Kierkegaard : a biography /

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Main Author: Hannay, Alastair.
Format: Book Electronic
Published:Cambridge, UK ; New York : Cambridge University Press, 2001.
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Review by Choice Review

In this chronological narrative of Kierkegaard's life (1813-55), Hannay (emer., Univ. of Oslo) tells of the philosopher's childhood in Denmark, emphasizing Kierkegaard's responses to his philosophical and theological colleagues and to the widely accepted Hegelianism of that time. Hannay also discusses the now well-known fact of Kierkegaard's breaking his engagement to Regine Olsen against her wishes. He never did marry. The event of his breaking his engagement is, for some readers, the most important fact about Kierkegaard's life, and Hannay analyzes it in terms of data derived from Kierkegaard's journals. Through this analysis Hannay reveals that the reason for the broken engagement was that Kierkegaard had a very strong and deep commitment to the development of his talent for thinking about and writing philosophy and theology, and he had a great desire to "make a difference" in the development and acceptance of Christian theology and its spirituality. Kierkegaard decided that he could not succeed in this desire and also be a good husband and the head of a family. General readers; upper-division undergraduates and faculty. M. C. Rose emeritus, Goucher College

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Kierkegaard wrote publicly, under a variety of inventive pseudonyms simultaneously revealing and concealing aspects of his self-scrutinizing personality, and privately, in his journals, under an increasingly paradoxical sense of self challenging any would-be biographer to faithfully render his life. And yet, like the writer of a mystery novel, he does drop clues to the puzzle of himself, for which veteran Kierkegaard scholar Hannay (professor emeritus of philosophy at the University of Oslo) has a keen detective's eye. Kierkegaard saw his life as a series of "collisions" with a few key individuals, and over the course of his life, he gradually realized a persona that was fundamentally religious. Hannay traces that dramatic unfolding through his sustained counterpoise of Kierkegaard's journal entries with his published oeuvre. In Hannay's hands, Kierkegaard's treatises, novels and journalistic essays are brilliant literary reflections of troubled personal encounters with an imperious father (Michael), a self-divided older brother (Peter), a rejected fianc?e (Regine Olsen) and a complacent bishop (Jacob Mynster), who embodies, for Kierkegaard, the established church of Denmark. The infinitely interpretable Kierkegaardian themes of irony and despair, seduction, the exceptional individual, paradox and life alternatively inflected by aesthetics, ethics or religion become newly accessible under this rigorous biographic gaze. For instance, Kierkegaard's efforts to justify the exceptional individual by excusing him from universal norms (in his own case, marriage) appear less as proto-existential heroism than as a sophisticated intellectual's attempt to protect a simple faith (such as Michael Kierkegaard's) from the pretensions of Hegelian philosophy to subsume it. Hannay's judiciously selected quotes from Kierkegaard will surely seduce those who are not already in thrall to this master stylist into reading at least some of his works firsthand. 8 pages of photos. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review

An intellectual biography of Denmark's second-most famous melancholic. Hannay (Philosophy/Univ. of Oslo) has produced several works on Kierkegaard, one of the 19th century's most iconoclastic thinkers, and he has translated many of Kierkegaard's books into English. Here he applies his formidable knowledge of the philosopher's work to the task of grounding it in the minutiae of the man's life. From the outset Hannay admits that many will dispute the relevance of his project, and those who believe that the story of an author's life sheds no light on the meaning of his works will find little to savor here. Those of other theoretical persuasions will be richly rewarded, however. Moving chronologically through Kierkegaard's life with somewhat breathtaking familiarity, the author deftly isolates the influences that specific events had on his thinking. Most interestingly, the Danish-speaking Hannay is able to situate Kierkegaard in his Copenhagen milieu, revealing local, often petty battles where others have seen earthshaking disputes with Great European Thinkers. The problem with Hannay's approach, however, is that in the end not terribly much happened to Kierkegaard. Apart from the well-known jilting of his fiancee (which effectively began his writing career) and the self-immolating attack on the church (which ended it), Kierkegaard's adult life was surprisingly uneventful. Twenty years of studying German philosophers and writing like a fiend produced some fascinating books, but it did not make for riveting biography. Furthermore, the breadth of Hannay's knowledge occasionally pushes him towards the hagiographic; he tends to find a rationale for every utterance of Kierkegaard's, no matter how small or strange, despite the strong possibility that Kierkegaard (with his love of pseudonyms and propensity for depression) may have been a bit unstable. For those with the patience and willingness to work their way through, though, a remarkably nuanced, delicately drawn picture of Kierkegaard's thought eventually emerges here. Kierkegaard's great fear was that later thinkers would cram his life's work into a two-paragraph precis; Hannay has gone to great lengths to prevent that from ever happening.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

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