I chose to read all of Søren Kierkegaard's works for a High School English report. My thesis, initially, was going to center on the unique role of faith in Kierkegaard's philosophy, but by the time I was halfway through the first title on my bibliography, Fear and Trembling, the thesis had largely assumed its final form, which was that Kierkegaard was nuttier'n a fruitcake.
For those of you who are sympathetic to Kierkegaard's metaphysics, you have my apologies. Kierkegaard plays the field out on the edges of Socratic logic: while Kant, Nietzsche, Hume, and Heidigger are all wearing cleats, Kierkegaard's wearing ice skates. At the dawn of metaphysics, the thinkers woke up and found themselves in what they saw as a hole, and all of their constructions for the most part were applied to the purpose of finding their way out. But Kierkegaard sees the world in the unique and tenuous position of having been built on a surface of ice of unknown thickness, and there is a pronounced note of caution and inaction to his philosophy. Few other philosophers wanted to deal with the concept of faith; even fewer wanted to see it as central to a unified system of metaphysics. (fumanchaw: I'm aware that many of his treatises he wrote in the voice of somebody else, generally of an attitude widely different from his own.)
So I can hardly blame Kierkegaard for being the neurotic wreck he was. Although in the end I wasn't at all persuaded by the structure of Kierkegaard's arguments, either ethical or religious, I was glad to have read his work because he's the funniest philosopher I have ever read. His works are largely vast, deserted, winding stretches of prose, but occasionally you'll get blindsided by a single sentence or paragraph, entirely unlike its surrounding environment, that is so hilarious and profound that it alone makes the entire book the read. In Either/Or, for instance, Kierkegaard proposes that boredom is the root of all evil. This proposition hit me like a ton of bricks. But then he runs with the concept in a way that would make Jerry Seinfeld envious of the delivery: "The gods became bored, so they created humans ... Eve became bored with Adam, and ate the Apple ... the humans became bored, so they decided to build the Tower of Babel (an idea as boring as the Tower was high) ..." Elsewhere, speaking of his own boredom, he says:
"I do not care for anything. I do not care to ride, for the exercise is too violent. I do not care to walk, walking is too strenuous. I do not care to lie down, for I should either have to remain lying, and I do not care to do that, or I should have to get up again, and I do not care to do that either. Summa summarum: I do not care at all."
So far as building a stable philosophical structure, I don't feel that Kierkegaard was entirely successful. But if the measure is coming up with portraits, summaries, and resolutions of the human condition: how we relate to God, to ourselves, and how, as spiritual beings, we can coexist with a temporal world, his neuroses only empowered his understanding of a race as broken as he was -- and I feel that made him one of the greats. Whereas all of his contemporaries were prattling on (and making good, if irrelevant, sense) about archetypes and syntheses, Kierkegaard was painting a "You are here" dot right in the middle of a huge blank canvas. Did he provide answers ? No, but then again, neither did anybody else, except in the form of further questions. But what Kierkegaard did do was to make us more intensely aware of the irreconcilable position we have been placed in, making our own unreasonable desires and motives seem a little less alien, and lowering the expectation for us to make sense out of a world which possesses no explicit order in the fashion we are condemned to live it:
It is quite true what Philosophy says: that Life must be understood backwards. But that makes one forget the other saying: that it must be lived forwards. The more one ponders this, the more it comes to mean that life in the temporal existence never becomes quite intelligible, precisely because at no moment can I find complete quiet to take the backward-looking position.