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The Curse!

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.

Something on Privatdocenten

I read a very interesting article in today’s Inside Higher Education. It was about how scholars of English literature should be more entrepreneurial. I don’t mean to suggest that this would be of particular interest to readers of this blog. What I think might interest readers is the beginning of the article because it talks about the institution of the Privatdozent in Germany. We don’t have anything that corresponds to Privatdozenten in the U.S. and this has been a source of some confusion for both translators of Kierkegaard and Kierkegaard scholars more generally. Kierkegaard tends to speak scornfully of Privatdocenten, but few people understand why because few people really understand what a Privatdozent is. The beginning of the article, entitled “English Prof as Entrepreneur,” by Richard Utz, will help readers understand why Kierkegaard heaps such scorn on Privatdozenten.

In 1892, the president of Leland Stanford University, David Starr Jordan, managed to convince Ewald Flügel, a scholar at the University of Leipzig, to join the young institution’s rudimentary English department. Flügel had received his doctoral degree in 1885 with a study of Thomas Carlyle under the aegis of Richard Wülcker, one of the founders of English studies in Europe. Three years later, he finished his postdoctoral degree, with a study on Sir Philip Sydney, and was appointed to the position of a Privatdozent at Leipzig.

The position of the Privatdozent is one of the most fascinating features at the modern German universities in the late 19th century. Although endowed with the right to direct dissertations and teach graduate seminars, the position most often offered only the smallest of base salaries, leaving the scholar to earn the rest of his keep by students who paid him directly for enrolling in his seminars and lectures. In a 1903 Stanford commencement speech Flügel warmly recommended that his new colleagues in American higher education embrace the Privatdozent concept:

What would the faculty of Stanford University say to a young scholar of decided ability, who, one or two years after his doctorate (taken with distinction), having given proof of high scholarly work and spirit, should ask the privilege of using a certain lecture room at a certain hour for a certain course of lectures? What would Stanford University say, if – after another year or two this young man, unprotected but regarded with a certain degree of kindly benevolence […], this lecturer should attract more and more students (not credit hunters), if he should become an influence at the university? What if the university should become in the course of years a perfect hive of such bees? […] It would modify our departmental boss-system, our worship of “credits,” and other traits of the secondary schools; it would stimulate scholarly life at the university; it would foster a healthy competition in scholarly work, promote survival of the fittest, and keep older men from rusting.

Unabashedly Darwinian, Flügel was convinced that his own contingent appointment back in Germany had pushed him, and pushed all Privatdozenten, to become competitive, cutting-edge researchers and captivating classroom teachers until one of the coveted state-funded chair positions might become available. He held that the introduction of this specific academic concept was instrumental at furthering the innovative character and international reputation of higher education in Germany. Flügel himself had thrived under the competitive conditions, of course, and his entrepreneurial spirit led him to make a number of auspicious foundational moves: He took on co-editorship of Anglia, today the oldest continually published journal worldwide focusing exclusively on the study of “English.” And he founded Anglia Beiblatt, a review journal that quickly established an international reputation. (Inside Higher Education)

My guess is that Kierkegaard was contemptuous of the competitive self promotion that appears to have been essential to the role of the Privatdozent. Popularity with students, as we all know, is not always an indicator of philosophical profundity.
I’ll be back soon with a post on publishing news. Peter Tudvad has yet another new book coming out soon that will be of great interest to Kierkegaard scholars. I’ll say a little bit about it.
P.S. Forgive the highlighting. I don’t know how it got their or how to remove it. Hopefully, the folks at WordPress will be able to help with that soon.

Merry Christmas!

Ebba and Willie Mørkeberg's Christmas Tree, Frederiksværk, Denmark
Ebba and Willie Mørkeberg’s Christmas Tree, Frederiksværk, Denmark

Merry Christmas Everyone! I have a few Christmas goodies for you. First, I thought you might like to know about a new mystery by the writer Thom Satterlee entitled Stages. The protagonist is an American living in Copenhagen who becomes a suspect in a murder investigation. The action takes place in Copenhagen and includes Kierkegaard scholars among its cast of characters. Satterlee says the novel grew out of his interest in Kierkegaard.

“I began, originally,” Satterlee says, “to write poems about Kierkegaard. But then I got the notion, what if I pretended to be Kierkegaard, as he pretended to be other people? What if I imagined him as a closet poet, secreting away his poems …. [W]hat if a manuscript were discovered close to the time of his 200th birthday (May 5, 2013) …. I wrote the poems, but I became more interested in the story of how they would be received by his fellow Danes, now in the 21st century … In my mind, a mystery began to take shape. The mystery involved the theft of this priceless manuscript and a murder.”

Satterlee coverThe novel is available as an ebook for $2.99! Don’t let the price fool you though. Satterlee is an award-winning poet and literary translator. His bio on Amazon notes that ‘[h]is collection of poems Burning Wyclif was an American Literary Association Notable Book and a Finalist for the L.A. Times Book Award.” His other awards include an American-Scandinavian Foundation Translation Prize and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship.

My advice is to buy The Stages and start reading it today! It’s Christmas after all. You should do something fun!

For more fun, check out Michael McIntyre’s blog Extravagant Creation. WordPress is great about promoting the work of its bloggers. I got an email from WordPress about a month ago informing me that Michael McIntyre had subscribed to my blog. Included in the email was a link to McIntyre’s blog, so I checked it out. I try always to do that, not simply because it seems only right and proper to me that, as a blogger, I should support the work of other bloggers, but also because I’ve found some great stuff that way. There’s some amazing writing coming out of WordPress, both in terms of form and in terms of content.

McIntyre’s blog is a scholar’s dream. There’s lots there that would be of interest to Kierkegaard scholars, including entries on Johann Georg Hamann, N.F.S. Grundtvig, K.E. Løgstrup and Lev Shestov. There’s other great stuff as well, though, including posts on topics of more general appeal such as ethics, theology, and music. Spend a little time today perusing McIntyre’s blog. You won’t regret it!

Finally, I’d like to put in a plug for Peter Tudvad’s book from 2009 Sygeplejerske i Det Tredje Rige: En Danskers Historie (Nurse in the Third Reich: the story of a Dane). The book has nothing directly to do with Kierkegaard, but it is written by one of my favorite Kierkegaard scholars, Peter Tudvad, and the subject is a dear friend and long-time patron of Kierkegaard scholarship Ebba Mørkeberg. Ebba tutored me in German for about five years when I was living in Denmark. She also helped me with the more difficult German material that was included in my dissertation and, later, my book Ways of Knowing, and she expanded my personal library of 19th century Danish literature, philosophy, and theology, through repeated gifts from her own extensive library.

Ebbe Mørkeberg at the launch of Syplejerske i Det Tredje Rige, May 5th 2009

Ebba is a great lady and the story of her experiences in Germany in WWII is riveting.The book, alas, is available only in Danish, but for those of you who are tired of practicing your Danish by reading Kierkegaard, this book would be a welcome change. It will give you insight not merely into the life of it’s subject, but into the Danish psyche and to an important period in Danish history.

Merry Christmas to everyone!