Kierkegaard n00b
June 29, 2010 1:47 PM   Subscribe

I have decided that I should read Kierkegaard. Where should I start?

I've read Dostoevsky, Sarte, and Camus, as well as some excerpts from other writers/philosophers, so I was hoping Kierkegaard wouldn't be too intimidating. But he is, and I'm kind of lost as to where to begin.

Is some of his writing more accessible than other parts? Are there specific translations that are better? What should I read first?
posted by pecknpah to Religion & Philosophy (18 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
This is a good, easy introduction.
It will give a starting point - introduce you to his major works, so you can decide what might interest you.
posted by Flood at 1:53 PM on June 29, 2010

Fear and Trembling is the most popular. It's worth reading, but it's hard to get through if the struggle to have faith in God is not something you care about.
posted by k. at 1:54 PM on June 29, 2010

Works of Love is terrific. I'm not an expert on his oeuvre, though.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 1:57 PM on June 29, 2010

I recommend reading Kierkegaard for Beginners first, then The Living Thoughts of Kierkegaard (ed. Auden), then read the Very Short Introduction to Kierkegaard, then read Either/Or.
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:05 PM on June 29, 2010

Søren Kierkegaard: a biography by Joakim Garff might also be a better place to start than Kierkegaard himself. It's long, but amazingly interesting and readable (not just for an 800-page biography of a long-dead philosopher!) so it would go pretty fast. I admit that I never got to finish it, but that was more due to being busy than the length of the book.
posted by k. at 2:14 PM on June 29, 2010

Schopenhauer probably would be a better choice. Better writer, not so blindly religious, and funny.

There are several editions and selections of Kierkegaard's journals. I don't know if it was ever published as such in English, but one of such selections is famously called the 'Diary of a Seducer'.
posted by ijsbrand at 2:34 PM on June 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

My undergrad philosophy prof started his Kierkegaard class with Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing. It's not too long (~120 pages) and more readable than his other works (IMO). I liked it, but I don't think it's considered one of his major works.
posted by mullacc at 2:41 PM on June 29, 2010

I don't know exactly what ijsbrand means, but I wouldn't call Kierkegaard "blindly religious." I don't know if that's precisely fair. Also, he seems to be a pretty good writer to me. Of course, I can't claim to really understand what Kierkegaard is saying, so maybe I'm wrong. Anyway, it seems to me that you're probably going in the right direction. Kierkegaard is certainly a much deeper thinker than Camus or Sartre.

Personally, I would steer away from interpretations of views of his work; they have the benefit of being accessible, but you're robbing yourself of that first interface between yourself and the author that way. mullacc's suggestion is a very good one; I loved Purity of Heart, and I know it's not nearly as dense as some of Kierkegaard's other texts.
posted by koeselitz at 2:58 PM on June 29, 2010

Kierkegaard is tough; but I'm of the jump into the original school and skip the supplemental stuff for after. Start with Fear and Trembling or Either/Or. The Sickness Unto Death, imo, is probably the most difficult.
posted by Lutoslawski at 3:04 PM on June 29, 2010

Thirding Kierkegaard for Beginners, not because it's hard to jump in directly, but because it gives a good overview of all his work.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:17 PM on June 29, 2010

I don't have a book to recommend, but if you decide to read Fear and Trembling go find the Hubert Dreyfuss lectures from UC Berkley on iTunes U. I think they are called Existentialism in Literature.

I couldn't get through F&T until I read it along with listening to those lectures. Dreyfuss is awesome.
posted by derivation at 6:36 PM on June 29, 2010

posted by derivation at 6:37 PM on June 29, 2010

I'll nth mullac's suggestion that you start with Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing. My distant recollection of it is that it is relatively understandable. I also think koeselitz's advice is good.
posted by Quizicalcoatl at 6:38 PM on June 29, 2010

Schopenhauer probably would be a better choice. Better writer, not so blindly religious, and funny.

Um, what. Kierkegaard is not the sad-sack he's made out to be. Read an overview first, so you can appreciate that many of his writings were originally presented as the work of sock-puppet pseudonyms. Those various characters are not him, and they are themselves part of his commentary.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:02 PM on June 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

My son is a Kierkegaard aficionado and he started me out with Fear and Trembling.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 9:36 PM on June 29, 2010

It depends on what you're interested in reading about. Fear and Trembling is a common entry point, but a better starting place is probably Either/Or. As an aside, Diary of a Seducer is an excerpt from Part A of Either/Or, not a selection from Kierkegaard's journals. Either/Or sets out the dichotomy of the aesthetic v. the ethical. Part A is written from the perspective of a young man who lives in an "aesthetic" mode, while Part B is ostensibly written by an older married gentleman espousing an "ethical" view. Complicating the whole thing is the introduction, which wraps the whole book in a strange anecdote about discovering the manuscript in a hidden compartment in a desk, I think.
This points to the chief difficulty with Kierkegaard: unlike the other writers you listed, he is always obscuring his authorial point of view with pseudonyms and playful disclaimers about his point of view. This is the challenging, and the rewarding, part of reading him. You have to (I believe) take seriously his claims that his pseudonyms represent different viewpoints and personae. (Some people argue that S. Kierkegaard, the "author" of many religious works, is simply another pseudonym.) Thus, the particular pseudonymous author will make a big difference in how approachable or readable you find a work.
Fear and Trembling is by Johannes de Silentio (John of Silence) and concerns the paradox of religion and ethics. If you're not interested in that question, I'll suggest that much of Kierkegaard's work will be a tough slog for you. However, you can also try Philosophical Fragments or the Concluding Unscientific Postscript, by Johannes Climacus (John of the Ladder) which also examine the same questions through the lens of Socrates and irony.
Kierkegaard's dissertation, The Concept of Irony, is also interesting but maybe too dated for general readers by his quarrels with Danish Hegelians.
The Sickness Unto Death (about despair) is one of my favorites, but the language can be off-putting. A lot of the mind-twisting acrobatics in the first paragraph of that book are ironic, I think, but I could be wrong. Concept of Anxiety is probably closest in theme to later existentialists, but he isn't really an existentialist.
You could also try reading excerpts of his journals, which have interesting tidbits and also introduce you to his lifelong obsessions with his father and Regine Olsen, but the answers above are probably right that it's easier to grok that stuff by reading a biography. Garff worked at the SK Research Center in Copenhagen and his biographical work is top-notch.
posted by hilaritas at 7:46 AM on July 1, 2010 [4 favorites]

A lot of the mind-twisting acrobatics in the first paragraph of that book are ironic, I think, but I could be wrong.

So, I've read Kierkegaard, but never really studied him in any sort of depth, and I'm so glad you pointed this out - I'd never heard that nor thought of that paragraph that way, and I can't tell you how many times I tried to start The Sickness and then stared at the first paragraph being like 'W.T.F? I give up already.' Eventually I just skipped the beginning (not that the rest of the book is exactly easy by any means). Anyway, I've always thought of myself as a fairly intelligent reader of philosophy, even difficult philosophy, but man, that first page of Sickness has just boggled me for a long time... I feel better about myself now. So, thank you.
posted by Lutoslawski at 9:07 AM on July 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

Thanks! I decided to just suck it up and start with Fear and Trembling, which turned out to be pretty great. Dreyfus's lectures are awesome, and almost make me want to transfer to Berkeley to take his classes.
posted by pecknpah at 9:00 AM on July 6, 2010

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