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Bad News and Good News…

I have some bad news and some good news. The bad news is that Google, does not, in fact have the complete text of Repetition and Philosophical Crumbs online, but only a portion of it. Also, the site that promises a free ebook version of it is bogus. I’m indebted to Don Anderson for alerting me to these facts. This means that there is no searchable electronic version of this volume, or at least not one in general circulation. I have such a version, but Oxford would have my hide if I started sending it out to people. It was like pulling teeth to get them allow me to publish excerpts in the online journal The Smart Set.

I have a plan though. I am going to make an index for the volume myself and make it available free of charge to anyone who wants it. I probably won’t have it done until sometime this spring. I will let you know, though, when I’ve finished it.

The reason I won’t have the index done until spring is that I am hard at work on my new book Fear and Dissembling: The Copenhagen Kierkegaard Controversy. This book is going to be a collection of English translations of some of the articles that appeared in the Danish media on the controversy over Joakim Garff’s book SAK (GAD, 2000), or Søren Kierkegaard, A Biography (Princeton, 2005). Both Garff and his critic, Peter Tudvad, have tentatively agreed to be involved in the project. I will send each a list of the articles I plan to include for his approval and each is free to recommend additional articles he would like to see included. Garff has also suggested that a few original essays could be appended to the end of the book. I’m all for that if it we can get a good group of contributors and it doesn’t delay the project too much.

I think you’ll like this book. It won’t simply be about Kierkegaard, but about larger issues such as the nature of biography and how difficult it can sometimes be to draw a line between fact and fiction.

Postscript: I have abandoned the idea of doing an index for Crumbs because Oxford has brought out an ebook version that is searchable.

Newsflash– “Piety” is a Real Surname!

I’d like to clear up what may be a confusion in the minds of some of my readers. I got an email a few days ago, from someone who liked the blog, asking me if “Piety” was a pen name. Yes, that’s a natural question, I suppose, especially for a Kierkegaard scholar (I’m sure John Wisdom was always being asked if “Wisdom” was his real name). “I know that word,” people probably think, “and it’s not a name!” That, in any case, was the explanation offered by my friend David Leopold for why the American Academy of Religion spelled my name wrong. That seems plausible. Either that, or they simply didn’t know how to spell “piety” (which, if it were true, would confirm the suspicions of the folks over at the Society of Biblical Literature).

No, “Piety” is my real name. There have been Pietys in the U.S. since before the Revolutionary war. In fact, my ancestor, Thomas Piety, served under Gen. Arthur St. Clair (an ancestor of Jeff St. Clair, editor of the online journal Counterpunch) in the American Army when George Washington was president.

My father, Harold Piety, was briefly the religion editor at the East St. Louis Journal. He used to enjoy answering the phone: “Religion, Piety speaking.”

I changed my name, when I married the legal scholar Brian J. Foley, to “Marilyn Gaye Piety Foley,” so “Piety” is still my real name, or at least part of it. I plan to keep using it too. I think it’s a good name for a Kierkegaard scholar.

Keep checking back. I’ve got some great posts coming up, including one on hitherto unknown caricatures of Kierkegaard, another on my forthcoming book Fear and Dissembling, and, of course, more on Tudvad’s book and its reception in Denmark.

More on Kierkegaard and Anti-Semitism: The Importance of Historical Context

Once upon a time, before Julia Watkin left Denmark for Tasmania, she and Grethe Kjær used to hold “kaffe aftener” (coffee evenings) for all the foreign, and occasionally also some of the local, Kierkegaard scholars in Copenhagen. The famous Ukranian Kierkegaard scholar, Gregor Malantschuk used to live with Grethe and her husband, so Grethe would sometimes tell stories about Malantschuk, The one that stood out in my mind concerned Malantschuk’s childhood in the Ukraine. I think it had something to do with how badly Ukrainians were treated by Russians. I don’t remember now. What I remember was Grethe’s remark that something like a third of the children Malanschuk had gone to school with had been Russian, a third Ukrainian and a third “Jewish.”

I was immediately taken aback by that remark. “Weren’t the Jewish children also either Ukrainian or Russian?” I asked. Judaism, after all, was a religion, not a place. Of course I knew that Jews had not always been accorded all the privileges of citizenship in the countries where they lived. I didn’t really understand until then, however, how ingrained was the thinking of many Europeans that Jews were a people apart, that they would always be a people apart no matter what the law said.

I don’t mean to suggest that Grethe was anti-Semitic. She never said anything else, in my memory, that would remotely suggest such a thing. I’m sure she was just repeating Malantschuk’s own description of the makeup of students in his classes.  Neither do I mean to suggest that Malantschuk was anti-Semitic. He may have been, of course; I simply don’t know. I’ve never heard that he was though, so I’d like to think he was not.

This brings up an issue, however, that continues to preoccupy Danish journalists: What constitutes anti-Semitism? If speaking about Jews as if they had no nationality, no ethnic heritage, other than a religious one (as if that could make any kind of sense) was acceptable in polite circles during a certain period in history, does that mean it was not anti-Semitic? Does it mean that absolutely everyone always spoke this way, and that no one, not even a Jew, was offended by it? That seems implausible to me. There were opponents of slavery, after all, even when it was still a socially accepted institution. That it was socially acceptable to use racist epithets does not mean that they weren’t racist, or that absolutely everyone used them and that no one was offended by them.

People have been arguing that Kierkegaard’s apparently anti-Semitic remarks have to be placed in their historical context. That’s true, of course. Everything has to be placed in its historical context to be properly understood. Well, here’s a little background from Peter Tudvad’s book on the historical context of Kierkegaard’s remarks. Anti-Semitism, as I observed in an earlier post, was so virulent in Denmark in Kierkegaard’s time that the literary attack on the Jews that began in 1813 was followed by a series of riots and physical attacks on Jews in 1819.  It’s clear, however, that most Danes were not involved in the violence. What is even more encouraging is the fact that it became illegal in August of 1813 to refer to Jews as “Jews.” They were to be referred to in official documents as “adherents of the Mosaic faith.” This suggests, unfortunately, that the literary feud had become so ugly that “Jew” had become a racist epithet. (Here it is perhaps important to note, in relation to my post from 1/7, that racism, as such, far predates Darwin.  Many ancient peoples had, in fact, a pronounced tendency to think that they were the only fully human beings and that other peoples, while they might look human, were not.) The positive aspect of this change in Danish law was that, as Tudvad observes, it sent a clear message to the Danish people where the king stood on the Jewish question. “In the same spirit,” writes Tudvad, “the king gave Jews full civic equality, and thus the same protections under the law as were enjoyed by Christians, on the 29th of March 1814” (pp. 33-34).

That is the context in which Kierkegaard made statements about Jews that were so offensive that, according to Johnny Kondrup, a scholar at the Søren Kierkegaard Research Center in Copenhagen, the statements were omitted from the English translations of Kierkegaard that were done in the 1970s and ‘80s (“Var Kierkegaard Antisemit? Berlingske Tidende, 26 October 2010. This article is unfortunately not online, but I have a scan of it that I can email anyone who would like to read it).

Yes indeed, Kierkegaard made what would today be considered some pretty offensive anti-Semitic remarks. I’ll confess to you that I am still holding out hope that there is some way of interpreting those remarks that will save Kierkegaard from the charge of anti-Semitism. I’m not certain, however, that placing them in their historical context is going to be enough.