The Phoenix

First German Reader coverI have repeatedly emphasized that I believe it’s important for Kierkegaard scholars not only to know Danish, but also to know German. Some of the best Kierkegaard scholarship is actually in German, just as is some of the best scholarship in other areas of philosophy. It’s difficult, I’ll grant you, to find a place in the U.S. that offers courses in Danish. German, on the other hand, is taught everywhere. Many Kierkegaard scholars undoubtedly learned German when they were in graduate school because most Ph.D. programs until recently, required proficiency in both German and French. The difficulty, of course, is that many people acquired only the most rudimentary knowledge of these languages and then let what little knowledge they had deteriorate through lack of use.

Fortunately, it is now easier to get one’s German back up to speed. The little hand-held dual language translators are absolutely fabulous reading aids. I have a little Sharp PW-E310 Oxford-Duden that I got in Berlin a few years ago. Dedicated dual-language translators appear to be rare these days. I don’t know how good the ones that handle more than two languages are. Fortunately, the Oxford-Duden is still available, though it looks like you will have to order it from Germany. There are lots of free online translation tools as well. I don’t like using my phone for stuff like that, but you may want to try it if you can’t get your hands on a little dedicated electronic translator. You can always use your computer, of course, but who wants to read books sitting at his desk? I do that sometimes, but I like to be able to read other places as well, particularly in bed. I read Heinrich Böll’s Der Zug War Pünktlich in bed with the help of my little Oxford-Duden. (That’s a fantastic book, by the way).

There are, of course, other ways to gain proficiency in German. There’s the good old fashioned way of reading with a regular dictionary at one’s side. I HATE looking stuff up that way though. It is so time consuming leafing through the dictionary and then scanning the page for a precise word. Fortunately, Dover has a wonderful dual-language book called First German Reader. This little book has a great selection of texts including works by Goethe, Lessing, Heine, and Tucholsky. It’s even available in a Kindle edition!

I found the following text that I thought would be of particular interest to Kierkegaard scholars in this little reader. See how much you can understand before you turn to the translation.

 

Der Phönix

Nach vielen Jahrhunderten gefiel es dem Phönix, sich wider einmal sehen zu lassen. Er erschien, und all Tiere und Vögel versammelten sich um ihn. Sie gafften, sie staunten, sie bewunderten und brachen in entzückendes Lob aus.

Bald aber wandeten die besten und geselligsten mitleidsvoll ihre Blicke ab und seuften: >>Der unglückliche Phönix! Ihm wurde das harte Los, weder Geliebte noch Freund zu haben; denn er ist der einzige seiner Art!<<

 

The Phoenix

After many centuries it pleased the phoenix to let himself be seen once more. He appeared, and all the beasts and birds gathered about him. They gaped, they were amazed, they admired and broke into rapturous praise.

Soon, however, the best and most sensitive and compassionate [among them] averted their eyes pityingly and sighed: “The unhappy phoenix! To him fell the hard lot to have neither a loved one nor a friend; for he is the only one of his kind!”

 

I edited the translation just a little to make it read more naturally. It’s a pretty good translation, though, even without my edits. It’s also a pretty good characterization of Kierkegaard, don’t you think?

 

 

 

Kierkegaard and the Wolfenbüttler Fragmente

I promised some time ago to post something on the chapter from Peter Tudvad’s book Stadier på antisemismens vej: Søren Kierkegaard og jøderne (stages on the way of anti-Semitism: Søren Kierkegaard and the Jews) that dealt with the theological view of Jews in Kierkegaard’s day. The chapter, which is a hundred pages long, is an extraordinarily rich resource for information about the theological view of Jews throughout European history.

Tudvad provides a detailed account of Luther’s vehement anti-Semitism and emphasizes, through references to later theologians, that Luther’s views provided the foundation for the theology of the countries of Northern Europe. Kierkegaard, in particular, he observes, had to have been familiar with Luther’s views on Jews and Judaism because he would have been required to read Luther as part of his theological studies at Copenhagen University. Scholars are familiar with the fact that Kierkegaard is often critical of Luther. His criticisms of Luther relate, however, to other aspects of Luther’s thought, not to his anti-Semitism.

One of the more interesting parts of the chapter concerns Kierkegaard’s take on what was know as the Fragmentenstreit (the dispute over the fragments)  The Fragmentenstreit  refers to the controversy created by Lessing’s publication of a manuscript he claimed to have found in a library in Wolfenbüttel in Braunschweig and which was subsequently referred to as the Wolfenbüttler Fragmente. The manuscript had actually been written by the Enlightenment thinker Hermann Samuel Reimarus. Reimarus, had argued, to quote Tudvad, “that Jesus understood himself in agreement with the worldly expectations the Jews had of him that he would reestablish the David’s kingdom with all its power and authority in order that God and God’s law would rule over the world through the agency of the Jewish people” (p 236).

Tudvad observes that “Kierkegaard was also aware of the fact that Jesus’ disciples appear to have had the same expectations” (p. 236). He thus needed to find an explanation for the fact that they “suddenly, after [Jesus’] death, gain the courage to risk life and limb for his sake” (p. 236). He finds this explanation, Tudvad asserts after reading the first part of the Wolfenbüttler Fragmente in 1849. Jesus had to die, he decides, in order for the apostles to give up their worldly hopes. “One sees,” writes Kierkegaard, “how unreasonable is the objection (found also in the Wolfb. Fragm: I, § 32 and 33) that the apostles changed their view [of Jesus], and only after his death made him into the savior of the world rather than the worldly messiah they first considered him to be. That’s correct, of course, but the fault is not Christ’s. He’d explained himself. They just couldn’t understand him” (SKS 22, 66, 20-25). That is, Tudvad asserts that it was important to Kierkegaard to make clear that Christ and Christianity were something “completely different from the Messiah, Israel and Judaism” (p. 236).

To be fair to Kierkegaard, however, it should be pointed out that he cannot have been unaware that Christianity, as the apostles understood it, even after the death of Jesus, was a sect of Judaism. It was only later that becoming a Christian did not necessitate first converting to Judaism. Kierkegaard was also, of course, aware that Jesus had himself been a Jew who, as Tudvad points out, “came not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it” (p. 236).

My own view of Kierkegaard’s reaction to the Wolfenbüttler Fragmente is thus that he was concerned not so much to distinguish Judaism from Christianity as something negative and opposed to it as to defend Christianity against the charge that it was based on a manipulation, or misrepresentation, of historical fact.