What if everything in the world were a misunderstanding, what if laughter were really tearsEither Or is the earliest of the major works of S ren Kierkegaard, one of the most startlingly original thinkers and writers of the nineteenth century, and the first which he wrote under a pseudonym, as he would for his greatest philosophical writings Adopting the viewpoints of two distinct figures with radically different beliefs the aesthetic young man of Part One, called simply A , and the ethical Judge Vilhelm of the second section Kierkegaard reflects upon the search for a meaningful existence, contemplating subjects as diverse as Mozart, drama, boredom, and, in the famous Seducer s Diary, the cynical seduction and ultimate rejection of a young, beautiful woman A masterpiece of duality, Either Or is an exploration of the conflict between the aesthetic and the ethical both meditating ironically and seductively upon Epicurean pleasures, and eloquently expounding the noble virtues of a morally upstanding lifeThis lightly abridged edition fully conveys the vigour and eloquence of the original Alastair Hannay s introduction explains the philosophical background to the work and places it in the context of its times kierkegaard s either or which i first read in the german translation possibly a little closer to the danish original is a first rate philosophical excursion that, much like many of the works of nietzsche, is also a first rate literary pleasure it is only reluctantly that i call this book non fiction if published today, e.g in mcsweeney s, either or, k.s first published book, would blow people away just the same and lead to a global existential outcry of youths k has always informed my w kierkegaard s either or which i first read in the german translation possibly a little closer to the danish original is a first rate philosophical excursion that, much like many of the works of nietzsche, is also a first rate literary pleasure it is only reluctantly that i call this book non fiction if published today, e.g in mcsweeney s, either or, k.s first published book, would blow people away just the same and lead to a global existential outcry of youths k has always informed my writing re read it recently finding it just as relevant and important to me as it was thirty years ago when i first discovered it as a teenager alongside the writing of sartre, camusunlike these frenchmen, kierkegaard has a northern lightness that appeals to my own mood S ren Kierkegaard was clever, arrogant, verbose, observant, cynical, ironic, prolific, religious, gifted His writing is dense, polemical, lyrical, remarkable His magnum opus, Either Or, is an exceptional work I struggled my way through it, much as I imagine I would struggle to climb Mount Everest through nebulous passages, up windy roads that sometimes narrowed, sometimes digressed into unexpected territory, always challenged my footing and my stamina But on nearly every page there was a s S ren Kierkegaard was clever, arrogant, verbose, observant, cynical, ironic, prolific, religious, gifted His writing is dense, polemical, lyrical, remarkable His magnum opus, Either Or, is an exceptional work I struggled my way through it, much as I imagine I would struggle to climb Mount Everest through nebulous passages, up windy roads that sometimes narrowed, sometimes digressed into unexpected territory, always challenged my footing and my stamina But on nearly every page there was a striking view to take in I underlined sentence after sentence that made me stop, wonder, marvel things that made me frustrated, impressed, enlightened, confused It was tiring to read at times, perhaps even tiresome, because Kierkegaard would drone on and on, alighting on every possible angle to every topic And yet it was these meanderings, these endless labyrinthine discussions that would produce golden nuggets of wisdom in the midst of beautiful, often archaic in terms of today s Danish words The first part Either is an ostensible defense of the aesthetic perspective on life, consisting of a number of texts, different in genres and themes, which celebrate constant change and sensory experiences In one of these texts, Kierkegaard discusses this aesthetic view of life a narrower definition of the term compared to today s understanding through a lengthy appreciation of Mozart s opera, Don Giovanni, written by Victor Emeritus, aesthete, one of Kierkegaard s many aliases This part also includes one of hisfamous pieces, The Seducer s Diary In the second part Or, he criticizes this a superficial take on life and argues for the ethical perspective the nourishment of the soul and not just of the senses Because of their cerebral compatibility, I wonder what Kierkegaard would have made of Oscar Wilde, and vice versa When I say cerebral compatibility, I mean their extreme genius, their willingness to hold two opposing viewpoints at the same time, their ability to reference other works of literature ad infinitum, their linguistic superiority and wordsmithery Despite these similarities they lived lives that were at the opposite ends of the aesthetic ethical spectrum, which, paradoxically, made them both embrace an either or stance Personally, I opt for a both and one an expression which we have in Danish At 835 pages a monstrous literary tour de force which cemented Kierkegaard s status as one of the foremost thinkers of the age this was a slow, slow read I tried to read a minimum of ten pages at a time, but it turned out to be a maximum I often went back to reread a sentence which often began three lines above to glean the exact meaning Part of the problem is that the Danish language has evolved so muchsince Kierkegaard s days than the English language has, and many words have either disappeared from usage or have changed their usage to mean something different today Also the inflections of verbs were different, and his punctuation run on clauses with only commas to separate them would make me breathless The Germanic capitalization of nouns was a detail in the bigger picture I ve been told he s much easier to read in English, and so despite his and my original language being Danish, I might try him in English next time.There was much I marvelled at, much I admired but also quite a bit I disagreed with His view of women, for instance he seems stuck in the 19th century women are not born to work but are flighty, imaginative creatures, etc , though it is sometimes difficult to know whether he speaks with his own voice or under a pseudonym and is thus being ironic or downright insincere to provoke a reaction this is the case in the Seducer s Diary, for instance, in which the narrator is neither aesthete nor ethically responsible but rather a cynic Moreover, his reliance on God is a far cry from the rather a religious Denmark of today and sometimes seemed at odds with his sharp, intellectual observations Though he is often considered the father of existentialism, his particular branch wasreligious than the later existentialists of the 20th century.He ponders and discusses an abundance of life s mysteries and challenges Anxiety, for instance, is produced by our reflecting on things and as such, he claims, thus different from sorrow It is always connected to time in the sense that you cannot be anxious about the present but only about what is past or what is in the future Sorrow, on the other hand is bound to the present This was something I pondered at length and which, like many of his other points and arguments, raised questions rather than gave any clear answers Another point he made, which I immediately took to heart, is that we must not be too busy If we re too busy, we re not taking our lives seriously Throughout, he references Goethe s Faust, Mozart s Don Giovanni, Shakespeare and many Greeks in Greek those quotes were Greek to me A selection of hiscomprehensible quotes which I ve translated I say about my sorrow what the Englishman says about his home my sorrow is my castle Many people see having sorrows as one of life s comforts.Nobody returns from the dead, nobody has entered the world without crying no one asks you when you want in, no one asks you when you want out.An individual who hopes for eternal life is in a sense an unhappy individual insofar as he relinquishes the present, but is not in a stricter sense unhappy because he is present within this hope.Can you long for what you already possess Yes, when you imagine that in the next moment you may no longer possess it.One of Denmark s three literary triumvirs, if you ask me, the other two being Hans Christian Andersen and Karen Blixen Recommended for the patient and philosophically minded reader Of course, a critic resembles a poet to a hair, except that he has no anguish in his heart, no music on his lips This is one of those rare unclassifiable books, whose genre was born the day it was published and which has since left no heirs Kierkegaard gives us what appears, at first, to be a sort of literary experiment the papers of two imaginary characters, found inside the escritoire by a third imaginary character These two characters referred to as A and B serve as the titular eit Of course, a critic resembles a poet to a hair, except that he has no anguish in his heart, no music on his lips This is one of those rare unclassifiable books, whose genre was born the day it was published and which has since left no heirs Kierkegaard gives us what appears, at first, to be a sort of literary experiment the papers of two imaginary characters, found inside the escritoire by a third imaginary character These two characters referred to as A and B serve as the titular either or and their writings are a study in contrast Specifically, Kierkegaard uses these two personages to juxtapose the aesthetic with the ethical modes of life, presumably asking the reader to choose between them You might say it is a choose your own adventure book of philosophy, except the adventure chosen turns out to be your life.Part 1, by A, gives us the aesthetic man We are presented with extracts from a journal, essays on Mozart s Don Giovanni and ancient tragedy, a study of boredom, and the famous Seducer s Diary A s record of his carefully planned seduction of a young girl Part 2 isfocused, consisting of two long letters sent by B who is supposed to be a middle aged judge to A, both exhorting the latter to turn towards aethical view of life The styles of the two writers are suitably different A is excitable, hyperbolic, and aphoristic, while B isstaid and focused Nevertheless, it is never difficult to tell that Kierkegaard is the true author Neatly summarizing the difference in perspectives would be difficult, since Kierkegaard tends to be flexible with his own definitions Perhaps the best way to capture the contrast is with the book s central metaphor seduction vs marriage In the first, A is concerned with attaining a maximum of pleasure He is not a hedonist, and is not very interested in sex Rather, he is interested in avoiding boredom by carefully shaping his developing relationship like a well plotted novel, ensuring that each emotion is felt to the utmost His primary concern, in other words, is to avoid the stale, the clich , the repetitive The judge, by contrast, sees marriage as far preferable to seduction, since it is through commitments like marriage that the inner self develops and becomes fully actualized While the aesthete prefers to live in the moment, the ethical man notes that, even if every moment is novel, the self remains the same Change requires commitment Interpreting the book is difficult Are we being asked to make a choice in values Such a choice could have no basis but chance or personal whim, since no pre existing value could guide us between two incompatible value systems This, you might say, is the existentialist interpretation of the book the primacy of choice over values Yet other options are available For example, despite Kierkegaard s famous opposition to Hegel s philosophy, this text is open to a Hegelian reading Specifically, B s perspective seems in many respects superior to A s, since B demonstrates that he is able to understand A, while A presumably cannot understand B Thus, you can perhaps regard B as the Hegelian antithesis to A s thesis and perhaps both of these can be united in a wider perspective, such as in Kierkegaard s Knight of Faith a religious unity of inner feeling and outer obligation There is also the unmistakable autobiographical element in this writing, since Kierkegaard had not long before broken off his own engagement This is just to scrape the surface of possibility And this shows both the strength and weakness of Kierkegaard s writing On the one hand, this book is highly rich and suggestive, with brilliant passages buried amid piles of less compelling material On the other hand, to call a book rich and suggestive is also to call it confused Since no clear message emerges, and since there are no arguments to guide the way, the book can easily yield interpretations consonant with pre conceived opinions In other words, it is hard to me to imagine somebody being convinced to change their mind by reading this But Kierkegaard can perhaps better be likened to a good art critic than to a systematic philosopher, for the value in his writing consistsin illuminating comments than in a final conclusion.On the whole, however, I must say that I emerged with a distaste for Kierkegaard s writing At times he rises to commanding eloquence but so often he seems to wallow in confusing and repetitive intricacies More to the point, I find the general tenor of his writing to be anti rationalist and this is exemplified in the complete lack of argument in his writings But nobody could deny that, all told, this is an extraordinary book and a worthy addition to the philosophical tradition Looks like S ren Kierkegaard was right One world One destination But two different strokes for two very different types of folks The Eithers and the Ors Will they both get to their destination Let s look at Zeno s Paradox I know, you re gonna say that s the oldest con in the book extrapolating a purely mathematical formula onto practical reality to subvert it but doesn t layering both the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics onto reality do that too, and aren t they both largel Looks like S ren Kierkegaard was right One world One destination But two different strokes for two very different types of folks The Eithers and the Ors Will they both get to their destination Let s look at Zeno s Paradox I know, you re gonna say that s the oldest con in the book extrapolating a purely mathematical formula onto practical reality to subvert it but doesn t layering both the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics onto reality do that too, and aren t they both largely mutually exclusive Yet both are an accepted part of modern reality Riddle me that, Zeno That old Greek Zeno d probably have a good chuckle over that For he was ONLY trying to say Nothing is what it Seems And isn t that what our friend Kierkegaard is really trying to say here All bets are off, friends So who gets the Real Trophy first the Eithers or the Ors And is it worth it to know It s an ethically polarized and a confusing world Get used to it.And this book is an elusively allusive deconstruction of the inner dialectics of that world He picked up THAT trick from Hegel.But Hegel was trying to shore up the sanctity of the Modern State to set ethics on a newer and firmer foundation than Kant s pereginating prevarications could ever do But now Kierkegaard is saying cut it out, guys Say to the sanctity of that old sacred cow, the State, begone What we REALLY have to do is shore up the Sanctity of God Whose Kingdom is not of this world and Who thereby makes the mediocre sleep of the state ABSURD Now there s a clarion call for you I know, I know, the Nihilists and Dadaists and Poststructuralists have by and large ignored K s POV For they just wanted Freedom That carries an enormous price, friends, just so you knowKierkegaard, though, tried to tell us postmoderns that only the Truth will set us Free, and so he has been relegated to the dustbin of oblivion by the Sleep of Society EXCEPTING those unfortunates who are now Waking Up, and so need his tough talkthan ever before.For Kierkegaard will take you on a marvellous trip Past the obfuscating, quiet voiced elders , past the dreary limbo of his own doggedly deep depressive self, past the Seducers of the World whom he dismembers and eviscerates right down to their marrow To a Life of New Hope.A hope that is secured in the absolute cancellation of all our debts and the solutions of all our postmodernist conundrums in the Divine Sacrifice And puts us on a Free, Forever Road To the Conclusion of all that is Inconclusible The road that will lead you back to the Peace of knowing the world as it is for the first time Welcome to Kierkegaard s Paradox The Paradox of Breaking Even with God, and Yourself