Kierkegaard on inexhaustible, indescribable love – and solitude, too.


A lovely man.

I recently dropped in on Martha and René Girard (I’ve written about him here and here and here) – and my visit pleasantly coincided with the visit of another friend, Randy Coleman-Riese, a Stanford alum. Somehow the conversation turned to philosophy, and Randy’s years at Stanford:

“In college I was introduced to the works of the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard. In the preface to his book Works of Love I read this:

‘These are Christian reflections; therefore they are not about love but about the works of love.

‘These are reflections on the works of love – not as if hereby all love’s works were mentioned and described – far from it, nor even as if a single one described were described once and for all – God be praised, far from it! That which in its vast abundance is essentially inexhaustible is also essentially indescribable in its smallest act, simply because essentially it is everywhere wholly present and essentially cannot be described.’

“In this book Kierkegaard reflects on the strangeness, yet appropriateness, of being commanded to love – on the Christian duty to love – to love God, to love our neighbor, and to love ourselves. While this is certainly not romantic, he believes it is what saves the Christian from despair. It saved me. (Aspects of this despair can be seen in the current movie Birdman which involves the Raymond Carver short story ‘What we talk about when we talk about love.'”


All mine.

Well, I’ve killed the punchline somewhat – he wrote a Valentine’s Day blog post about it here. When I went home I googled a bit on Kierkegaard, and found the portrait at right. I also found the anguished story of his broken engagement with Regine Olsen – the encounter changed both their lives, but apparently, he didn’t impress everyone. Hans Brøchner wrote in 1836: “I found [his appearance] almost comical. He was then twenty-three years old; he had something quite irregular in his entire form and had a strange coiffure. His hair rose almost six inches above his forehead into a tousled crest that gave him a strange, bewildered look.” Well, I think he’s rather lovely.

I also found that his Works of Love had occupied another blog, two years ago, with these passages:

“From whence comes love, where does it have its origin and its source; where is the place, its stronghold, from which it proceeds? Certainly this place is hidden or is in that which is hidden. There is a place in a human being’s most inward depths; from this place proceeds the life of love, for ‘from the heart proceeds life’…

“…The hidden life of love is in the most inward depths, unfathomable, and still has an unfathomable relationship with the whole of existence. As the quiet lake is fed deep down by the flow of hidden springs, which no eye sees, so a human being’s love is grounded, still more deeply, in God’s love. If there were no spring at the bottom, if God were not love, then there would be neither a little lake nor man’s love. As the still waters begin obscurely in the deep spring, so a man’s love mysteriously begins in God’s love.”

Lost love.

Lost love.

Quotes taken from Manifest Propensity: Thoughts for Deposed Royalty here.

Last week, I had an unexpected package at the Stanford post office: Randy had performed a little act of love himself – or at least one of kindness. He sent me my own copy of Kierkegaard’s Works of Love – so now I don’t have to hunt around the blogosphere. In a perverse spirit, let me quote a passage of my own finding, which is not about love:

“It is a frightful satire and an epigram on the temporality of the modern age that the only use it knows for solitude is to make it a punishment, a jail sentence. How different from the time when – however worldly-minded temporality has always been – people believed in the solitude of the cloister, when they honored solitude as the highest, as a qualification of the eternal – and nowadays it is detested as a curse and is used only as a punishment for criminals. Alas, what a change!”

And that was written in 1847, long before the 24/7 din of the worldwide web!

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