In the winter of '69...!

TUESDAY, APRIL 9, 2019 text seemed a bit unclear:
In the winter of '69, we were 21.

Hong and Hong's was the standard translation of Kierkegaard's The Sickness unto Death—or so we once would have believed.

Starting in January of that year, we took the one-semester MIT course on the gloomy Dane. The course was famously taught by [NAME WITHHELD], a 25-year-old friend of a friend and also a good decent person.

We would have thought that the Hong and Hong translation we hold in our hands was a text we were assigned for that particular course. But the Princeton University Press copyright seems to say that that can't be true.

Whatever! Hong and Hong's translation is one of the standard translations. We'll only say that, as the text begins, it may seem a bit unclear.

We'll skip Kierkegaard's short Preface, and then his short Introduction. As the gloomy Dane starts Part One of his famous book, this is what he thoughtfully says, or so say Hong and Hong:
KIERKEGAARD: A human being is spirit. But what is spirit? Spirit is the self. But what is the self? The self is a relation which 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. 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. Considered in this way, a human being is still not a self.
"The self is a relation which relates itself to itself or is the relation’s relating itself to itself in the relation?" This first paragraph of Kierkegaard's text may perhaps seem a bit unclear.

The well-intentioned college student may decide to continue reading. If so, he'll encounter this:
KIERKEGAARD (continuing directly): In the relation between two, the relation is the third as a negative unity, and the two relate themselves to the relation and in the relation to the relation; thus under the qualification of the psychical the relation between the psychical and the physical is a relation. If, however, the relation relates itself to itself, this relation is the positive third, and this is the self.
"If the relation relates itself to itself, this relation is the positive third, and this is the self?"

It's still a bit on the fuzzy side. Let's try to read a bit more:
KIERKEGAARD (continuing directly): Such a relation that relates itself to itself, a self, must either have established itself or have been established by another.

If the relation that relates itself to itself has been established by another, then the relation is indeed, the third, but this relation, the third, is yet again a relation and relates itself to that which established the entire relation.

The human self is such a derived, established relation, a relation that relates itself to itself and in relating itself to itself relates itself to another...
"If the relation that relates itself to itself has been established by another, then the relation is indeed, the third, but this relation, the third, is yet again a relation!"

By now, we're on the second page of Kierkegaard's famous text. In your view, should the hypothetical college student attempt to proceed to the third?

We're asking a serious question. All through our adult life, we've puzzled about this text.

Admittedly, we've read from the text on comedy stages, and people do find it funny. For an account of one such performance, see yesterday's report.

That said, Kierkegaard is one of those names we may hear spoken reverentially. The name may pop up in old Woody Allen jokes, but the name is commonly regarded, at least within certain social classes, as the name of a master.

No average person will likely be able to give an account of what this particular master has said. But we think we know, to borrow from Miller, that "attention must be paid."

We've never understood how to regard this text. Since we've always heard that man [sic] is "the rational animal," we know that this text must surely make some sort of ultimate sense.

That said, the text, as rendered by Hong and Hong, reads like the work of a madman. That's why we were interested, in the past few weeks, to review a second standard translation of The Sickness unto Death.

We acquired this second text in San Diego, on January 28, 1995, one day before Super Bowl XXIX. We'll offer more background information tomorrow—and we'll take a look at the way that translation begins.

This second translation, by Professor Hannay, differs from that by Hong and Hong. But does either translation seem to make recognizable sense? Come back tomorrow to see!

Kierkegaard wrote from one of our culture's highest platforms. That said, does work which comes from these highest platforms necessarily make actual sense?

Could this whole canon be out of order? As we await the start of Mister Trump's War, that might be the right question to ask.


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  2. Here, again, Somerby demonstrates why he should have gone to class back in 1969. The professor would have worked through these passages line by line, defining terms such as relation, relating the ideas to current philosophical discussion and interpretation, conducting a discussion of what might be meant, giving examples from life, perhaps even relating philosophical ideas about self to findings in psychology about construction of the self.

    Students would not be left on their own to flounder, as Somerby does here, ultimately to reject the whole enterprise.

    I find myself wondering why Somerby remained a philosophy major. He appears to be unsuited to such study with no affinity for existential questions and little curiosity or initiative in answering them. He doesn't care -- he only wants to mock out of frustration. That bears no relationship to learning whatsoever.

    And he has so little capacity for self-reflection that he is unable to apply his own experience as a teacher to explain his rejection of this difficult subject matter. Maybe he was better when he was younger, but I suspect not.

    Well, there are always comic books.

    1. 3:38 PM,

      You don't like Somerby. You don't think he's intelligent and you don't think he's educated enough to be sharing his thoughts in a blog.

      You've written the same comment many dozens of times, we got it. Now take a moment to realize you show up at this site day after day because you're lonely and insecure. Instead of compulsively posting the same thing over and over why don't you take a break -give us a break- and work on your own personal issues for a few months?

    2. Not much of a defense of Somerby there CMike. Do you ever post your own original thoughts that praise Somerby’s posts, or do you only respond (indignantly) to Somerby critics?

    3. 10:25 PM,

      Since I'm convinced Somerby doesn't read the comment threads here I don't direct my posts to him. Have I sung praises of Somerby's insights using my own lyrics? Yeah, more than a few times but not at the Howler site.

      Sometimes in comments I try to expand upon an idea Somerby or a commenter has raised but, as you suggest, I often do so by quoting someone else. At other times I post a mini-essay about a point raised in the parent post or the comments just to work through what I think about it.

      It makes sense to me that I'd usually be posting when I'm in disagreement with the host or another commenter given that, even though I do sometimes leave a "well said!" or a "thanks for the link," as cheerful and well deserved as those types of comments may be they're not all that interesting to read nor to write.

      My complaint about 3:38 PM was not meant as a defense of Somerby, it was intended to help future Howler comment threads get going without 3:38 PM showing up to throw a bucket of cold water on them early on.

    4. Were you going to say something profound about Kierkegaard that I prevented? Get up earlier.

    5. 11:53 PM,

      No, I had nothing to say on the subject. I ducked down into comments to see if someone else did have something to useful to say, profound or not.

      Turns out the thread immediately went from vapid to worse.

    6. No one says much ever about his philosophy posts. Go back and see. They are pointless.

    7. @9:07

      I was gone from 3/20 to 3/29. I don't think it made any difference. There are several others here who say the same things I do.

    8. 12:43 AM,

      To or through 3/29? My suggestion was you take several months off, not nine or ten days. Give that a shot and we'll see how it works out.

  3. Why does Somerby poop on everything academic, CMike? Why is he pooping on De Blasio? Do you think he actually cares about beautiful black kids?

    What is Somerby working out of his system (psyche) when he takes an old class textbook from 1969 and makes it into a comedic reading?

    1. In this instance, and in numerous others, I think Somerby is illustrating there's a lot of pretentiousness associated with the study of philosophy, if not necessarily with the field's icons then certainly with some of the specialists and tenured professors who teach the subject. The takeaway lesson here is if something makes no sense to you don't be cowed into pretending that it does just because some highly credentialed people suggests its meaning should be discernible, if not clear, to most any old earnest liberal arts student.

      On the poops "on everything academic" claim, Somerby has cited various university studies and the work of various PhD's flying solo with admiration and/or enthusiasm in other posts.

    2. I'm convinced Somerby does care about black kids. That said, I think there is a tad of wiliness accompanying his sincerity when he makes an argument using his term "beautiful black kids."

    3. @12:43 I wrote "people suggests," yikes. Then again, I make mistakes like that with some frequency.

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