Tuesday, September 13, 2005


I am generally against approaching philosophers or poets through their biographies. To my mind, "intellectual biography" is really just a veiled form of ad hominem refutation. Many prominent Kierkegaard scholars, for example, insist that you can't understand his thinking without an understanding of his life, mostly to assure themselves and their audiences that existential anxiety is a peculiarity of some especially tormented souls and nothing to worry yourself about (unless you happen to like that sort of thing, i.e., want to identify yourself with it.)

When I first heard the celebrated Joakim Garff say something (I interpreted) along those lines, I came up with the punny idea of reading Kierkegaard biogarffically (as opposed to, say, philosophically). This has turned out to be more profound a joke than I thought. It has recently been argued that Garff uses every trick in the book (and other people's books) to turn Kierkegaard's life to his own ends.

Marilyn Piety offers a useful summary of the debate, which we witnessed here in Denmark. I agree with her that there is a real problem in what we allow biographers to get away with in terms of "interpretation", and just the generally lax attitide in the academy with regard to proper referencing of sources. If I was more interested in biography I would have the facts straight enough to offer an assessment of right and wrong. As it stands, I imagine the worst, and I think Peter Tudvad (the whistle blower) has been treated unfairly.

Part of my reason for writing this post is simply to come clean about what may be a double standard of mine. I think Flarf is fully justified in its acts of "plagiarism", but the scare quotes come off when it comes to academics.

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