The Hannay translation is less ornate!

THURSDAY, APRIL 11, 2019

Though perhaps no less unclear:
Soren Kierkegaard lived a relatively short, apparently unhappy life.

He died in 1855 at the age of 42. In his Introduction to the Penguin Classics edition of The Sickness unto Death, Professor Hannay describes Kierkegaard's last few years:
HANNAY: During these years he lived in increasingly straitened circumstances and the remainder of his inheritance and the modest proceeds of his authorship went to financing the final assault [upon the State Church], among other things through the publication of his own broadsheet, The Instant. This went through nine issues before Kierkegaard fell ill, collapsed in the street, and died in hospital some six weeks later, probably of a lung infection. On his sick-bed he confided to Emil Boesen, his friend from boyhood—indeed by this time his only friend, now a pastor and the only member of the Church he would see, including his own brother—that his life had been a "great and to others unknown and incomprehensible suffering," which looked like "pride and vanity" but "wasn't." He regretted that he had not married and taken on an official position...
Presumably, the person he should have married was the widely-discussed Regine Olsen, though Professor Hannay treads quite lightly on that part of Kierkegaard's personal history.

In our view, it's much, much better when people don't suffer in the ways described in that passage. That said, there's an attraction within our culture for the cult of the suffering artist, a tendency to expect big things from the tortured yet allegedly brilliant soul.

Should we locate the most depressed person in Europe, then assume that this person has wisdom or insight to share? In most cases, no, we should not.

We'd say that's especially true when the alleged tortured genius in question starts a book as Kierkegaard started The Sickness unto Death, whose opening paragraph Hannay translated as follows:
KIERKEGAARD: The human being is spirit. But what is spirit? Spirit is the self. But what is the self? The self is a relation which relates to itself, or that in the relation which is its relating to itself. The self is not the relation but the relation's relating to itself. A human being is a synthesis of the infinite and the finite, of the temporal and the eternal, of freedom and necessity. In short a synthesis. A synthesis is a relation between two terms. Looked at in this way a human being is not yet a self.
So starts the Hannay translation. It's less ornate than the Hong and Hong translation, which we offered yesterday at greater length, as we can see in this side-by-side comparison:
Hannay translation: The self is a relation which relates to itself, or that in the relation which is its relating to itself. The self is not the relation but the relation's relating to itself.

Hong and Hong translation: The self is a relation that relates itself to itself or is the relation's relating itself to itself in the relation; the self is not the relation but is the relation's relating itself to itself.
Plainly, Hong and Hong have it. That said, the ongoing Hannay translation would have struck us as quite opaque if we hadn't been spoiled by the Hong and Hong version first.

Everyone has heard of Kierkegaard, but has anyone ever heard of anything Kierkegaard said? A similar question could even be asked of sacred Kant, the subject of a one-semester course we took during our junior year in college.

Tomorrow, we'll look at a few passages we underlined in our copy of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, the sole text for that class. Let''s just say that all underlining comes to an end at page 164, with 515 pages left to go.

Everyone has heard of Kant, but no one can say what it is that Kant said! Is it possible that there could be a fairly good reason for that?

Once again, as we quit for the day, we'll float our incomparable pair of questions:

Is it possible that this whole canon is out of order? And does the work of the later Wittgenstein bear at least a family resemblance to that award-winning possible very large thought?

12 comments:

  1. "Everyone has heard of Kant, but no one can say what it is that Kant said!"

    Why, it's "categorical imperative" and shit.

    Rotten idealism. Apart from the resident dembots, we're all dialectical materialists here.

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  3. “That said, there's an attraction within our culture for the cult of the suffering artist, a tendency to expect big things from the tortured yet allegedly brilliant soul.”

    The notion of the “suffering artist” is a stereotype, or narrative if you will, invented by romantic poets and popularized by mass media. It is no more true than any other general statement about artists.

    The value of an artist arises from his/her work, not personal traits like “depression” or “tortured soul.” And for every so-called suffering artist an example of a non-suffering one can be given.

    And philosophers are not generally put into the category of “artists” anyway, so it’s odd to talk about this in this context, and “tortured soul” doesn’t usually come to mind when one thinks of philosophers.

    Which leads to this:
    “Should we locate the most depressed person in Europe, then assume that this person has wisdom or insight to share? In most cases, no, we should not.”

    It’s probably fair to say that Kierkegaard is highly regarded for his work, and not for any alleged suffering he may have experienced.

    But this is just another angle to ridicule philosophy. ‘Kierkegaard is valued because he suffered, not because he made sense or said anything worth reading.’

    Next up: Was Kant a tortured soul? Let’s head to Wikipedia to find out!

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    1. There have been some studies finding a connection between depression and creativity.

      Poverty and death don't constitute unique suffering. Nor do deathbed regrets about roads not taken. I'm not sure there is convincing evidence that Kierkegaard experienced great suffering throughout his life (despite those excerpted words). Philosophers and scientists tended to be poor unless they could attract patronage. Hard to do that if you are writing tracts against the Catholic church.

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  4. Kierkegaard is a Christian apologist. Of course people heard of him -- during his own time and subsequently. He defended Christianity from the atheist Existentialists and asserted that only religious belief protected one from despair.

    Again, why does Somerby ignore the main translation by Kierkegaard's first biographer, Lowrie? When someone does something unexpected, you can expect that it is motivated. What was Somerby's motivation here? A scholar would be expected to explain it to his readers.

    "Let''s just say that all underlining comes to an end at page 164, with 515 pages left to go." If he didn't read Kant, how much of Kierkegaard did he read?

    Somerby portrays himself as a lazy, incurious, indifferent student. He attended Harvard during the days when students did not work and were expected to be full time. He may have been off protesting the war or some such, but coming back and expecting to understand things you didn't properly study in the first place is moronic.

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  5. There’s an entire religion based on the suffering of one man.

    Many of the adherents of that religion have taken and still do take a dim view of science, secular philosophy, and humanist “artists.”

    They might, on the other hand, find Kierkegaard congenial, since he operated from a Christian viewpoint. And Aristotle was much valued by the early Catholic Church.

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  6. Somerby thinks these philosophers are useless because he doesn't know enough about other fields to know what they influenced. Kant is a foundational thinker in modern psychology because of his writings on perception and the perceiver (does a tree falling in the forest make a sound if there is no one to hear it). He opposed Leibniz in discussions of nature vs nurture and the preparedness of mind to engage the physical world. Kant is taught in psychology courses. But Somerby wouldn't know that because he either didn't take such courses, or didn't pay attention and read the books.

    Somerby is ignorant so he assumes everyone else must be too.

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  7. Not sure if Somerby is writing off the philosophical canon as so many flies trapped in bottles. Or ridiculing those (writers or their readers) who think they know what they do not. He loves to ask questions that seem to show his hand, but challenge readers to show theirs by claiming to know better. There is a rather well known example of a philosopher for whom this was the model for how to do philosophy, one diametrically opposed to the dogmatic philosophers Somerby loves to (at least appear to) lampoon.

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    1. Bob hardly proceeds in an optimal way. He isn’t interested in a dialogue, since he never reads or responds to his commenters. And it doesn’t take any grasp of the subject matter to say “This is all malarkey. Now prove me wrong!”, and then proceed to say that again, over and over, ad infinitum, after readers have attempted to do just that. He never demonstrates any real knowledge of the subject.

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