In a TLS review of several new books on Kierkegaard, Will Rees comments on the therapeutic cruelty of Kierkegaard’s writing. In Sickness Unto Death, “Anti-Climacus explains how, far from an inheritance of birth, the ‘self’ is in fact a vocation – something that one must forge in a solitary reckoning with God, an experience that couldn’t be further from the comforts and consolations offered by mainstream Christendom.”

Reading the book is “unpleasant,” and it’s supposed to be: “Kierkegaard aims to strip his reader of ‘the so-called security, contentment with life, etc., which is simply despair’ so that he or she may face up to the difficult – but necessary – task of ‘becoming a single individual.’”

Kierkegaard’s later assaults on Danish Christendom have the same purpose: “they seek to violently strip the reader of the psychic and social comforts that stop one from being forced—and therefore able—to confront the terrifying task of forging an individual self before God.”

All this is in service to Kierkegaard’s conviction that “truth is subjectivity.” As Rees explains, this “doesn’t mean that something becomes true by virtue of my saying or believing it to be so, but that beliefs acquire truth only in relation to the individual’s lived orientation towards them.”

All along, Kierkegaard was writing another sort of work, sermonic “discourses” that were plain-spoken, straightforward exegeses of the Bible. Rees is struck by the “gentle, graceful simplicity” of these works. In one, Kierkegaard contrasts the poet’s response to nation with that of the Christian. In Rees’s summary, “The poet’s ‘sincerity’ is but dissembled cynicism; really, his euphonic lament at man’s inferiority to silent nature is an attempt to prove the dominance of speech—namely, his own—over silence. Unlike the poet, the Christian does not lament; instead, he earnestly submits himself to the lily and the bird, treating them as teachers from which one can learn the virtues of silence, obedience and joy.”

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