The Corsair Affair

The first of these events was occasioned by one of Kierkegaard's pseudonyms being singled out for praise in a satirical weekly tabloid called The Corsair (from the French corsaire, meaning 'a pirate or pirate ship'), which in keeping with its name specialized in plundering and destroying the reputations of Copenhagen citizens of note. This scandal sheet, or 'pirate paper' as its editor Meir Goldschmidt (1819-87) called it, enjoyed the largest circulation of any newspaper in the city and appealed to the basest instincts of its readers, who apparently relished seeing their fellow citizens exposed, ridiculed, caricatured, and hung out to dry by all the rumours, gossip, and distorted facts anonymously reported in it.74 Writing as his pseudonym, Kierkegaard published a response designed not only to protest this malicious practice but also to expose a person secretly involved in the whole enterprise, Peder Ludvig Moller (1814-65), a notorious aesthete and aspirant for a position as professor of aesthetics at the university who had published a vicious review of Kierkegaard's pseudonymous works (COR 38-46, 96-104). Expressing a desire to be treated like everyone else, Kierkegaard's pseudonym complains: 'It is really hard for a poor author to be so singled out in Danish literature that he (assuming that we pseudonyms are one) is the only one who is not abused there' (46).

Accommodating this request, The Corsair unleashed a barrage of pieces over the next six months that subjected Kierkegaard to unrelenting comic ridicule. It identified him with a local insane horse trader called 'Crazy Nathanson' and caricatured his personal appearance, especially his humped shoulders, spindly legs, and uneven pant legs, leading him to comment in his journals that 'my whole life will never be as important as my trousers have come to be' (COR 108-37; JP v. 5863). This attack onhis personhad the terrible consequence of making Kierkegaard the laughing-stock of Copenhagen, so that even schoolchildren mocked him when he went out to walk and the name Soren became a pejorative nickname and euphemism for Satan that was often used for ludicrous characters in new plays of the time

73 See also Bukdahl (2001); Kirmmse (1990); Elrod (1981).

(COR 238 and nn. 443, 451, 480). But this cruel episode in Kierkegaard's life was also the occasion of'an awakening of awareness' in him, requiring him, as he put it, to 'think about or think through the dialectic of contemptible-ness' (COR 160). Not only did it teach him to know himself and the world better but also to discover 'a whole side of Christianity' not previously recognized or addressed in his writings, namely its outward dimension and external consequences, with the result that, as he lyrically expressed it in his journals, As author I have gotten a new string in my instrument, have been enabled to hit notes I never would have dreamed of otherwise' (JP vi. 6548; cf. 6594).

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