...one 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!"
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...
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.