The Quotable Kierkegaard
Edited by Gordon Marino
Princeton University Press – $24.95
As much as the sui generis work(s) of the so-called father of existentialism, Soren Kierkegaard, is herein brought to acute, enthusiastic and colourful bear, it is the director of the Hong Kierkegaard Library at St. Olaf College in Minnesota, Gordon Marino, who may knowingly beguile many a (new) reader unto a path of earnest re-consideration.
Not only does Gordon academically kneel at the alter of all things Kierkegaard, his unrelenting zest throughout this delightful book’s Introduction, is endemic of someone wholly prepared to go out on a philosophical limb. So as to reach, teach, if not actually touch, the reader: ”Most of us feel more urgency about the size of our waistline than about the girth of our capacity for compassion. Doing the right thing still has valence, but it is just one option among many, as in, I want to be a successful lawyer, have a good marriage and family, and be a good guy. Often by daubing a picture that the reader can see himself or herself in, Kierkegaard tries to kindle a concern about the self, but with a different set of categories up his sleeves than we are likely to find in the likes of Eat, Pray, Love and the boundless literature of the self-help happiness market.”
That Gordon recognises as much; whether by way of the Dane’s trajectory of compelling thought or by way of his own, is in itself, commendable.
Surely this is a quality which, like much of The Quotable Kierkegaard as a whole, is frank, illuminating, and within the literary world of philosophical prowess especially, surprisingly refreshing.
As much is underlined by the issue of how the author came to stumble upon ”the Mozart of the spirit” in the first place: ”I came to Kierkegaard crawling on cut glass and on the tail of a brutal marital breakup. I had dropped out of graduate school for the second time. My untethered life was like a page from a newspaper blowing around in the wind.”
It was probably due to having been simultaneously ”untethered” and in pain, that Gordon got to embrace the true value of Kierkegaard’s philosophical currency: ”And if there was one thing that […] the preternaturally talented Kierkegaard was convinced of, it was this: in the realm of the spirit, all worldly differences, talents, and bank accounts will have no purchase. Pascal famously said that if we could just learn to sit still for ten minutes and do without distractions, there would be no more wars […]. Rather than pass on knowledge, Kierkegaard hoped to direct us to the study of ourselves. He once confessed, ”I want to make people aware so that they do not squander and waste their lives.””
Drawn from the authoritative Princeton editions of Kierkegaard’s many, many writings, The Quotable Kierkegaard includes an Introduction (as in the above quotations), a brief account/timeline of his life and a guide to further reading.
So in all, this most quotable of literary companions makes for illuminati induced reading. Then again, the book does contain some eight-hundred quotes, of which the following is perhaps one of my favourites:
”But the person who can scarcely open himself cannot love, and the person who cannot love is the unhappiest of all.”