[This excerpt has been extracted from Joakim Garff’s Søren

Kierkegaard: A Biography, trans. Bruce H. Kirmmse. Princeton

and Oxford: Princeton University Press, trans. copyright 2005, pp. 471-472. The extractor (smh) was moved to place it

here by a telephone interview he foolishly agreed to take, in which the

interviewer was completely flummoxed by his utter and persistent lack of

opinion on certain matters pertaining to professional sports that had, after

all, been widely reported in the news. The

reader will bear in mind that Kierkegaard wrote what Garff cites here in the

1840’s.]

——————-

The collision with The Corsair left Kierkegaard with

a terrific loathing for the daily press and its practitioners, “those who

rent out opinions,” as he called them, using an expression he found in

Schopenhauer and became infatuated with. Schopenhauer had noted quite correctly that although most people avoid

walking around in a borrowed hat or coat, they are only too happy to go around

with borrowed opinions, which have been served up to them by journalists: “The great mass of people naturally

have no opinion but—here it comes!—this deficiency is remedied by the

journalists who make their living by renting out opinions.” This bizarre situation also has a logic of

its own: “Gradually, as more and more people are wrenched free of the

condition of innocence in which they were by no means obliged to have an

opinion and are forced into the ‘condition of guilt’ . . . in which they must have an opinion, what can

the unfortunate people do? An opinion

becomes a necessary item for every member of the enormous public, so the

journalist offers his assistance by renting out opinions.” In doing so journalists make people

laughable in two respects: first by

convincing them of the necessity to have an opinion, then by renting out an “opinion which despite its insubstantial quality is nonetheless put on and

worn as—a necessary item.”

Thus Kierkegaard came surprisingly early to the realization

that the press lives by creating its own stories—“it acts as if it were

reporting on an actual situation, and it intends to produce that

situation”—with the result that reality itself becomes pale and

imaginary. “There is something the

journalist wishes to publicize, and perhaps absolutely no one thinks or cares

about it. So what does the journalist

do? He writes an article in the most

exalted manner in which he states that this is a need profoundly felt by

everyone, et cetera. Perhaps his

journal has a large circulation, and now we have set things in motion. The article is in fact read, it is talked

about. . . . There ensues a polemical controversy that causes a

sensation.”

. . . . The journalists

also incur a moral responsibility because they are capable of completely

altering a person’s fate overnight: “Take a young girl. Someone

names her, using her full name, and then relates that she had got a new dress

last Sunday. This of course is not the

most unsavory sort of evil—and nonetheless she is made ridiculous. Everything private, the condition of privacy

itself, is entirely incompatible with being mentioned all over the country in a

newspaper.” The vignette itself is

so shy and retiring that the reader can scarcely get a glimpse of the problem,

but it is there. Even though an

announcement such as this is ethically neutral in itself, the mere fact of its

publication becomes a violation of privacy. Kierkegaard saw more and more clearly that the media’s transformation of

the population into “the public” was accompanied by increasing

infantilization, by the deprivation of the individual’s rightful authority, a

condition that was all the more catastrophic because it was said to be

identical to the public’s self-determination and its supposed possession of

influence . . . .

“Suppose someone invented an instrument, a convenient

little speaking tube that was so powerful it could be heard all over the entire

country. Wouldn’t the police forbid it

out of fear that its use would result in the whole of society becoming mentally

deranged?”