May 5, 2012
“God said to Abraham, ‘Kill me a son.’ Abe says, ‘Man, you must be puttin’ me on.’” Søren Kierkegaard (1813–55) shares with Bob Dylan a genius for phrasing, cutting wit, preening self-regard, a tendency to mythologize every flutter of his heart (turning minor snits into epic showdowns) and, of course, a firm grasp on the principle that people will take you more seriously if you have cool hair. Unlike Dylan, Kierkegaard refused to go on tour wearing mime-face, choosing instead to piss off Hegel’s followers by saying things like: “If Hegel had written the whole of his logic and then said, in the preface or some other place, that it was merely an experiment in thought in which he had even begged the question in many places, then he would certainly have been the greatest thinker who had ever lived. As it is, he is merely comic.” Oh, snap!
Kierkegaard’s beef with Hegel wasn’t merely about the historical dialectic, it was about Hegel’s claims for objective, rationally defined truths parceled out in large concrete blocks. Across the whole of his writings, Kierkegaard furnishes a dank little bedsit for the modern psyche, privileging anxiety, subjectivity, dread, interiority, faith, irrationality, and massive vacillating equivocation. Not that he advocates wishy-washiness — to the contrary, he’s the father of existentialism because he sees our very existence as being defined by our choices. But his indecisiveness about marrying Regine Olsen makes Hamlet look like the commanding officer of Seal Team 6. There is an element of self-sabotage in his decision to end his engagement with Regine — he did love her — but also a heroic engagement with his own alienation, embracing it as the core of his ethical self.
READ MORE about members of the Autotelic Generation (1805-14).