I have said before, and I will say again, that Alastair Hannay’s translations of Kierkegaard for Penguin are superior to the Hongs’ translations for Princeton. I will probably do some posts comparing them again. That is not the purpose of the present post, however. I’m teaching a seminar on Kierkegaard now at Haverford College where we’re reading Kierkegaard’s Philosophical Crumbs, and his Concluding Unscientific Postscript to the Philosophical Crumbs. We’re using my translation of the Crumbs from Oxford and Hannay’s translation of the Postscript from Cambridge. In the course of my reading through this new translation of the Postscript, I have discovered a number of problems with it.

The most serious and most perplexing problem is Hannay’s systematically translating Kierkegaard’s Opvakt as “reborn.” Opvakt literally means “awakened.” It comes from the verb opvække, that, according to Ferrall-Repp means “to awake, rouse, excite, stir up.” An Opvækkelse is similarly defined by Ferrall-Repp as an “awakening.” Kierkegaard uses the expression en Opvakt to refer to a follower of the charismatic Danish priest Nikolai Frederik Severin Grundtvig (see the commentary to SKS).

One might be tempted to argue that while “awakened” is the most literal translation of Opvakt, it is awkward in English to refer to the members of a particular religious movement as “awakened.” Unfortunately, “reborn” isn’t much better if it is better at all. The idiomatic expression in English would be “born again.”

The more serious difficulty, however, with the translation of Opvakt as “reborn” is that it is misleading, so misleading, in fact, that it is likely to make readers dependent on English translations of Kierkegaard conclude that his thought is incoherent. Kierkegaard speaks in the following passage from the Philosophical Crumbs of a “rebirth” of the individual who receives the condition for understanding the truth from the god in time.

To the extent that the disciple was in error and now receives the truth as well as the condition for understanding it, a change takes place in him that is like the transition from not being to being. But this transition from not being to being is precisely that of birth [Fødselens]. He who exists already can hardly be born, and yet he is born. Let us call this transition rebirth [Gjenfødslen](96).

The expression for “rebirth” is Gjenfødslen. Gjenfødslen comes from adding the prefix Gjen (which comes from Igien, which means “again”) to Fødsel, which, according to Ferrall-Repp. is defined as “delivery, parturation, birth, nativity.”

This “rebirth” is an unqualifiedly positive thing. It is, indeed, precisely the temporal point of departure for a person’s “eternal consciousness” the possibility of which was posed as “the problem of the Crumbs.

Kierkegaard’s “Gjenfødslen” is a positive phenomenon, indeed, THE positive phenomenon. Kierkegaard has little respect, however, for the followers of Grundtvig, so his references to them as Opvakt are all pejorative.

What is the poor reader dependent on English translations of Kierkegaard to make of this? When he reads the Crumbs, he’ll find that “rebirth” is equivalent to an individual’s encounter with God in the person of Christ. When he proceeds, however, to the Postscript, he’ll read that “[t]he one who is reborn … is not relating to God” (381, emphasis added).

This isn’t the only misleading reference in Hannay’s translation to someone who is “reborn.” There is also a reference on page 383 to “the impudent assurance in the fact of God of the one reborn.” There’s another reference on page 424 to “the one who is reborn impertinently retain[ing] God.” When I did a search on “reborn” on my electronic copy of the book, I got 25 hits. Some of the pages, such as 429, have multiple references because Kierkegaard goes on at some length in those places about what is wrong with the followers Grundtvig –– except that the reader very likely won’t know that’s what Kierkegaard is doing, but will assume he’s critiquing the views he developed himself in the Philosophical Crumbs.

Kierkegaard is not critiquing his own earlier views, or worse, contradicting himself. “Rebirth” is a literal translation of Gjenfødslen. It is not, however, a literal translation of Opvakt, and given that Kierkegaard uses Opvakt only pejoratively and Gjenfødslen only positively, a translator needs to be careful to preserve that terminological distinction in order to avoid confusing the reader and perhaps compelling him to conclude that Kierkegaard just wasn’t all that rigorous a thinker.

I thought it was important to alert readers to this problem because people who read my translation of Kierkegaard’s Philosophical Crumbs will very likely be inclined to read Hannay’s translation of the Postscript since Hannay also translates Kierkegaard’s Smuler as “crumbs.”

Hannay got Smuler right, but he got Opvakt wrong.


  1. I note that the old Lowrie/Swenson translation has “awakened” for the passage you refer to (i.e. page 381 in the Hannay). The Hong edition has “revivalist” (?!). Therefore, for this particular passage, the Lowrie/Swenson seems the most reliable.

    1. That’s not surprising. Swenson and Lowrie have a bad rep. Their translations are not without problems, but in my experience, they are generally superior to the Hongs’ translations, and not merely in terms of style.

  2. Very interesting. There is a review of Hannay’s translation here:


    It compares the history of translating three CUS to Kierkegaard’s three stages: the Lowrie/Swenson translation might be described as a “religious”. the Hong as “ethical” and the Hannay as “aesthetic”. The irony of this is that, according to Kierkegaard’s priorities, this would mean that the translations have been declining in value!

  3. Sorry about the mistake. When I said

    “It compares the history of translating three CUS….”

    I meant

    “It compares the history of translating the CUS …..”

  4. Hello Dr. Piety,

    I just finished your translation of PHILOSOPHICAL CRUMBS, and I wanted to follow up w/ Hannay’s translation of POSTSCRIPT, but only after revising the issues you bring up here and in your second post on the Hannay. Do you happen to have a list of the page numbers where Hannay mistranslates Opvakt? Does he translate both Opvakt AND Gjenfødslen as “rebirth?” Basically, I’m just trying to figure out the best way to proceed with this intimidating text without losing my mind.

    1. If you go back to the first post on Hannay’s Postscript you will see quite a few page references. I cut and pasted the following text from that post. The very first reference there is to page 381. “This isn’t the only misleading reference in Hannay’s translation to someone who is ‘reborn.’ There is also a reference on page 383 to ‘the impudent assurance in the fact of God of the one reborn.’ There’s another reference on page 424 to ‘the one who is reborn impertinently retain[ing] God.’ When I did a search on ‘reborn’ on my electronic copy of the book, I got 25 hits. Some of the pages, such as 429, have multiple references.”

      My advice, if you really want to see how many places Hannay translates “Opvakt” as “reborn” is that you purchase an electronic copy of Hannay’s Postscript, and do a search on “reborn” as I did when I was writing the first post. You will have to check the hits, of course, against the Danish text to see if any of them might be to “Gjenfødt” instead of to “Opvakt.”

      It doesn’t matter much, though, if Hannay also translates “Gjenfødt” as “reborn.” In fact, if would be better if he had some other translation for it, such as “born again.” That wouldn’t solve the problem, however, because the average reader will assume the two terms are effectively equivalent hence conflating what are not simply two distinct concepts but actually contradictory concepts for Kierkegaard.

      I’m a big admirer of Hannay’s translations for Penguin. I think they are vastly superior to the Hongs’ translations. When it comes to the Postscript, however, I think one is better off sticking to the Hongs’.

      I hope that was helpful.

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