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Kierkegaard’s Copenhagen

Kierkegaards København

I wrote earlier that hitherto unknown caricatures of Kierkegaard had been found a few years ago in a publication called Folkets Nisse (the people’s elf) (see “Newly Discovered Caricatures of Kierkegaard,” post from 1/31/11). Well, those aren’t the only hitherto unknown caricatures of Kierkegaard to have been discovered recently. Peter Tudvad discovered some in the satirical newspaper Corsaren (the corsair).

Yes, we’ve known Kierkegaard was caricatured in the pages of Corsaren, but it had been assumed the caricatures appeared only in 1846. Tudvad discovered, however, that Corsaren continued to publish caricatures of Kierkegaard after 1846 and, in fact, right up until his death in 1855. That is just one of what the then director of the Søren Kierkegaard Research Center in Copenhagen, Niels Jørgen Cappelørn, called the “monumental” discoveries Tudvad published in his best-selling book Kierkegaards København (Kierkegaard’s Copenhagen) (Politiken, 2004). Tudvad’s discoveries, asserted Cappleørn, “cast an entirely new light on Kierkegaard’s character.”

“One of the myths among Kierkegaard scholars,” explained Cappelørn in an article in the Danish newspaper Information, “is that Kierkegaard kept monotonously repeating the same criticism against Corsaren for its lampooning of him long after the practice had stopped. People had seen this as a sign of Kierkegaard’s hypersensitivity, as evidence that he was so sensitive that he simply couldn’t forget this brief attack. Now we have to rethink this conception of him.”

How is it that scholars failed to look at any of the issues of Corsaren after 1846? It would appear, explains Cappelørn, that what we have here is a phenomenon “we are familiar with from other areas of scholarship. One reads the secondary literature and simply repeats what earlier scholars have said without going to the original sources.”

That caricatures of Kierkegaard continued to appear in Corsaren long after scholars had earlier assumed they had stopped, is not the only revelation in Tudvad’s book. Kierkegaards København is full of important revelations. Unfortunately, it is also full of beautiful color illustrations so, although I’ve tried to get an English-language publisher interested in issuing it in translation, I have not yet had any luck with that project. I’m afraid that for now, anyway, you are going to have to make do with the Danish edition. I can’t say I feel very sorry for you though. It is an absolutely gorgeous book! Check it out.

Tudvad Interview (Part 2)

Piety: Your new book, Stadier på Antisemitismens vej: Søren Kierkegaard og Jøderne is not simply about Kierkegaard. It’s a comprehensive look at attitudes toward Jews and Judaisim in 19th-Century Denmark. Are there other books that do this, or is yours the first?

Tudvad: As I far as I know, this is the first comprehensive look at the way people – theologians, philosophers, politicians, publishers, authors, etc. – described the Jews in the so-called Golden Age in Denmark (i.e., Danish romanticism). Of course you may find quite a few articles about aspects of this topic, e.g. the “eternal” or “wandering Jew” as a literary figure, but I’m quite sure that until now nobody tried to see all of it as parts of one single question, the Jewish question (even though it was seldom addressed in exactly this way, there certainly was a continuous discussion in Denmark of the Jews and their position in the Danish society, in particular in relation to the church and Christianity as the dominant religion).

I try, in my book, to trace the sources of the question in order to identify possible agendas which might reveal things like that, for example, a political discussion, underneath the surface, is in fact a cultural or theological one. The best work on some of these matters is no doubt professor Martin Schwarz Lausten’s thorough study of the relation between the Christians and Jews in Denmark from 1814 to 1849, i.e. from the formal equation of Christians and Jews in civic matters until Jews were accorded full civil rights in the first free constitution. I rely naturally very much on this excellent work.

Piety: Reviews, or at least articles about the book began to appear before the book did itself. How did people get word of the book’s appearance? Did the publisher send out review copies in advance of the book’s release?

Tudvad: As I just told you, a newspaper published an interview with me about the book about three weeks before the book appeared. Shortly after that, a PDF file of the book was sent to the major newspapers and handed over to the reviewers. We had some troubles with the printing of the book, thus a copy of the book itself was not posted until about a week before the publication on Nov 9. The reviewers naturally did not interfere in the row, which would have discredited them as reviewers. Nobody among the many persons who spoke out on the case had had the opportunity to read the book, except one who – if I am not wrong – all of a sudden stopped commentating on it, after he had received it, Niels Jørgen Cappelørn. I made the publisher send him a copy in advance although he was naturally not supposed to review it. I just thought that he might change his mind if he took a close look at the book, i.e. return to his original point of view.

Piety: Do you think Kierkegaard was anti-Semitic? If so, in what sense?

Tudvad: Yes, I do. Sure he was not a kind of anti-Semite as the Nazis. He hated any kind of collectivism, and he would certainly not have participated in the pogrom in 1938. Nevertheless, I published my book on November 9, i.e. on the anniversary of the Kristallnacht in 1938, but my point was, that anti-Semitism and pogroms are not exclusively a German phenomenon. We had one, a pogrom, in Denmark in 1819 too, which was so severe that the king had to declare Copenhagen, his capital, in a state of emergency. The city was under a curfew for several weeks, and the military patrolled the streets of Copenhagen. Nobody was killed, thanks to the king and the military, but many Jews were injured, their houses vandalized, and a lot of rioters sentenced to prison. Before the pogrom in 1819 we had experienced a long period of literary attacks on the Jews, something which, so to speak, fertilized the ground for the physical attacks. My point is, that Danes are not less disposed to anti-Semitism than Germans, Poles, Russians or any other peoples, and that words are not harmless. So, Kierkegaard’s words are not harmless either. Some Danish Nazis actually referred to him in 1940 as their ally against the Jews.

(I will post the rest of my interview with Tudvad on Friday.)

 

 

Interview with Peter Tudvad

As I mentioned last week, Peter Tudvad was in New York recently doing research for his forthcoming book on Bonhoeffer. He graciously consented to be interviewed about the controversy surrounding his new book on Kierkegaard and anti-Semitism. The first part of that interview is below. I will post the second part next week.

Piety: Not much is known in the English-speaking world about the controversy over your new book. Can you give a brief summary of it?

Tudvad: That might be difficult as the row lasted for about two months, and was very intense. A newspaper, Berlingske Tidende, published an interview with me about three weeks before the book was actually published. The reporter was shocked by the quotations I had included in the preface, which I let him see, such as Kierkegaard writing that the Jews were typically usurers and as such bloodthirsty, that they had a penchant for money (due to an abstract character, as Kierkegaard supposes), and that they dominated the Christians. As I told the reporter, Kierkegaard was of the opinion that the Jews would eventually kill the European Christians – something which he wrote in an entry in his diary, but which was omitted from the Hong’s translation, I guess on purpose – and that they had an extraordinary sexual appetite and thus many children. They were, according to Kierkegaard, mundane and had no real spirit, no quest for the eternal bliss.

Never mind, the former head of the Søren Kierkegaard Research Center at the University of Copenhagen, Niels Jørgen Cappelørn, was interviewed too for the very same edition of the newspaper, and he actually agreed with me that what Kierkegaard had said about the Jews was something which we today must term antisemitism. He agreed, too, that the reason that we have seldom discussed this aspect of his theology might be that we were afraid of damaging his image, his reputation, thus losing the prostrate respect many have for one of the few internationally renowned Danish authors. Nevertheless, the day after, in another newspaper, Cappelørn said the opposite. Many other people seemed to be offended by my labelling Kierkegaard as an antisemite and began polemicising against me without ever having read my book. Especially theologians were eager to make the case smaller than I think it is, saying that it was only in entries in Kierkegaard’s private diary that he wrote bad things about the Jews – which, by the way, is not true, even though I don’t see why we should not discuss his “private” antisemitism, when we have discussed so many other “private” aspects of his thoughts. His diaries have always been considered a key to the understanding of his published works, so if one, for example, with the help of his entries can link his antisemitisme with his theology, and vice versa, I think we really ought to discuss the problem seriously

The rest of the interview with Tudvad will appear next week.