The Present Age: On the Death of Rebellion
By: Soren Kierkegaard
Format/Source: Mass market paperback; my purchase
In his seminal 1846 tract The Present Age, Søren Kierkegaard (“the father of existentialism”—New York Times) analyzes the philosophical implications of a society dominated by mass media—a society eerily similar to our own. A stunningly prescient essay on the rising influence of advertising, marketing, and publicity, The Present Age is essential reading for anyone who wishes to better understand the modern world.
I don’t normally post reviews/discussion entries on philosopical and religious texts I read just because I have so many thoughts about them that a post just doesn’t seem adequate enough to express my own reactions to the text. But suffice to say I do read them on occasion. So fun fact: my favourite philosopher is Soren Kierkegaard. I was introduced to his ideas in Grade 12 philosophy when I did a paper and presentation on his leap of faith theory. While I’m not so big on how existentialism sort of branched off since his thoughts, he remains a favourite, and it pains me whenever I hear that he’s actually not terribly popular in his hometown Copenhagen. But anyway. I felt compelled to write a post about this book after having read most of it while at the dentist’s a few months ago 😛
Suffice to say I highly recommend this book to everyone. Kierkegaard’s power of observation on trends and social behaviours and activities are quite astute, and it’s startling–and perhaps a bit terrifying–to see how our contemporary society is very much like the 19th century society of his time with the rise of the Press and the role of publicity. He also writes a lot about how the mass media affects the goals of our society (and/or how it reinforces the settling attitudes that society has; it’s this weird relationship that goes both ways however you cut it), and how the rise of the importance of the mass media and the public entity results in the diminishing of a capacity to actually create fundamental change because of these ebbs and flows that result in the public’s responses to situations and crises. It’s eerie and fascinating, and I thought his points on how the mass media affects our own personal thinking and development of opinion were also something to consider.
But on an individual standpoint he also makes an interesting argument about how all of this societal/media affects our own personal attitudes and behaviours and how these larger social attitudes are affecting and changing the way certain institutions and bonds are understood and valued. That loss of value with nothing to replace it is a rather chilling notion and leaves you wondering where things are headed exactly.
The blurb at the back of the book doesn’t mention it but this volume actually contains two of his works: the first is on “The Present Age” and the second is “Of the Difference Between a Genius and an Apostle.” The latter is more akin to his religious writings in which contemplates on the role of the Apostle and whether you can accredit the notion of genius to them; here he uses St. Paul as his prime example. Unless you’re into religious writings and inquiry, this essay may not interest people as much as the former essay, but I urge you to stick through it as there is a reason why it was included here with “The Present Age” and does come back to talk about the public and its thoughts on geniuses and apostles. It’s a fascinating discussion in understanding what a genius is and what an Apostle is.
I don’t know what else I can say about this book except go, go pick it up! 😛 It obviously left me with a lot of thoughts about many of the subjects he touches on–the instagram photo I included to the right is but a taste of some of the notes and observations I was jotting down as I was reading it (again; even as I write this it’s a poor reflection of all of the thoughts that were bubbling near the surface as I was reading).