Reincarnations on Twitter
A couple of weeks ago, I received a notification on my phone that I had been followed by "Modern Kierkegaard" on Twitter. I clicked on the profile, which was described as “Søren Kierkegaard's philosophy adapted for today,” and I enjoyed the ironic truth of the most recent tweet:
I decided to retweet this to my own Twitter account, which includes 1,660 people I’m following that I don’t pay a terrible amount of attention to, and I moved on with my day
However, while my phone remained in my pocket, the machinations of the Twitter app went into effect, deciding that if I followed this account, added it to one of my lists, and immediately retweeted a tweet, I must love it, so it took it upon itself to set up some sort of favorite account feature. Now whenever @KierkegaardNow posts a tweet, my phone vibrates and the tweet appears in my notifications.
I have to say, it’s quite reassuring to be trudging across the tundra of a tough day in the 21st Century and have a philosopher reach through 170 years to share some words of wisdom with you via the technology in your pocket.
Some of the Kierkegaard tweets that struck me:
According to the description, Modern Kierkegaard is “an account by @Good_Philosophy. Created by @Philosophy_Muse” and @Philosophy_Muse says it was created by@ReidPlummer, so I’m guessing it’s thanks to him we have these tweets.
Reborn on Twitter
It seems that anyone or anything from the past can be reincarnated as a Twitter account. You can find a Twitter incarnation of any of your favorite, long-dead philosophers, authors, or religious prophets. As someone who’s wondered how many conflicts inSeinfeld episodes would have been avoided if they had cell phones, I thoroughly enjoyed the night I discovered Modern Seinfeld.
But how accurate are the reincarnations? In a recent interview, Larry David responded to an @SeinfeldToday tweet by saying, “I could guarantee you that show would not get on the air,” and in a Reddit AskMeAnything, Jerry followed up, “Oh this is a very painful subject. As you can probably imagine, over the nine years of doing the show, Larry David and I sat through hundreds of ideas that people wanted to do on the show. And most of the ideas are not good.”
The Father of Existentialism...
in 140 Characters or Less
So since I can’t convince a Danish translator to travel back in time with me so we can explain to Søren what Twitter is, give him a general gist of what our times are like, and ask him if he thinks the account accurately represents him, I’m left to contemplate it on my own. In all honesty, if Kierkegaard was really on Twitter, he probably wouldn't write many of his own Tweets. He would create a panoply of fake Twitter accounts, write in a different viewpoint on each account, have the accounts start to argue with each other, and then he would retweet some of the arguments on his own account.
However, from my limited knowledge of Kierkegaard, I think the Twitter account does a nice job of catching some of his essence. Kierkegaard's an extraordinarily creative writer, whips up fantastic metaphors and analogies, and makes me laugh out loud with his "aesthetic stage" writing (see his passage on why boredom is the root of all evil). I can be pretty skeptical about his religious writings though. In Fear and Trembling, it seems to me that he sets out with the idea that it had to be okay for Abraham to be willing to kill his son, so he wants to prove how it can be okay (his idea that morality is suspended in the religious stage). But I don't think he ever truly considered the concept of Abraham being in the wrong.
My favorite take on the Abraham story is Kafka's parody of Fear and Trembling, which presents a series of absurd Abrahams, one who can't even make it out of his house to realize there's a choice to be made. When Kafka read Kierkegaard's diaries, he strongly identified with him, but when he read Fear and Trembling, he wrote, "It’s as if a next-door neighbor had turned into a distant star."
Curiously, Kierkegaard always seems to come to me in some sort of abridged form. If you'll notice the books in the top image, the anthology features excerpts from his major works, and the Parables of Kierkegaard, a book I highly recommend, is a collection of his inventive analogies and metaphors, extracted from their original locations deep within his texts and presented by themselves on the single page or two they take up.
Finding Focus on Twitter
There may be plenty to savor if you find a good Twitter account and dig deeply into it, but with follow lists reaching into the thousands, most posts on Twitter go ignored in an endless stream of updates. The only reason I was able to get so much reflection out of the Modern Kierkegaard account was because Twitter decided to auto-notify me of every update.