Eric Ziolkowski’s monumental study examines Kierkegaard’s “whole ‘prolix literature,’” including both the pseudonymous and the signed published writings as well as the private journals, papers, and letters, in relation to works by five literary giants from different times and places: Clouds by Aristophanes; Parzival by the medieval German poet Wolfram von Eschenbach; Don Quixote by Cervantes; certain plays, particularly Hamlet, by Shakespeare; and the fictional, poeticphilosophical work Sartor Resartus, together with some of the essays by Kierkegaard’s Scottish contemporary Thomas Carlyle. No full or complete understanding of the writings of an author as prolific and complex as Kierkegaard is possible.
Yet Kierkegaard signals the essentially literary as opposed to strictly theological or philosophical nature of his writings. Ziolkowski first considers the notions of aesthetics and the aesthetic as Kierkegaard adapted them, and then his posture as a poet, as interrelated contexts of his selfconception as “a weed in literature.” After next taking account of the history of the critical recognition of Kierkegaard as a literary artist, he looks at an important characteristic of his literary craft that has received relatively little attention: the manner by which he and his pseudonyms read and quote other authors. Ziolkowski then explores the connections between the philosopher’s writings and those of other literary masters by whom he was directly influenced, such as Aristophanes, Cervantes, and Shakespeare; or of those who, while they did not directly influence him, gave paradigmatic expression to some of the same aspects of aesthetic, ethical, and religious existence that Kierkegaard and his pseudonyms portray. Ziolkowski’s seminal study will be of interest to Kierkegaard scholars, philosophers, and comparative literature scholars alike.