Joakim Garff, Søren Kierkegaard: A Biorgaphy (Review by Tatiana Patrone)


This is a review of Garff’s huge (pages-wise and achievement-wise, including the ability to make a paperback that is as heavy as a hardback) biography of Kierkegaard by Tatiana Patrone of Ithaca College.  It was published in the recent issue of Metapsychology Online Reviews  (October 23rd, 2007 – vol. 11, no.43) – enjoy!

“Even though Kierkegaard’s journals and published writings seem to tell us almost too much, we have no idea what he was really like” (13).  In his carefully crafted and finely written biography of Kierkegaard, Joakim Garff tells a fascinating philosophical story of Kierkegaard’s life, a story that is bound to interest and to captivate not only philosophers who have long been attracted to Kierkegaard’s thought, but also to anyone who would like to take a look at a great thinker’s life.

Kierkegaard’s corpus is vast and yet, as Garff says, “we have no idea what he was really like.”  Indeed, Kierkegaard himself wrote:  “after my death, this is my consolation:  no one will be able to find in my papers one single bit of information about what has really filled my life” (101).  Garff argues that from the moment Kierkegaard started to write he was very careful to come up and to maintain a myth of himself, an interpretation of his own life story (philosophical and social, romantic and familial), a story that he presents to his future biographers and readers, a story in which every thought and every word is masterfully expressed and documented ‘just right.’  In fact, Garff claims, Kierkegaard was not manipulating his reader; on the contrary — he himself saw his life as a narrative to be uncovered and told in such a way that it would make certain sense to him as the one who was living this life.  That is, looking back at his own past, Kierkegaard was always in the business of recollecting it rather than merely remembering it (97).  Garff goes as far as to remark that in this, “deception and self-deception walk faithfully hand in hand” (202).  However, the picture of Kierkegaard that Garff paints is quite moving — Kierkegaard’s seriousness with respect to his life projects and to how they were to be taken by his contemporaries and by his successors both inspires and humbles.  In this picture, Kierkegaard does not appear to be writing in bad faith; on the contrary — he comes off as a philosopher who treats philosophizing and reflection upon one’s life and work with utmost earnestness. Continue reading