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cover of the book Theory's Empire

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The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Happy Trails to You

What’s an Encyclopedia These Days?

Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Intimate Enemies: What’s Opera, Doc?

Alphonso Lingis talks of various things, cameras and photos among them

Feynmann, John von Neumann, and Mental Models

Support Michael Sporn’s Film about Edgar Allen Poe

Philosophy, Ontics or Toothpaste for the Mind

Nazi Rules for Regulating Funk ‘n Freedom

The Early History of Modern Computing: A Brief Chronology

Computing Encounters Being, an Addendum

On the Origin of Objects (towards a philosophy of computation)

Symposium on Graeber’s Debt

The Nightmare of Digital Film Preservation

Richard Petti on Occupy Wall Street: America HAS a Ruling Class

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Nick J. on The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Bill Benzon on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Norma on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Bill Benzon on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

john balwit on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on That Shakespeare Thing

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

JoseAngel on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on Objects and Graeber's Debt

Bill Benzon on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on Objects and Graeber's Debt

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Friday, April 01, 2005

I am so happy that I will imagine giving a poor man a dollar

Posted by John Holbo on 04/01/05 at 12:40 PM

Obscurely inspired by the melancholic Zizek wedding, I'm rereading Encounters With Kierkegaard. But not for the Regine bits. Too depressing. I'm reading selections by Mëir Aron Goldschmidt, mostly about the Corsair Affair. If you don't know about it, here is a brief outline from D. Anthony Storm's very fine Kierkegaard site:

On December 22, 1845 P. L. Møller published a slipshod critique of Stages On Life's Way in his Gæa, Aesthetic Yearbook 1846. Though the article praised the work in a fashion, it was evident that he did not grasp what Kierkegaard was doing. Kierkegaard launched his assault on Møller for two reasons: he wanted to defend his Stages, and he wanted to discredit a man whom he saw as opportunistic. Møller's opportunism was a two-sided coin. He was seeking a chair at the university even while secretly publishing his articles in The Corsair (Corsaren). Kierkegaard's retaliation in The Fatherland (Fædrelandet) on December 27 thus disclosed what some informed people already suspected.

The Corsair was a weekly satirical paper that lampooned people of repute, and was derided as a disreputable scandal sheet. Not surprisingly, it was read surreptitiously by many. Its editor was Meïr Aaron Goldschmidt (1819-1887), who was Kierkegaard's junior by several years and an admirer of his keen, dialectical wit. But Kierkegaard wanted to accomplish more than discredit Møller. He wanted to distance Goldschmidt from The Corsair because he felt that Goldschmidt was capable of greater things. He also wanted to bring down the paper.

While Kierkegaard's article had the desired effect of damaging Møller's career—he never achieved his hoped-for chair at the university—it resulted in a personal assault on Kierkegaard's person. Although Kierkegaard himself literally invited this assault in both of his articles during this period, the assault went beyond what he had imagined. The Corsair began to lampoon him in return with caricatures—making fun of his appearance, voice, and habits. Prior to these events Kierkegaard had never been unfavorably depicted in its pages. In fact, The Corsair had praised his pseudonyms Victor Eremita and Hilarius Bookbinder. However, The Corsair did in fact exhaust itself, so to speak, after a couple years, with Goldschmidt leaving. And while the paper continued for a few more years, it was never the same again.

Altogether Kierkegaard wrote only two articles in his attack. The opposition sustained its attack in several articles covering the period of many months. Kierkegaard's dialectical wit and superior intellect are evident in his pieces, whereas the articles deriding him are manifestly silly. However, their effect on Kierkegaard and the public was profound. This very public individual, who would stroll the streets all day long—he wrote voraciously in the evening and night—found himself to be the object of ridicule. Children would taunt him with cries of "either-or".

An extra layer of frosting for the Affair derived from the fact that the participants - Goldschmidt and Kierkegaard, in particular, but also Møller - would meet on the street and pretend not to have penetrated their mutual pseudonyms and editorial anonymity. (What bloggers these 19th century Danes might have made.)

The thing you should know about Goldschmidt is that he seems to be quite a fine writer, not the crude mud-slinger Kierkegaard's defenders sometimes make him out. I gather the Corsair caricatures were pretty crude. But you get some sense for Goldschmidt's higher literary capacities from the following episode. (I think I blogged this long ago, when I had 10 readers, so I guess I can quote it again):

I had ordered a winter coat at Fahrner's, the fashionable tailor of the day, and because I was uncertain about how it really ought to look, Fahrner said, "Would you do me the favor of leaving it to me? I will sew you the most beautiful coat in all of Copenhagen." I went along with that, and when it was finished it was indeed a very beautiful coat, of fine dark blue cloth with a fur collar, and instead of buttons with loops it had a luxuriant black braid on the breast. It pleased me, because it had a fine military touch that appealed to my fantasies about weaponry. But it was precisely this detail that frightened me about it as an article of clothing for the everyday world. If, as the tailor surely assumed, I had had a desire to arouse attention regarding my person, to be jaunty or a braggart, the coat would have been incomparable. Now, under the circumstances, it was not possible to criticize it because in its way it was a masterpiece, and Fahrner was very proud of it, and wanted me to put it on right away and walk down Østergade. I didn't want to, however, and was satisfied with a tentative walk down Købmagergade, where the "establishment" was located, and when people along the way apparently took no notice of me - because that is the way people are; you can't see by looking at they what they are going to say after they have passed by - I began to gain confidence in the coat. Then I came up Amagertorv and Vimmelskaftet, and there I met Kierkegaard. He turned around and walked with me, talking at first with an unmistakable expression of good will, "Don't walk around in a coat like that. You are not a riding instructor. One ought to dress like other people." I did not tell him that this was the first time I had worn the coat and with what feeling I had done so, but I went home, sent it back, and had the fur collar and braid removed. The only thing that caused me pain was that Kierkegaard had thought that I was really pleased with the coat.

Much of the time he is subtler than this solid sitcom material (Goldschmidt = Jerry in the pirate shirt; Kierkegaard = Kramer flying through the door from nowhere). The deadpan understated bits about trying to solve the riddle of 'comic composition' set him by Kierkegaard. He's very thoughtful about Kierkegaard, especially in some later letters. There are bits that make me think I would very much like to read his novel, The Jew (written under the pseudonym Adolph Meyer).

In the following passage he is describing an encounter with Møller, after having sold The Corsair to "the xylographer Flinch" for a low sum even though it was hugely profitable. Goldschmidt is preparing to leave Denmark "in order to be done with witticisms and to learn something." Møller congratulates him on the fact that, having laid Kierkegaard low, the Danish established church (which did not get on with Søren) would canonize his manifestly Christian-spirited bones for these good works rendered.

It is difficult to protect oneself against this sort of congratulation - I myself knew this from the Corsair period - and when I tried to defend myself all the same, he said that it was of no use: that in giving up The Corsair I had abandoned myself; that it was unnatural for me to desire any "positive good" in public life here in this country; that the corrosive Jewish nature required hatred, and that it was in hatred that I had my strength. His words bore no traces of any vulgar hatred of Jews - that was completely foreign to Møller - but it was a sort of private, comradely conversation, which seemed, in its quiet bitterness, to base itself on an irrefutable fact of world history.

Judge for yourself whether Goldschmidt is, or is not, a fine writer, if you can lay hands on some selection. (I would like to see more. I guess there is some in vol. XIII of Kierkegaard's collected writings.)  You can use the handy Amazon search inside function to read 3 pages within the Encounters volume. May I suggest pp. 73-5. You could, for example, enter the title of this post. It would take you right there.


Kierkegaard’s retaliation in The Fatherland (Fædrelandet) on December 27 thus disclosed what some informed people already suspected.

Once I wanted to write a diatribe about the mouthbreathing consequences of MTV but discovered that, incredibly, Kierkegaard had already written it and called it “The Present Age”. (Recommended.)

Nonetheless, blowing Moeller’s cover put SK in the wrong. Tactical political maneuvers were not only beneath him on general principles, they were outside his competence. He should have stuck to his formal anti-Hegelian theater of operations.

“Don’t cross the streams.”

There’s no question Goldschmidt was a fine writer, but what was his personal philosophy of writing, and was it a good thing to have so much talent in service of that philosophy? It’s like praising Andrew Lloyd-Webber.

By pierre on 04/01/05 at 03:10 PM | Permanent link to this comment

What the hell? This is the ALSC blog! Let’s have a post about Horace or Beowulf or something. Didn’t you morons go to college?

By on 04/01/05 at 05:31 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Pierre, I agree that Kiekegaard seems to have done Moeller seriously wrong. And Goldschmidt’s crime seems to have been confined to calling Kierkegaard’s bluff in spades: that is, attacking him at Kierkegaard’s own request. After the Affair, Goldschmidt’s letters (what few I’ve read) seem to present him as moderate and reasonable to a fault. As to ‘crossing the streams’, while I will not speak in praise of Lloyd-Webber, I am obviously personally inclined to engage in more than a bit of the stuff. No doubt that is why I am attracted to Goldschmidt.

By John Holbo on 04/01/05 at 09:29 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Hey!  Those Danes totally stole the idea for that journal from the early 19th-century French daily of the same name.  Le Corsaire was in its 3255th number by 1832, when I read its output.  I was reading a cross-section of that year’s news from Paris, for dark purposes which shall remain unspoken, and Le Corsaire was by far the most fun to read (perhaps with the exception of Le Globe, the publication of the SaintSimoniens).

The newspaper published a couple of real articles, but most of the four pages contained what they called “butin” (booty): bloggy snippets, imagined dialogues, anecdotes, bons mots.  Shorter and punchier than what you excerpt above.  The shortest funny bits from my notes:

(8 April 1832): “Depuis deux jours, M. Perier est sans culotte.” [Perier was the centrist prime minister; he had contracted cholera, and would shortly afterwards die.]

(31 May 1832, a shaky time in Paris): “Le cholera-morbus, l’emeute, le carlisme et le charivari, gouvernent aujourd’hui la France; on ne sait au juste lequel de ces fleaux est president du conseil."

Not like this has much to do with Kierkegaard--and it does seem as though your Danes were doing more reflective work.  Still, to me a curious instance of Parisian literary influence--or a coincidence?

By Jackmormon on 04/21/05 at 08:30 PM | Permanent link to this comment

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