The Book on Adler. Kierkegaard’s Writings, vol. 24 [Book Review]

Review of Metaphysics 53 (1):173-174 (1999)
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“I dare to guarantee [the reader] that from this book he will acquire a clarity about and a deft drilling in individual dogmatic concepts that usually are perhaps not so easily obtained”, writes Kierkegaard at the beginning of this fascinating inquiry into the character of Adolph Peter Adler, a rural pastor and advocate of Hegelian philosophy who asserted in 1843 that he had received a special revelation from Christ but later contradicted himself in a flurry of intellectual prevarication. As Kierkegaard notes, the supposed revelation looks suspiciously like Hegelian metaphysics confusedly combined with half-understood Christian concepts, and the “clarifications” Adler later sent to an ecclesiastical investigator are “evasions”, a way of changing essentially what he had earlier reported. Adler’s ever-changing story about who or what he is, his comical back-and-forth between the incompatible roles of apostle and man of letters, reveals a rootless soul that does not know itself: “he is a private, confused lyrical genius who casually exegetes incidental Bible verses ‘accordingly as these appeal to him’”. Having laid claim to a revelation, however, Adler must be called to account: either he must return to this revelation-fact with the simplicity and fervor of faith, or he must renounce his pretensions and revoke his original statement. For many years Kierkegaard labored over different versions of the book before he abandoned plans for its publication. One can understand his hesitancy. The finished product demolishes Adler’s position with the fury of a worked-up pugilist who keeps hitting his opponent after the knock-out bell has rung. Kierkegaard felt sorry for Adler and feared that his withering critique would “have too strong an effect on him”.



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