Since yesterday I had been feeling that there is something special about 5th May. But what? I wasn't able to recollect. I had a vague feeling that perhaps it's a birthday of a childhood friend, long forgotten but whom I have been longing to meet.
It's Soren Kierkegaard's birthday today. Born in 1813 AD.
I remembered that last year I remembered him by reading two short pieces about him written by W H Auden.
This year I decide to approach him more directly.
To begin with I read the "Preface" and "Prelude" to his Fear and Trembling.
The preface is a little gem about issues of faith and doubt. Here he calls attention to the fact that Descartes has been so grossly misused by the subsequent doubters. He reached a particular position after a strenuous exercise in honest thinking. The contemporary doubter, on the other hand, doesn't struggle with issues of knowing or having faith but, in fact begins with doubt.
Descartes - the rationalist par excellence, Kierkegaard says, arouses "deepest emotion," primarily because he was a "quiet and solitary thinker, not a bellowing night-watchman." In Kierkegaardian estimation that seems to mean that Descartes was finding his own way in the labyrinth of philosophical thinking upto his time. He did not intend this to become an easily aquired public attitude.
"Dexterity in doubting" is cultivated over a long period of time. Like the way it happened with Descartes, who maintained "equilibrium of doubt" and never became a nihilist or a hedonist.
When people invoke Descartes to justify their scepticism, they are doing something that Descartes never did. They begin from where Descartes arrived.
And he further says tha just like dexterity in doubting is not acquired in a few days or weeks, "dexterity in faith" is a "task for a whole life time".
Descartes, he says, never wanted to "make it a duty for everyone to doubt." He needed to use this particular method for himself because it "was justified in part by the bungled knowledge of his earlier years."
I need to reflect on these issues (faith, reason, doubt) which pertain to my new vocation Kierkegaard, I hope becomes a good sparring partner. By the way some of his insights compel me to say that he is a most contemporary writer with a piercing sense of irony. His diagnosis of modern condition does not leave out the postmodern enigmas.
It is Karl Marx's birthday too. Born in 1818 AD.
An estranged friend of fiery youthful days.
Must get back to him too.