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.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.
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.
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?