Today is the birthday (1813) of Søren Aabye Kierkegaard, Danish philosopher, theologian, poet, social critic, and religious author who was an early contributor to what became known as existentialism. He wrote critical texts on organized religion, Christendom, morality, psychology, and the philosophy of religion, displaying a fondness for metaphor, irony and parables. Much of his philosophical work deals with the issues of how one lives as a “single individual”, giving priority to concrete human reality over abstract thinking and highlighting the importance of personal choice and commitment. He was opposed to easy answers and, therefore to critics who summed up idealist intellectuals and philosophers of his time: Swedenborg, Hegel, Goethe, Fichte, Schelling, Schlegel and Hans Christian Andersen he felt were all “understood” far too quickly by “scholars.”
Kierkegaard’s theological work covers a broad spectrum: Christian ethics, the institution of the Church, humans and God, and the individual’s subjective relationship to Jesus the Christ, which for Kierkegaard came through faith. Much of this work entails Christian love. He was extremely critical of the practice of Christianity as a state religion, primarily that of the Church of Denmark. His psychological work explored the emotions and feelings of individuals when faced with life choices.
Kierkegaard’s early work was written under various pseudonyms that he used to present distinctive viewpoints and to interact with each other in complex dialogue. He explored particularly complex problems from different viewpoints, each under a different pseudonym. He wrote many Upbuilding Discourses under his own name and dedicated them to the “single individual” who might want to discover the meaning of his works. Notably, he wrote: “Science and scholarship want to teach that becoming objective is the way. Christianity teaches that the way is to become subjective, to become a subject.” While scientists learn about the world by observation, Kierkegaard emphatically denied that observation could reveal the inner workings of the world of the spirit.
Kierkegaard’s wrote in Danish and his works were initially limited to Scandinavia. By the turn of the 20th century, however, his major works had been translated into major European languages, so that by the mid-20th century, his thought exerted a substantial influence on philosophy and theology.
I won’t try to summarize Kierkegaard’s work because that would do him an injustice. Instead here are a few quotations to give you an idea.
Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.
Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced.
Once you label me you negate me.
What I really need is to get clear about what I must do, not what I must know, except insofar as knowledge must precede every act. What matters is to find a purpose, to see what it really is that God wills that I shall do; the crucial thing is to find a truth which is truth for me, to find the idea for which I am willing to live and die.
I have just now come from a party where I was its life and soul; witticisms streamed from my lips, everyone laughed and admired me, but I went away — yes, the dash should be as long as the radius of the earth’s orbit ——————————— and wanted to shoot myself.
There are many people who reach their conclusions about life like schoolboys; they cheat their master by copying the answer out of a book without having worked out the sum for themselves.
I have never fought in such a way as to say: I am the true Christian, others are not Christians. No, my contention has been this: I know what Christianity is, my imperfection as a Christian I myself fully recognize — but I know what Christianity is.
It belongs to the imperfection of everything human that man can only attain his desire by passing through its opposite.
A man’s personality is matured only when he appropriates the truth, whether it is spoken by Balaam’s ass or a sniggering wag or an apostle or an angel.
Job endured everything — until his friends came to comfort him, then he grew impatient.
One sticks one’s finger into the soil to tell by the smell in what land one is: I stick my finger in existence — it smells of nothing. Where am I? Who am I? How came I here? What is this thing called the world? What does this world mean? Who is it that has lured me into the world? Why was I not consulted, why not made acquainted with its manners and customs instead of throwing me into the ranks, as if I had been bought by a kidnapper, a dealer in souls? How did I obtain an interest in this big enterprise they call reality? Why should I have an interest in it? Is it not a voluntary concern? And if I am to be compelled to take part in it, where is the director? I should like to make a remark to him. Is there no director? Whither shall I turn with my complaint?
To say that I understand Kierkegaard would be to go against the very nature of his work. Rather, there are points he makes on which I concur. Chief of these is that it is incumbent on each individual to THINK, and not to accept blindly what you are told. His notion of “truth for me” for example, is not what most moderns believe when they use the phrase – “if I believe it, it is true.” He is saying that you cannot simply assent to truth as purveyed by others: you must OWN it by working it out for yourself.
I see Kierkegaard as a precursor of Freud in that his notion of owning the truth involves knowing oneself. For Kierkegaard self knowledge requires concentrated reflection on oneself, preferably in isolation. I am sympathetic to this notion because it is exactly what I do. Since the death of my wife nine years ago, I have lived alone, and have increasingly used my time alone to reflect on all manner of things. This is not a skill that can be learned; you have to work it out for yourself, perhaps with writers such as Kierkegaard as guides. Friendships, relationships, and the like, can be helpful, but they can also be distractions that get in the way of self reflection. Read Kierkegaard for yourself and you will see what I mean.
Danish cuisine can be colorful, but is often rather bland. I’ve mentioned smørrebrød, open faced sandwiches, several times before, and you can certainly get creative with them, heaping all manner of toppings on to dark rye bread for a base. For example:
Today I am interested in æggekage (lit. egg cake), which is very similar to English batter pudding or traditional Argentine tortilla, that is, a mix of milk, flour, and eggs that is fried and baked in a heavy skillet with various toppings. My basic recipe for the egg mixture is presented in this video:
Toppings can be savory or sweet. I made an apple æggekage this morning. First, I chopped one apple coarsely (without peeling), and sautéed it in a little butter and sugar until the pieces took on color.
Then I made the batter (as per the video), and poured it over the apples whilst the pan was still warm, and cooked the bottom a little.
Then I finished it off in a hot oven sprinkled with a little sugar and cinnamon.
For breakfast I ate some slices straight from the pan. For lunch I re-heated the remainder on the stove with a few sliced tomatoes and bacon.