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Randolph resident knighted
by Gail Scott
COPENHAGEN, Denmark—Randolph resident Bruce Kirmmse was awarded knighthood in the Order of the Dannebrog Sunday during ceremonies in Copenhagen, Denmark, celebrating the 200th anniversary of philosopher Soren Kierkegaard's birth.
Kierkegaard, May 1813—Nov. 1855, was a philosopher, theologian, poet, social critic, and religious author, who influenced late 19th and 20th century philosophy, particularly in the concept of existentialism.
Kirmmse, a Professor Emeritus of History at Connecticut College and former chair of the history department at that school, has been an eminent scholar and translator of the works of Kierkegaard and is presently general editor and principal translator of "Kierkegaard's Journals and Notebooks" being published in 11 volumes by the Princeton University Press.
As Kirmmse described the day, first there was a ceremony with the Queen of Denmark to celebrate the Kierkegaard's birthday at the University of Copenhagen, during which a new, 55-volume edition of all Kierkegaard's writings (in Danish) was turned over to the university.
In the early afternoon, Kirmmse presented a formal academic paper ("In Danish," he notes), in the university's ceremonial hall.
Mid-afternoon, the assembled dignitaries went to the Copenhagen Museum for the opening ceremonies for an exhibit of things relating to Kierkegaard, then a formal banquet at an elegant Copenhagen restaurant.
At the banquet, "Each course was preceded by a little speech by one or another participant about some aspect of love, as explained by Kierkegaard," Kirmmse wrote in an email. "I had been selected to give the fourth and central one of seven speeches, but just before I could deliver it, silence was called for and the elegant Dr. Ida Nicolaisen, a professor at the University of Copenhagen and at Rockefeller University in Manhattan, gave a speech commending me for my scholarship and publications and 40-plus years of work, making Danish Golden Age culture (including, but not limited to the philosopher Kierkegaard) accessible to the broader English-speaking world. ... She then informed me officially that I was a knight, awarding me the visible symbols of that honor — namely a certificate issued by the Queen and a medal (a 'decoration') to wear on ceremonial occasions."
In answer to questions, Kirmmse said "most of the members of the order are Danes who are high-level civil servants, top-ranking military officers, important academics, and so forth.
"I believe it is quite unusual for non-Danes to be knighted, at any rate it's been about 25 or 30 years since the last American academic I know who was knighted — though there may be others of whom I do not know.
"The Queen, I was informed, never knights anybody, but authorizes that they be given a knighthood, which is then conveyed by a third party — which is what happened in my case.
"Then the person knighted has one year to seek an audience with the Queen during which he (or she, there are female knights) is supposed to thank the Queen.
"Since I am in the middle of a three-day academic conference right now . . . and I am leaving for China next week (another conference) and after that Brazil (another conference,) I am postponing my visit to the Queen until I get back to Denmark some time next fall or winter."
Despite his travels and international academic obligations, Kirmmse is an active member of the Randolph community when he's here, serving as chairman of the conservation commission, and noted especially as an entertaining guide last summer to the Israel's River section in Randolph, which may become part of the Randolph Town Forest when various negotiations are completed. He has made himself a minor expert on the lives of beavers along the Israel's River.
According to his Connecticut College biography, he retired from Conn College in 2007, is the author of several books, numerous articles and essays and translations, much relating to the work of Kierkegaard, and he has published on other matters related to Scandinavian history such as the writer Hans Christian Andersen and the Danish-Swedish rescue of the Danish Jews from the Nazis during World War II. He received a Fulbright Travel Grant in 1992 and A Fulbright Research Fellowship in 1990-911, as well as an American Scandinavian Foundation Fellowship to the University of Copenhagen and the Royal Danish Library.
His books include "Encounter with Kierkegaard: A Life as Seen by His Contemporaries," written with Virginia R. Laursen; a translation of "Soren Kierkegaard: A Biography" by Joakim Garff; "Soren Kierkegaard and the Common Man' by Jorgen Bukdahl, translated by Kirmmse; and "Kierkegaard in Golden Age Denmark."
His students at Conn College loved him. "Professor Kirmmse's Intellectual and Cultural History course is among the best things that ever happened to me," wrote one student in 2007. "Intellectually liberating, fun, challenging, his retirement is a tremendous loss to the community. He shall be sorely missed. I feel sorry for the current students at CC who shall not have the good fortune to take his courses."
"Fun class. Has a quirky sense of humor which makes the lectures interesting. Really knows his stuff and has a strange fascination with languages."
"This man is truly a marvel, goes beyond just presenting facts and interpretations about the intellectuals he discusses to actually acting as though he were inside the mindset of the great thinkers he is discussing."