email page print pageAll Topic Reviews
"Are You There Alone?""How Come Boys Get to Keep Their Noses?""My Madness Saved Me"10% Happier365 Days49 Up56 UpA Beautiful MindA Beautiful MindA Beautiful MindA Book of ReasonsA Can of MadnessA Child's Life and Other StoriesA Dangerous LiaisonA Fight to BeA First-Rate MadnessA Good Enough DaughterA Heartbreaking Work of Staggering GeniusA Lethal InheritanceA Lethal InheritanceA Life ShakenA Life Worth LivingA Little PregnantA Message from JakieA Million Little PiecesA Numerate LifeA Pocket History of Sex in the Twentieth CenturyA Slant of SunA Special EducationA Tribe ApartAbout FaceAddicted Like MeADHD & MeAEIOUAgainst Medical AdviceAgents in My BrainAileen - Life and Death of a Serial KillerAlgernon, Charlie and IAll Out!All Seasons PassAll That You Leave BehindAlphavilleAlways Too Much And Never EnoughAlzheimer'sAn Anthropologist on MarsAn EducationAn Unquiet MindAngela's AshesAngelheadAnna Freud: A BiographyAnnie's GhostsAnother Bullshit Night in Suck CityAnthology of a Crazy LadyApples and OrangesApproaching NeverlandAre You There, Vodka? It's Me, ChelseaAs I Live and BreatheAs Nature Made HimAt Home in the Heart of AppalachiaAt the End of WordsAvalancheBad BoyBad GirlBeautiful BodiesBeautiful BoyBeautiful WreckBecause We Are BadBecoming AnnaBecoming MyselfBen Behind His VoicesBequest and BetrayalBereftBertrand RussellBlackoutBlanketsBloodlettingBodies in Motion and at RestBoneBorn on a Blue DayBoyBoy AloneBoyleBrain on FireBreaking ApartBreaking the SilenceBrokenBulimics on BulimiaBuzzCamus and SartreCharles DarwinChasing the HighCheeverCherryCity of OneCluesClumsyComfortComplications Compulsive ActsConfessions of a Cereal EaterConfessions of a Former ChildConfessions of a Grieving ChristianConfessions of the Other MotherConfidingConquering the Beast WithinContesting ChildhoodCrackedCrazyCry Depression, Celebrate RecoveryDamned to EternityDancing at the Shame PromDante's CureDaughter of the Queen of ShebaDavid Sedaris Live at Carnegie HallDays With My FatherDefeating the VoicesDementia Caregivers Share Their StoriesDepression and NarrativeDescartesDetourDevil in the DetailsDiagnosis: SchizophreniaDirty DetailsDirty SecretDivided MindsDivine MadnessDon't Get Too ComfortableDown Came the RainDress Your Family in Corduroy and DenimDrinkingDriving My FatherDrunkardDryEarly Embraces IIIEarly ExposuresEinsteinEinstein and OppenheimerElectroboyElegy for IrisElijah's CupElliott Smith and the Big NothingElsewhereEnough About YouEpilepticEvery Girl Tells a StoryEverything In Its PlaceExamined LivesExiting NirvanaFaces of Huntington'sFamily BoundFast GirlFearless ConfessionsFind MeFinding Iris ChangFirst Person Accounts of Mental Illness and RecoveryFirst Person PluralFixing My GazeFlanneryFolie a DeuxFor the Love of ItFortress of My YouthFrank Ramsey (1903-1930)Franz KafkaFraudFree RefillsFreudFreudFreudFriedrich NietzscheFrom Joy Division to New OrderFumblingFun HomeFuriously HappyGalileo Get Me Out of HereGetting OffGirl in Need of a TourniquetGirl Walking BackwardsGirl, InterruptedGirl, InterruptedGirls on the VergeGoing BlindGoing Through Hell Without Help From AboveGraysonGrowing Up JungGuttedHalf a Brain Is EnoughHardcore from the HeartHead CasesHeal & ForgiveHeal & Forgive IIHeavier than HeavenHeinz KohutHeinz KohutHello from Heaven!Hello to All ThatHer HusbandHer Last DeathHigh PriceHole in My LifeHolidays On IceHolidays on IceHope's BoyHouse of Happy EndingsHouse of Happy EndingsHow I Stayed Alive When My Brain Was Trying to Kill MeHow to Lose Friends & Alienate PeopleHow to Make Love Like a Porn Starhow to stop timeHumeHunger Makes Me a Modern GirlHurry Down SunshineI Am Dynamite!I Am I Am I AmI Feel Bad About My NeckI Never Promised You a Rose GardenI Remain in DarknessI'd Rather Eat ChocolateI'd Rather LaughIf I Die Before I WakeImagining RobertIn Search of FatimaIn the Realms of the UnrealIn the Wake of SuicideInside TherapyInternInvisible No MoreIt Happened to NancyIt Takes a Worried ManJack Cole and Plastic ManJean-Paul SartreJohn Stuart MillJourneys with the Black DogJust CheckingKafkaKantLa SierraLab GirlLast Flight OutLearning to FallLet Me Make It GoodLife As We Know ItLife InterruptedLife ReimaginedLimboLincoln's MelancholyListening in the Silence, Seeing in the DarkLittle PeopleLive For Your Listening PleasureLive Through ThisLiving in the Shadow of the Freud FamilyLiving With SchizophreniaLiving with SchizophreniaLockeLonelyLong ShotLook Me in the EyeLooking for The StrangerLoose GirlLosing Mum and PupLosing My MindLove Is a Mix TapeLove SickLove Times ThreeLove Works Like ThisLove You, Mean ItLuckyLudwig WittgensteinLyingMad HouseMad PrideMadame ProustMadnessMagical ThinkingMalignant SadnessManicMarcel ProustMarcus AureliusMary BarnesMaverick MindMaybe You Should Talk to SomeoneMe Talk Pretty One DayMeaningMelanie KleinMemoirMemoirs of an Addicted BrainMemoirs of My Nervous IllnessMen-ipulationMisconceptionsMiss American PieMockingbird YearsMomma and the Meaning of LifeMommies Who DrinkMonkey MindMore, Now, AgainMortificationMy Age of AnxietyMy Body PoliticMy Brain Tumour AdventuresMy DepressionMy Father's HeartMy First Cousin Once RemovedMy Flesh and BloodMy Horizontal LifeMy Life Among the Serial KillersMy Sister LifeMy Stroke of InsightName All the AnimalsNeural MisfireNever EnoughNietzscheNietzsche: The Man and His PhilosophyNinety DaysNo Apparent DistressNo Hurry to Get HomeNo Impact ManNo More ShavesNo One Cares About Crazy PeopleNolaNotebooks 1951-1959NothingOdd Girl Speaks OutOedipus WreckedOf Spirits & MadnessOn Being RapedOn the Edge of DarknessOn the MoveOne Hour in ParisOne Hundred DaysOphelia SpeaksPagan TimePassing for NormalPeople Who Eat DarknessPerfect ChaosPerfect ExamplePermanent Present TensePersepolisPlanet of the BlindPlaying with FirePlease Don't Kill the FreshmanPoisoned LovePollockPOPismPortraits of Huntington'sPoster ChildProzac DiaryPsychiatrist on the RoadPsychosis in the FamilyPuppy Chow Is Better Than ProzacQuitting the Nairobi TrioRaising BlazeReasons to Stay AliveRebuiltRecovered, Not CuredRelative StrangerRescuing JeffreyRestricted AccessRevengeRewind, Replay, RepeatRichard RortyRiding the Bus With My SisterRobert Lowell, Setting the River on FireRoom For JRosemaryRough MagicRunning After AntelopeRunning with ScissorsRXScattershotSchizophreniaSchopenhauerSecond OpinionsSectionedSeeing EzraSeeing the CrabServing the ServantSet the Boy FreeSex & Single GirlsSex ObjectShakespeareShe Bets Her LifeShe Got Up Off the CouchShut the DoorSickenedSilencing the VoicesSimone de BeauvoirSinging in the FireSkin GameSlackjawSlut!SmashedSome Assembly RequiredSome Kind of GeniusSometimes Amazing Things HappenSometimes Madness Is WisdomSongs from the Black ChairSongs of the Gorilla NationSoren KierkegaardSpeak to MeSpeaking Our Minds: Revised EditionSpecial SiblingsSpentStandbyStick FigureStill LivesStretchSunset StorySurviving OpheliaSwing LowTales from Both Sides of the BrainTales of PsychotherapyTalk to HerTell Me Everything You Don't RememberTellingTelling Tales About DementiaThe Accidental BillionairesThe AddictThe Anatomy of HopeThe Anti-Romantic ChildThe Art of MisdiagnosisThe Bastard on the Couch CDThe BeastThe Bell JarThe Best Seat in the HouseThe Big FixThe Body SilentThe Boy on the Green BicycleThe Boy Who Loved Too MuchThe Boy Who Loved WindowsThe Bright HourThe Buddha & The BorderlineThe Burn JournalsThe Camera My Mother Gave MeThe Cancer Monologue ProjectThe Center Cannot HoldThe Chelsea WhistleThe Churkendoose AnthologyThe Day the Voices StoppedThe Devil WithinThe DisappearanceThe Discomfort ZoneThe Doctor Is InThe Eden ExpressThe Family GeneThe Family SilverThe Farm Colonies: Caring for New York City's Mentally Ill In Long Island's State HospitalsThe Fasting GirlThe First Man-Made ManThe First TimeThe Geography of BlissThe Glass CastleThe Good DoctorsThe Hillside Diary and Other WritingsThe Incantations of Daniel JohnstonThe Infidel and the ProfessorThe Last AsylumThe Last Good FreudianThe Last Time I Wore a DressThe Liars' ClubThe Lives and Loves of Daisy and Violet HiltonThe Lives They Left BehindThe LobotomistThe Long GoodbyeThe Looked After Kid: Memoirs from a Children's HomeThe Loony-Bin TripThe Madness of Our LivesThe Making of a PhilosopherThe Making of Friedrich NietzscheThe Man Who Couldn't EatThe Man Who Shocked the WorldThe Man Who Tasted ShapesThe Marvelous Hairy GirlsThe Maximum Security Book ClubThe Me in the MirrorThe Memory PalaceThe Mercy PapersThe Mistress's DaughterThe Mother of Black HollywoodThe Naked Bird WatcherThe Naked Lady Who Stood on Her HeadThe Neuroscientist Who Lost Her MindThe Night of the GunThe Noonday DemonThe Notebook GirlsThe NursesThe Only Girl in the CarThe Only Girl in the WorldThe Orchid ThiefThe Other HollywoodThe OutsiderThe Philosopher's Autobiography The Philosophical Breakfast ClubThe Philosophical IThe Pits and the PendulumThe Pornographer's GriefThe Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner The Professor and the MadmanThe Psychopath TestThe Quiet RoomThe Quiet RoomThe RecoveringThe Red DevilThe Rescue of Belle and SundanceThe Ride TogetherThe Rules of the TunnelThe Secret of LifeThe Shaking Woman or A History of My NervesThe Shared HeartThe Shiniest JewelThe Siren's DanceThe Statistical Life of MeThe Story of My FatherThe Strange Case of Hellish NellThe Summer of a DormouseThe SurrenderThe Talking CureThe Thought that CountsThe Three of UsThe Undoing ProjectThe Vagina MonologuesThe Velveteen FatherThe Winter of Our DisconnectThe Woman Who Walked into the SeaThe Years of Silence are PastThe Yellow HouseThe Yipping TigerThick As ThievesThinThis Close to HappyThomas S. SzaszTiger, TigerTits, Ass, and Real EstateTo Redeem One Person Is to Redeem the WorldTo Walk on EggshellsTransforming MadnessTrue CompassTruth & BeautyTruth Comes in BlowsTuesdays with MorrieTweakTwitch and ShoutUltimate JudgementUndercurrentsUnholy GhostUnlikelyVoices of AlcoholismVoices Of Alzheimer'sVoices of CaregivingVoices of RecoveryVoluntary MadnessWaiting for DaisyWar FareWashing My Life AwayWastedWaveWe're Going to Need More WineWe're Not MonstersWeather Reports from the Autism FrontWeekends at BellevueWhat Did I Do Last Night?What Goes UpWhat I Learned in Medical SchoolWhat's Normal?When a Crocodile Eats the SunWhen Breath Becomes AirWhen Do I Get My Shoelaces Back?.....When It Gets DarkWhen the Piano StopsWhen You Are Engulfed in FlamesWhere Did It All Go Right?Where is the Mango Princess?Where the Roots Reach for WaterWhile the City SleptWhile They SleptWho Was Jacques Derrida?Why I Left, Why I StayedWhy I'm Like ThisWildWill's ChoiceWinnicottWinnieWish I Could Be ThereWith Their EyesWomen Living with Self-InjuryWomen, Body, IllnessWrestling with the AngelYou All Grow Up and Leave MeYou Must Be DreamingYour Voice in My HeadZeldaZor
"Even though Kierkegaard's journals and published writings seem to tell us almost too much, we have no idea what he was really like" (13). In his carefully crafted and finely written biography of Kierkegaard, Joakim Garff tells a fascinating philosophical story of Kierkegaard's life, a story that is bound to interest and to captivate not only philosophers who have long been attracted to Kierkegaard's thought, but also to anyone who would like to take a look at a great thinker's life.
Kierkegaard's corpus is vast and yet, as Garff says, "we have no idea what he was really like." Indeed, Kierkegaard himself wrote: "after my death, this is my consolation: no one will be able to find in my papers one single bit of information about what has really filled my life" (101). Garff argues that from the moment Kierkegaard started to write he was very careful to come up and to maintain a myth of himself, an interpretation of his own life story (philosophical and social, romantic and familial), a story that he presents to his future biographers and readers, a story in which every thought and every word is masterfully expressed and documented 'just right.' In fact, Garff claims, Kierkegaard was not manipulating his reader; on the contrary -- he himself saw his life as a narrative to be uncovered and told in such a way that it would make certain sense to him as the one who was living this life. That is, looking back at his own past, Kierkegaard was always in the business of recollecting it rather than merely remembering it (97). Garff goes as far as to remark that in this, "deception and self-deception walk faithfully hand in hand" (202). However, the picture of Kierkegaard that Garff paints is quite moving -- Kierkegaard's seriousness with respect to his life projects and to how they were to be taken by his contemporaries and by his successors both inspires and humbles. In this picture, Kierkegaard does not appear to be writing in bad faith; on the contrary -- he comes off as a philosopher who treats philosophizing and reflection upon one's life and work with utmost earnestness.
In view of the fact that Kierkegaard's scholarly work and his journals contain -- among other things -- Kierkegaard's own understanding of his life and, what's more, an already well-edited story, the task of a biographer is a challenging one. Garff's strategy is to look for Kierkegaard's life story (in addition to how it was compiled by Kierkegaard himself) in Kierkegaard's writings. Throughout the monograph, Garff brings to balance three important sources -- Kierkegaard's correspondence, his journals, and his scholarly and popular writing. The interpretation and the comprehension of Kierkegaard's journals and especially his published philosophical works is a daunting task -- Kierkegaard's writing style and philosophical vocabulary add to the complexity of his arguments. Garff skillfully goes through Kierkegaard's corpus and tells a philosophical story of Kierkegaard's intellectual journey in a lively, accessible way. Furthermore, on the assumption that all of Kierkegaard's works are on some level autobiographical, Garff not only traces Kierkegaard's intellectual development but also provides numerous insightful interpretations of Kierkegaard's day-to-day life on the basis of this philosophical analysis.
A peculiar and a welcome feature of Garff's analysis is that it is inevitably multilayered. Anyone who has heard of Kierkegaard is likely to have heard about his complex relationship to his father, about his love-affair with Regine Olsen, and about his late attacks on Christianity and on what he called 'the present age.' What motivated Kierkegaard in his unorthodox relationships, decisions, and views? From Garff's reading of Kierkegaard, we gather that these questions can be engaged on various levels (only some of which were suggested by Kierkegaard himself).
Take, for instance, Kierkegaard's failed marriage to Regine -- why did the two people who were sincerely in love with each other and who (arguably) remained devoted to one another till the end of their lives decide never to be together? Garff offers us an array of answers that range from prudential concerns to inexplicable twists in human psychology, and from deep philosophical reasoning to mere superstition. (i) Kierkegaard might have been afraid that his health condition might affect Regine and their (possible) children. (Garff suggests that Kierkegaard suffered from epilepsy the causes of which were poorly understood at his time. He, therefore, had a reason to suspect that his ailment could affect his family and thus he chose to stay unmarried.) (ii) Kierkegaard might have realized that a marriage would require energy (psychological, intellectual, physical), energy that, otherwise sublimated, allowed him to achieve an incredible productivity as an author. (iii) Kierkegaard might have been persuaded that Regine was not his intellectual and, most importantly, spiritual equal. ("The source of unhappiness," he wrote, "is not that the lovers cannot have one another, but that they cannot understand one another" (190).) (iv) Kierkegaard might have thought that one could be either an author or a husband and he chose to be the former rather than the latter. Finally, (v) Kierkegaard might have chosen a total devotion to God that in his mind would have been incompatible with a life of a family-man ("I was engaged [lit. 'already promised'], in the religious sense, as a very young child. Alas, I have paid dearly because I once misunderstood my life and forgot -- that I was engaged" (191).)
Which one of these answers is correct? Or, perhaps, did they jointly 'over-determine' Kierkegaard's decision to break up his earthly engagement? Or, we might think, Kierkegaard concealed the real reason, leaving his reader with a set of possible answers that made for a good philosophical story. Finally, we might ask whether Kierkegaard himself knew the real motive behind his decision. Garff tactfully avoids imposing the right answer on the reader, uncovering, instead, the complexity of views that could contribute -- and perhaps did contribute -- to Kierkegaard's final choice.
Another aspect of Kierkegaard's life that receives ample attention from Garff is his commitment -- at least early in his life -- to be a 'man of the people' and his subsequent transformation into an utter social and religious outcast. Young Kierkegaard, having adopted the models of Socrates and Christ, "took to the streets": "I do not want," he wrote, "to live in cowardly and prissy fashion at an aristocratic remove, in select circles, protected by an illusion (that the masses seldom see them and therefore imagine them to be somebody" (318). Later in his life, however, Kierkegaard resembled his great teachers in a quite different respect. Oftentimes, he became an object of ridicule and contempt in his native Copenhagen, and, whether willingly or not, his social role began to look more and more like martyrdom. Was this transformation due to the fact that Kierkegaard's published works became increasingly hostile towards the religious and intellectual establishment and towards the common religious sentiments of the time? Or, conversely, did Kierkegaard's works come to be more radical due to the fact that, socially, he was ostracized by both the intellectual elite and the people in the streets? Both hypotheses are on the table, as far as Garff is concerned. On the one hand, he explores the psychological and the social phenomenon of turning into an outsider in one's own city. (Kierkegaard's life can very well be divided into pre-Corsair and post-Corsair affair, he argues, referring to Kierkegaard's disastrous involvement in a series of publications in the Copenhagen popular press. As the result of this involvement, "Kierkegaard, who has previously been a natural part of the urban scene, became a walking caricature in the city" (406).) On the other hand (relying mostly on Kierkegaard's journals) Garff reconstructs yet another picture, according to which, Kierkegaard (in his own words) "cunningly guided the [entire] intrigue", in pursuit of martyrdom which "from a human point of view would be the maximal result of [his] life" (633).
"It is my intention that this book provide a comprehensive description of the Kierkegaard complex" (xxi) says Garff in his Preface. This is exactly what the book does and what it does quite persuasively. The story that Garff tells is bound to attract a diverse range of readers. From it, one learns about a life worthy of a philosopher and about a philosophy worthy of living. One who picks up the book to learn more about the puzzling and the intriguing episodes in Kierkegaard's life will not be disappointed; one who wants to grasp Kierkegaard's philosophical point of view will surely be enlightened; finally, one who wants merely to take a look at a great philosopher's life and at his intellectual development, will be inspired.
© 2007 Tatiana Patrone
Tatiana Patrone, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Philosophy and Religion, Ithaca College, NY