Monday, March 17, 2014

Emails About Kierkegaard

I know what you're thinking: "Gee, Todd, your life must be pretty dull if you're exchanging emails about a Danish philosopher from the 19th century." Ok, ok, I hear you, but hear me out.

Let me give you a little background on how this email came about. A couple of friends of mine read my book, The Self-Improvement Book Club Murder, and one of those friends described my book to the other as, "out there." Which is about the best review a writer can hope for. Why? Because this means that the book contained ideas and concepts that the reader didn't necessarily agree with (or thought he didn't), and yet it was written well enough that he was able to get through it, he was able to finish the book. That's big! I couldn't really hope for more.

This fellow, I'm told, is also a big fan of Søren Kierkegaard, the aforementioned 19th century Danish philosopher (these are the upper crust circles of people who actually have favorite philosopher that I run in, folks, what can I tell you?). So much so, in fact, that he named his child after him (Søren, not Kierkegaard). Which I think is pretty cool because it's a pretty cool name, only I hope he didn't use the o with the slash through it (ø), which would probably get a little annoying for the kid.

Anyway, I was only vaguely familiar with the philosophy of Kierkegaard  (I'm a novelist, after all, not a philosopher, or worse a "philosophizer" as Robert Persig puts it in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance), so after the conversation I went on line and brushed up on it, and lo and behold, what did I find but that the depressed Dane agreed wholeheartedly with everything in The Self-Improvement Book Club Murder! He professed, you see, Kierkegaard did, a similar brand of what has been labelled "existentialism."

I had always heard the term bandied about and had an idea what it meant, but not until now did I make the connection between the "existence" in "existentialism" and "being" and "consciousness." These are all exact synonyms. What Kierkegaard was talking about, what Eckhart Tolle is talking about, what I'm talking about in The Self-Improvement Book Club Murder--it's all the same thing.

And now from the email . . . Oh, and be sure to check out the link to the exercise mentioned a couple of times below so you know exactly what we're talking about when we talk about existence.
* * *
From the writing of Kierkegaard:
I ask for nothing better than to be known in our objective times as the only person who was not capable of being objective. That subjectivity, inwardness, is truth, that existing is the decisive factor, that this was the way to take to Christianity, which is precisely inwardness.
If my book is "out there" then so is Kierkegaard. He seems to have been mostly there. The above quote is precisely what my books are about. "Existence" or being or consciousness is indeed "the decisive factor." That's why its so important to do that exercise so you know exactly what existence is. Existence is God. To know existence is to know God and vice versa. This is what he is saying.

From Wikipedia about his views:
Humans cannot think out choices in life, we must live them; and even those choices that we often think about become different once life itself enters into the picture. For Kierkegaard, the type of objectivity that a scientist or historian might use misses the point—humans are not motivated and do not find meaning in life through pure objectivity. Instead, they find it through passion, desire, and moral and religious commitment. These phenomena are not objectively provable—nor do they come about through any form of analysis of the external world; they come about through inward reflection, a way of looking at one’s life that evades objective scrutiny.
Right on.

Kierkegaard wrote a lot. I was more familiar with his views on what has been called "angst" and "alienation." Even these I have only understood, it appears, in their popular sense, and maybe not how Kierkegaard meant them exactly.

But the problem is, these things are very simple. And when you write so much, the tendency is to obscure and obfuscate rather than to illuminate. When you write so much--even about God or consciousness or existence--you're still getting consumed in rationality and this is the opposite of "the decisive factor," as K. puts it. It's the opposite of the simple exercise that puts you in direct contact with reality, existence, God.

Do the exercise, it will teach you much more about existence than reading all the works of Kierkegaard. Or just take a conscious breath, it will teach you more than the entire Wikipedia article about Kierkegaard's philosophy.

You might also like: Eckhart Tolle for Christians

Kierkegaard photo courtesy of Per Crucem ad Lucem.

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