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The Kierkegaard Car, etc.

The Kierkegaard Car

Check out the new license plate my husband thoughtfully got for me. Here is a link to the site where you can order one for yourself for just under $20! I’ve got another link I think you will like. A thoughtful reader emailed me recently that my translation of Kierkegaard’s Repetition and Philosophical Crumbs is now available in an electronic edition through Google Books for $9.99. Is that cool or what! I promised I’d have an index for that book by this spring. I don’t need to do one now though because you can search the electronic edition and find anything you want. Electronic searches are much more effective at finding stuff than is a standard index. Still, if you bought the book on the assumption that you would be able to download the index I promised and you are put out because now you are going to have to spend another $9.99 to get a searchable edition of the book, just send me a scan of your receipt and if the date you purchased the book is after the date when I promised the index and before the date of this post, then I will send you a check for $9.99.

I’m not trying to make more money by encouraging you to buy the electronic edition. I’m just trying to save myself some unnecessary work. I’d rather be writing than spending my time producing an index. I love writing, not only am I working on the book Fear and Dissembling, I’ve also got a blog on my website where I post short essays on various topics ranging from religion to popular culture. You should check that blog out if you have not already. The most recent post “The Life of the Mind” actually mentions Kierkegaard. I’d be interested in any case, to see what other philosophers think of it.

I’m sorry I have not yet come with the promised post on Peter Tudvad’s excellent Stadier på antisemitismens vej: Søren Kierkegaard og Jøderne (stages on the way of anti-Semitism: Søren Kierkegaard and the Jews). This has been a busy term for me. We’re on quarters, so we just finished our spring term and I’m actually still grading exams. It was a wonderful term though. I teach two courses a term, but for the first time in my academic career, I had only ten students in each class and that made for a truly wonderful teaching experience. Why was I so busy with only twenty students total? Because for the first time I was able to allow every student the opportunity to rewrite every paper and quite a few students took advantage of that opportunity. It made more work for me, but it also made the term more satisfying for both the students and myself because they learned more and that made it clear to me that I was actually making a positive difference in their lives. That’s the point of teaching, of course, making a positive difference in one’s students’ lives. It is usually far from clear, however, that one is having such an effect. Sometimes I worry that I am actually having the opposite effect. That is, sometimes I worry that I am undermining their self esteem by giving them what they feel are low grades on their essays and because I do not normally have enough time to allow them to rewrite more than the first essay, I worry that this reduced self esteem will be the most significant thing they will take out of the class. I could quit having them write essays, I suppose, but then what would be the point of their paying the approximately $40,000 a year that it costs to go to Drexel? I’m not THAT entertaining. I feel as if I would be participating in an enormous fraud if I didn’t have them write essays, so I keep doing it, even though I often worry that I’m starting something that the rest of their instructors are not going to be able to finish.

That’s the real scandal in higher education if you ask me. Yes, it is horribly unfair to the legions of adjuncts and other “contingent faculty” that they are not paid better for their labor. There’s been very little discussion, however, of the injustice (if not outright fraud) of requiring students to pay tens of thousands of dollars to get a “college education” that, because it so often delivered by overburdened instructors who do not have much time to devote to their students, is often less effective at developing students minds than would be watching public television. If I were in college now, I’d scream bloody murder if my instructors didn’t assign essays, and lots of them, and if I didn’t get extensive feedback on them and have as many opportunities as I wanted to discuss that feedback with the instructor. Faculty sometimes complain that too many students are in college simply to get that piece of paper we call a degree, but colleges and universities actually encourage that attitude by cramming too many students into classes with instructors who do not actually have time to teach. The message of that experience is that colleges and universities are in the business of selling degrees rather than of developing minds. Students aren’t stupid. They get it. That’s something Louis Menand fails to acknowledge in his recent piece in The New Yorker, Live and Learn” (for more on Menand see my Reading Notes The Life of the Mind“).  Students don’t understand the value of the humanities because we repeatedly send them the message that the humanities are not important, that the reason they are in college is to get the piece of paper called “a degree.”

I say “we,” but I probably shouldn’t because Drexel is actually a lot better in that respect than are many colleges and universities these days. I teach two courses a term, and Drexel will allow a course to run with as few as twelve students and sometimes, under special circumstances such as a particular course being required for a major, with even fewer than that. We are the exception though, not the rule, so those of us in higher education should stop complaining that our students don’t care about anything but getting that piece of paper and ask ourselves whether we aren’t encouraging that attitude and what we might be able to do to change it.

New Translation of Kierkegaard’s Edifying Discourses

Harper Collins has issued a new translation of some of Kierkegaard’s edifying discourses under their imprint Harper Perennial (Harper, 2010). It was with some trepidation that I awaited this new translation. Many of Kierkegaard’s works deserve better translations than they have yet received, but it’s hard to imagine that anyone could improve on the Swensons’ translation from 1943. The translator of this new edition is George Pattison, the Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity at the University of Oxford. The good news is that Pattison’s translation is better than the Hongs’. The bad news is that that’s damning with faint praise. Pattison’s translation is still a long way from being as good as the Swensons’ translation.

A blog is not the place to do a full-blown review, so I am going to look here only at the first discourse “Every Good and Every Perfect Gift is from Above.” Here are just a few of the problems with Pattison’s translation. First, he omits both the prayer and the passage from James that precede the discourse in Kierkegaard’s original edition, as well as in both the Swensons’ and the Hongs’ translations. Second, he interpolates section headings without indicating that they are interpolations. Third, despite the fact that he asserts in “A Note on the Translation” that he is not going to use a standard English language translation of the Bible (xxix), he uses a translation of James 1:17 that by contemporary standards is so awkward that although he repeats it verbatim where Kierkegaard uses it as section headings, he cannot himself stick to the wording in the body of the text.  The wording of the headings is “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above and comes down from the father of lights, in whom is no change or shadow of turning.” The problem, of course, is that contemporary readers expect a “there” between “whom” and “is no.” That expectation is so strong that Pattison inserts one himself when he quotes the passage in the body of the text at the top of page 13.

This awkward wording is undoubtedly from some recognized translation of the New Testament. Unfortunately, the reader doesn’t know which because Pattison doesn’t include a reference. Since he explains in his note on the translation that he’s not going to use a standard translation of the Bible, why didn’t he just edit this passage from James to make it more idiomatic?

Even more pressing is the question of why he didn’t use the wording from the King James translation. He explains that he wants to avoid archaic language and that is certainly laudable, but this passage from the King James translation is not particularly archaic and is more elegant than any later translation. It’s still missing the “there,” but that, again, could simply be interpolated. Its advantage over other translations is its use of “variableness” instead of “change.” The passage is difficult to translate from the Danish because the expressions Pattison translates as “change” and “turning,” “Forandring” and “Omskiftelse” respectively, both mean “change.” The translator thus has to be inventive to avoid a text that is awkwardly redundant. Pattison appears to have understood this and thus to have taken “turning” from some recognized translation of the Bible. Why not take “variableness” as well? It may be a less literal translation of “Forandring,” but it more accurately conveys the sense of Kierkegaard’s rendering of this passage from James.

Pattison has rather bizarre loyalties as a translator. He doesn’t want to violate the feeling of Kierkegaard’s original text by inserting archaisms where they do not appear in the original, but feels obliged to bring the text as much as possible into conformity with contemporary guidelines for the nonsexist use of language. Not only does this do at least as much violence to the text as would the insertion of archaisms, it occasionally renders it ungrammatical as is the case on the very first page where Pattison’s rendering of Kierkegaard’s text reads “These words are so beautiful, so eloquent, and so moving that it is certainly not their fault if the listener does not attend to them or they find no echo in our hearts.” The reader may wonder how “we” came in here. Well, “we” didn’t. The passage should read “if the listener does not attend to them or if they find no echo in his heart.” Pattison explains he’s going to substitute plural pronouns for singular ones in order to avoid the sexist use of language. He acknowledges that some readers may find this “inelegant” or even “barbaric” (xxxi). If by “barbaric” he means ungrammatical, then I am one of those readers and I suspect I am not alone.

If Pattison is, by his own account “somewhat free in adapting Kierkegaard’s often exclusive language to contemporary gender-inclusive usage” (xxx-xxxi), he is otherwise sometimes too literal as when he translates “suge Trøstens rige Næring af dem” as “suck the rich nourishment of comfort from them,” where “them” is understood to be the words of the aforementioned passage from James. Pattison’s translation is correct, but jarringly anatomical. Danish has fewer words than English so anatomical metaphors are not unusual in Danish. We have more choices in English, however, so we tend to have fewer overtly anatomical metaphors. Something along the lines of “draw from them the rich sustenance of consolation” would, I think, have been preferable.

Something similar happens with Pattison’s translation of “usund og skadelig Tilsætning” as “harmful additives.” “Tilsætning” is actually singular, so it should be “harmful additive.” Even if one corrects for that, however, the result is too pharmacological for my tastes. The Swensons’ “unsound and injurious decay” is less literal, but more elegant and hence more in keeping with the tone of the original.

Finally, Pattison’s translation of “al Guds Skabning er god” as “[a]ll God’s creatures are good” (14) is simply incorrect. “Skabing” is “creature” in the singular, but it can also be translated as “creation,” (see Ferrall-Repp. “Skabning”) and is properly so translated by the Swensons. The plural of “Skabning”–that is, “creatures”–is not “Skabning,” but “Skabninger.”

I could go on, but the rest of the problems I’ve found are similar to those listed above. There are good things, though, about the translation. It reads, for the most part, very naturally and the problems, at least in the first discourse, are all minor.  It is definitely an improvement on the Hongs’ translation and it is less expensive. My advice, however, if you do not yet have an English translation of Kierkegaard’s edifying discourses, is that you hunt down the Swensons’ translation on Abebooks–lots of copies are still available and for less even than the new Harper edition.

Kierkegaard’s Psychology

Forgive me for taking so long to put up this post. I was doing two posts a week during the winter because I don’t teach in the winter. Drexel is on quarters, and because my husband, the legal scholar Brian J. Foley, teaches in Florida and we have a house there, Drexel very kindly allows me to teach the spring-summer-fall terms rather than the standard fall-winter-spring.

Well, I’m teaching again, and that has slowed down my blogging activity considerably. I’m not stopping though, just slowing down. I anticipate being able to do one post every two weeks, and possibly even more frequently, until the summer. The summer should be a little better because that tends to be a light term and I am teaching only one small seminar class this summer.

But enough about my schedule. I wanted to pass on to you a bit of information I came across recently that I thought was very interesting. Years ago, when I was a graduate student at Bryn Mawr, George Kline, one of my professors there, told me that the former Kierkegaard scholar Josiah Thompson, had left his post at Haverford College to become a private detective. I remember at the time thinking that that was one of the strangest things I’d ever heard. What possible relation, I thought, could there be between philosophy and detective work?

OK, I was naïve. For those few readers, however, who do not immediately understand the connection, I have a little story for you. The title of this post promises to tell you something about Kierkegaard’s psychology. This is really only a teaser though. The real substantive entries on Kierkegaard’s psychology will come later. Still, I ran across a book that I didn’t know existed and which I thought people interested in Kierkegaard ought to know about. It is a book by the German artist-physician-philosopher Carl Gustav Carus. Never heard of him? Read on.

“I am happy,” writes Kierkegaard in his journals,

“to acknowledge that Carus’ book (Psyche) is excellent, and if he will give the qualitative its due, then I will gratefully take a few of his good psychological observations. At all decisive points he makes unqualified room for the miracle, for the creative power of God, for the absolute expression of worship, and says: This no one can grasp, no science, neither now nor ever. Then he communicates the interesting things he knows.” (JP, 3:2818.)

I read this entry years ago and was intrigued by it. Who was this Carus? What were the interesting things he knew? How could I get my hands on a copy of this book? I searched antiquarian bookshops in Denmark and in Germany without any luck. I looked both in person and on line. Once I found a copy in German on Abebooks and tried to buy it only to be informed, after having added it to my basket, that it had already been sold.

Last year, finally, I found the book, in an English translation, in an esoteric bookstore in Cambridge, MA. It was in the section on Jungian psychology. It was $25 because, the owner of the shop informed me sheepishly, it was out of print. It’s a short book, under one hundred pages, but it is indeed very interesting. I cannot tell who was responsible for the translation, but there is an introductory note by the famous Jungian analyst James Hillman. Apparently, Jungians are interested in Carus because Jung himself was influenced by Carus.

My friend, and publisher, Eric von der Luft, informs me that Carus was strongly influenced by Schelling. Interestingly, Kierkegaard appears to have had a higher opinion of Carus than of Schelling. I found out something else though that I thought would be of interest to readers. Carus’s view of the relation between the mind and the body is strikingly similar to the “physicalism” of John Searle’s The Rediscovery of the Mind. This “physicalism,” though in a perhaps less well-defined form, appears to have come from Schelling, Schelling influenced Heidegger and Heidegger influenced Hubert Dreyfus. Dreyfus is a friend of John Searle…

Maybe we should all try our hands at private detective work if this philosophy thing dries up!