Danish philosopher Soeren Kierkegaard's work is so dense that he himself lamented: "People understand me so little that they do not even understand when I complain of being misunderstood." So it's something of a surprise that a Danish director has turned his most famous book into a musical for schoolchildren.
As Denmark celebrates the philosopher's 200th birthday on Sunday, Marie Moeller has found her version of "Either/Or" — featuring strobe lights, rave music and child-size puppets — being performed in schools across the country.
Kierkegaard's esoteric musings, considered the forerunner to existentialism, deeply influenced French thinker Jean-Paul Sartre. But while most Danes have heard of Kierkegaard, and are proud of his influence on Western thought, few ever bother to read him because he's just so difficult.
His 1843 work "Either/Or" — which muses on existence and aesthetic and ethical questions about love — runs into hundreds of pages and is considered even by many academics to be convoluted and longwinded. Moeller, a 28-year-old stage director, cut through the arcane thicket of thought by focusing on a meeting between Kierkegaard and his lover.
In a separate performance titled the "Kierkegaard Comedy Show," 46-year-old actor Claus Damgaard uses the philosopher's thoughts to discuss sex and modern romantic relationships with a mix of humor and lecturing. The show has toured Denmark and has been staged at a former chapel next to the cemetery where Kierkegaard and his contemporary, fairy-tale writer Hans Christian Andersen, are buried.
"I remember that when I started reading Kierkegaard, it was hell," Damgaard said. He said it was sheer obstinacy that led him to create his first piece on Kierkegaard, a show where he played the philosopher, in 2003.
Peter Tudvad, author of several books on the Danish thinker, approves of Damgaard's comedy approach and acknowledges that Kierkegaard's writings are "hard to grasp" for most people.
"Many have heard about Soeren Kierkegaard but very, very few people have actually read his works," he said.
The bicentennial events begin on Sunday with Denmark's Queen Margrethe expected to attend a church service at Copenhagen's Lutheran Cathedral, where Kierkegaard's funeral was held in 1855. Festivities in Denmark run through Nov. 11, the day he died at age 42. The post office also has issued a special stamp commemorating the anniversary.