Noted Kierkegaard scholar, translator and biographer Hannay (Emeritus, Philosophy/Univ. of Oslo; Kierkegaard: A Biography, 2001) offers a new translation of a little-known but significant work (1944) about the relationship between sin and anxiety.
Although Kierkegaard (1813–1855) claims in the preface that he plans to “write the book straight off as the bird sings its say,” many readers will find his words as similar to a bird’s song as a bird’s song is to a complex symphony. After some introductory remarks about thought, sin (which is not, he says, a sickness or an abnormality—far from it) and psychology, the philosopher begins with a disquisition on sin—specifically on original or “hereditary” sin. He notes that each individual’s first sin is analogous to Adam’s and declares, “Innocence is ignorance.” He then moves to anxiety, a feeling absent in Eden, he writes, until Adam faced something he couldn’t understand: the prohibition. Kierkegaard distinguishes between objective and subjective anxiety and notes the relationship to freedom: “Freedom’s possibility announces itself in anxiety.” He also makes a few clueless comments about the differences between men and women—comments that show that for all his erudition, he had a few things to learn. He describes each instant as “an atom of eternity,” then moves on to discussions of fate, guilt and evil, equating the demonic with “unfreedom.” He also explores the ways that we can lose freedom (a body’s betrayal, a spiritual loss) and ends with some pages about faith. The book has moments of clarity and flow but also sections of great density (one footnote is more than two pages long); the author cites the Bible extensively and often uses phrases from foreign languages, all of which the editor translates in brackets.
A text that will appeal to philosophers and Kierkegaard-ians but will leave readers with more general interests feeling…anxious.