Sadly, Gray Davis missed out: According to Penguin Classics, Kierkegaard's famous text, The Sickness unto Death, is "one of the most remarkable philosophical works of the nineteenth century."
What the heck! Now that we've got your attention, here's the entire synopsis:
PENGUIN CLASSICS: One of the most remarkable philosophical works of the nineteenth century, The Sickness Unto Death is also famed for the depth and acuity of its modern psychological insights. Writing under the pseudonym Anti-Climacus, Kierkegaard explores the concept of "despair," alerting readers to the diversity of ways in which they may be described as living in this state of bleak abandonment—including some that may seem just the opposite—and offering a much-discussed formula for the eradication of despair. With its penetrating account of the self, this late work by Kierkegaard was hugely influential upon twentieth-century philosophers including Karl Jaspers, Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. The Sickness unto Death can be regarded as one of the key works of theistic existentialist thought—a brilliant and revelatory answer to one man's struggle to fill the spiritual void.It's fairly clear that Penguin thinks The Sickness unto Death is one of the truly great texts.
We aren't telling you that's wrong! We're telling you that this "remarkable" book actually starts like this:
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.More precisely, that's the way the book starts out in the Princeton University Press edition, as translated by Hong and Hong. Yesterday, we asked a perfectly sensible question:
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.
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 a book starts off that way, should a student just keep reading?
For what it's worth, the Penguin Classic edition carries a different translation. As noted yesterday, we purchased a copy of the Penguin edition on January 28, 1995, one day before Super Bowl XXIX, at a college bookstore in San Diego.
Here's how the purchase went down:
We were in San Diego to perform at a Saturday night pre-Super Bowl dinner. The guest of honor would be Gray Davis, California's lieutenant governor.
Under the circumstances, we thought a bit of the formerly most depressed person in Europe might help us keep things in perspective. But we discovered that we had forgotten to pack our copy of The Sickness unto Death, and so we rushed out to purchase another.
Yes, the college bookstore was open—but no, they didn't stock the Princeton edition. We had to buy the Penguin Classic—but we found that its translation wasn't quite ornate enough for our needs, and so we had to amend our planned remarks.
Penguin's translation was done by Alastair Hannay, a British-born philosophy professor who had mainly resided and taught in Norway. Tomorrow, we'll show you how his translations starts, and we'll quote a bit of his Introduction.
At least for today, we'll let our existing question stand:
Is it possible that this whole canon is out of order? Additionally, doesn't that resemble what the later Wittgenstein said?
This report is adapted from the author's forthcoming book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Translators' Introductions.