...[a] lucid and riveting new biography, which at once rescues Kierkegaard from the scholars and makes it abundantly clear why he is such an intriguing and useful figure: that we want, above all, to be reassured about our lives rather than find out what about our lives matters to us ... Carlisle writes her biography partly in the present tense, as though Kierkegaard’s life is unfolding as it happens, which gives us an uncanny sense of the spectacular complexity of a life that Kierkegaard was at such pains to reveal ... Carlisle writes with verve and sympathy ... Kierkegaard’s life is exemplary, as Carlisle shows with such plain and accessible eloquence, because it was organised around the fear of being ridiculed. He reveals to us what we might do, what might be made, out of our fear of humiliation. As she suggests, after Kierkegaard, our most urgent question may not be why do we suffer?, but how should we suffer? ... Kierkegaard’s life and writing are a testament to the cruelty, the generosity and the inventiveness of those who believe in the Real Thing, the prophets of authenticity. Carlisle’s timely book gives us a good way of thinking about all this and of thinking about Kierkegaard again.
Clare Carlisle, in her sparkling, penetrative new biography...explains how Kierkegaard ran against the philosophical grain of his time ... Carlisle abandons standard chronology in favor of a three-part study ... With this unconventional structure — a fittingly oblique approach for a famously dialectical man — Carlisle is better able to crack open the philosopher’s life: What we get is a panorama of sorts ... Carlisle does not sacrifice intellectual rigor for the sake of this larger picture. Her work is demanding in its comprehensiveness ... Carlisle’s book is an essential guide to those beginning or reembarking on their Kierkegaard journey.
Carlisle has set out to write 'a Kierkegaardian biography of Kierkegaard,' which means that she cannot take the typical approach of standing complacently outside the events of his life, recounting them chronologically, with the historian’s retrospective knowledge of what they all mean and where they will lead ... It’s a theoretically sound approach, but the result is sometimes awkward ... While Carlisle emphasizes the importance of movement in Kierkegaard’s thought, her book can sometimes be curiously static. It is at its best when providing more straightforward explication ... [Carlisle] has an absolute mastery of Kierkegaard’s life and works. At the same time, she is a lucid and stylish writer who shares some of her subject’s suspicions of the academic approach. She succeeds wonderfully at what is obviously her chief goal, which is to give us some sense of why Kierkegaard’s task mattered so urgently for him, and of why it might matter for us.
Carlisle is capable of sketching a vivid picture ... Carlisle has a tendency to make liberal use of free indirect style, attributing to her subject thoughts and observations that are almost certainly of her own invention, then this might not be the book for you. Philosopher of the Heart is intended as 'a Kierkegaardian biography of Kierkegaard,' and Carlisle is largely successful on these peculiar terms, though such an approach is necessarily blinkered in its focus and bound to exclude readers not already conversant in Kierkegaard’s work. I doubt that Philosopher of the Heart will win any new converts, but those already captivated by Kierkegaard are likely to have their passion reignited ... Philosopher of the Heart lacks...self-awareness ... her approach 'as a Kierkegaardian biographer' is 'to resist the urge to impose or invite these judgments.' I sometimes wished she’d let herself succumb ... To a modern reader (and, probably, to women of all eras), Kierkegaard’s behavior toward Regine Olsen—first breaking the engagement, then writing about it, then continuing to make claims on her attention and render judgments about her life—will register as hypocritical, obnoxious, creepy, and all too familiar. It would have been nice to see this more fully acknowledged, or dealt with on any terms other than Kierkegaard’s own, which are as hopelessly convoluted as they are self-serving. A truly Kierkegaardian biography would have found some way to give Regine a voice. Moreover, it would have employed more of Kierkegaard’s own formal approaches: pseudonymous authors possessing plausible psychologies in open conflict with each other; essays and fictions presented as found texts; layers of diegesis and vortices of Socratic irony. Maybe a truly Kierkegaardian biography of Kierkegaard could only ever be a novel.
Like most great philosophers, Soren Kierkegaard was something of a pain in the arse ... Even Clare Carlisle’s sympathetic new biography can’t make him seem particularly likeable ... Kierkegaard’s questions about existence were more interesting than his solutions, which, boringly, were very Christian ... Although it is usually readable and entertaining, many will find themselves becalmed in the sections that deal with the meaning of Christianity and the theological failings of various Danish bishops. I’m no Kierkegaard scholar and Carlisle, reader in philosophy and theology at King’s College London, very much is. I’m sure the picture of Kierkegaard she presents here is the accurate one. But amid all the theologising, I missed the crazily quiffed nihilist I once knew.
The insights of the dead are often mined and recast to suit the desires and tastes of the living. Clare Carlisle’s engrossing new life of Søren Kierkegaard...refuses to be so accommodating to contemporary fashions, in keeping with the iconoclasm of its subject ... Carlisle has pulled off the feat of writing a truly Kierkegaardian biography of Kierkegaard. Her non-linear narrative goes back and forth in time, bringing to life Kierkegaard’s ideas about the impossibility of repetition: every time an incident recurs we see it from a different angle in a different context, and its meaning changes. Just as Kierkegaard’s pseudonymous writings were meant to enable the reader to understand different modes of existence from the inside, Carlisle’s biography takes us inside Kierkegaard’s troubled, complicated life, portraying a man who both compels and repels in turn.
... it’s a very polite book [Carlisle] offers us, one that never probes Kierkegaard’s secrets or stoops to speculation. The book ambles along the well-trodden conclusions and avoids engaging with his darker impulses, his own conformism and distaste for democracy ... Carlisle does make an unfortunate innovation of her own. She conceives of her book as 'a Kierkegaardian biography of Kierkegaard,' following 'the blurry, fluid lines between Kierkegaard’s life and writing, and allowing philosophical and spiritual questions to animate the events, decisions and encounters that constitute the facts of a life.' In practice, this gives us a reading experience that feels a bit like the Mad Hatter’s tea party in Alice in Wonderland, information flying at us untethered, the courses all out of order ... Carlisle begins in the middle of Kierkegaard’s life and stays trained on him as a young philosopher, displaying an odd indifference to his harrowing childhood ... The narrative slips in and out of a breathless present-tense voice with flourishes of soppy characterization ... At times Carlisle succumbs to outright fiction ... The attractions of Kierkegaard — his severity and wit, the force of his rhetoric, his defense of the individual and the example of his solitary spiritual striving — survive even a middling biography. That voice is unmistakable and startling — ironic, moody, modern — full of caustic, strangely comforting honesty.
The book opens in May 1843, with Kierkegaard amazed to be on a train, returning to his native Copenhagen from Berlin. Instantly, we see a problem that any biographer of someone who did almost nothing but write is going to have to face: how to fill the pages, or bring the life alive ... Carlisle declares that she wants to write a 'Kierkegaardian' biography, so she abandons conventional chronology ... this is not a stupid book, and Carlisle quite clearly loves and knows a lot about her subject. Her emphasis is on his religious struggles, which is appropriate in that Kierkegaard thought these the most important part of his work – indeed, its whole point. But one wonders if she couldn’t have told the story forwards, the way we live life.
Clare Carlisle’s biography of Kierkegaard is impressively well researched, and brings its subject vividly alive. Almost everything you need to know about him as a man can be found here, along with a little more information than is strictly necessary. Since not much tends to happen to philosophers...a biographer needs to compensate for this lack of dramatic action with an excess of domestic detail. It is not vital to an understanding of Kierkegaard’s inner life that he once sent Regine Olsen, to whom he was engaged at the time, a bottle of lily of the valley cologne, but one has to fill one’s pages ... Even so, Carlisle provides us with some lucid, perceptive accounts of Kierkegaard’s writings, which make stringent intellectual demands on the reader ... There is a good deal of poetic licence ... Elitist, puritanical and deeply misogynistic, [Kierkegaard] defended censorship and monarchy, railed against the ‘mob’ and was a strict adherent of social hierarchy. His Lutheran combination of individualism and social conservatism led him to an impassioned support for family and fatherland. He may have been a Christian, but he was not a nice person at all. Carlisle, however, is far too nice to drive the point home.
The intimate connection between Kierkegaard’s thought and his personal life has made him a compelling subject for biographers ... Yet Kierkegaard also resists biography. The genre is inherently opposed to the way he thought about human existence ... Carlisle, who has published three previous books about Kierkegaard, has tried to avoid this problem by writing what she calls 'a Kierkegaardian biography of Kierkegaard,' one that 'does not consider Kierkegaard’s life from a remote, knowing perspective, but joins him on his journey and confronts its uncertainties with him' ...In practice, this means that Carlisle tells the story out of chronological order and adds passages of novel-like scene-setting ... a cumbersome and sometimes confusing method ... The vignettes feel like packaging that the reader must unwrap to get to what is really excellent in the book: Carlisle’s analysis of Kierkegaard’s intellectual milieu.
After reading Clare Carlisle’s biography, I’m still not sure how much Kierkegaard the religious philosopher has to say to the non-Christian in the 21st century ... This is one of those biographies of a life that was outwardly not all that dramatic ... Wisely, Carlisle focuses on this inward struggle, but we only occasionally descend to the emotional depths Kierkegaard sought to plumb ... Philosopher of the Heart is weakened by a confusing structure ... It’s clear that Kierkegaard’s religious and existential concerns are very much alive to [Carlisle], even if she cannot entirely convey the urgency of those concerns to the reader. For that, it seems, we must return to the original works – Søren Kierkegaard’s strange, difficult, contrary books, wherein we might 'grasp the secret of suffering as the form of the highest life, higher than all good fortune'.
How close should a biographer come to her subject? Clare Carlisle stays by the side, and looks through the eyes, of Søren Kierkegaard at almost every step on his maverick journey ... unashamedly subjective, lyrical, impassioned and impatient with the buttoned-up, life-denying formality of conventional philosophy – conventional biography too, for that matter. Those qualities make her study of this ironic, ecstatic and anguished outsider a deep pleasure, but a challenge as well, for the curious lay reader ... Philosopher of the Heart enacts Kierkegaard’s audacity and verve in thinking and writing, his 'new way of doing philosophy,' in a thrillingly inward and intimate style ... From first to last, theological debate powers Kierkegaard’s prose. Carlisle correctly refuses to downplay its role ... Her book powerfully shares that passion, and that urgency.
In this interesting, if challenging, biography, Clare Carlisle...has sought to convey Kierkegaard’s profundity and depth, and to do justice to the picture of him as a 'really religious' man ... It is an ambitious aim, and it is not surprising that she has not entirely achieved it. Indeed, I think it is possible that it is not achievable. A good biography can indeed convey the inner life of its subject, but not through inwardness ... Carlisle’s book is structured in a way that takes a lot of getting used to. I had to read it twice before I could find my bearings ... It is a fault of this book that Carlisle seems unaware that the person she presents as providing deep solutions to the problems of life would just as naturally be viewed as insufferably self-absorbed, as obsessed with his own sufferings as he is indifferent to those of others.
Books by Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard aren’t likely on many readers’ nightstands these days ... Yet, as Clare Carlisle demonstrates in the absorbing and captivating Philosopher of the Heart: The Restless Life of Søren Kierkegaard, reading Kierkegaard is much like reading a good novel or a thoughtful poem ... Philosopher of the Heart does what the best biographies do: It sends us back to Kierkegaard’s time so we can see for ourselves the beauty, intricacy and literary artistry of what he accomplished. Carlisle’s meticulous reading of Kierkegaard’s oeuvre reveals that his work deserves a wider audience for its insights into what it means to be human.
Carlisle...reader in philosophy and theology at King’s College London, makes an intimidatingly chilly and mercurial figure relatable to readers in this admirable biography. By weaving Søren Kierkegaard’s life story around the Socratic question he obsessively asked—what does it mean to be human?—he becomes sympathetic in Carlisle’s hands ... Nevertheless, Carlisle’s Kierkegaard remains surprisingly elusive throughout her scrupulous study, which is perhaps the only reasonable way to depict this complex man.
...an empathetic, well-grounded biography of the Danish philosopher ... Rather than create a conventional chronological narrative, Carlisle moves back and forth in time to underscore how 'past and future are vibrant inside us' as she judiciously mines Kierkegaard’s works and considerable scholarship to elucidate the philosopher’s life, mind, and struggles ... A perceptive portrait of an enigmatic thinker.