In a series of posts for The Guardian, Clare Carlisle introduces the key ideas and concerns of the nineteenth century Danish philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard
Søren Kierkegaard
Søren Kierkegaard

“We may as well begin with a question that is at the heart of Kierkegaard’s philosophy: what does it mean to exist? In his 1846 book Concluding Unscientific Postscript – which, at over 600 pages, is surely one of the lengthiest postscripts ever written – he suggests that “people in our time, because of so much knowledge, have forgotten what it means to exist”. Even though all sorts of things exist, for Kierkegaard the word “existence” has a special meaning when applied to human life. This meaning arises from the fact that we always have a relationship to ourselves. For example, we can be more or less self-aware; we can wish to be other than how we are; we can trust or mistrust, like or dislike ourselves. Perhaps we can even make decisions about who we will become.”

— Clare Carlisle, The Guardian

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“Meanwhile the fog and darkness thickened so, that people ran about with flaring links, proffering their services to go before horses in carriages, and conduct them on their way. The ancient tower of a church, whose gruff old bell was always peeping slily down at Scrooge out of a Gothic window in the wall, became invisible, and struck the hours and quarters in the clouds, with tremulous vibrations afterwards as if its teeth were chattering in its frozen head up there. The cold became intense. In the main street, at the corner of the court, some labourers were repairing the gas-pipes, and had lighted a great fire in a brazier, round which a party of ragged men and boys were gathered: warming their hands and winking their eyes before the blaze in rapture. The water-plug being left in solitude, its overflowings sullenly congealed, and turned to misanthropic ice. The brightness of the shops where holly sprigs and berries crackled in the lamp heat of the windows, made pale faces ruddy as they passed. Poulterers’ and grocers’ trades became a splendid joke: a glorious pageant, with which it was next to impossible to believe that such dull principles as bargain and sale had anything to do. The Lord Mayor, in the stronghold of the mighty Mansion House, gave orders to his fifty cooks and butlers to keep Christmas as a Lord Mayor’s household should; and even the little tailor, whom he had fined five shillings on the previous Monday for being drunk and bloodthirsty in the streets, stirred up to-morrow’s pudding in his garret, while his lean wife and the baby sallied out to buy the beef.”

— Charles Dickens, ‘A Christmas Carol’

Nicole Krauss reviews The River of Consciousness, a posthumous collection of Oliver Sacks’s essays
oliversacks
Oliver Sacks’s fountain pen

“[Oliver Sacks‘s] case studies illustrated how just as homeostasis, the maintenance of constant internal environment, is crucial to all organisms, so is a stable, cogent narrative of reality crucial to the mind and its construction of the self, such that even severely disordered brains will find ways of creating order.

This last point, with its vast implications, affected me powerfully when I read Sacks’s books for the first time while trying to write my first novel 16 years ago. I may have already understood that narrative is a primary human activity, as he points out in an essay in this collection, our way to make sense of the world. But what was revelatory to me as a young writer grappling with the idea of character, with how to describe both humanness and individuality, was the idea that, for the brain, the coherence that narrative forges is paramount to an accurate account of reality.”

— Nicola Krauss, The New York Times

“Reading Mabillon’s wise and delightful book on monastic studies. Among other things, this beautiful quotation from Seneca: “If you will give yourself to study, you will ease every burden of life, you will neither wish for night to come or the light to fail; neither shall you be worried or preoccupied with other things.”

— Thomas Merton, Journal, 10 November 1958

Reflecting on the decision to leave my career to pursue a vocation in art, service, and simple living

Six months ago today, I decided to change my life. I wanted to find a sense of peace and happiness in myself, and to live by my conviction that to enact social, cultural, and political change, it is essential that I change myself. I started following a healthy and balanced diet, stopped drinking alcohol, and began exercising regularly; I left an academic career to pursue my vocation as a writer; and I committed myself to getting more involved in my local community. Since that decision, I have attained a healthy bodyweight (having shed fifty-three pounds), am volunteering with local organisations, and write for my own enjoyment. I accept that meaningful change requires ongoing action and sacrifice, and I continue to be humbled by an awareness of my weaknesses and limitations. I am grateful for the understanding of my family and friends, and for their continued enthusiasm and support. I feel that I have found my peace, and I am happier than I have ever been.