Quotes about Søren Kierkegaard
31 Sourced Quotes
History, including that of evolution, is just "one damned thing after another." We can explain in hindsight what has happened, but we cannot predict what will happen in the future. The Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard expressed the same view in his famous phrase "Life is understood backwards, but must be lived forwards.
I am not a political person. My involvement in the Free Speech Movement is religious and moral... I don't know what made me get up and give that first speech. I only know I had to. What was it Kierkegaard said about free acts? They're the ones that, looking back, you realize you couldn't help doing.
I approach the presentation of Kierkegaard with some trepidation. Next to Nietzsche, or rather, prior to Nietzsche, I consider him to be the most important thinker of our post-Kantian age. With Goethe and Hegel, an epoch had reached its conclusion, and our prevalent way of thinking — that is, the positivistic, natural-scientific one — cannot really be considered as philosophy.
And He is the God of the humble, for in the words of the Apostle, God chose the foolish things of the world to confound the wise and the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty (I Cor. i. 27) And God is in each of us in the measure in which one feels Him and loves Him. "If of two men," says Kierkegaard, "one prays to the true God without sincerity of heart, and the other prays to the an idol with all the passion of an infinite yearning, it is the first who really prays to the idol, while the second really prays to God." It would be better to say that the true God is He to whom man truly prays and whom man truly desires. And there may even be a truer revelation in superstition itself than in theology.
Even those who have desired to work out a completely positive philosophy have been philosophers only to the extent that, at the same time, they have refused the right to install themselves in absolute knowledge. They taught not this knowledge, but its becoming in us, not the absolute but, at most, our absolute relation to it, as Kierkegaard said. What makes a philosopher is the movement which leads back without ceasing from knowledge to ignorance, from ignorance to knowledge, and a kind of rest in this movement.
Chopin's biography remains obscure. He withheld himself all his life, in diametrical contrast to the openness and accessibility of his contemporary Franz Liszt. Chopin always conveyed the impression of a suffering soul, not to say a martyr, almost as if this was to nourish or even underpin his inspiration. Striving for crystalline perfection, he never ventured outside his own domain. You know, the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard is said to have given, as a child, martyr as his chosen career. Chopin must have shared this cult of the 'Pater dolorosus.'
The existential way of understanding human beings has some illustrious progenitors in Western history, such as Socrates in his dialogues, Augustine in his depth-psychological analyses of the self, Pascal in his struggle to find a place for the heart's reasons which the reason knows not of. But it arose specifically just over a hundred years ago in Kierkegaard's violent protest against the reigning rationalism of his day Hegel's totalitarianism of reason, to use Maritain's phrase. Kierkegaard proclaimed that Hegel's identification of abstract truth with reality was an illusion and amounted to trickery. Truth exists, wrote Kierkegaard, only as the individual himself produces it in action.
When I write these notes, it is not to describe my own life. I am writing a study of the soul as I observe myself closely and use myself as an anatomical testing-ground. It would therefore be wrong to look on these notes as confessions. I have chosen – in accordance with Søren Kierkegaard – to split the work into two parts; the painter and his distraught friend the poet. Just as Leonarda da Vinci studied the recesses of the body and dissected human cadavers, I try from self-scrutiny to dissect what is the universal in the soul.
Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and those who followed them accurately foresaw this growing split between truth and reality in Western culture, and they endeavored to call Western man back from the delusion that reality can be comprehended in an abstracted, detached way. But though they protested vehemently against arid intellectualism, they were by no means simple activists. Nor were they antirational. Anti-intellectualism and other movements in our day which make thinking subordinate to acting must not at all be confused with existentialism. Either alternative-making man subject or object-results in loosing the living, existing person.
Kierkegaard said that the only way we can be released from the enchantment, the siren song of the myths, is to play the music through backwards. To break the spell of the ego I must recover my personal and political history, I must demythologize the private, family, and public myths that have informed me.
When one read's Kierkegaard's profound analyses of anxiety and despair or Nietzsche's amazingly acute insights into the dynamics of resentment and the guilt and hostility which accompany repressed emotional powers, one might pinch oneself to realize that one is reading works written in the last century and not some new contemporary psychological analysis.
For the notion of progress in the arts, (either spiritually or artistically) has been discredited by many respectable intellects (Kierkegaard and Baudelaire above all, both of whom encountered the idea when it first reared itself in its present form in Europe).
Official Art and the Modern Painter
Official Art and the Modern Painter
History has a way of reducing individuals to flat, two-dimensional portraits. it is the enemy of subjectivity, which is why Stephen Dedalus called it "a nightmare from which I am trying to awake". If we think of Kierkegaard, of Nietzsche, of Hölderlin, we see them standing alone, outside of history. They are spotlighted by their intensity, and the background is all darkness. They intersect history, but are not a part of it. There is something anti-history about such men; they are not subject to time, accident and death, but their intensity is a protest against it. I have elsewhere called such men "Outsiders" because they attempt to stand outside history. which defines humanity on terms of limitation, not of possibility.
Dear, very dear, to himself, he [the plebeian] would be hard put to say anything about this self which would explain why he, or anyone, should hold it dear, since he never does, says or thinks anything which might distinguish him from the millions of his fellow plebeians, whom he spends his life imitating and who in turn are spending their lives imitating one another. What he wants is for others to lead his life for him. Avoiding every occasion on which the finger of responsibility might point to him, he seeks what Kierkegaard calls 'the most ruinous evasion of all … to be hidden in the crowd'.
The central psychological endeavor of Kierkegaard may be summed up under the heading of the question he pursued relentlessly: How can one become an individual? The individual was being swallowed up on the rational side by Hegel's vast logical "absolute Whole," on the economic side by the increasing objectification of the person, and on the moral and spiritual side by the soft and vapid religion of his day. Europe was ill, and was to become more so, not because knowledge or techniques were lacking but because of the want of passion, commitment. ""Away from Speculation, away from the System," he called, and "back to reality!"
At the end of a life spent in the pursuit of knowledge Faust has to confess: "I now see that we can nothing know." That is the answer to a sum, it is the outcome of a long experience. But as Kierkegaard observed, it is quite a different thing when a freshman comes up to the university and uses the same sentiment to justify his indolence. As the answer to a sum it is perfectly true, but as the initial data it is a piece of self-deception.