How to Read Kierkegaard Paperback – 17 Aug 2008
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* 'These books let you encounter thinkers eyeball to eyeball by analysing passages from their work' Terry Eagleton, New Statesman * 'These deceptively slim volumes really are a course in "How to Read", not "How to Pretend to Have Read''' John Banville, Irish Times * 'Each author offers a smart take on how to approach reading his subject's works by providing historical and biographical detail, critical debate and sample excerpts of text' Sarah Sennott, Newsweek --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
About the Author
John D. Caputo is the Thomas J. Watson Professor of Religion and Humanities at Syracuse University and a specialist in the interface between postmodern thought and contemporary religion. His latest books are The Weakness of God: A Theology of the Event and After the Death of God, coauthored with Gianni Vattimo. He is also the author of On Religion. Simon Critchley is Hans Jonas Professor at the New School for Social Research, and a part-time professor of philosophy at Tilburg University in the Netherlands. His many books include Infinitely Demanding, Ethics-Politics-Subjectivity and, most recently, The Book of Dead Philosophers.
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Caputo's reputation made me want to try, as I wanted to see if there was an introduction out there appropriate for new readers of Kierkegaard. Caputo's book works, and largely due to his very sharp selection of texts. The book is arranged as brief commentaries on short, important texts which can emphasize different aspects of Kierkegaard's work.
Such excerpting is somewhat dangerous with an author as prolific and non-systematic as the subject, however, Caputo is largely fair in my estimation. He is particularly interested in Kierkegaard's view of subjectivity, but does not seem to imply the fideism he is accused of by other commentators. Caputo is obviously not fond of the later Kierkegaard, which he shares with us in places outside of the appropriate excerpt. It is true that the final years of Kierkegaard's work are hard to enjoy, but some greater detachment may have served the book's purpose better.
The book has many clear strengths as an introduction, however, including its brevity. An "introduction" to Kierkegaard would either be a multi-volume work, or just as short as this one is, and Caputo (and the editors of this series), wisely chose the latter. It doesn't get very deep into the literary quality of Kierkegaard, but Caputo does manage to highlight Kierkegaard as a prophet of modernity, which is perhaps his most generally appealing aspect.
For readers who have picked up one of Kierkegaard's works and found them overwhelming, or do not know where to start, this text is a good one. Add to it that there is no real competitor (at least in English), and it is a worthy volume indeed.
I have spoken with a number of younger readers (not all philosophy majors), who are apprehensive about looking into Kierkegaard because of the religious nature of his writings, and I think this is the PERFECT text to see whether one should choose to read Kierkegaard. For those interested in Nietzsche, I say reading Kierkegaard is a must, so I recommend reading the Kierkegaard selections from Nathan Oaklander's "Existentialist Philosophy: An Introduction," at the bare minimum. Still this book is recommendable to those Nietzshce fans, as well as anyone with a little extra time who has already read some Kierkegaard; but I especially recommend it to those who maybe either want a tiny taste of Kierkegaard, at a low time-cost, and those who want to test the waters. This book is also great for figuring out where to start with Kierkegaard's texts, if you have already decided to read him, but don't know where to begin.
This book ably introduces the reader to not only Kierkegaard's main concepts, but also intersperses his interpretation of this concepts with biographical details as well that make it easier to understand just why Kierkegaard came to write what he did. What sets this book apart, though, is how Caputo is able to point out the differences between Kierkegaard's earlier and later work as well as offer thoughtful critiques of various aspects of Kierkegaard's views. Despite the fact that Caputo claims to be a champion of Kierkegaard, this book is not 120 pages of thoughtless praise. Caputo also, at multiple points, shows how Kierkegaard's thought relates to Nietzsche's and also influenced later philosophers such as Camus, Sartre, and Heidegger, among others. It is difficult for me to imagine a much better introduction to Kierkegaard for the general reader than this little book.