Monday, September 18, 2006

The civilisation of the book

Of the 813 pages of Joakim Garff's biography of Kierkegaard, I've read only 100. But I intend to reach the end, to read everything and in order. I was horrified when a friend told me he began 180 pages in to read about Kierkegaard's relationship with Regine Olsen. Apparently that's when it becomes interesting (so far it isn't terribly). So why do I insist on plodding through the pages in order?

Actually, on page 100 Garff tells of the actions of two early editors of Kierkegaard's papers that offers an answer. Heiberg and Kuhr divided the material into three groups, A for journal entries, B for his pseudonymous and nonpseudonymous writings and C for notes from his studies. This systematization, Garff explains, was further divided into subgroups: aesthetic, philosophical, and theological. He comments that this
was laudable in principle but is unfortunate in practice, because it obscures the range of Kierkegaard's journal entries and gives the reader a false notion of uniformity and consistency in the profusion of texts.
I'm not sure how laudable it is to systematise such writings in the first place, though I suppose it's not far removed from Garff's own project which perhaps gives a false notion of Kierkegaard's life - the one he lived forwards and we try to understand backwards.

The more I thought about possible alternatives, I realised my intention to read each page in turn was not itself far removed from either of the above. The impulse to organise, contain and control - an impulse which is inherent to reading and writing; perhaps also inherent to living on.

It helps explain a line from Blanchot that has stayed with me:
Whatever we do, whatever we write [...] literature takes possession of it, and we are still in the civilisation of the book.
Later, he explains that:
If one ceased publishing books in favor of communication by voice, image, or machine, this would in no way change the reality of what is called the 'book'; on the contrary, language, like speech, would thereby affirm all the more its predominance and its certitude of a possible truth. In other words, the Book always indicates an order that submits to unity, a system of notions in which are affirmed the primacy of speech over writing, of thought over language, and the promise of a communication that would one day be transparent and immediate. [trans Susan Hanson]
One might presume then that those early editors of Kierkegaard were neutralising his disruption of that submission to unity. But Garff reminds us that the first editor of Kierkegaard's papers was Kierkegaard himself.
After my death, this is my consolation: No one will be able to find in my papers one single bit of information about what has really filled my life; they will not find the inscription deep within me which explains everything, which often makes what the world would call bagetelles into events of enormous importance to me, but which I, too, view as insignificant when I remove the secret note that explains everything.

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