M.G. Piety

Posts Tagged ‘N.F.S. Grundtvig’

A Problem with Hannay’s Postscript

In Translation issues on April 16, 2017 at 4:50 pm

I have said before, and I will say again, that Alastair Hannay’s translations of Kierkegaard for Penguin are superior to the Hongs’ translations for Princeton. I will probably do some posts comparing them again. That is not the purpose of the present post, however. I’m teaching a seminar on Kierkegaard now at Haverford College where we’re reading Kierkegaard’s Philosophical Crumbs, and his Concluding Unscientific Postscript to the Philosophical Crumbs. We’re using my translation of the Crumbs from Oxford and Hannay’s translation of the Postscript from Cambridge. In the course of my reading through this new translation of the Postscript, I have discovered a number of problems with it.

The most serious and most perplexing problem is Hannay’s systematically translating Kierkegaard’s Opvakt as “reborn.” Opvakt literally means “awakened.” It comes from the verb opvække, that, according to Ferrall-Repp means “to awake, rouse, excite, stir up.” An Opvækkelse is similarly defined by Ferrall-Repp as an “awakening.” Kierkegaard uses the expression en Opvakt to refer to a follower of the charismatic Danish priest Nikolai Frederik Severin Grundtvig (see the commentary to SKS).

One might be tempted to argue that while “awakened” is the most literal translation of Opvakt, it is awkward in English to refer to the members of a particular religious movement as “awakened.” Unfortunately, “reborn” isn’t much better if it is better at all. The idiomatic expression in English would be “born again.”

The more serious difficulty, however, with the translation of Opvakt as “reborn” is that it is misleading, so misleading, in fact, that it is likely to make readers dependent on English translations of Kierkegaard conclude that his thought is incoherent. Kierkegaard speaks in the following passage from the Philosophical Crumbs of a “rebirth” of the individual who receives the condition for understanding the truth from the god in time.

To the extent that the disciple was in error and now receives the truth as well as the condition for understanding it, a change takes place in him that is like the transition from not being to being. But this transition from not being to being is precisely that of birth [Fødselens]. He who exists already can hardly be born, and yet he is born. Let us call this transition rebirth [Gjenfødslen](96).

The expression for “rebirth” is Gjenfødslen. Gjenfødslen comes from adding the prefix Gjen (which comes from Igien, which means “again”) to Fødsel, which, according to Ferrall-Repp. is defined as “delivery, parturation, birth, nativity.”

This “rebirth” is an unqualifiedly positive thing. It is, indeed, precisely the temporal point of departure for a person’s “eternal consciousness” the possibility of which was posed as “the problem of the Crumbs.

Kierkegaard’s “Gjenfødslen” is a positive phenomenon, indeed, THE positive phenomenon. Kierkegaard has little respect, however, for the followers of Grundtvig, so his references to them as Opvakt are all pejorative.

What is the poor reader dependent on English translations of Kierkegaard to make of this? When he reads the Crumbs, he’ll find that “rebirth” is equivalent to an individual’s encounter with God in the person of Christ. When he proceeds, however, to the Postscript, he’ll read that “[t]he one who is reborn … is not relating to God” (381, emphasis added).

This isn’t the only misleading reference in Hannay’s translation to someone who is “reborn.” There is also a reference on page 383 to “the impudent assurance in the fact of God of the one reborn.” There’s another reference on page 424 to “the one who is reborn impertinently retain[ing] God.” When I did a search on “reborn” on my electronic copy of the book, I got 25 hits. Some of the pages, such as 429, have multiple references because Kierkegaard goes on at some length in those places about what is wrong with the followers Grundtvig –– except that the reader very likely won’t know that’s what Kierkegaard is doing, but will assume he’s critiquing the views he developed himself in the Philosophical Crumbs.

Kierkegaard is not critiquing his own earlier views, or worse, contradicting himself. “Rebirth” is a literal translation of Gjenfødslen. It is not, however, a literal translation of Opvakt, and given that Kierkegaard uses Opvakt only pejoratively and Gjenfødslen only positively, a translator needs to be careful to preserve that terminological distinction in order to avoid confusing the reader and perhaps compelling him to conclude that Kierkegaard just wasn’t all that rigorous a thinker.

I thought it was important to alert readers to this problem because people who read my translation of Kierkegaard’s Philosophical Crumbs will very likely be inclined to read Hannay’s translation of the Postscript since Hannay also translates Kierkegaard’s Smuler as “crumbs.”

Hannay got Smuler right, but he got Opvakt wrong.

Merry Christmas!

In Once Upon a Time in Denmark, Publishing News, Resources for Kierkegaard Scholarship on December 25, 2012 at 12:10 pm
Ebba and Willie Mørkeberg's Christmas Tree, Frederiksværk, Denmark

Ebba and Willie Mørkeberg’s Christmas Tree, Frederiksværk, Denmark

Merry Christmas Everyone! I have a few Christmas goodies for you. First, I thought you might like to know about a new mystery by the writer Thom Satterlee entitled Stages. The protagonist is an American living in Copenhagen who becomes a suspect in a murder investigation. The action takes place in Copenhagen and includes Kierkegaard scholars among its cast of characters. Satterlee says the novel grew out of his interest in Kierkegaard.

“I began, originally,” Satterlee says, “to write poems about Kierkegaard. But then I got the notion, what if I pretended to be Kierkegaard, as he pretended to be other people? What if I imagined him as a closet poet, secreting away his poems …. [W]hat if a manuscript were discovered close to the time of his 200th birthday (May 5, 2013) …. I wrote the poems, but I became more interested in the story of how they would be received by his fellow Danes, now in the 21st century … In my mind, a mystery began to take shape. The mystery involved the theft of this priceless manuscript and a murder.”

Satterlee coverThe novel is available as an ebook for $2.99! Don’t let the price fool you though. Satterlee is an award-winning poet and literary translator. His bio on Amazon notes that ‘[h]is collection of poems Burning Wyclif was an American Literary Association Notable Book and a Finalist for the L.A. Times Book Award.” His other awards include an American-Scandinavian Foundation Translation Prize and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship.

My advice is to buy The Stages and start reading it today! It’s Christmas after all. You should do something fun!

For more fun, check out Michael McIntyre’s blog Extravagant Creation. WordPress is great about promoting the work of its bloggers. I got an email from WordPress about a month ago informing me that Michael McIntyre had subscribed to my blog. Included in the email was a link to McIntyre’s blog, so I checked it out. I try always to do that, not simply because it seems only right and proper to me that, as a blogger, I should support the work of other bloggers, but also because I’ve found some great stuff that way. There’s some amazing writing coming out of WordPress, both in terms of form and in terms of content.

McIntyre’s blog is a scholar’s dream. There’s lots there that would be of interest to Kierkegaard scholars, including entries on Johann Georg Hamann, N.F.S. Grundtvig, K.E. Løgstrup and Lev Shestov. There’s other great stuff as well, though, including posts on topics of more general appeal such as ethics, theology, and music. Spend a little time today perusing McIntyre’s blog. You won’t regret it!

Finally, I’d like to put in a plug for Peter Tudvad’s book from 2009 Sygeplejerske i Det Tredje Rige: En Danskers Historie (Nurse in the Third Reich: the story of a Dane). The book has nothing directly to do with Kierkegaard, but it is written by one of my favorite Kierkegaard scholars, Peter Tudvad, and the subject is a dear friend and long-time patron of Kierkegaard scholarship Ebba Mørkeberg. Ebba tutored me in German for about five years when I was living in Denmark. She also helped me with the more difficult German material that was included in my dissertation and, later, my book Ways of Knowing, and she expanded my personal library of 19th century Danish literature, philosophy, and theology, through repeated gifts from her own extensive library.

Ebbe Mørkeberg at the launch of Syplejerske i Det Tredje Rige, May 5th 2009

Ebba is a great lady and the story of her experiences in Germany in WWII is riveting.The book, alas, is available only in Danish, but for those of you who are tired of practicing your Danish by reading Kierkegaard, this book would be a welcome change. It will give you insight not merely into the life of it’s subject, but into the Danish psyche and to an important period in Danish history.

Merry Christmas to everyone!

Kierkegaard and Antisemitism

In Kierkegaard and the Jews on December 20, 2010 at 4:04 pm

Peter Tudvad’s new book, Stadier paa Antisemitisms Vej: Søren Kierkegaard og Jøderne (Stages on the Way of Antisemitism: Søren Kierkegaard and the Jews) (Rosinante, 2010) has elicited even more controversy in the first few weeks after its appearance than did his exposure of the errors in Joakim Garff’s biography of Kierkegaard. As of last week, approximately 90 articles had been published in the Danish media on the book, some of which appeared even before the book itself. Those of you who can read Danish should check out Tudvad’s Facebook page because he has links to many of the articles there.

I’m going to assume, however, that most of you cannot read Danish, so I am going to post brief summaries of various part of the book, and comments on it, as I make my way through it. This is going to take some time, mind you, because at 500 pages (not including the notes) it’s a hefty tome. Like Tudvad’s other books, however, it is meticulously researched and completely absorbing. It also stands a very good chance of being translated into English because much of it is an account of the situation of the Jews in 19th-century Denmark and will thus be of great interest both to a broad spectrum of historical scholars and to general readers interested in Jewish history.

Tudvad has thoughtfully divided the book into chapters that can be read independently of one another, so readers interested primarily in Jewish history, or the history of antisemitism, don’t have to read the material on Kierkegaard. The chapter titles (freely translated) are as follows: “Ten Theses on Kierkegaard’s Relation to Jews and Judaism.” “The Jewish Conflict: From Literary Feud to Physical Violence,” “The Wandering Jew: Despair,” “The Perception of the Jews” (this chapter is divided into six sections that look at the theological, the historical, the political, the literary, the dramatic and the Bourgeois perspectives on Jews and Judaism), “Kierkegaard’s Jewish Acquaintances,” “Young Germany and Old Denmark,” “Abraham: The Father of Faith,”  and finally, “Offense: The Infernal Jew.”

I’m still on the part of the first chapter that deals with the literary feud. It’s disappointing to read how virulent was antisemitism in Denmark in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Christian Bastholm wrote, for example, in Den Jødiske Historie (The History of the Jews), that “the Jews are a people whose main characteristics are pride and greed,” and that “the Jews are one of those insects that can never be completely exterminated” (p. 28)

There’s lots of more encouraging information there though as well, such as the fact that N.F.S. Grundtvig was a staunch defender of the Jews. Part of the literary feud between prominent anti-Semites and defenders of the Jews involved using the Hebrew Bible against the Jews. “The method of attacking the Jews,” wrote Grundtvig however, “through the use of their own sacred books is evidence of how unchristianly the learned of our day dare to write and speak” (p. 31).

Grundtvig actually used the Hebrew Bible in defense of the claim that Jews made good citizens, pointing out, for example that Jews are commanded in Jeremiah to show loyalty to the state that gives them refuge.

“One can confidently assert,” observes Grundtvig, “that there is in general among the Jews less ungodliness and a greater sense of right and wrong, just as there is more external discipline, than there is in those assemblies that are now called ‘Christian,’ and that the Jews would thus be made worse by becoming more like ‘Christians'” (p. 32).

Kierkegaard’s father too, emerges as strong friend of the Jews. That’s all I’ll say for now though. If you can read Danish, then get your hands on a copy of the book. If you can’t, then keep checking for new posts. I’m not going to cover everything in the book, of course, but I’ll give you a sense of what it contains and, as I said, my suspicion is that you won’t have to wait too long before there will be an English translation.