Kierkegaard: A Biography

Kierkegaard: A Biography

Kierkegaard: A Biography

Kierkegaard: A Biography

Synopsis

Written by one of the world's preeminent authorities on Kierkegard, this biography is the first to reveal the delicate imbrication of Kierkegard's life and thought. To grasp the importance and influence of Kierkegaard's thought far beyond his native Denmark, it is necessary to trace the many factors that led this gifted but (according to his headmaster) 'exceedingly childish youth' to grapple with traditional philosophical problems and religious themes in a way that later generations would recognize as amounting to a philosophical revolution. Although Kierkegaard's works are widely tapped and cited they are seldom placed in context. Nor is due attention placed to their chronology. However, perhaps more than the work of any other contributor to the Western philosophical tradition, these writings are so closely meshed with the background and details of the author's life that knowledge of this is indispensible to their content. Alastair Hannay solves these problems by following the chronological sequence of events and focusing on the formative stages of his career from the success of his first, pseudonymous work ^Either/Or through to The Sickness Unto Death and Practice in Christianity. This book offers a powerful narrative account which will be of particular interest to philosophers, literary theorists, intellectual historians, and scholars of religious studies as well as any non-specialist looking for an authoritative guide to the life and work of one of the most original and fascinating figures in Western philosophy. Alastair Hannay is Professor Emeritus in the department of philosophy at the University of Oslo. He is the co-editor of The Cambridge Companion of Kierkegaard (1998) and is also translator of several works by Kierkegaard in Penguin Classics.

Excerpt

One aim of a biography of a famous intellectual figure is to place its subject's works in their historical and cultural context. Another, closer to home, is to see the works in the context of their author's own intellectual development. But we must bear in mind that it is the bios of the subject, and not of the works, that the biographer must focus on. Obviously enough, for it is just because the works themselves are still alive, and so don't qualify for biography, that we are interested in their author. Yet it is because they still live that we are curious about the life of their author.

What is the precise link between works and a life that allows biography to be at once both intellectual and biography? Must the biographer's interest in a writer and thinker be confined to those aspects of the life that as it were produce the works? Perhaps, but then of course the actual origins of a thinker's ideas go much further back than to the writer's schooldays or birth; they can be traced as far back as the early histories of the ideas which the works embody. and if the intellectual biographer's task is conceived more particularly, as in Kierkegaard's case, as that of finding out and describing how an intellectual tradition has come to be renewed or transformed by a great thinker, then although the contingencies of time, place, talent, and opportunity that are part of the thinker's biography will enter quite naturally into an account of the genesis of the works, this still doesn't explain why it should be necessary to write a full-blown biography.

Still, it is doubtful whether an academic curiosity about origins is the real reason for the genre. Behind or beside that we may find a simple fascination with history. But other motivations too can make us hanker after biography. Isn't there a more particular curiosity, when it comes down to it, that intellectual biography caters to, a desire to uncover the . . .

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