Note: This review concerns the abridged Penguin paperback edition translated by Alastair Hannay.
Now, a prefatory note to every reviewer who described this book as a "difficult" or "challenging" or "dense" read: You are all guilty of scaring me away from this book (and Kierkegaard in general) for over ten years. Sometimes I think there exists a very widely represented personality so jealous, stuffy, covetous, and academic that they sort of enjoy making a book appear too difficult for a general audience just so they can feel superior to everyone around them. I hate these little scholastic gremlins and I hope you suffer all the fates eternal of Prometheus, Tantalus, and Sisyphus combined.*
A note to anyone worried this book is too hard to read: IT IS NOT DIFFICULT! It is all those adjectives I used in my review's title: "Lucid, Pithy, Wise, Engrossing, Accessible, Universal, Witty, Beautiful, Immediate, Personal, and Important." (That list comprises my definition of real art; therefore, Either/Or is real art.)
I think Either/Or has been misfiled in bookstores and libraries: This is a work of literature, not philosophy. Like all great literature (and music and paintings and sculpture) Either/Or is innately philosophical but it is written in a kind of lyric, poetical narration that sets it far away from, say, Hegel or Kant. It reads a lot more like a Platonic dialogue or a classical invective. Kierkegaard is both Proust and Aurelius; Either/Or is both A Search for Lost Time and The Meditations.
The book is also very clever and variegated: It's at times cynical, at times sorrowful, at times nihilistic, at times optimistic, and very often it is comedic to the degree that I burst out laughing (we laugh because a mirror has been held up to our eyes).
Either/Or seems to be a book about everything, like Burton's The Anatomy of Melancholy or Hugo's Les Miserables: it is what Allan Bloom would have called "a total book." Kierkegaard has a talent for packing the contents of ten books into the clause of a single sentence. And when he is not being utterly concise Kierkegaard can do as good a job as Proust in teasing a whole universe out of fleeting and otherwise commonplace moments: He can slow the camera down to a halt and, to borrow a modern simile, like Morpheus pausing the Agent Training simulation in "The Matrix", walk about the scene commenting with nuance, grace, and an often wholly refreshing acerbity. I promise you will be rereading and quoting paragraph after paragraph--it's that good.
To those worried readers I comfort you with this: You will fall in love with this book on page 43. That's the first page of the Diapsalmata section (the book is divided in two parts; this is the first). The Diapsalmata starts with a series of concise observations in a style similar to the Maxims of La Rochefoucauld, the Analects of Confucious, or the Pensees of Pascal; however, Kierkegaard renders his lines with a style eclipsing, at times, any other writer. This quality alone proves Kierkegaard a genius. (It also proves, one should add, the genius of the translator Alastair Hannay.)
All Kierkegaard's more obscure allusions and metaphors are explained in a very complete notes section at the back of the book.
To conclude: Either/Or is one of the best books I've ever read, full stop.
*Prometheus was tied to the side of a cliff and had his liver eaten every day; Tantalus was doomed to stand in a pool just out of reach of both water and food; Sisyphus was made to roll a boulder up a hill every day only to have it kicked back down the hill once it reached the top. Those Greeks sure knew how to punish didn't they?
- Paperback: 640 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd; 1 edition (28 May 1992)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780140445770
- ISBN-13: 978-0140445770
- ASIN: 0140445773
- Product Dimensions: 13 x 2.8 x 20.1 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 422 g
- Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 11,344 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)