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A superb one-volume distillation of Kierkegaard's journals
on February 7, 2004
Along with an older and somewhat smaller one-volume edition by Alexander Dru (worth seeking out, but very difficult to find), this provides readers of Kierkegaard's works a usable collection of highlights from his massive and exceedingly important JOURNALS AND PAPERS. Although this volume runs to over 700 pages, it does not represent a tenth of the complete edition in Danish.
There are many reasons for someone to read in Kierkegaard's journals. He used his journals for dry runs for many ideas that later cropped up in his various books and discourses. He often presents these ideas in a more straightforward manner than he would in his books. But he also often writes things that he did not intend to be seen by the public in his lifetime. Make no mistake about it: Kierkegaard definitely wrote these journals with the assumption that they would later be read by others in published form. But the knowledge that this would only come after his death freed him from any form of constraint, not that even here he is terribly forthcoming.
Reading the journals is also essential because it is the only way to get a truly balanced picture of his literary career and life. For instance, the caricature of Kierkegaard is of a soul who unhappily engaged in a Quixotic battle with the Danish Lutheran church in the final years of his life. The image is of an unhappy, isolated, tormented soul who never finds his rest. In fact, from the journals we find a person who has achieved a great deal of personal peace and a quiet contentment. This cannot be drawn from the books he published in his lifetime, but only from the journals. For all these reasons, anyone interested in Kierkegaard will profit enormously from these pages.
My lone complaint is that Alastair Hannay is not the most gifted prose stylist in the world. I have read just about all his words in English (all dealing with Kierkegaard or translations of Kierkegaard), and while I have no doubt about his accuracy as a translator, I have no confidence in his literary abilities. As a result, the volume--like the other volumes he has translated for Penguin--is highly serviceable, but not something that will thrill and inspire.
I should mention that Amazon shows a Princeton University Press edition of the JOURNALS scheduled to appear in the fall of 2004. I do not know very much about this edition. I am assuming that it is a single volume edition, but I have no idea how extensive of an edition this will be. Princeton's publications of Kierkegaard's works tend to be somewhat schizophrenic. While their edition of Kierkegaard's works are likely to be the standard edition for a very long time to come, they also produce some odd collections that seem to be targeted at a more popular audience. Perhaps their edition will be scholarly (my hope). Either way, this excellent volume by Penguin will either serve if the Princeton is unhelpful, or a useful alternative if it is successful.