The Soul of Kierkegaard: Selections from His Journals

The Soul of Kierkegaard: Selections from His Journals

by Søren Kierkegaard

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"The primary source for any understanding of either the man or his thought." — The Times (London) Literary Supplement
Denmark's foremost philosopher and religious writer, Søren Kierkegaard (1813–1855) maintained a journal throughout his adult life that amounted to more than 7,000 pages of alternative drafts of published works,


"The primary source for any understanding of either the man or his thought." — The Times (London) Literary Supplement
Denmark's foremost philosopher and religious writer, Søren Kierkegaard (1813–1855) maintained a journal throughout his adult life that amounted to more than 7,000 pages of alternative drafts of published works, biographical events, musings, and outpourings. A precursor of the Existential movement and a major influence on modern Protestant theology, Kierkegaard confided to his journal further reflections on the ideas developed in his philosophical and theological works, and on his tumultuous career as an author.
The English periodical, The Tablet, declared that "there can be few books in English that admit the reader so intimately to a process of thinking on such a scale, at so many levels, so unflinching and direct." Indeed, the journals attest to the philosopher's lively imagination, his poetic powers of self-expression, and the brilliance of his intellect. Students of philosophy and literature are bound to agree with The New Statesman's assessment that, "No biography can take the place of these Journals for the understanding of Kierkegaard’s very peculiar position as a thinker."

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The Soul of Kierkegaard

Selections from his Journal

By Søren Kierkegaard, Alexander Dru

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 2003 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-14601-0




July 29. As one goes from the inn through Sortebro across the bare fields that run along the coast, about a mile and a quarter to the north one comes to the ighest point in the district, to Gilbjerg. It has always been one of my favourite places. And as I stood there one quiet evening as the sea struck up its song with a deep and calm solemnity, whilst my eye met not a single sail on the vast expanse of water, and the sea set bounds to the heavens, and the heavens to the sea; hilst on the other side the busy noise of life subsided and the birds sang their evening prayer—the few that are dear to me came forth from their graves, or rather it seemed to me as though they had not died. I felt so content in their midst, I rested in their embrace, and it was as though I were out of the body, wafted with them into the ether above—and the hoarse screech of the gulls reminded me that I stood alone, and everything vanished before my eyes, and I turned back with a heavy heart to mix in the busy world, yet without forgetting such blessed moments.—I have often stood there and looked out upon my past life and upon the different surroundings which have exercised their power upon me; and the pettiness which is so often the cause of the numerous misunderstandings separating minds which if they properly understood one another would be bound together by indissoluble ties, vanished before my gaze. Seen thus in perspective only the broad and powerful outline showed, and I did not as so frequently happens to me lose myself in the moment, but saw everything as a whole and was strengthened to understand things differently, to admit how often I had blundered, and to forgive others.

As I stood there, without that feeling of dejection and despondency which makes me look upon myself as the enclitic of the men who usually surround me, and without that feeling of pride which makes me into the formative principle of a small circle—as I stood there alone and forsaken, and the power of the sea and the battle of the elements reminded me of my own nothingness, and on the other hand the sure flight of the birds recalled the words spoken by Christ: Not a sparrow shall fall to the ground without your Father : then all at once I felt how great and how small I was; then did those two mighty forces, pride and humility, happily unite in friendship. Lucky is the man to whom that is possible at every moment of his life; in whose breast those two factors have not only come to an agreement but have joined hands and been wedded—a marriage which is neither a mariage de convenance nor a mésalliance but a tranquil marriage of love held in the most secret chamber of man's heart, in the holy of holies, where there are few witnesses but where everything proceeds before the eyes of Him who alone witnessed the marriage in the Garden of Eden—a marriage, which will not remain unfruitful but bears blessed fruits, as may be seen in the world by an experienced observer; for like cryptogams among plants, they withdraw from the notice of the masses and only the solitary inquirer discovers them and rejoices over his find. His life will flow on peacefully and quietly and he will neither drain the intoxicating cup of pride nor the bitter chalice of despair. He has found what the great philosopher—who by his calculations was able to destroy the enemy's engines of war—desired, but did not find : that archimedean point from which he could lift the whole world, the point which for that very reason must lie outside the world, outside the limitations of time and space.

Gilleleie, August 1, 1835

What I really lack is to be clear in my mind what I am to do, not what I am to know, except in so far as a certain understanding must precede every action. The thing is to understand myself, to see what God really wishes me to do; the thing is to find a truth which is true for me, to find the idea for which I can live and die. What would be the use of discovering so-called objective truth, of working through all the systems of philosophy and of being able, if required, to review them all and show up the inconsistencies within each system;—what good would it do me to be able to develop a theory of the state and combine all the details into a single whole, and so construct a world in which I did not live, but only held up to the view of others;—what good would it do me to be able to explain the meaning of Christianity if it had no deeper significance for me and for my life;—what good would it do me if truth stood before me, cold and naked, not caring whether I recognised her or not, and producing in me a shudder of fear rather than a trusting devotion? I certainly do not deny that I still recognise an imperative of understanding and that through it one can work upon men, but it must be taken up into my life, and that is what I now recognise as the most important thing. That is what my soul longs after, as the African desert thirsts for water. That is what I lack, and that is why I am left standing like a man who has rented a house and gathered all the furniture and household things together, but has not yet found the beloved with whom to share the joys and sorrows of his life. But in order to find that idea, or better still, in order to find myself, it is no use throwing myself still further into life. And that is just what I have done hitherto. That is why I thought it would be a good thing to throw myself into the study of the law so as to develop my sharpness of mind in the complications of life. Here was a great mass of detail in which I could lose myself; here perhaps I might be able to work out a complete whole from given facts, an organum of theft, following up its darker side (and here a certain spirit of association is also extremely remarkable). I therefore wanted to be a barrister so that by putting myself in another man's role I could, as it were, find a substitute for my own life, and find distraction in outward change. That was what I lacked in order to be able to lead a complete human life and not merely one of the understanding, so that I should not, in consequence, base the development of my thought upon —well, upon something that is called objective—something that is in any case not my own, but upon something which grows together with the deepest roots of my life, through which I am so to speak, grafted upon the divine, hold fast to it, even though the whole world fell apart. That is what I lack and that is what I am striving after.

It is the divine side of man, his inward action which means everything, not a mass of information; for that will certainly follow and then all that knowledge will not be a chance assemblage, or a succession of details, without system and without a focusing point. I too have certainly looked for such a centre. I have looked in vain for an anchorage in the boundless sea of pleasure and in the depth of understanding; I have felt the almost irresistible power with which one pleasure reaches out its hand to the next; I have felt the sort of meretricious ecstasy that it is capable of producing, but also the ennui and the distracted state of mind that succeeds it. I have tasted the fruit of the tree of knowledge, and often delighted in its taste. But the pleasure did not outlast the moment of understanding and left no profound mark upon me. It seems as though I had not drunk from the cup of wisdom, but had fallen into it. I have searched with resignation for the principle of my life, by trying to believe that since all things proceeded according to unalterable laws things could not be otherwise and by dulling my ambition and the antennae of my vanity. And because I could not adapt everything to my own mind I withdrew, conscious of my own ability, rather like a worn out parson resigning with a pension. What did I find? Not my Self, which was what I was looking for (thinking of my soul, if I may so express it, as shut in a box with a spring-lock which external circumstances, by pressing upon the lock, were to open).—And so the first thing to be decided, was the seeking and finding of the Kingdom of Heaven. But just as a heavenly body, if we imagine it in the process of constituting itself, would not first of all determine how great its surface was to be and about which other body it was to move, but would first of all allow the centripetal and centrifugal forces to harmonise its existence, and then let the rest take its course—similarly, it is useless for a man to determine first of all the outside and afterwards fundamentals. One must know oneself before knowing anything else ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]). It is only after a man has thus understood himself inwardly, and has thus seen his way, that life acquires peace and significance; only then is he rid of that tiresome, ill-omened fellow-traveller, the irony of life, which shows itself in the sphere of understanding, bidding true understanding begin with ignorance (Socrates) like God creating the world out of nothing.

Although I am still far from having reached so complete an understanding of myself, I have, with profound respect for its significance, tried to preserve my individuality—worshipped the unknown God. Warned by a premature apprehension I have tried to avoid coming in too close contact with those phenomena whose power of attraction would perhaps exercise too great an influence upon me. I have tried to master them, studied them individually and examined their importance in men's lives, but at the same time guarded against going, like the moth, too near the flame. I have had but little to win or lose from the ordinary run of men. Partly because everything which occupies them—so-called practical life—only interests me slightly; partly because the coldness and lack of interest with which they treat the more profound and spiritual emotions in man have estranged me still further. With few exceptions my associates have not exerted any particular influence upon me. A life which is not clear about itself inevitably displays an uneven surface; they have stopped short at particular facts and their apparent disharmony; they were not sufficiently interested in me to try to resolve them in a higher agreement or to perceive the inner necessity of it. Their opinion of me was therefore always one-sided, and I have, as a result, alternately laid too much, or too little weight upon their pronouncements. I have now withdrawn from their influence and their possibly misleading effect upon the compass of my life. And so I stand once again at the point where I must begin my life in a different way. I shall now try to fix a calm gaze upon myself and begin to act in earnest; for only thus shall I be able, like the child calling itself "I" with its first conscious action, to call myself "I" in any deeper sense.

But for that patience is necessary, and one cannot reap immediately where one has sown. I shall bear in mind the method of the philosopher who bade his disciples keep silence for three years after which time all would come right. One does not begin feasting at dawn but at sunset. And so too in the spiritual world it is first of all necessary to work for some time before the light bursts through and the sun shines forth in all its glory. For although it is said that God allows the sun to shine upon the good and the wicked, and sends down rain upon the just and the unjust, it is not so in the spiritual world. And so the die is cast—I cross the Rubicon! This road certainly leads me to strife; but I shall not give up. I will not grieve over the past —for why grieve? I will work on with energy and not waste time grieving, like the man caught in the quicksands who began by calculating how far down he had already sunk, forgetting that all the while he was sinking still deeper. I will hurry along the path I have discovered, greeting those whom I meet on my way, not looking back as did Lot's wife, but remembering that it is a hill up which we have to struggle.

Sept. "What!" he said to himself, "the man who penetrates his brother's most secret thoughts, does not that fatal gift bring him to the frightful condition which came upon the Wandering Jew, who wandered through the gay tumult of the world without joy, without hope, without pain, in dull indifference, which is the caput mortuum of despair, as though through a dreary and disconsolate desert?"

Oct. 9. The same thing happens to Christianity, or to becoming a Christian, as to all radical cures, one puts it off as long as possible.

Oct. 13. There is a curious connection between Protestantism and the modern political point of view: it is a struggle for the same thing, the sovereignty of the people, which is why it is also interesting to note that the real royalists, in so far as they have not got one view on one subject and an essentially different one on another subject, which in an individual should both be based upon the same principle—lean towards Catholicism.

The real beauty of Lemming's playing (he is a Danish musician; I heard him at the University Club) was that he stroked the guitar. The vibrations became almost visible, just as when the moon shines on the sea the waves become almost audible.


Jan. It is a very curious thing about superstition. One would expect that the man who had once seen that his morbid dreams were not fulfilled would abandon them for the future; but on the contrary they grow even stronger just as the love of gambling increases in a man who has once lost in the lottery.

Feb. People understand me so little that they do not even understand when I complain of being misunderstood.

March. The difference between a man who faces death for the sake of an idea and an imitator who goes in search of martyrdom is that whilst the former expresses his idea most fully in death it is the strange feeling of bitterness which comes from failure that the latter really enjoys; the former rejoices in his victory, the latter in his suffering.

The three great ideas (Don Juan, Faust and the Wandering Jew) represent, as it were, life outside religion in its three-fold direction, and only when those ideas are merged in the individual and become mediate, only then do morals and religion appear; that is my view of those three ideas in relation to my dogmatic standpoint.

A man walked along contemplating suicide; at that very moment a slate fell and killed him, and he died with the words : God be praised.

I have just returned from a party of which I was the life and soul; wit poured from my lips, everyone laughed and admired me—but I went away—and the dash should be as long as the earth's orbit

* * *

and wanted to shoot myself.

'Sdeath, I can abstract from everything but not from myself. I cannot even forget myself when I am asleep.

Is it true that I should not laugh at my own jokes?

The omnipresence of wit.

Exactly how can one explain the inclination, which manifests itself in people who are in some sense or other fallen, to throw themselves into life instead of shunning it. J. Jørgensen for example, says that when he is drunk he feels an almost irresistible urge to be with people, to go wherever there are crowds.

Aug. 25. When Goethe had accomplished the transition involved by a return to classical antiquity, why did the age not follow him, why did it not follow Hegel, why does it have no effect? Because they both limited it to an æsthetic and speculative development, but the political development had also to go through its romantic movement and that is why all the romantics of the newer school are—politicians.

Oct. 8. The extraordinary way in which something long forgotten suddenly bursts into consciousness is really remarkable; for example, the recollection of something wrong of which one was hardly conscious at the moment of acting—Lightning announcing a violent storm. They do not come forward, they literally burst forth with tremendous power, demanding to be heard. And that, generally speaking, is how we are to understand the passage in the Gospels: that on the day of judgment man will be held responsible for every idle word he has spoken.

What Schleiermacher calls "Religion" and the Hegelians "Faith" is at the bottom nothing but the first immediate condition for everything—the vital fluidum—the spiritual atmosphere we breathe in—and which cannot therefore with justice be designated by those words.


Excerpted from The Soul of Kierkegaard by Søren Kierkegaard, Alexander Dru. Copyright © 2003 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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