Summer at “The Farm”

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Nigerian Kierkegaard scholar Benneth Anozie, American Kierkegaard scholar Vincent A. McCarthy, and Brian J. Foley, Esq.

Bucks County has got to be one of the most beautiful places in PA, if not in the entire U.S. It has long attracted artists and was the home of the famous Bucks County impressionists. I am very fortunate to have a friend, David Leopold, who owns a large property in Bucks County that was once the home of Bucks County impressionist Ben Solowey. David, who is the archivist for both Al Hirschfeld and David Levine, as well as a freelance curator, is also the director of the Studio of Ben Solowey, a small museum and art gallery that was once Solowey’s studio. I house sit for David for several weeks every summer.

I was house sitting this summer when I received an email from Vincent A. McCarthy. McCarthy had met a Nigerian scholar, Benneth Anozie at a conference at St. Olaf College. Anozie, he explained, was eager to meet me because he was working on a dissertation on Kierkegaard’s epistemology. Would I be around to get together with Anozie, asked McCarthy? When I explained that I was not actually in Philly, but at a farm in Bucks County, McCarthy said that would not be a problem, that he and Anozie could drive up there. I was surprised at first by McCarthy’s willingness to undertake such a long drive for a short meeting. Little did I know that McCarthy is a man of extraordinarily refined tastes. He also has a property in Bucks County. “I need to mow my lawn anyway,” he explained. So I told him to come on up and we would make a day of it.

My husband, Brian, and I gave Benneth and Vincent a champagne tour of the then current exhibition Homage: Ben Solowey’s Art Inspired by his Influences. It was a wonderful visit that included a sumptuous meal with more wine. We didn’t talk too much about Kierkegaard. I did get a few minutes, however, to talk to Anozie about Kierkegaard’s epistemology and we are now connected through Linkedin. I was also very fortunate in that Vincent brought me a copy of his new book Kierkegaard as Psychologist (Northwestern, 2015). I’ve only just started it so I can’t say very much about it yet. I can say, however, that the introduction is one of the best short introductions to Kierkegaard that I have ever read. The book, explains McCarthy

is intended to highlight the incredibly rich and deep psychological dimensions of Kierkegaard’s thought, to offer an appreciation and assessment of it, and to serve somewhat as an introduction and commentary on Kierkegaard’s psychology for general readers with an interest in, but not necessarily in possession of detailed knowledge of Kierkegaard’s corpus and Kierkegaard scholarship as such.

That said, a brief survey of the table of contents, combined with an appreciation of the depth of McCarthy’s understanding of Kierkegaard as exhibited in the introduction suggests that the book will be of enormous help to dedicated Kierkegaard scholars as well. There’s a bizarre lacuna in Kierkegaard scholarship concerning Kierkegaard’s psychology. There’s Kresten Nordentoft’s eponymous book from 1972, Steve Evans’ excellent Søren Kierkegaard’s Christian Psychology: Insight for Counseling and Pastoral Care from 1990, and the essays collected in Kierkegaard’s Truth: The Disclosure of the Self, vol. 5 of a series entitled Psychiatry and the Humanities, from 1981, but that’s not very much given how important human psychology was among Kierkegaard’s interests and how profound are his insights into that psychology.

Kierkegaard’s authorship, asserts McCarthy at the end of the introduction,

stresses what he holds to be a timeless prescription as it engages in a profound analysis of forms of alienation and dis-ease with oneself. The “patients” he selects are modeled on nineteenth-century types, but he quickly penetrates beneath the nineteenth-century surface to reveal souls whose restlessness and discontent Augustine in the fourth century and we in the twenty-first have little trouble recognizing. And it is because of his penetration to a problem that transcends but is not unconnected with any particular age and society that Kierkegaard can seem very modern indeed, that he can sometimes seem a contemporary of Freud and Maslow and not just Brahms and Liszt.

I could not have said it better myself. I can’t wait to read more of this book. I’ll present more thoughts on it in later posts.

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McCarthy and Anozie with a self-portrait of Solowey behind Anozie

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!