Kierkegaard’s Early Reception in Germany

url.jsonA reader of this blog informed me that Walter Lowrie’s translation of Repetition from 1941 contained an essay at the back on all the translations of Kierkegaard into English up to that point. That was actually one of the few older translations of Kierkegaard’s works that I did not have, so I hastily hunted one down on abebooks.com. 

The essay is very interesting. There aren’t any revelations in it for people familiar with the older translations, but there is lots of other interesting information. Lowrie recounts, for example, how he was impressed by “the importance the name of Kierkegaard had acquired throughout the Continent, especially in Germany” immediately following WWI (p. 184). I was aware, of course, that the Germans learned of Kierkegaard’s work even while he was still alive, to say nothing of the period after his death. I’d assumed, however, perhaps partly as a result of Georg Brandes’ attempts in the late 1880s to introduce Kierkegaard to Nietzsche, that Kierkegaard’s work was not actually all that well known among German-speaking intellectuals. That is, I’d assumed that if Kierkegaard had become well known in Germany, that, as an intellectual, Nietzsche, would already have been aware of him. When I learned he wasn’t, I like so many other scholars, assumed that Kierkegaard was a marginal figure in German intellectual history. 

I couldn’t have been more wrong. “I could hardly pick up a serious book,” Lowrie continues, “without finding his [i.e., Kierkegaard’s] name in it. Every writer who claimed to be abreast of modern thought had something to say about him, and every reputable publisher had to bring out something. S.K. had already taken the place of Nietzsche as the literary vogue in higher circles” (p. 184). 

That was revelation to me. Kierkegaard had displaced Nietzsche in early twentieth-century German thought? Of course the popularity of Kierkegaard in Germany in the post WWI period is compatible with his relative obscurity at the end of the nineteenth century. I’m not the only scholar, however, who believed Kierkegaard was a marginal figure in German intellectual history. 

It would have been helpful if Lowrie had included some references to specific works. Unfortunately, he didn’t. Fortunately, we have Heiko Schulz’s excellent essay on Kierkegaard’s early reception in the German-speaking world in Kierkegaard’s International Reception, Tome I: Northern and Western Europe. The essay is entitled “Germany and Austria: A Modest Head Start: The German Reception of Kierkegaard.” Schulz appears to have tracked down every reference to Kierkegaard in the last part of the nineteenth century, to say nothing of the early part of the twentieth century, and includes references to specific article titles as well as helpful summaries of their contents. Most of the early German references to Kierkegaard appeared, predictably, in theological journals. 

There were early translations as well, Schulz explains however, including Einladung und Ärgernis. Biblische Darstellung und christliche Begriffsbestimmung von Søren Kierkegaard [Invitation and offense. Kierkegaard’s presentation of the Bible and Christian concepts], trans. and ed. by Albert Bärthold, manuscript (Halberstadt, 1872); Sören Kierkegaard. Eine Verfasser-Existenz eigner Art. Aus seinen Mittheilungen zusammengestellt [Søren Kierkegaard. A unique authorial existence. Compiled from his own communications] trans. and ed. by Albert Bärthold (Halberstadt: Frantz, 1873); Aus und über Søren Kierkegaard. Früchte und Blätter [From and about Søren Kierkegaard. Fruits and leaves], trans. and ed. by Albert Bärthold (Halberstadt: Frantz’sche Buchhandlung, 1874); Zwölf Reden [Twelve discourses], trans. and ed. by Albert Bärthold (Halle: J. Fricke, 1875); Von den Lilien auf dem Felde und den Vögeln unter dem Himmel. Drei Reden Søren Kierkegaards [The lilies of the field and the birds of the air. Three discourses of Søren Kierkegaard], trans. and ed. by Albert Bärthold (Halberstadt: H. Meyer, 1876) ; Lessing und die objective Wahrheit. Aus Søren Kierkegaards Schriften [Lessing and objective truth. From Søren Kierkegaard’s writings], trans. and ed. by Albert Bärthold (Halle: J. Fricke, 1877); Die Lilien auf dem Felde und die Vögel unter dem Himmel. Drei fromme Reden.—Hoherpriester—Zöllner—Sünderin. Drei Beichtreden von Søren Kierkegaard [The lilies of the field and the birds of the air. Three religious  discourses—The high priest—The tax collector—The woman who was a sinner], trans. and ed. by Albert Bärthold (Halle: J. Fricke, 1877); Søren Kierkegaard. Ausgewählt und bevorwortet [Søren Kierkegaard. A selection with prefaces], trans. and ed. by Albert Bärthold (Hamburg: Agentur des rauhen Hauses, 1906) (These references are all taken from p. 387 ofSchulz’s essay, though the English translations of the titles are my own).

“In addition,” Schulz continues, “Bärthold translated three complete pseudonymous works: Einübung im Christentum [Practice in Christianity], trans. and ed. by Albert Bärthold (Halle: J. Fricke, 1878); Die Krankheit zum Tode. Eine christliche psychologische Entwicklung zur Erbauung und Erweckung [The sickness unto death. A Christian psychological exposition for edification and awakening], trans. and ed. by Albert Bärthold (Halle: J. Fricke, 1881); Stadien auf dem Lebenswege. Studien von Verschiedenen. Zusammengebracht, zum Druck befördert und hrsg. von Hilarius Buchbinder [Stages on life’s way. Collected, presented to the press, and published by Hilarious Bookbinder]; trans. and ed. by Albert Bärthold (Leipzig: J. Lehmann, 1886) (These references, like those above, are all taken from p. 387 of Schulz’s essay, with the English translations supplied by me).

I’ve always been interested in Kierkegaard’s early reception in Germany because I believe that reception had a strong influence on his reception in the rest of the world. I’ve become more interested in it recently, however, as a result of my interest in George MacDonald. MacDonald’s thought is remarkably similar to Kierkegaard’s. I can find no evidence, however, that MacDonald could read Danish and the earliest English translations of Kierkegaard did not appear until after MacDonald’s death. MacDonald appears to have had an excellent command of German, however, as did most English-speaking intellectuals around the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century, and it seems likely that at least some of his reading would have included German theological journals and possibly even early German translations of Kierkegaard. I haven’t had any time yet to research this. That would require tracking down both what books he personally owned, what books and periodicals would have been available to him in the libraries he used, and going through all his correspondence in search of any mention of Kierkegaard’s name.

That said, MacDonald is himself a profoundly original thinker and if his view of human existence and Christianity is remarkably similar to Kierkegaard’s it is not necessarily because he was influenced by Kierkegaard but very possibly because he and Kierkegaard were similar in other ways, and that they understood easily things that the rest of us have to struggle to understand.  

Kierkegaard and MacDonald on Genuine Community

I recently discovered a thinker whose views are very similar to Kierkegaard’s and that has given me an opportunity to share once again my thoughts on Kierkegaard’s views on the nature of genuine community. Kierkegaard famously disparages what he refers to as “the crowd” and its “leveling” tendencies, but that does not mean he had a negative view of all collectivities. He makes very few references to positive collectivities, but that was likely first because he felt they were exceptionally rare, and second, and more importantly, because he felt describing such collectivities wasn’t his specific life’s task. His task, as he conceived it, was to encourage people to separate from the crowd, to become individuals.

Christianity, writes Kierkegaard in Works of Love, turns our attention completely away from the external, turns it inward (WOL, 376). In the stillness of God’s house, he writes in Three Discourses on Imagined Occasions, “[t]here is no fellowship—each one is by himself; there is no call for united effort—each one is called to individual responsibility” (TDIO, p. 10). 

And yet, he continues later in the same work, “in the stillness, what beautiful harmony with everyone! Oh, in this solitude, what beautiful fellowship with everyone!” (TDIO, p. 38).

It may appear that Kierkegaard is contradicting himself here, but I don’t think he is. I think what he means is that in the stillness before God, there is no “fellowship” in the sense that there is no escaping into the crowd, no hiding behind others, no opportunity for leveling reassurances that after all, it is unreasonable to expect moral perfection. 

“God wants each individual,”writes Kierkegaard, for the sake of certainty and of equality and of responsibility, to learn for himself the Law’s requirement. When this is the case, there is durability in existence, because God has a firm hold on it. There is no vortex, because each individual begins, not with ‘the others’ and therefore not with evasions and excuses, but begins with the God-relationship and therefore stands firm (WOL, p. 118).

God is the “middle term” for Kierkegaard in any genuinely loving relationship, whether that relationship is one of preferential love or neighbor love. But when God is the middle term, then genuine community is possible. 

That brings me to my discovery. I take painting lessons. I have to drive more than an hour every Saturday to get to my painting class. I enjoy the drive because the landscape through which I drive is mostly rural. Still, the drive is nicer if I have something to listen to. Sadly, the radio in my 1999 Mazda Protegé long ago bit the dust, so I have to stream whatever I listen to on my phone with the help of a small bluetooth speaker. I like to listen to books, when possible. I found something called The Hope of the Gospels, by George MacDonald on YouTube. I’d never heard of MacDonald, but I like theological works, so I thought I would give it a try. 

It was amazing! MacDonald’s writing is every bit as beautiful and inspiring as Kierkegaard’s best edifying writing and there is an uncanny similarity of views between the two. 

“Although I say, every man stands alone in God,” writes MacDonald in Miracles of Our Lord, “I yet say two or many can meet in God as they cannot meet save in God; nay, that only in God can two or many truly meet; only as they recognize their oneness with God can they become one with each other” (The Complete Works of George MacDonald, p. 13,394)

What MacDonald is describing is precisely the “beautiful fellowship” with others that a genuine God relationship not only makes possible according to Kierkegaard, but actually necessary.

“Christianity,” according to Kierkegaard, “turns our attention completely away from the external, turns it inward, and makes every one of your relationships to other people into a God-relationship (WOL, p. 376). “God just repeats everything you say and do to other people; he repeats it with the magnification of infinity. God repeats the words of grace or of judgment that you say about another; he says the same thing word for word about you (WOL, pp. 384-385). 

But this unity of the divine and the human as exemplified in the neighbor is not merely for purposes of judgment.

“Love is a need, the deepest need, in the person in whom there is love for the neighbor,” writes Kierkegaard, “he does not need people just to have someone to love, but he needs to love people. Yet there is no pride or haughtiness in this wealth, because God is the middle term, and eternity’s shall binds and guides this great need so that it does not go astray and turn into pride. But there are no limits to the objects, because the neighbor is all human beings, unconditionally every human being” (WOL, p. 67). 

“All communities are for the divine sake of individual life,” writes MacDonald, “for the sake of the love and truth that is in each heart, and is not cumulative—cannot be in two as one result. But all that is precious in the individual heart depends for existence on the relation the individual bears to other individuals: alone—how can he love? alone—where is his truth? It is for and by the individuals that the individual lives. A community is the true development of individual relations. Its very possibility lies in the conscience of its men and women. No setting right can be done in the mass. There are no masses save in corruption. Vital organizations result alone from individualities and consequent necessities, which fitting the one into the other, and working for each other, make combination not only possible but unavoidable. Then the truth which has informed in the community reacts on the individual to perfect his individuality. In a word, the man, in virtue of standing alone in God, stands with his fellows, and receives from them divine influences without which he cannot be made perfect” ( The Complete Works of George MacDonald, p. 13,393).

Kierkegaard could not have said it better himself!

I am devouring everything MacDonald wrote, at least all the theological writings. Theological writings were not all he wrote. Kierkegaard and MadDonald have more in common than the substance of their theologies. Kierkegaard, as is widely known, loved fairy tales. MacDonald loved them as well. In fact, he actually wrote fairy tales and it appears his fantastical works were enormously influential on a number of later thinkers including J.R.R.Tolkein and C.S. Lewis.

Unfortunately, the only hard copy edition of MacDonald’s collected theological writings that I have been able to find is part of his much larger complete works that retails on Abebooks.com for $1,980.53, which is just a little more than my current book-buying budget allows. Fortunately, there is an ebook version of MacDonald’s complete works that is available through Amazon for a measly $1.99! 

It is profoundly mysterious to me that MacDonald is not better known. There is a George MacDonald Society, but I’ve never seen any sessions devoted to his works at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion. I’ve been attending the annual meetings of the AAR for more than twenty years and I had never run across his name before. I would’t go so far as to argue that no attention has ever been paid to MacDonald at the AAR, but if there has been any attention given to MacDonald, it has been very slight, and it appears no attention whatever has been given to the relation between MacDonald’s thought and Kierkegaards. 

That has got to change!

BIG BOOK GIVEAWAY!!!

IMG_4407Two of my biggest supporters throughout my career have been the late Robert L. Perkins and Sylvia Walsh Perkins. I met them both at the very first Kierkegaard conference I attended at the College of Wooster, when I was still only a graduate student. One of my professors, George L. Kline learned I planned to attend the conference and suggested that I should try to make contact there with Bob Perkins. Perkins’ work on Kierkegaard, George explained, was very good, so it would be good for me to get to know him. 

I didn’t know anyone at that conference, so I was happy to have something of an information introduction to Bob. I approached him during one of the breaks early in the conference. I liked him immediately. Despite being one of the top people in Kierkegaard studies in the world, he was very warm and modest and self effacing. When I mentioned to him how his work had been recommended to me by George Kline, he seemed pleased, but immediately changed the subject. “You should read Sylvia Walsh’s work,” he exclaimed with enthusiasm. “Now there is a scholar who is really good!”

I’m paraphrasing, of course, because that first meeting was so long ago that I don’t remember exactly what Bob said. In fact, that first meeting was so long ago that Bob and Sylvia weren’t even married yet. I followed Bob’s advice and sought out Sylvia at that same conference. I quickly became friends with both of them, and not because they were the first Kierkegaard scholars I met, but because they were both truly lovely people, passionate and gifted scholars, warm, kind, and socially conscious. Bob and Sylvia supported me throughout my career. In fact, it is no exaggeration to say that without the support of Bob, Sylvia, and C. Stephen Evans, I wouldn’t have a career. 

I was therefore deeply moved when Sylvia contacted me recently to ask whether I would be interested in any of the books she was planning to get rid of. She said she was winding down her scholarly activity and hence unlikely to need all the books in the large library she and Bob has amassed over the years. Among the books Sylvia offered me was a complete set of the new Søren Kierkegaards Skrifter, the most recent edition of Kierkegaard’s collected works in Danish, as well as a complete set of the new Kierkegaard’s Journals and Notebooks, the English translation of Kierkegaard’s journals and papers that is based on the new SKS. 

Sylvia was also getting rid of the old Hongs’ translation of the journals and papers that they had done for Indiana University Press. I’m not a huge fan of the Hongs’ translations, as readers of this blog are likely aware. The earlier translations tend to be better than the later ones, though, and their translations of the journals and papers are very early. Also, while the new Kierkegaard’s Journals and Notebooks is far more comprehensive than the old Hongs’ translation that went under the title Kierkegaard’s Journals and Papers, the actual translations in the new edition are often no better, and sometimes even worse, than those in the older edition. The thing I like best about the Hongs’ translation of the journals and papers, though, is that it is organized thematically rather than chronologically. That makes it a pleasure simply to sit and read. 

I’d wanted a set of the Hongs’ Journals and Papers for years. It is still available through Indiana, as well as Abebooks.com. It’s quite expensive, though, to get a complete set, even used. Given that I already had a complete set of the Papirer (which I had also earlier gotten from Bob and Sylvia), and given that Princeton had come out with the new Journals and Notebooks, it seemed extravagant to lay out money for the now obsolete Hongs’ translation. 

But then, out of nowhere, or so it seemed, I got an email from Sylvia, whom I had come to regard as sort of my scholarly guardian angel, asking me if I wanted a collection of books that included this set. Of course the Journals and Papers are not the most important of the works Sylvia has so generously given me. They are the books, however, for which I had nurtured a secret longing. After all SKS is available online, and KJN is disappointing in some respects.  

And now I have my very own set of Kierkegaard’s Journals and Papers! Thank you, Sylvia!

It seemed wrong to pick and choose books from the list Sylvia sent me, so I told her just to send them all and that I would find homes for any books I already had. Hence the title of this post. I’ve created a list of the duplicates and will send them to anyone who is willing to pay for the postage. Just write me and let me know which books you would like and why. The reason I would like you to explain why you want the book, or books, in question is in case several people write at the same time that they want the same book, or books. Basically, I will distribute the books based on a first come, first served basis, but if two or more people request the same books at the same time, an explanation of why each wants the book, or books, will help me to decide who should get them. I will let you know what it will cost to ship them and will not ship them until I hear that you are okay with that cost. 

Again, I’ve attached a list of the books I am giving away. Some highlights are a complete third edition of Kierkegaard’s collected works in Danish, selected volumes of both SKS and KJN. Check out the attached list, though, for exciting finds!