutely different from human beings,” observes Kierkegaard in Philosophical Crumbs, “this cannot have its basis in what human beings owe to God (for to this extent they are related [beslægtet, literally “related” as in part of the same family])(119). According to Kierkegaard, the difference between human beings and God is sin. Sin keeps people from being able to see the likeness between themselves and God. The likeness is there, Kierkegaard believes, however, and can be appreciated, to some extent anyway, through the eyes of faith.

Kierkegaard did not, as Gordon claims, have a “disabling contempt for the public good.” His attack on the Danish Lutheran Church just before he died was motivated in part by his outrage over the church’s own contempt for the public good, at least in the spiritual sense. Kierkegaard’s concern for the public good was not restricted, however, to this sense. The Danish scholar Peter Tudvad demonstrated in his meticulously documented watershed book, Kierkegaards København (Kierkegaard’s Copenhagen) (Politiken, 2004) that Kierkegaard not only gave considerable sums of money to the poor (pp. 370-377), but that he even went so far as to share his lodgings with a destitute family for several years (pp. 348-354).

Gordon attributes the recent resurgence of interest in Kierkegaard’s thought to the bicentennial of his birth in 2013, as well as to the publication of Garff’s biography of Kierkegaard in 2000. He is undoubtedly correct about the bicentennial. What caused Kierkegaard’s name to remain in the headlines of Danish newspapers from 2000 until 2005, however, was not so much the publication of Garff’s biography as it was Tudvad’s revelations that the biography was riddled with factual errors and passages plagiarized from earlier Danish biographies of Kierkegaard, as well as the revelation that Garff had failed to fix these problems before the book was translated into English. Tudvad’s book, not Garff’s, is what gave scholars a fresh, and more accurate, impression of Kierkegaard’s life and thought.

But then it’s unlikely that Gordon would have known any of this, since he isn’t a Kierkegaard scholar. His book on Adorno touches on Kierkegaard, but that isn’t enough to make him a Kierkegaard scholar, so why did the NYRB have him review Hampson’s book? Could the answer be so straightforward as that Gordon teaches at Harvard? Talk about being “premodern,” is the NYRB so conservative that it’s actually resurrecting “the argument from authority,” the darling of medieval scholastics, so that the primary credential one needs to review a book for them is that one teaches at an ivy league school? A glance at the “contributors” section of the Nov. 10 edition in which Gordon’s review of Hampson’s book appears seems to support such a view. Three other reviews in that edition are by people from Harvard, three by people from Columbia, one by someone from Princeton and another by someone from Yale.

I’ll confess that I’m an avid reader of the NYRB and generally enjoy the articles it contains. I read it, in part, because I don’t have time to read every scholarly book that’s published in a given year (or even in a given week). I know that not everything that’s published is good, so I count on the NYRB and its stable of what I had hitherto assumed to be expert reviewers to sort through this material for me, to point out to me what is worth reading and what isn’t, to summarize for me some of the works that I’d ideally like to read, but probably won’t have time to read, so that I’ll be able to keep up with the latest developments in scholarship outside of my tiny field.

I don’t mean to suggest that all the reviews in the New York Review of Books are as misleading as is Gordon’s review of Hampson’s book. I’m sure they’re not. I’m sure most of them are as good as them seem. But how do I know which reviews are reliable and which are not?

I’m plagued now by a certain, you know, angst.

(This piece appeared originally under the title “The Angst of Scholarship at the NYRB: Getting Kierkegaard Wrong, Twice,” in the 8 November issue of Counterpunch. )


The Curse!

In Publishing News on April 13, 2013 at 6:43 pm

1586255t137Peter Tudvad is has yet another book on Kierkegaard scheduled to appear this coming Tuesday, April 16th, 2013. I’d been hoping  his next book would be a biography. This book isn’t a biography though, it’s a biographical novel entitled Forbandelsen (i.e., the curse). The blurb on the back of the book says that it’s a

“dramatic portrayal of [the life of] Søren Kierkegaard, the brilliant, and at times mad, intellectual giant who revolutionized philosophy and shook theology with his emphasis on ‘the individual’ and ‘discipleship.’

“In the tradition of Dostojevski and Kafka, The Curse situates the protagonist in a universe where crime and punishment, sin and grace shift continuously between actuality and illusion, so that the reader is pulled into Kierkegaard’s thoughts and takes part in his existential battle with both God and humanity.

“The Curse is thus a theological novel and precisely as such provides a psychological portrait of a man who, with tragic pathos, sets heaven and earth in motion in an attempt to find a truth for which he can live and die.

“Kierkegaard’s antagonists, Bishop Mynster and Professor Martensen, his unhappy love, Regine, his brother Peter and friend Emil, along with many other figures, all appear in this grand story of piety and perversion, of death and perjury, of the Church’s distortion of the Gospels–and of a shepherd boy’s fateful cursing of God”

The book, from Tudvad’s usual publisher Politiken, is 494 pages and costs 350 kroner (that’s about $60). It hasn’t been reviewed yet, but I’ll fill you in on the reviews when they begin to appear. In the meantime, if you would like a little “smagsprøve,” as the Danes say, of the book you can actually print out an entire chapter (unfortunately, not the first chapter) here.

Rumor has it that Joakim Garff also has a book scheduled to appear soon. This will be the first book Garff has published since his biography of Kierkegaard back in 2000. You can bet he hasn’t been idle though, my sources say he has been laboring diligently and that this book is only one of several projects he has in the works.


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!

Bruce Kirmmse’s Shame

In Conference news, Uncategorized on September 7, 2012 at 2:49 pm

Bruce Kirmmse was a key player in the controversy over Joakim Garff’s book SAK (Søren Kierkegaard: A Biography). Kirmmse did the English translation, which inexplicably included many of the errors that Peter Tudvad had already exposed in the original and indeed appeared calculated to cover up some of the apparent plagiarism in the original.  (See previous blog post, as well as, “Rot in the Ivory Tower.”)

Kirmmse also played attack dog, authoring some articles defending the book in the Danish media.  One of them was a scurrilous, defamatory hit piece against me, “M.G. Piety’s Shame,” published in the September 23-29 2005 Weekendavisen.  (I don’t use those labels lightly; when I saw the article, I consulted with a well-known defamation attorney in Philadelphia, who concluded that the article was defamatory. I didn’t pursue litigation because of a lack of funds (the lawyer didn’t want to take the case on a contingency fee, because he didn’t foresee big damages).

The article has never appeared in English.  I present it below.

I’ve decided to republish the piece here because Kirmmse was recently selected as the keynote speaker at the Seventh International Kierkegaard Conference, sponsored by the Hong Kierkegaard Library at St. Olaf’s College this coming June. I believe Kirmmse’s scurrilous role in the controversy over Garff’s book makes him unfit to be honored in this way.

Two preliminary points: (1) An astonishing aspect of Kirmmse’s piece is that Kirmmse never reveals anywhere in it that I entered the controversy as a result of the fact that the errors and plagiarisms Tudvad had exposed in the Danish edition of Garff’s book appeared uncorrected in his English translation that was published a year later.  Instead, he accuses me of ”resurrecting” Tudvad’s attack, as if out of thin air and out of spite.  That’s deliberately misleading. I knew about the controversy from the beginning but chose to write about it only after it became relevant to people who were forced to rely on Kirmmse’s translation.

(2) Kirmmse also never revealed in the piece his own self-interest. Not only did he do the translation of SAK, he was being considered to head up the new translation of Kierkegaard’s journals, a project that had been conceived by Niels Jørgen Cappelørn, one of Garff’s staunchest defenders, and over which he, Cappelørn, had control in that he could restrict access to the new Danish editions of the journals on which the translation would be based.  Many Weekendavisen readers were likely deceived into thinking that Kirmmse was a disinterested American scholar commenting on the controversy.  Instead, Kirmmse was most likely seeking to deflect attention from Tudvad’s well-documented criticisms of Garff’s book – that is, to deceive and deflect attention from his own complicity and duplicity in his translation of SAK. (See the details in “Rot in the Ivory Tower”) as well as to curry favor with Cappelørn, who had come under heavy criticism for his own role in the SAK controversy.

I realize that I could be accused of not being disinterested in how I’ve translated Kirmmse’s article. So I asked Kirmmse via an email dated 8/22/2012 for the English version of his piece (he didn’t write the article in Danish originally – it was translated by someone else for Weekendavisen).  Kirmmse never replied to my email.  So I emailed him again on 8/29/2012. This time I sent him my version and asked if he had any issues as to its accuracy. Again, he failed to reply. So on September 4, I tried to call him. The only number I had for him was the general number for the History Department at Connecticut College, where he is now emeritus.  The secretary there said she didn’t have a number for him, not even his home number.  She informed me that because he traveled a lot, email was the best way to contact him and reassured me that the email address I had for him was correct and that he was good about responding to email.   Apparently, he doesn’t want to respond.  In any event, I’m confident that I’ve translated this piece accurately.  

M.G. Piety’s Shame

by Bruce Kirmmse

Peter Tudvad expresses surprise, in an article entitled, “SAK Redux” that I, despite my generally positive review of his Kierkegaards København (Books, 2 September 2005) have also been critical of his work. I won’t repeat my review here, but merely point out that anyone who read my article in this paper as well as my longer review in Kierkegaardina 23 (Copenhagen, 2004), will quickly see that in both cases I expressed both genuine praise and serious criticism.

My praise concerns Tudvad’s industry and rigor with respect to uncovering some concrete details that were unknown to earlier scholars. My criticisms were directed at his methodology. His belief in 19th century positivism causes him to believe that one can “discover” the historical truth, and that this exists eternally uninfluenced by “interpretation.” As an historical scholar, I find Tudvad’s methodological assumptions untenable and unsuited to both historical scholarship in general as well as to its sub discipline of biography in particular. Tudvad’s unreflective positivism has, to put it bluntly, caused him to make a category mistake, with the result that he misunderstands the character of biography and it was on the basis of this misconception of the work of biographical authors that he initiated his attack on Garff’s biography of Kierkegaard.

A result of this category mistake was that Tudvad was not entirely clear about what he was doing when he initiated his attack on Garff’s biography. The same, unfortunately, cannot be said about Marilyn Piety, who decided over the course of the summer to resurrect Tudvad’s year-old attack. Piety knows exactly what she’s doing. She’s an assistant professor of philosophy at a technically oriented educational institution in Philadelphia, has a good knowledge of Danish and had published some articles on Kierkegaard. Her real specialty, however, is the writing of polemical exposés of what she believes is “nepotism” and “corruption” in the academic world, in particular in connection with Danish universities.

It’s clear from her article in The Philosophers’ Magazine (nr. 31, 2005) as well as from her subsequent pieces in the Danish press and her contributions to the public debate on the internet, that she doesn’t have anything new to say. It’s clear that when she ventures out on thin moral ice with, for example, her repetition of Tudvad’s claim of academic misconduct or plagiarism, she attempts to protect herself by asserting that the accusation of academic misconduct “was not my accusation,” that she is “only repeating” Tudvad’s accusations. This morally questionable mode of attack makes it possible for her to do damage while at the same time distancing herself from it. It is worth noting that she earlier conducted herself in precisely the same manner.

In the beginning of the 1990s, when Marilyn Piety lived in Copenhagen and was working on her dissertation at the University of Copenhagen, the rector of the university, the neurologist Kjeld Møllgård, was accused of scientific misconduct in connection with a twenty-year old study. The charge was taken seriously and brought before the Board of Ethics (etisk råd) the body that has jurisdiction over such cases in the Danish academic world. They transferred the case to the Committee on Scientific Misconduct [Udvalget Vedrørende Videnskabelig Uredelighed] who thoroughly investigated it and concluded that all charges against Møllgård proved “groundless.”

Even though Piety lived in Copenhagen in 1994 and thus must have been aware of all the facts surrounding the case–i.e., both the charges against Møllgård and the fact that Denmark’s highest authority for academic ethics had found all the charges “groundless”–she nevertheless publicized them in a full-page article in 1997 (15 August 1997) entitled “Nordic nadir for nepotism” in the Times Higher Education Supplement. She mentioned the charges against Møllgård to support her own charge of pervasive corruption in the Danish academic world, but failed to mention that he had earlier been cleared of all charges. She formulated, in fact, her presentation of the case in such a way that the reader got the impression that the question of Møllgård’s guilt was still an open one. Piety’s behavior in this case was so extreme that the Committee on Scientific Misconduct wrote to the  Times and demanded they print a retraction which was then printed in the paper on the 17th of October 1997.

So far as anyone knows, Piety has never herself issued a retraction or made any public apology for having spread false accusations of scientific misconduct on the part of Rector Møllgård, even though she knew he had been cleared of these charges three years earlier. And even though the charges of academic misconduct that have been advanced against Garff have never reached the stage of a formal investigation (there was no reason for such an investigation), two prominent Danish academics, Thomas Bredsdorff and the director of the Center for Søren Kierkegaard Research, Niels Jørgen Cappelørn, investigated Garff’s work in the ligt of Tudvad’s charges and declared publicly that the charges were groundless.

Garff has, in addition, publicly reacted to some of Tudvad’s criticisms, refuted some and promised to take others into account, particularly those concerning concrete historical facts, when the book appears in a new edition. Piety must have known about Garff’s public reaction (both his disagreement with elements of Tudvad’s critique and his willingness to correct some of the errors in a new edition of the work), and she undoubtedly was aware of Professor Bredsdorff’s and Centerleader Cappelørn’s public refutation of Tudvad’s complaint [of academic misconduct]–just as she knew when she wrote her article in 1997 that Møllgård had been cleared of all charges in 1994.

But just as she failed to issue either a public retraction or an apology for her backstabbing of Møllgård in 1997, so is it unlikely that she will do so in connection with her backstabbing of Garff in 2005. As she puts it herself “they are not my accusations,” “I’m merely restating” what others have said. This is a clear pattern in Piety’s behavior. Her method of backstabbing others through insinuation is morally condemnable and should not be taken seriously. Has she no shame at all?

After having unapologetically smeared Møllgård eight years ago by simply “repeating” charges made against him by others, she is now attempting to do the same thing to Garff in an effort to support her claim that there is “something rotten in Denmark” especially in the Danish academic world. Danes have long been sensitive to these words of Shakespeare’s and this is perhaps the reason that the Danish media were willing to publicize Piety’s views without checking her sources. The best way to react to such behavior is perhaps to answer with another quotation from Shakespeare: “Oh shame, where is thy blush” [Hamlet, III iv].

Some additional points:

–At the end of his article, Kirmmse argues that the entire Danish media somehow failed to spot my alleged errors. They didn’t spot them, I submit, because there weren’t any as the Danish media well knew because they had been covering the controversy over the biography for approximately a year by the time my first piece on it appeared.

–Kirmmse never disputes the correctness of any of the points I made in the material I published on Garff’s biography of Kierkegaard. It’s curious as well, that he attempted to discredit my efforts to inform readers of the problems with the English translation of the  book by charging that my points were not “new.” As I explained above, I decided to “resurrect Tudvad’s year-old attack” when the English translation of Garff’s book came out a year after the original Danish edition and I discovered that the problems Tudvad had identified in that edition were in the English edition as well. Kirmmse’s charge that my claims were not “new” was simply an attempt to deflect attention from that fact by invoking a well-known and widely discredited rhetorical technique frequently invoked by the public relations industry and discussed, for example, in Rampton and Stauber’s excellent Trust Us, We’re Experts (pp. 68-69). It is never an indictment of a claim, or argument, to point out that it is not “new.” Many excellent arguments (e.g., those in favor of freedom of expression and equal protection under the law) are not new, but they are excellent arguments nonetheless and bear repeating despite their lack of novelty.

–Kirmmse criticizes me for my pointing out that the charges against Garff’s book were Tudvad’s, not mine. It would have been inaccurate, however, if I had said they were mine. In fact, it would have been plagiarism if I’d repeated Tudvad’s points in print claiming that they were my own. Far from being “morally questionable,” as Kirmmse charges, my identification of the points as having come from Tudvad was morally obligatory. Tudvad was the one who deserved credit for identifying the problems with Garff’s book and I endeavored to be conscientious in making that clear.

–Kirmmse is correct when he claims that I never issued “either a public retraction or an apology” for my purported “backstabbing” of Møllgård in my 1997 article. The Times pressured me repeatedly to do this, but I stood my ground. I wasn’t mistaken in my presentation of the Møllgård case and I wasn’t sorry I had presented it.

–As for checking facts, neither Kirmmse nor Weekendavisen can have checked the facts in the Møllgård case, because if they had, they’d have discovered that the charges of scientific misconduct had been brought against Møllgård, not twenty years after the fact as Kirmmse suggests, but while Møllgård was working as a post doc at the University of California at Berkeley. The investigation had been inconclusive.

–Yes, the Danish Committee on Scientific Misconduct “cleared” Møllgård of all charges relating to the case. I didn’t know about this, however, because it was not widely publicized. Had it been, someone might well have pointed out that a Danish committee did not have the authority to clear someone of charges that had been brought by a U.S. committee.

–It’s unlikely Kirmmse even read my article “Nordic nadir for nepotism.” If he’d had he’d have seen that it was not an attack on Møllgård. Møllgård receives only passing mention in the piece. The subject of the article was, as the title indicates, nepotism in higher education in Denmark, and the point of the mention of Møllgård was that it would be difficult for him to do anything about this problem because an unresolved case of purported scientific misconduct in his past would make him vulnerable to blackmail. In fact, the reason I was aware of the case, which was twenty years old, as Kirmmse rightly pointed out, by the time it made the Danish newspapers, is that someone had apparently dredged it up in an effort to sabotage Møllgård’s candidacy for the position of rector of Copenhagen University. Hence my speculation that the scientific misconduct case would make it difficult for Møllgård to take a hard line on corruption within the university, was well supported.

–Compare the tone of my article “Nordic nadir for nepotism” to the tone of Kirmmse’s “M.G. Piety’s Shame” and ask yourselves which article is more properly described as a piece of character assassination. Kirmmse so misrepresented the content of my article that either he condemned me for writing an article that he had not in fact read and in this way violated academic and scholarly ethics, or he had read the article but deliberately misrepresented its content and in this way violated pretty much every code of ethics.

So anyway, there you have it. Not Kirmmse’s most distinguished work, but perhaps more relevant than some of his other pieces to the issue of whether he’s an appropriate keynote speaker for an international conference on the centennial of Kierkegaard’s birth. It’s a shame the library didn’t pick someone more appropriate, someone such Edward Mooney, the current president of the Søren Kierkegaard Society, or Robert Perkins or Sylvia Walsh Perkins, both of whom have devoted their lives to Kierkegaard scholarship and produced outstanding work, or C. Stephen Evans who’s work on Kierkegaard is unsurpassed, or Alastair Hannay whose Kierkegaard translations for Penguin are some of the best that have ever been done, or, finally, Peter Tudvad, who in a very Kierkegaardian way, has endured a great deal of personal abuse and repeated ad hominem attacks in the service of the truth.

Kirmmse’s Cover-Up

In Conference news, Publishing News on August 23, 2012 at 10:53 am

This article originally appeared in October 8-10, 2005 weekend edition the online political journal Counterpunch under the title “Rot in the Ivory Tower.” In view of the fact, however, that Bruce Kirmmse has been chosen as the keynote speaker for the Seventh International Kierkegaard Conference that will be sponsored by the Hong Kierkegaard Library at St. Olaf College this June, I thought readers of this blog might like to know a little more about him.

Rot in the Ivory Tower

Bruce Kirmmse, the translator of the English edition of Joakim Garff’s once famous, now infamous book, Søren Kierkegaard: A Biography (Princeton 2005) reached back eight years to draw into the debate concerning the problems with the book an entirely unrelated article and misrepresented the content of that article in order to assassinate the character of one of the book’s critics? (“M.G. Piety’s skam” [M.G. Piety’s shame], Weekendavisen 23-29 Sept. 2005 [scroll to the bottom). Kirmmse argues that an article I published in The Times Higher Education Supplement in 1997 was nothing more than an attempt to smear the rector of the University of Copenhagen, Kjeld Møllgård, through the mention that he had been involved in a scientific misconduct case when he had been a post doc at the University of California at Berkeley. Kirmmse asserted that Møllgård had been cleared of charges of misconduct by a Danish committee. He did not explain, however, that the charges had been brought against Møllgård by an American committee and that a Danish committee thus had no authority to clear Møllgård of them.

I was careful in my article to point out that whether Møllgaaard was guilty or innocent was irrelevant to my point.  I wrote: “Whether or not Professor Møllgaard was guilty of scientific misconduct in 1971, a natural reluctance to have the issue paraded through the press could make him vulnerable to pressure from those academics against whom similar charges have been made” (“Nordi nadir for nepotism,” The Times Higher Education Supplement, August 15, 1997, page 14).  In addition, Kirmmse misrepresented the point of my article. The article was not about Møllgaard but about issues others, including the Danes Maj Cecilie Nielsen and Niels Chr. Nielsen, had raised concerning problems with higher education and scholarship in Denmark.

Why would Kirmmse want to resurrect the Møllgård controversy? Could it be he is trying to destroy the credibility of the one person who might expose that he was complicit in Garff’s plagiarism to the extent that he should have recognized when Garff had copied material from a book that he, Kirmmse, had earlier translated into English. Could it be that he fears I might even be able to produce evidence that would raise suspicions that he made a systematic attempt, when he translated Garff’s book to obscure the extent to which Garff had appropriated text from other authors?

The biography was praised by reviewers on both sides of the Atlantic. It was awarded the prestigious Georg Brandes Prize and the Danish newspaper Weekendavisen’s Literary Prize. John Updike described the 813 page English translation as “monumental” (“Incommensurability: A New Biography of Kierkegard,” New Yorker, 28 March 2005), and other reviewers described it as “magisterial” (Publishers Weekly, 20 Dec. 2004), “superb” (The Wall Street Journal, 3 Feb. 2005), “masterful” (Times Literary Supplement, 28 January 2005) and “brilliant” (The Washington Post, May 29, 2005).

Garff may indeed be brilliant. He weaves together the facts he presents in an enormously entertaining and original way. Unfortunately, Garff’s originality isn’t restricted to his theses, but extends, according to another Danish Kierkegaard scholar, Peter Tudvad, to some of his “facts.” Not only that, Garff’s originality does not extend to all of his text, some of which Tudvad has shown was actually lifted from earlier biographies of Kierkegaard (“SAK–an unscholarly biography of Søren Kierkegaard”). Tudvad revealed back in 2001 that SAK was riddled with factual errors and that some of the text had been plagiarized from earlier works on Kierkegaard (Jyllands-Posten 16 Aug. 2001 and Universitetsavisen no. 14, 2001), yet the errors and plagiarisms he exposed were never corrected.

One of the works from which Garff frequently copies material is Jørgen Bukdahl’s, Søren Kierkegaard og den menige mand (Munksgaard, 1961). Kirmmse translated this work into English only a few years ago (Soren Kierkegaard and the Common Man, Eerdmans, 2001), yet if one compares Kirmmse’s translations of the passages Garff has copied from Bukdahl with his earlier translations of these same passages, peculiar dissimilarities emerge. Kirmmse routinely elects to change his choice of terms from his earlier translation, as in the cases, for example, of “fængsles” which he translated first as “imprisoned” in Bukdahl and later as “incarcerated” in Garff where Garff copied from Bukdahl (p. 33 in Garff and p. 41 in Bukdahl), “Brødremenighed,” which he translated as “Society of Brothers” in Bukdahl and then as “Congregation of Brethren” in Garff, where Garff copied from Bukdahl (p. 11 in Garff and pp. 31-33 in Bukdahl) and “gudelig vækkelse” which he translated as “religious awakeninigs” in Bukdahl and as “godly awakenings” in Garff where Garff copied from Bukdahl (p. 32 in Garff and p. 20 in Bukdahl).

Kirmmse felt compelled, apparently, to add the adjective “internal” to his translation of Bukdahl’s “sammenholdet” so that the translation reads “internal solidarity” (p. 20), but no longer felt such a compulsion when he translated the same expression simply as “solidarity” in Garff ‘s appropriation of the passage from Bukdahl (p. 32). Kirmmse omitted a phrase, “the so called ‘Gehülfen,’” from his translation of Bukdahl (p. 20), but apparently repented of this omission when he translated Garff’s appropriation of the same passage four years later (p. 32). The effect, of this change of heart is, once again, to obscure to readers of the two translations that Garff has copied directly from Bukdahl.

Translation is, of course, not an exact science. It would be unreasonable to expect a translator to adhere rigidly to what he had at one time preferred to a possible alternative translation. Translators usually endeavor to be consistent, however, in their translation of the names of groups and religious movements. To depart so routinely as Kirmmse does from what only four years ago he thought were the most defensible translations of the phrases and terms in question gives one pause. The concatenation of these examples might even incline the reader to the view that Kirmmse made a deliberately erroneous translation of Garff’s “aften” as “afternoon” [the correct translation would be “evening”] on page 154 in order to obscure the fact that Garff had again copied the passage in question from an earlier work on Kierkegaard, this time from Flemming Chr. Nielsen’s Søren Kierkegaard og Aarhus (1968) which also has “aften.” After all, Kirmmse’s knowledge of Danish is excellent, so it is difficult to find any other explanation for why he would make such an elementary mistake.

There’s another error that is difficult to explain. Garff mistakenly substituted an “r” for an “s” in a passage from Bukdahl. The result is that Garff’s text reads:  “there were rumors that [the social agitator J.C. Lindberg] was to be incarcerated [fængsles] and executed [henrettes] on Christiansø, a notorious prison island” (p 33), whereas it should read, as Kirmmse’s translation of Bukdahl does in fact read, that Lindberg “was to be imprisoned [fængsles] and sent into exile [hensættes] to…Christiansø” (p. 41).

Kirmmse should have caught the mistake. Not only had he translated Bukdahl’s correct characterization of the rumors that circulated about Lindberg, he is an historian who specializes in nineteenth-century Danish history. Kirmmse even discussed Lindberg in own book, Kierkegaard in Golden Age Denmark (Indiana, 1990). It’s possible, of course, that he had simply forgotten what Bukdahl had written. What is harder to understand is that, as an historian, he would have forgotten the facts surrounding the Lindberg case. There is, as I pointed out in an article I published earlier on the controversy a big difference between being exiled and being executed (“Some Reflections on Academic Ethics,” a copy of this article may be downloaded from the list of publications on my website). Could it be that Kirmmmse did recognize the mistake, but failed to correct it out of a fear that the corrected text would be more easily identifiable as having been lifted from Bukdahl?

This question is impossible to answer definitively. I asked a few experienced translators, who are members of the American Translators Association, for their opinion on the significance of the irregularities in Kirmmse’s translations of Garff and Bukdahl. Most said that there were too few examples (I gave them only the three terms: “incarcerated,” “Congregation of Brethren” and “godly awakenings”) to prove Kirmmse had tried to conceal Garff’s plagiarisms. Translators often change how they translate particular terms, they explained, if the new choice can be defended as an improvement on the earlier translation. One translator, Stephen Slater observed, however, that this would not explain the change from “imprisoned” to “incarcerated,” because in this case, “there is minimal to no semantic difference.” Several remarked that “godly awakenings” was clearly inferior to “religious awakenings” as it was less idiomatic and relied, as one pointed out, on a “false cognate.” Most also agreed with Slater’s observation that

“[a]s to the change from ‘Society of Brothers’ to ‘Congregation of Brethren,’ it is odd that a translator would alter his previously published translation of a group’s name. Even if it is a clear improvement (in which case it is something of an embarrassment for the translator), it is an irritation for those who read the literature, since there are now two English translations of the group’s name rather than one.”

Whether Kirmmse deliberately tried to conceal Garff’s plagiarisms or not, he had an interest in doing so. Kirmmse was recently appointed by the Søren Kirkegaard Research Center at the University of Copenhagen, where Garff is also employed, to direct the project of translating Kierkegaard journals and papers into English. That appointment was still pending when he agreed to translate Garff’s book. This fact was enough for several of the translators whose opinions I canvassed to agree with Lawrence Schofer, Ph.D., that there was enough evidence to raise suspicions that Kirmmse might have tried to conceal Garff’s plagiarisms.

The strongest statements, however, came from two translators who approached the issue from a slightly different angle. They focused not on the irregularities across the two translations, but on Kirmmse failure, as Ted Crump put it, “to raise a red flag about the plagiarism…I can recognize translations I did twenty years ago,” Crump continued, “Kirmmse must certainly been aware of this [i.e., the plagiarims] and did not act ethically, in my opinion, especially in light of his vested interest in the appointment.” Ingrid G. Landsford agreed. She observed that,

“[s]ince Bruce Kirmmse did the Bukdahl and Garff translations within four years of one another the plagiarized passages in the more recent source must have seemed familiar to him. As a scholar, he would also have known that Garff had violated scholarly procedure in omitting proper attribution. He then had several choices and did not do what I hope most scholars would have done.”

Readers of the English translation may not care that much of Garff’s text actually originated from the pens of other Danish authors, so long as the information it contains is correct. Unfortunately, much of the information in Garff’s book is not correct. Names are wrong, dates are wrong, all kinds of information that is important to understanding what kind of person Kierkegaard was, such as how much money he gave to charity, how many servants he had, how extensive was his conflict with the newspaper The Corsair, is simply wrong. Garff was forced to admit this when Tudvad came with the relevant documents in 2001 and then again in 2004 after Tudvad discovered yet more damaging material while doing the research for his own critically acclaimed book, Kierkegaards Købebenhavn (Kierkegaard’s Copenhagen) (Politikens Forlag, 2004). Yet Garff failed to make any corrections to the book.

This isn’t the only plagiarism case to make Danish headlines in the last year. Frank Esmann’s biography of Henry Kissinger was exposed in October of 2004 in the newspaper Berlingske Tidende as substantially plagiarized from the American Walter Isaacson’s biography (Simon and Schuster, 1992). Danish scholar Steffen Krogh determined that there were at least 350 passages in Esmann’s book, one more than twenty lines long, that were copied verbatim from Isaacson, yet both the University of Southern Denmark and the University of Copenhagen declined to investigate the issue of whether Esmann’s book constituted plagiarism (“Esmann plagierede 350 gange” [Esmann plagiarized 350 times], Berlingske Tidende 21 July, 2005).

The two cases, taken together, were likened by Dorte Hygum Sørensen, writing in the newspaper Politiken, to “The Tamil Case,” the immigration scandal that toppled the government of Danish prime minister Poul Schlüter back in 1992 (Politikken 21 August 2005). Judging from the number of articles on the subject that appeared in the Danish media, the comparison is an apt one. There were more than fifty articles on the Kierkegaard controversy in the summer of 2004 and at least that many more in the summer of 2005 after Danes got word Garff had failed to correct the text of the English translation of his book.

Kirmmse could be in trouble if the controversy spreads to the U.S. where Garff’s error-ridden and plagiarism-ridden book has done well for its publisher, Princeton. Of course there are few people who would be in a position to expose the respects in which Kirmmse’s translation makes the plagiarized passages harder to identify than they were in the original. I am one of those few. Could Kirmmse have been attempting to destroy my credibility before I could come with the evidence of his complicity in Garff’s crimes?

That question, like so many in this case, is impossible to answer definitively. I am thus going to do for Kirmmse what he did not do for me. That is, I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that all the irregularities and anomalies in his translation of Garff’s book may have innocent explanations.

There is one charge, however, that can unequivocally be made against Kirmmse. Tudvad received an official reprimand from his boss, Niels Jørgen Cappelørn, the director of the Kierkgaard Research Center, for publicly exposing the problems with Garff’s book and was later driven out of his job. Kirmmse  knew that Tudvad’s criticisms of  Garff’s book were well founded and that it was perfectly appropriate of Tudvad to bring this issue before the public, given that Garff had refused to make any of the necessary corrections. Kirmmse knew this and yet he failed, throughout the controversy to come to Tudvad’s defense.

Tudvad is just being nitpicky, was what many Danes initially seemed to think. Danes are pretty tolerant of laxness in scholarly standards. I’m as big a proponent of tolerance as the next person. I draw the line, though, when the career of an innocent person becomes a casualty of the tolerance of incompetence. That line, to offer a variant on the statement of Lessing that Kierkegaard is fond of quoting, is just a little bit too wide for me to be able to make the leap across. Kirmmse could do it though. He sat by silently while Tudvad’s career was sacrificed to preserve Garff’s reputation.

That was just wrong.

(Postscript: A friend and fellow Kierkegaard scholar remarked to me recently that controversy surrounding Garff’s biography of Kierkegard did not seem to have hurt Tudvad’s career after all in that since the controversy, Tudvad has gone on to become one of the most important public intellectuals in Denmark. The latter part of that observation is correct. Tudvad is one of the most important public intellectuals in Denmark. Unfortunately, the life of a public intellectual in Denmark, if he or she does not have a university post, is somewhat precarious. According to the Danish journalist Niels Lillelund, however, Tudvad’s involvement in the Kierkegaard biography controversy, or more correctly, Niels Jørgen Cappelørn’s characterization of Tudvad’s involvement, amounted to “a death sentence in the salons, … so if Tudvad had  counted on making a carrier in the vaulted halls of the academy, he can forever after spare himself the trouble” [“Niels Jørgen Cappelørn og den gode tone” (Niels Jørgen Cappelørn and decorum) Jyllands-Posten 18 August 2005]. And indeed, Tudvad does not have an academic post, in contrast to Garff, who remains a member of the Theology Faculty at the University of Copenhagen.)

Publishing News

In Publishing News, Resources for Kierkegaard Scholarship on July 11, 2012 at 5:52 pm

I have a few miscellaneous bits of publishing news that might be of interest to readers of this blog. First, the URL for my website has changed. It used to have a “www” at the beginning, but it is now simply mgpiety.com. Simpler is better, I think. Unfortunately, the new URL is not the only change to the website. The site used to be hosted on Apple’s Mobile Me, but when Mobile Me closed down at the end of June, I had to move it to another host and the move resulted not only in the name change, but in the loss of several features of the site, such as the one that allowed people to post comments to the entries on my blog Reading Notes. There were quite a few comments, but they were all lost and it appears there’s no way to get them back. My plan is to create an entirely new website. I will probably move it to WordPress, the host of this blog. WordPress is fantastic.

I made another discovery relating to Ferrall and Repp’s excellent Danish-English dictionary from 1845. Not only is it available as an ebook that can be downloaded for free from Google Books, it is now available in actual physical book form. That is, it can be printed on demand for $28.69! Here is a link to the page on Amazon with the details.

Finally, I received and email recently from a journalist at Jyllands-Posten in Denmark. He said they were doing a series on important books published in the last 50 years and planned to include a piece on Garff’s biography of Kierkegaard. He said he’d noticed that I was writing a book on the biography and asked me how I saw the issue today, “almost ten years later.” He said the whole controversy had been largely forgotten in Denmark.

I responded that that was, unfortunately, what I had feared would happen and precisely why I was doing a book on the controversy. Everyone involved tried to cover the thing up. The Danish publisher GAD issued a corrected paperback edition of the book without indicating anywhere that it was a corrected edition. It has the same copyright date as the original uncorrected edition. This information was in the newspapers, of course, in fact Garff was effectively forced to promise in print to produce such a corrected edition, but who is going to read eight-year old newspaper articles, let alone ten or twenty-year old newspapers articles.

The situation is even worse with the English translation of the book. When I wrote to Peter Dougherty, the head of Princeton University Press, to inquire whether the new English paperback edition incorporated the corrections that had been made to the Danish paperback edition, he said he didn’t know what had been done to the Danish edition, but that the new English paperback incorporated 52 pages of corrections. Fifty-two pages–that’s a lot. We’re not talking typos here. We’re talking 52 pages of corrections of factual errors. Just as was the case with the Danish edition, however, there is nothing to alert readers to the fact that the English paperback is a new edition. It too has the same copyright date as the original uncorrected English edition. But where many Danes still remember the controversy, most readers of the English edition don’t know anything about it because the only piece that appeared on it in what could generously be called the popular media in the U.S. was a whitewash in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

The controversy over Garff’s biography of Kierkegaard was not merely an indictment of scholarly publishing, it was a particularly ugly chapter of intellectual history more generally. It’s one we can all learn a great deal from though–if we don’t forget it.

Attacking the Essence of Scholarship

In Publishing News on February 13, 2012 at 5:29 pm

Work is progressing well on my book Fear and Dissembling on the controversy surrounding Joakim Garff’s biography of Kierkegaard. I became interested in the controversy not, as some appear to believe, because I had anything personal against Garff, but because I had, and continue to have, a strong objection to people being punished for being good at their jobs, as happened to Peter Tudvad when he was officially censured by Niels Jørgen Cappelørn, the then director of the Kierkegaard Research Center in Copenhagen, for daring to go public with his criticisms of Garff’s book.

Open and honest debate is the lifeblood of scholarship and should, I believe, be defended at all costs. This is an issue of increasing concern because the private funding of work in the sciences has led to the suppression of much research with devastating results for the public welfare.  I thought I’d provide you with another sample of the material that will be in the book that is relevant to this timely issue and that is of interest not merely to Kierkegaard scholars, but to the general public. What follows is an article by Professor Frands Mortensen of Aarhus University that appeared in the newspaper Information in August of 2004, before the English translation of Garff’s book had appeared.


Cappelørn Should Resign

From Information: “Debate 8/4/04”

The summer brought us an interesting debate in the newspapers, namely the one surrounding the scholarly merit of the prize-winning biography SAK by Joakim Garff. Peter Tudvad’s comprehensive contribution identified a number of errors in the work and cast doubt on the reliability of much of the information it contains. He did this in Kierkegaardian polemical style so that both the content and the form of his criticisms aroused attention.

What was most interesting, however, was not the conduct of Garff and Tudvad, but of the Niels Jørgen Cappelørn, the director of the Søren Kierkegaard Research Center in Copenhagen where the two scholars are employed. He stated in Jyllands-Posten on July 29th that “I firmly believe that one should refrain from openly attacking a colleague, and Peter Tudvad did not, so far as I am aware, inform Garff of his decision [to go public with his criticisms of the book]. It was wrong of Garff not to correct the errors, but also wrong for Tudvad to point them out in the media.”

Here we have a director and head of scholarship of a publicly-funded research center who believes that scholars should not attack one another publicly because they are employed by the same institution, and that they should not publicly expose one another’s errors, but should do this only behind closed doors without the knowledge of the public?

That is quite simply outrageous and profoundly unacceptable. Cappelørn attacks the very essence of all scholarship–namely the public and open discussion of research. It’s possible that, because of the economic significance of research in the private sector, the attitude there is that it is best to correct errors away from the view of the public. For publicly-funded research, however, it is a mortal sin to conceal the fact that material that was published earlier (including in biographies) contains errors.

I cannot know, of course, how committed Cappelørn is to the view that scholars should not publicly criticize their colleagues. He maintains that he was not misquoted in Jyllands-Posten, yet he asserts in Information (July 29) that he is pleased to see scholarly disputes conducted in public and that the exposure of the errors in Garff’s book ought to lead scholars to view claims made in the work about Kierkegaard more skeptically.

What should thus be done about Cappelørn? If he is as good as his word, and encourages more public discussion [among the scholars at the center], then perhaps he ought to be allowed to remain as the director of the Søren Kierkegaard Research Center. He ought properly, however, to resign his position as director. The trustees of the center ought, at the very least, to place him under stricter supervision, as is common in such cases in theological circles.

Those of us who are employed by publicly-funded research centers, ought to think long and hard about whether this is a sign of what we can expect when the new ordinances governing higher education in Denmark are completed and new directors of research centers are appointed.

Frands Mortensen


Aarhus Universi

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.

News and Forthcoming Posts…

In Kierkegaard and the Jews, Publishing News, Repetition and Philosophical Crumbs, Resources for Kierkegaard Scholarship on December 2, 2011 at 2:45 pm

This week was the last week of our fall term here at Drexel, so things have been pretty hectic. I’ve got some news though and several forthcoming posts I thought I ought to let you know about. First the news. Repetition and Philosophical Crumbs (Oxford, 2009) is now available in a Kindle edition. I wrote in an earlier post that it was available in an electronic edition, but the Kindle edition is superior to that earlier electronic edition.

I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m a big fan of Kindle, and of electronic books in general. I’ve just discovered iBooks and although I’m not as big a fan of iBooks as of Kindle books, I do like how the pages turn in iBooks and that I can read books on my iPod Touch (you can do that with Kindle books too, I just haven’t tried it yet). The wonderful thing about electronic books is that they’re cheap, they take up no space, and they are a huge boon to scholarship in that they are searchable, and copying and pasting chunks of text into notes or scholarly articles really speeds up both research and writing.

I’m excited to see Crumbs on Kindle because the one thing I did not like about that edition was that it had no index. The Kindle edition makes an index superfluous, though. Why worry about an index when you can search the whole book for any word or phrase you want? The downside of the Kindle edition  is that it doesn’t have the page correlations to the latest Danish edition of Kierkegaard’s collected works, Søren Kierkegaards Skrifter, the way the paperback does, so if you plan to do serious scholarly work on either Repetition or Crumbs you will probably want to have both the paperback and the Kindle edition.

The Princeton editions of these works are not yet available in electronic format, so not only does the Oxford edition give you a better translation, it gives you one that is much more suited to scholarly work. If you have any doubts about the relative quality of the Oxford vs. Princeton translations, you can check out an excerpt of the former on The Smart Set website, or just download a sample onto your Kindle (you do have a Kindle, don’t you?).

Now for the forthcoming posts. I’ve been wanting to do a post on Joakim Garff’s talk at the AAR meeting in San Francisco two weeks ago. He made some good points that deserved a wider audience.  Garff graciously sent me a copy of the talk, so I’m going to do a post soon that will summarize and comment on it.

I also plan to do a post that will consist of an excerpt from the preface of Peter Tudvad’s book Stadier paa antisemitismens vej: Søren Kierkegaard og jøderne (stages on the way of anti-Semitism: Søren Kierkegaard and the Jews) (Rosinante, 2010). I translated the preface into English for a talk I gave for the Judaic Studies Program here at Drexel. The talk was very well received and made me think that other people might like to check out the preface as well.

Finally, I ran across a review of Ways of Knowing: Kierkegaard’s Pluralist Epistemology (Baylor, 2010) in The Review of Metaphysics, so I plan to do a post that will summarize the review and provide some comments on it.

So there’s lots of good stuff coming soon!

Conference Report

In Resources for Kierkegaard Scholarship, Uncategorized on November 25, 2011 at 11:20 am

AAR Book Exhibit

The annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion is the single most important conference for Kierkegaard scholars. There are normally several sessions devoted exclusively to Kierkegaard, but this year there were an unprecedented five. The first was on Saturday  morning. It was co-sponsored by the Christian Systematic Theology Section and the Kierkegaard, Religion and Culture Group. The theme was Christology and Kierkegaard and the session was presided over by C. Stephen Evans of Baylor University. The second was later the same day. The theme of this second session was the work of Edward Mooney. This, for me, was a particularly interesting session because Mooney is as much a poet as a scholar and this was brought out well by the speakers. The third session was late in the afternoon on Saturday (yes, that’s right, there were three sessions devoted to Kierkegaard on Saturday). The theme of this session was esthetics and the speakers included Joakim Garff, the author of Søren Kierkegaard: A Biography (Princeton, 2005) about which I’ve written.

I’m afraid I missed the session on Sunday morning that was devoted to Kierkegaard and Hermeneutics. I’d like to have gotten to that session, if only to see one of my favorite Kierkegaard scholars, Tim Polk of Hameline, who was the session chair. My own paper was scheduled for the same afternoon, however, as part of a session devoted to Kierkegaard’s epistemology, so I spent the morning making the final edits. I made an important discovery at this AAR. If you read your paper directly from your computer, you can keep making edits right up until that last minute!

My paper was well received, though there were few questions. My guess is that this was because it addressed two subjects with which most scholars are not heavily engaged: Kierkegaard’s epistemology and patristics. Mine was also the first paper and people kept streaming in as I was reading. This was distracting, I’m sure, to the people who were already seated and, of course, the people who came late would not have heard the entire paper (the upside of this was that there was standing room only at the beginning of the session).  I met several patristics scholars, including Nathan Jacobs of Trinity International University, who came up to me afterward and told me they had enjoyed the paper and that they felt that there was a very strong relation between Kierkegaard’s thought to that of the Church Fathers. My brief exposure to this area of research supports this view. I plan to do a lot more work on this issue in the future and am grateful for the contacts I made in San Francisco.

One of the highlights for the conference to me was the number of sessions devoted to sex. There were at least a dozen such sections, including a joint session of the Evangelical Theology Group and the Religion and Sexuality Group, the theme of which was “Contemporary Evangelical Sexualities.” This session included a paper that, to my mind, had the best title of any paper at the conference: Erin Default-Hunter’s “Porn Again: What Pornography Can Teach Christians about Good Sex.” I don’t want to give the impression that I’m obsessed with sex or anything. I just think its nice to have such a clear demonstration that religious conviction is not, as is so commonly believed, inversely proportional to a healthy interest in sex. Sex is a gift from God. So I say go for it, you randy religion scholars!