Soren Kierkegaard was a Danish philosopher. He belonged to a family of seven children. All but he and an older brother died. He convinced himself that he too would not live very long. The brevity of life struck him and led him to be convinced that every moment matters. He lived his life with this nagging sense of urgency. His literary output within the short span of his life as an author can only be termed prodigious. He viewed himself as a religious writer rather than a philosophical one and wanted that people become convinced of what they profess to believe. His writings tend to this end.
This book divided into eight chapters, each dealing with an aspect of life addressed by Kierkegaard. Throughout the book quotations from his famous works are found, thus giving the reader a personal view of Kierkegaard’s take on the various topics.
The first chapter, entitled “How to wake up” reminds us that we are responsible for our lives. Kierkegaard feels that most people are sleep walking through life because they are afraid of facing the reality. Existential questions like the ‘why’ of life are rarely asked. The purpose of life it seems is to escape boredom. The second chapter, “How to see through things”, invites us to look beneath the surface of our life and see what is really important as opposed to what is peripheral. Kierkegaard warns us against becoming actors in the drama of our lives, unable to distinguish the real from the reel.
Chapter three, “How to avoid living in the past” presents Kierkegaard’s solution as “living arbitrarily”. What he means is enjoying the present without letting the past bother us. The quest of trying to relive the past is useless. Instead every moment ought to be lived well. He uses the illustration of reading a novel to press his point. Can one derive pleasure by reading a chapter randomly? The ability to do so would reflect one’s ability to live arbitrarily.
The chapter “How to cultivate dissatisfaction” may make us a bit uneasy for we usually associate dissatisfaction with negativity. Kierkegaard is weary of people who are over contented with living complacently. What he wants are people willing to challenge themselves and others to live authentically. Chapter five, “On thinking too much”, contains a warning against excessive rationalization which leads to inaction. emphasizes the role of silence in experiencing God and responding to suffering. He tells us that there is no use in raising a hue and cry when we suffer. No one likes moaners. He presents the biblical figure, Job, as an example.
“How to deal with despair”, is a chapter dedicated to addressing this issue. For Kierkegaard, God is the solution. For Him everything is possible. There is no rational way out. Laughter is a help to deal with despair. It makes living bearable. The last chapter, “How to think about death”, has as its focus the ‘how’ of living. Kierkegaard exhorts to live with a sense of urgency since life will come to an end. Keeping death at the back of our mind will help us to live better. The conclusion of the book contains the author’s critical evaluation of Kierkegaard’s philosophy.
The authors flow seems a bit fuzzy, although the extracts are well chosen. The message he aims at getting across does not stand out vividly. This book is not for novices in philosophy. It will prove to be helpful to those interested in a deeper study of Kierkegaard. The section entitled ‘Homework’ is designed as a project. It encourages wider and further reading, reflecting, comparing and critically evaluating. A couple of pages for personal notes give the book a work book style.