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Observations on the Various Editions of Kierkegaard’s Collected Works

SV 2 two pages

There are now four different Danish editions of Kierkegaard collected works. The first edition, edited by A.B. Drachman, J.L. Heiberg, and H.O. Lang was published by Gyldendal between 1901-1906 and comprised 14 volumes. The second edition, published between 1920-1936, was essentially a corrected version of the first edition with the inclusion of a very helpful fifteenth volume that contained author and subject indexes for all the individual volumes as well as a glossary of the more important terms in Kierkegaard’s authorship.

A third inexpensive popular edition of Kierkegaard’s collected works in 20 volumes was published in the 1960s. This edition was never intended for use by scholars and is marred by numerous errors that were more than likely a result of how quickly the edition was produced (one volume per month according to Tony Aalgaard Olesen).

The second edition is generally considered to be the best of the collected works as well as the most readily available. It’s still possible to find it in used bookstores in Denmark for a reasonable price. A casual web search I did just now turned up three copies at Vangsgaards Antikvariat for between 1,000DK and 1,800DK (approximately $150-$300).

The first edition is still preferred by scholars, however, because the second edition, produced as it was during a period of the resurgence of Nordic nationalism was printed in Blackletter, or Gothic type, and many contemporary scholars find that difficult to read. The English translations of Kierkegaard supervised by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong and published by Princeton University Press in the ‘80s and ’90s thus have page correlation numbers to the first, rather than the second, edition of Kierkegaard’s collected works.

Unfortunately, the first edition of Kierkegaard’s collected works is increasingly difficult to find and generally very expensive. Fortunately, there is a new edition of Kierkegaard’s collected works. This new edition, produced by the Søren Kierkegaard Research Center in Copenhagen is distinguished from the earlier editions by a new title. Whereas all three earlier collected works were titled Søren Kierkegaards Samlede Værker (literally Søren Kierkegaard’s collected works, or SV), the new edition is titled Søren Kierkegaards Skrifter (Søren Kierkegaard’s writings, or SKS).

There is much to recommend the new edition. The individual volumes have been beautifully produced, at least from an aesthetic standpoint, and each is accompanied by a helpful companion volume of commentary. The edition purports to be a “critical” one, but unfortunately falls short of that ideal. It was produced too quickly to ensure the kind of quality that is requisite for a critical edition and the editorial staff was generally too inexperienced in that type of work. The 55 volumes were produced between 1997 and 2013, or 16 short years compared, for example, to the critical edition of Kant writings on which work began in 1900 and is apparently still continuing!

The haste with which this new edition was produced is likely the explanation for problems such as the one I identified in the notes to my translation of Kierkegaard’s Repetition. The fictional narrator of that work refers to the “disappearance” of the young man who was the subject of his observations. “[D]isappearance,” as I explain in a note, was originally “death.” Kierkegaard apparently changed “death” (Død) to “disappearance” (Forsvinden) after learning that his former fiancée, Regine Olsen, had become engaged. SKS has Forvinden (recovery), however, rather than Forsvinden. The original 1843 edition of Repetition, on the other hand, has Forsvinden, not Forvinden and since there is no explanation for the change in SKS, it appears it’s simply an error.

So the new edition is not perfect. The critical apparatus is extensive, but somewhat arbitrary in what it includes and does not include and the price for all 55 volumes (at approximately $100 each) is prohibitively expensive. Despite this, however, it will become the standard scholarly edition because not only can volumes be purchased individually, but the entire edition is available in searchable form online! For that reason alone, I find myself often referring to it.

In my opinion, however, the most reliable text is still that of the second edition. The type takes a little getting used to, but not so long as many people seem to fear. I’m very fortunate, actually, in that not only do I have a second edition in excellent condition, someone actually went through my edition and put page correlation numbers to the first edition in the margins. I kid you not, there are page correlation numbers on every single page of every single volume. Not only are there these numbers, whoever put them there also put a tiny mark at the point in the line of the text where the new page began.

You can see these lines, just barely, in the photo above. There’s one between “saa” and “aldeles” on the page at the left, and another after the dash and just before “Om” on the page at the right. Pretty cool, eh! My theory is that my copy of the second edition must have been used in the production of the page correlation tables in the third edition, or in Alastair McKinnon’s concordances. It’s hard to imagine someone would have undertaken the labor involved in putting in all those numbers unless he were being paid to do so. I’m grateful to whoever did it though. I can now quickly check the accuracy of the Hongs’ translations even though they include page correlation numbers only to the first edition.

This extremely rare (very likely one of a kind) copy of the second edition of Kierkegaard’s collected works is only one of the many antiquarian treasures I collected while I lived in Denmark. I plan to write about more of my treasures later.

Merry Christmas!

Ebba and Willie Mørkeberg's Christmas Tree, Frederiksværk, Denmark
Ebba and Willie Mørkeberg’s Christmas Tree, Frederiksværk, Denmark

Merry Christmas Everyone! I have a few Christmas goodies for you. First, I thought you might like to know about a new mystery by the writer Thom Satterlee entitled Stages. The protagonist is an American living in Copenhagen who becomes a suspect in a murder investigation. The action takes place in Copenhagen and includes Kierkegaard scholars among its cast of characters. Satterlee says the novel grew out of his interest in Kierkegaard.

“I began, originally,” Satterlee says, “to write poems about Kierkegaard. But then I got the notion, what if I pretended to be Kierkegaard, as he pretended to be other people? What if I imagined him as a closet poet, secreting away his poems …. [W]hat if a manuscript were discovered close to the time of his 200th birthday (May 5, 2013) …. I wrote the poems, but I became more interested in the story of how they would be received by his fellow Danes, now in the 21st century … In my mind, a mystery began to take shape. The mystery involved the theft of this priceless manuscript and a murder.”

Satterlee coverThe novel is available as an ebook for $2.99! Don’t let the price fool you though. Satterlee is an award-winning poet and literary translator. His bio on Amazon notes that ‘[h]is collection of poems Burning Wyclif was an American Literary Association Notable Book and a Finalist for the L.A. Times Book Award.” His other awards include an American-Scandinavian Foundation Translation Prize and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship.

My advice is to buy The Stages and start reading it today! It’s Christmas after all. You should do something fun!

For more fun, check out Michael McIntyre’s blog Extravagant Creation. WordPress is great about promoting the work of its bloggers. I got an email from WordPress about a month ago informing me that Michael McIntyre had subscribed to my blog. Included in the email was a link to McIntyre’s blog, so I checked it out. I try always to do that, not simply because it seems only right and proper to me that, as a blogger, I should support the work of other bloggers, but also because I’ve found some great stuff that way. There’s some amazing writing coming out of WordPress, both in terms of form and in terms of content.

McIntyre’s blog is a scholar’s dream. There’s lots there that would be of interest to Kierkegaard scholars, including entries on Johann Georg Hamann, N.F.S. Grundtvig, K.E. Løgstrup and Lev Shestov. There’s other great stuff as well, though, including posts on topics of more general appeal such as ethics, theology, and music. Spend a little time today perusing McIntyre’s blog. You won’t regret it!

Finally, I’d like to put in a plug for Peter Tudvad’s book from 2009 Sygeplejerske i Det Tredje Rige: En Danskers Historie (Nurse in the Third Reich: the story of a Dane). The book has nothing directly to do with Kierkegaard, but it is written by one of my favorite Kierkegaard scholars, Peter Tudvad, and the subject is a dear friend and long-time patron of Kierkegaard scholarship Ebba Mørkeberg. Ebba tutored me in German for about five years when I was living in Denmark. She also helped me with the more difficult German material that was included in my dissertation and, later, my book Ways of Knowing, and she expanded my personal library of 19th century Danish literature, philosophy, and theology, through repeated gifts from her own extensive library.

Ebbe Mørkeberg at the launch of Syplejerske i Det Tredje Rige, May 5th 2009

Ebba is a great lady and the story of her experiences in Germany in WWII is riveting.The book, alas, is available only in Danish, but for those of you who are tired of practicing your Danish by reading Kierkegaard, this book would be a welcome change. It will give you insight not merely into the life of it’s subject, but into the Danish psyche and to an important period in Danish history.

Merry Christmas to everyone!

Once Upon a Time in Denmark

I was going through my email a couple of days ago, trying to file some of it to keep it from crashing, when I found an announcement of an event over at Haverford. Hubert Dreyfus is giving a talk there on October 29th entitled “Rationality and Embodied Coping.”

I’m going to have to go to that one even though there’s another important philosophy event, The Greater Philadelphia Philosophy Consortium Public Issues Forum on Philosophy for Children, that same day. The GPPC event starts at 1:00 though and Dreyfus’s talk isn’t until 4:00, so maybe I can catch both. I want to go to Dreyfus’s talk because not only do I like him, but because it’s been a long time since I’ve seen him and I want to see if he remembers me.

I met Dreyfus years ago when I was living in Denmark. He and his brother Stuart came to Denmark to lead a seminar on their book Mind Over Machine. The seminar took place on a property owned by Aarhus University and extended over a period of several days. The conditions at our camp were so Spartan that one of the other participants joked that it was a “skjult overlevelseskursus” (thinly veiled survival course). I don’t remember what all the problems were, but I think among them was the fact that we didn’t have hot water.

It was a fun course though and since we all lived in close quarters and took all our meals together for several days we got to know one another pretty well. I was sad when it ended, but happy when about a year later, I learned that Dreyfus was coming back to Denmark to give a talk at the Philosophy Faculty at the University of Copenhagen. I wrote to Dreyfus to arrange to have dinner with him. He told me he thought the Philosophy Faculty was arranging a dinner for him, but that I should contact them to make sure. I wrote to them and they confirmed that they were indeed planning a dinner for him on the Friday of his lecture, but that there was nothing planned for the following evening. I’d hoped they would invite me to the Friday dinner, but they didn’t so I made arrangements to have dinner with Dreyfus the following evening.

The talk that Friday was great. I went up to talk to Dreyfus at the break and he greeted me warmly. “We’re going to dinner this evening,” he said, “you should come along.” I explained that I hadn’t been invited, by Dreyfus ignored my protestations and escorted me over to the woman whom he said was making the arrangements. I knew they didn’t really want me along that evening, but I didn’t want to be rude to Dreyfus, who seemed convinced that the extension of an invitation to me simply hadn’t occurred to them. Dreyfus introduced me and explained that he thought I should come to dinner with them. The woman looked at me skeptically and then responded. “Well,” she said slowly, “the arrangements have already been made. It would be difficult to add another person at this point. You would have to pay for yourself,” she added with an air of finality. The Danes are nothing if not polite. I knew they could not come right out and tell me that they didn’t want me along and I was suddenly annoyed that I’d been excluded and decided that I’d exploit what I had learned about the Danish character and use it to my advantage.

“Oh that’s all right,” I responded cheerfully, “I don’t mind doing that. I don’t mind at all!” and then I slipped quickly back into the reception crowd before she had time to think of a retort.

There was wine and cheese at the reception so it went on for a while. I’d brought my boyfriend and I began to feel guilty about the fact that I was going to go off to dinner without him. I didn’t really relish returning to my stunned hostess and asking if I could bring a guest, but I felt like I had no choice.

“Can my boyfriend come to dinner too?” I asked when I finally found her again. The look of horror on her face was quickly replaced by thinly concealed rage.

“I thought,” she said slowly through clenched teeth, “that you weren’t coming because you had to pay for yourself.” I’m sure she assumed that I’d get the hint that time, even if I hadn’t before.

“Oh no,” I replied smiling, “I don’t mind paying.”

There were actually some advantages, I realized, to hailing from a country so uncivilized as the U.S. I could pretend I didn’t understand that she was trying make it clear to me that they didn’t want me coming along to dinner and she would have to accept that I was incorrigibly uncultured and hence incapable of taking a hint. She, on the other hand, as a good, upper-class Dane, could not allow any chink in her own breeding to show, she would just have to accept my presence and the presence of my equally backward boyfriend at their exclusive soirée.

The evening took an unexpected turn, however, when we found our wine was corked (for readers who are unfamiliar with this term, it means the wine has taken on a mildewed flavor and nose from a bad cork). My boyfriend, who knew something about wine, discovered this at once and insisted we be brought new wine. The company could not have been more impressed and entreated him to pick a new wine himself. I don’t remember what he picked, but he picked well and charmed everyone with both his choice of the wine and his excellent command of Danish. It was a lovely evening. He was the star. I think they may even have liked me by the end.

I’m hoping that’s the how Dreyfus remembers it, anyway, as I have no dinner plans for the 29th!