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Clarification of an Ambiguity in Philosophical Crumbs

One of the highlights, for me, of the recent conference on Kierkegaard at Johns Hopkins University, was meeting Jonathan Lear. Lear is a distinguished professor in the Committee on Social Thought and in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Chicago. He is also a practicing psychoanalyst. I have an interest in psychoanalysis and, in fact, am a member of the Philadelphia Jung Seminar. It is a rare treat to meet such a distinguished philosopher who is interested in Kierkegaard, and a rarer one still to meet a philosopher who is a practicing psychoanalyst!

I discovered, in conversation with Lear, that he is teaching a course this fall on Kierkegaard and that he is using my translation of Kierkegaard’s Philosophical Crumbs He wrote to me recently with a question about the text to which I did not immediately have an answer. “On p. 108 of your text,” he wrote, “Climacus says, ‘(This is the untruth of paganism.)’  I don’t think I understand.  Do you have any words of wisdom on that claim?”

The question about this passage from Crumbs is a good one, so I thought I would share my answer to Lear with readers of this blog. I wasn’t sure myself what that parenthetical comment meant, so I went to the online version of the collected works of Kierkegaard in Danish to check my translation against the original text and I discovered that I had, in fact, left something out. There is a word in the original Danish that does not appear in the translation, but which really ought to be there. I don’t know how I failed to include it, but I did. Here is the Danish text followed by my translation with the missing word inserted

Enhver anden Aabenbarelse var for Kjærligheden et Bedrag, fordi den enten først maatte have foretaget en Forandring med den Lærende (men Kjærligheden forandrer ikke den Elskede, men forandrer sig selv) og skjult for ham, at dette var fornødent, eller letsindigt være forblevet uvidende om, at hele Forstaaelsen var en Skuffelse (Dette er Hedenskabets Usandhed).

Any other revelation would, for love, be a deception, because it would either first have had to undertake a transformation of the learner and hidden from him that this had been necessary (but love does not alter the beloved, rather it alters itself), or it would have had to allow him to remain blissfully [letsindigt] ignorant of the fact that the whole understanding had been an illusion. (That is the untruth of paganism.)

“Paganism,” for Kierkegaard (and I believe many of his contemporaries) is a synonym for the Greeks. Kierkegaard often speaks of the Greeks (i.e., the ancient Greeks) as “lighthearted” because they do not have a concept of sin. Sin, according to Kierkegaard/Climacus is what separates human beings from God. SIN is the difference, the main difference. But the Greeks, of course, because they did not have the concept of sin, did not understand that there was an obstacle to their coming to understand the eternal, unchanging truth. They assumed they could just think themselves into it.  They thought they could “understand” the truth, but really, according to Kierkegaard, their understanding was an illusion (“untruth”).

I think that’s what Kierkegaard means in that passage. It’s possible, I suppose, to get that meaning even without the inclusion of “letsindigt/blissfully,” but I think it is harder, so I am grateful to Lear for his question and will add the missing word to the list of corrections I’m planning to send to Oxford.

 

News and Forthcoming Posts…

This week was the last week of our fall term here at Drexel, so things have been pretty hectic. I’ve got some news though and several forthcoming posts I thought I ought to let you know about. First the news. Repetition and Philosophical Crumbs (Oxford, 2009) is now available in a Kindle edition. I wrote in an earlier post that it was available in an electronic edition, but the Kindle edition is superior to that earlier electronic edition.

I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m a big fan of Kindle, and of electronic books in general. I’ve just discovered iBooks and although I’m not as big a fan of iBooks as of Kindle books, I do like how the pages turn in iBooks and that I can read books on my iPod Touch (you can do that with Kindle books too, I just haven’t tried it yet). The wonderful thing about electronic books is that they’re cheap, they take up no space, and they are a huge boon to scholarship in that they are searchable, and copying and pasting chunks of text into notes or scholarly articles really speeds up both research and writing.

I’m excited to see Crumbs on Kindle because the one thing I did not like about that edition was that it had no index. The Kindle edition makes an index superfluous, though. Why worry about an index when you can search the whole book for any word or phrase you want? The downside of the Kindle edition  is that it doesn’t have the page correlations to the latest Danish edition of Kierkegaard’s collected works, Søren Kierkegaards Skrifter, the way the paperback does, so if you plan to do serious scholarly work on either Repetition or Crumbs you will probably want to have both the paperback and the Kindle edition.

The Princeton editions of these works are not yet available in electronic format, so not only does the Oxford edition give you a better translation, it gives you one that is much more suited to scholarly work. If you have any doubts about the relative quality of the Oxford vs. Princeton translations, you can check out an excerpt of the former on The Smart Set website, or just download a sample onto your Kindle (you do have a Kindle, don’t you?).

Now for the forthcoming posts. I’ve been wanting to do a post on Joakim Garff’s talk at the AAR meeting in San Francisco two weeks ago. He made some good points that deserved a wider audience.  Garff graciously sent me a copy of the talk, so I’m going to do a post soon that will summarize and comment on it.

I also plan to do a post that will consist of an excerpt from the preface of Peter Tudvad’s book Stadier paa antisemitismens vej: Søren Kierkegaard og jøderne (stages on the way of anti-Semitism: Søren Kierkegaard and the Jews) (Rosinante, 2010). I translated the preface into English for a talk I gave for the Judaic Studies Program here at Drexel. The talk was very well received and made me think that other people might like to check out the preface as well.

Finally, I ran across a review of Ways of Knowing: Kierkegaard’s Pluralist Epistemology (Baylor, 2010) in The Review of Metaphysics, so I plan to do a post that will summarize the review and provide some comments on it.

So there’s lots of good stuff coming soon!

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.