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Either/Or 1: Kierkegaard's Writings, Vol. 3…

Either/Or 1: Kierkegaard's Writings, Vol. 3 (1843)

by Søren Kierkegaard

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Kierkegaard's Either / Or is very much a work of two parts: the first volume focuses on the Aesthetic, and the second on the Ethical. What is unusual is that the work is presented as a collection of papers of various styles and on various subjects, that have been written by two different people: one with an aesthetic outlook, the other with the ethical. The preface states that the papers were found in a secret compartment of a cabinet that was bought by the author (who acts under a third psuedonym), who sorted out the papers and edited them before publishing them. Though this use of pseudonyms is primarily a narrative device to give more than one point of view, it also had the practical motive of distancing Kierkegaard from the conflicting thoughts that the two opposing characters have, to reduce his risk of experiencing hostility from contemporary society; some of what is written within is controversial. What Kierkegaard does with the written word in many senses resembles what Plato does with the conversation.
This first volume is on the aesthetic, and consists of 8 separate works, ranging from a piece on the character of Don Juan, an analysis of the ancient tragic motif in the modern, an essay on "social prudence", and a lecture given before a society devoted to the appreciation of melancholy. Half of the volume seems to be about love.
Not only does Kierkegaard make an eloquent case for the aesthetic viewpoint in this work, but he also makes the case against by deftly interspersing the volume with parody and tongue-in-cheek mockery of what else has been written on such subjects. As with Plato, an unexperienced reader might think that the author is in fact advocating the very things he is writing against, because the irony is subtle. The skill with which Kierkegaard achieves this is not only highly entertaining, but gives one the satisfaction of realising that what is prima facie earnest yet ridiculous poeticism, pretentious, or vacuous sentimentalism, actually turns out to be a rather clever denunciation of these literary vices.
What makes some philosophers difficult to read is that they take themselves too seriously, but the difficulty that some may find with Kierkegaard is that he doesn't take himself seriously enough, and so it is difficult to decide when he means what he writes or the opposite. On the other hand, working this out adds much joy to the reading of a book, as it necessitates thinking. I look forward to reading the second volume, yet I somehow don't expect it to be quite as much fun. ( )
  P_S_Patrick | Jul 26, 2012 |
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