The annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion took place last week. As usual, there were three Kierkegaard sessions. I missed the first session, which was on Kierkegaard and “public philosophy.” The other two sessions were excellent. The theme of both sessions, which were sponsored by the Kierkegaard, Religion, and Culture Group of the AAR, was “Kierkegaard, Contagion, Class, and Corporeal Vulnerability,” so the sessions were timely, with frequent references to the COVID-19 pandemic.

I was particularly interested in “Kierkegaard, Emotional Contagion, and Affective Sociability,” a paper by Wojciech Kaftanski, who is affiliated with The Human Flourishing Program at Harvard, a program with which Jeffrey Hanson, another Kierkegaard scholar is also affiliated. (Ironically, The Human Flourishing Program is housed at Harvard’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science. Kierkegaard must be spinning in his grave!).

There was one passage of Kaftanski’s paper in which I was particularly interested. The passage is below, followed by the original Danish text.

“Nowadays…efforts are made in the states to bring about this irrationality, the existence of a prodigious monstrosity with many heads or, more correctly and accurately, a thousand-, according to the circumstances, a hundred-thousand-legged monstrosity, the crowd, an irrational enormity, or an enormous irrationality, that nevertheless has physical force, the force of the shout and uproar, also an amazing virtuosity in making everything commensurable with the hands raised to vote or with the decision of fists lifted up for a brawl. This abstraction is an inhuman something whose power is certainly enormous, but whose enormous power cannot be defined humanly but can be more accurately defined as the power of a machine”

“…sørges nutildags i Staterne for, at dette Ufornuftige finder Sted, at der existerer et eventyrligt Monstrum ||—|| med mange Hoveder, eller (rigtigere og) sandere, et Tusind-, efter Omstændighederne , et Hundredetusind-Been: Mængden, et ufornuftigt Uhyre eller et uhyre Ufornuftigt, som dog sandseligt har Magten, Skrigets og Larmens, item en beundringsværdigt Virtuositet it at gjøre Alt commensurabelt for de til Ballotation oprakte Hænders eller de til Slagsmaal opløftede Nævers Afgjørelse. Dette Abstractum er et umenneskeligt Noget, hvis Kraft dog ikke kan bestemmes menneskeligt, men rigtigere som man bestemmer en Maskines, at den har saa og saa mange Hestes Kraft; Mængdens Kraft er altid Hestekraft.” Pap. Vol. IX B24, p. 324.

It took me awhile to find the text because the first reference Kaftanski sent me was incomplete. He very kindly supplied me with the complete reference, however, after I pointed out the problem. I wanted to use the Danish text in something I was writing, so rather than type it all out from the hard my hard copy of the Papirer, I just typed “Hundredetusind-Been: Mængden” into the search field of the online edition of SKS. The online edition of SKS boasts that it is the complete text of everything, both published and unpublished, that Kierkegaard ever wrote, so I was confident that I would find the text there.

I didn’t.

See the screen shot that serves as an illustration for this post. Notice the text in the “Søgeresultater” (i.e., search results) field and the “Ingen resultater funded” (i.e., no results found). That’s right, the text of the passage that is there for all the world to see in the hard copy of the Papirer does not come up when one searches on any of the various phrases from the passage that I tried in my repeated vain attempts to save myself the trouble of retyping all the text.

I had actually considered getting rid of my hard copy of the Papirer since I has assumed everything that I would ever need would be at my electronic fingertips. Good thing I didn’t, eh?

So let that be a lesson to those of you who had assumed, as I had, that you didn’t any longer need to have hard copies of Kierkegaard’s works in Danish.

But back to Kaftanski’s paper. I enjoyed the paper, though I’m at a loss now to summarize it. Wojciech indicated to me, however, that it was roughly the same as a section of his recently published Kierkegaard, Mimesis, and Modernity, so I decided to just go ahead and buy the whole book. I can’t weigh in on the book yet. I will do that at a later date. The purpose of this post is to vent about, as the title suggests, the decline in editing at academic presses. There are two problems quite early in Wojciech’s book that an editor should have caught. They are minor, and likely won’t cause any problems in understanding the text, but they’re annoying and should not have made it past an editor. They’re actually on the same page, page 6, according to my ebook version. The first is an anachronistic reference to a “cocktail party.” The sentence is:

“This phenomenon Kierkegaard sees chiefly in the young and privileged who spend their time strolling through the city, visiting department stores, frequenting theaters and amusement parks, but also meeting at cafes or cocktail parties to exchange gossip about the next series of novelties coming to town and discussing whether or not to engage with them.”

The problem is that while the first reference to a “cocktail” appears to have occurred around the end of the eighteenth century, the expression “cocktail party” is much later. The phenomenon of the cocktail party dates from the early part of the 20th century. What Kaftanski meant, I’m sure, was that “the young and privileged” met in cafes and in literary and social “salons” in private homes.

The second problem is a reference to “salaried labor,” when what Kaftanski clearly means is not salaried labor but wage labor. The sentence is:

“In factories, wool mills, and servitude, engaged in salaried labor, people were reduced to performing tedious manual and alienating work, which consisted mainly of producing multitudes of copies.”

The sentence is a little bit labored, beginning as it does with a relative clause. The problem, though, is that 19th-century workers of the sort Kaftanski describes would not generally be spoken of as “salaried.” They would have been paid “wages.” Salaried labor usually involves a contract that specifies the terms of employment. Wage labor typically does not. Salaried labor is generally of a higher status than wage labor. The two terms are sometimes used interchangeably, but they shouldn’t be in a scholarly work of this sort.

These two minor stylistic problems should not affect the reader’s understanding of the text, but they are still annoying. They aren’t Kaftanski’s fault because English is not his mother tongue. It IS the mother tongue, I presume, however, of the editors over at Routledge. Did the editors even look at the manuscript before they sent it to press? Poor editing is one of my pet peeves. I guess it bothers me so much in part because I’ve had a lot of demanding teachers who have drilled points like those above home to me, and in part because I’ve been a victim of poor editing myself.

There’s increasing talk of reducing the time to both an undergraduate and a graduate degree. The idea, of course, is to save money. I’m sympathetic with the motivation, but concerned that we are losing our grip on scholarly standards as it is. I hate to think of what books will look like that have been produced by editors who are products of accelerated degree programs!


  1. Once again, an enjoyable and insightful read, in all respects.
    And I too have been wondering about the future of the university–I didn’t know that there is talk of decreasing the time of degrees!

    1. Thank you for your kind comment. Yes, the discussion started, if I remember correctly, with graduate school, but it now includes even undergraduate programs, including some in engineering!

  2. Forstår godt dine indvendinger – men kan også se, at det er høje krav du stiller til en editor. Den editor burde jo så være dig selv – eller er der i USA mange at vælge imellem, som er så tæt på det danske sprog og historie på den tid?

    1. You are too kind. The errors in question were in Kaftanski’s own text, however. They weren’t problems with a translation. In answer to your second point, though, no, there are not very many people in the US who have a good command of both English and Danish, and that has definitely been a problem with respect to Kierkegaard scholarship.

  3. I enjoyed your paper at AAR.

    Fortunately, I learned of the incompleteness of SKS early in my academic career, while writing my MA thesis, in fact. I was writing on “Den skeeløiede Pukkelryggede” (Papirer 7.1: 221), which I read about in Garff’s biography, only to find that this journal entry had been excluded from the Skrifter. Peter Tudvad told me something about state budgetary cutbacks to SKS. Something similar happened to Grundtvigs værker, although (I think) to a much greater extent.

    1. Thanks for your kind words about my AAR paper. I did NOT know that the online version of SKS was incomplete. That is really sad. I would think it could be made complete at relatively little expense since there have to be electronic copies of the missing texts. Are you saying that even the hard copy of SKS is incomplete, or only that the online version is incomplete?

      1. From what I understand, there are sections of the Papirer, such as drafts, that have been left out of SKS, both print and online. Again, I think there were budgetary reasons for doing this.

  4. That’s one of the many reasons I love the New Yorker magazine so much. The magazine’s editors are sticklers for grammar, punctuation, and spelling, as well as anachronisms like the ones you cite.

  5. Also important for English-only readers of Kierkegaard to know: the KJN editors have chosen to translate Kierkegaard’s Journal JJ (and very likely other journals too) as it was at the time of their work, in this case around 2015. But earlier publications of Kierkegaard’s journals preserve some of these pages, and the online SKS cross-referencing tool provides the Danish to those earlier texts (from Pap to Papir). This means that the KJN is not an exact replica of the SKS, insofar as the SKS carries no scruples in cross-referencing to previous editions of Kierkegaard’s journals. A real disappointment!

    “At present thirty leaves from the first half of the journal [JJ] are missing. In most cases the wording of the journal entries from these thirty leaves has been transmitted indirectly, via H. P. Barfod’s edition of Af Søren Kierkegaards Efterladte Papierer (EP [1869-1881]).”—KJN Vol 2, p 453.

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