Obituary: Villy Sorensen

Article excerpt

VILLY SoRENSEN was the leading intellectual of his generation of Danish writers. He started his career in 1953 with modernist short stories in a Kafkaesque tradition, but reached a much larger audience when, from about 1960, he developed a personal philosophy at odds with both left- wing and right-wing positions, in literature as well as in politics.

Unlike the "Third Way" in current politics - in Denmark and other European countries - Sorensen did not blur the boundaries between the various positions but rather sharpened them by taking issue with the left as well as with the right. A characteristic title of his is Hverken-eller ("Neither-Nor", 1961), in open contrast to both his life-long mentor Soren Kierkegaard, who insisted on "either or", and to the wishy-washy liberals whose patchwork philosophy comprises remnants of both a little socialism and a little liberalism.

In his artistic prose, bearing strong imprints of Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales, and in his philosophical essays, often Kierkegaardian in their use of paradox, Sorensen maintained the need to combine a social and an existential understanding of human nature. Himself no Christian, he insisted that religious symbols, far from being chimera, reveal fundamental truths, albeit of a human rather than a divine nature. In this vein, in Jesus eller Kristus ("Jesus or Christ", 1992) he examined the gospels as secular evidence of a great human being who became Christ only when his followers saw fit to pronounce him as such. Equally no Marxist, Sorensen drew attention to the enduring insights attained by, especially the young, Karl Marx.

In mid-career, when his influence on open-minded politicians was noticeable, Sorensen decided, with two co-authors, to put forward a full-fledged and specified Utopian programme, Opror fra midten ("Revolt from the Centre", 1978), advocating green values, the return to village democracy and the introduction of a "civic salary", a minimal pay that was to be the right of every member of the society. The book annoyed, once again, both left and right, was discussed more than any other of his books - and then soon vanished into oblivion. …