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Philosopher of the Heart

The Restless Life of Søren Kierkegaard

Clare Carlisle

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Philosopher of the Heart Download image

ISBN10: 0374231184
ISBN13: 9780374231187


368 Pages


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Søren Kierkegaard is one of the most passionate and challenging of all modern philosophers, and is often regarded as the founder of existentialism. Over about a decade in the 1840s and 1850s, writings poured from his pen pursuing the question of existence—how to be a human being in the world?—while exploring the possibilities of Christianity and confronting the failures of its institutional manifestation around him.

Much of his creativity sprang from his relationship with the young woman whom he promised to marry, then left to devote himself to writing, a relationship which remained decisive for the rest of his life. He deliberately lived in the swim of human life in Copenhagen, but alone, and died exhausted in 1855 at the age of 42, bequeathing his remarkable writings to his erstwhile fiancée.

Clare Carlisle’s innovative and moving biography writes Kierkegaard’s life as far as possible from his own perspective, to convey what it was like actually being this Socrates of Christendom—as he put it, living life forwards yet only understanding it backwards.


Praise for Philosopher of the Heart

"Carlisle tells the story out of chronological order and adds passages of novel-like scene-setting . . . 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."—Adam Kirsch, The New Yorker

"[A] sparkling, penetrative new biography . . . With [her] unconventional structure . . . Carlisle is better able to crack open the philosopher's life . . . [Philosopher of the Heart] is an essential guide to those beginning or reembarking on their Kierkegaard journey."—Sophie Madeline Dess, The Washington Post

“Engrossing . . . Carlisle has pulled off the feat of writing a truly Kierkegaardian biography of Kierkegaard. 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.”—Julian Baggini, The Financial Times

“Clare Carlisle’s biography of Kierkegaard is impressively well researched, and brings its subject vividly alive . . . Carlisle provides us with lucid, perceptive accounts of Kierkegaard’s writings, which make stringent intellectual demands on the reader. She is illuminating about some of the rather obscure scholars who influenced his work, and valuably explores his relations with Romanticism.”—Terry Eagleton, London Review of Books

"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."—Christopher Beha, Harper's

“Carlisle writes with verve and sympathy . . . this lucid and riveting new biography at once rescues Kierkegaard from the scholars and makes it abundantly clear why he is such an intriguing and useful figure.”—Adam Philips, Observer

"[A]bsorbing and captivating . . . 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."—Henry L. Carrigan Jr., BookPage

"Søren Kierkegaard, the influential 19th-century Danish philosopher, has been the subject of many excellent biographies. But none, until Clare Carlisle’s new biography, Philosopher of the Heart, have considered so seriously, and with such depth and eloquence, the issue that surely would have most interested Kierkegaard himself: what it feels like to live the question of existence, the question of how to be a human being . . . A book that seeks to restore the human gravity to Kierkegaard’s life of work, it is as concerned as Kierkegaard himself was with the quiet miracle of how we relate to one another, and to ourselves, in search."Lithub

"[Carlisle] judiciously mines Kierkegaard's works and considerable scholarship to elucidate the philosopher's life, mind, and struggles . . . A perceptive portrait of an enigmatic thinker."Kirkus Reviews


Read an Excerpt


Living the Question of Existence

Never before has he moved so quickly! And yet he is sitting quite still, not uncomfortably – resting, even – in a ‘marvellous armchair’. The fields are flying past, still the brightest...

About the author

Clare Carlisle

Clare Carlisle is Reader in Philosophy and Theology at King’s College London. She is a regular contributor to the Times Literary Supplement and has written dozens of articles on philosophy for The Guardian. Her book, On Habit, was named an Outstanding Academic Title of 2014 by Choice, and she has recently edited George Eliot’s translation of Spinoza’s Ethics. She grew up in Manchester, studied philosophy and theology at Cambridge, and now lives in Hackney.

Clare Carlisle