Prefaces

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Prefaces, written by Søren Kierkegaard, was published on the same date that The Concept of Anxiety was published, June 17, 1844. Both books deal with the new idea of mediation. First Kierkegaard's wife mediated his writing, then Heiberg mediated his book Either/Or and finally Hegel was introducing mediation into the world. In The Concept of Anxiety his consciousness of sin is mediated by Adam's first sin. Prefaces is made up of eight separate prefaces because Nicolas Notabene, the pseudonymous author, is married and his wife doesn't want him to be a writer so he agrees to just write prefaces.

Quotes[edit]

Primary source: Prefaces, Light Reading For People in Various Estates According to Time and Opportunity, by Nicolaus Notabene, by Soren Kierkegaard, June 17, 1844, Edited and Translated by Todd W. Nichol, 1997, Princeton University Press

  • In the scholarly world much is made of classifying literature and assigning the writing of each individual author to its proper place in the age and the writing of the age and in that of the human race. Yet no one thinks about what might be gained if one or another literary type could be trained to read only prologues, but to do it so thoroughly that he would begin with the earliest times and advance through all the centuries down to our own day. Prologues are characterized by the accidental, like dialects, idioms, colloquialisms; they are dominated by fashion in a way entirely different from the way works are-they change like clothing.
    • Prefaces p. 1
  • Writing a preface is like being aware that one is beginning to fall in love-the soul sweetly restless, the riddle abandoned, every event an intimation of the transfiguration. Writing a preface is like bending aside a branch in a bower of jasmine and seeing her who sits there in secret: my beloved. Oh, this is how it is, this is how it is to write a preface; and the one who writes it, what is he like? He moves in and out among people like a dupe in winter and a fool in summer, his is hello and good-bye in one person, always joyful and nonchalant, contented with himself, really a light-minded ne’er-do-well, indeed a immoral person, since he does not go to the stock exchange to feather his nest but only strolls through it; he does not speak at public meetings, because the atmosphere is too confined; he does not propose toasts in any society, because this requires notice several days in advance; he does not run errands on behalf of the system; he does not pay installments on the national debt and in fact does not even take it seriously; he goes through life the way a shoemaker’s apprentice walks whistling down the street, even though the one who is to use the boots stands and waits-then he must wait so long as there remains a single place left for sliding or the slightest object of interest to see. This, yes this is what one who writes prefaces is like.
    • Prefaces, Nichol, 1997 p. 5-6
  • "To be an author when one is a married man,” she says, “is downright unfaithfulness, directly contrary to what the pastor said, since the validity of marriage is in this, that a man is to hold fast to his wife and to no other.” She is by no means at a loss for an answer if I reply that one might almost think that she was so neglected that she needs to go to confirmation instruction again, that she perhaps was not really listening to what the pastor said, that marriage is a special duty, a specific duty, and that all duties can be divided into the general and the specific and are duties to God, to ourselves, and to the neighbor.
    • Prefaces p. 10
  • I vow: as soon as possible to realize a plan envisaged for thirty years, to publish a logical system, as soon as possible to fulfill my promise, made ten years ago, of an esthetic system; furthermore, I promise an ethical and dogmatic system, and finally the system. As soon as this has appeared, generations to come will not even need to learn to write, because there will be nothing more to write; but only to read-the system.
    • Prefaces, Nichol, 1997 p. 14
  • By paying attention to the opinion of the visible reading public and of the usual reviewers, one falls into the most fatuous confusion.
    • Prefaces p. 17
  • What the author writes is an examination paper, and even if he stood a chance of holding his own well enough, the person who subjects himself to it is still a bit lunatic, because he is already much further ahead by not writing, because he is then an integral part of the most esteemed public. The reviewers, on the other hand, are the highly trusted minions of the most esteemed public, its cupbearers and privy counselors. Thus everything is superb and complete in madness. One needs only to glace at the writing in newspapers to see what is nowadays regarded as a review. It would indeed be really too bad if the public’s gossip were to go to waste. Therefore every newspaper runs a wastewater drain through its territory. The reviewer is the acting water inspector who takes care that the wastewater flows freely without obstruction. Everything is thereby completed in itself; the water comes from the public and flows back into the public.
    • Prefaces, Nichol, 1997 p. 19
  • I would like to thank the very honored reviewer for his most interesting review, to which in large part the speedy sale is no doubt due. When literature and journalism can work hand in hand in such a perfect way-oh, then Denmark’s future stands bright before us!
    • Prefaces, Nichol, 1997 p.22
  • Writing is not speaking; sitting at a desk and copying what is said is only baneful toil in comparison with stepping forth in an assembly, looking at a great throng who all are inspired by the same thing and for the same thing, having the stillness enter in like the payer before battle, having the word break forth like the thunder of combat, being oneself transported by the silence that is the silence of attention, hearing the whisper that is the whisper of approval, sensing the stentoriousness of the Amen of conviction.
    • Prefaces p. 27
  • For the cultured it is truly too little to have to deal with an individual human being, even though that human being is himself. He does not want to be disturbed when he is to be built up, does not want to be reminded of all the trifles, of individuals, of himself, because to forget all this is precisely the upbuilding. The life of the congregation, the grand definition of the system, the purely human-all of which he does not tempt the individual to think about himself or want to finish something, but builds him up only by his thinking it over-are the subject for consideration in the present work. It is again this totality toward which it strives. The cultured person thus seeks the congregation, to call to mind a word of the poet to whom the present devotional work is so very much indebted and whom I do myself the honor of naming as the authority and as the chosen bard of the cultured, the pondering Professor Heiberg.
    • Prefaces, Nichol, 1997 p. 31-33
  • That for which Christianity has striven through eighteen hundred years is specifically to produce the cultured person, who is the fairest flower and richest unfolding of the Christian life. The essentially Christian is not something historically concluded that enviously would be able to judge whether the cultured person is Christian. On the contrary, the cultured person provides the criterion and thereby contributes to the exaltation of the doctrine that admittedly began as a village affair (paganism) but now through the cultured has gained admittance to circles where tone, manners, elegance, wit, intellect are reconciled with their vanishing opposite. But just as the essentially Christian is not concluded in the past, so also it is not concluded in the present moment either but has the future open and can still become what it is to be.
    • Prefaces, Nichol, 1997 p. 33-34
  • To write a book is the easiest of all things in our time, if, as is customary one takes ten older works on the same subject and out of them puts together an eleventh on the same subject. In this way one gains the honor of being an author just as easily as one gains, according to Holberg’s advice, the rank of being a practiced physician and the possession of his fellow citizens’ money, trust, and esteem by getting a new black suit and writing on one’s door: “John Doe Physician.
    • Prefaces, Nichol, 1997 p. 35
  • Posito I assume and when I say posito, I have the right to assume the unlikely; therefore posito, I assume that Mr. A.A., whose promises supposedly have not weakened him, went to work and wrote the system. Posito, I assume, and when I say posito, I have the right to assume what is more unreasonable than the most unreasonable; therefore; posito, I assume that if Mr. A.A. did not write the system, then Mr. B.B. wrote it-then what? Let us linger for a moment on this thought, with which, of course, we have all been familiar for several years: the thought of the prospect for the hope of the system. Therefore, in order to be very brief, posito, I assume that the system appeared here in Copenhagen, then what? Then one would indeed have to read it, unless Mr. C.C. would instantly be kind and philanthropic enough to promise a summary of the system and also position us in the point of view; then we would again be saved by the promise. If this does not happen, then of course one would have to read it. How troublesome, and who would finally benefit from that?
    • Prefaces, Nichol, 1997 p. 39-40
  • Each being is assigned only to himself, and the one who takes care to remain here has a solid foundation to walk on that will not shame him. If he then deliberates with himself about what he will, how far he wills, if by virtue of this deliberation he begins slowly and silently, his earnestness will not be put to shame. If, on the other hand, it pleases a man to wax serious in thought of what he will do for others, this demonstrates that basically he is a fool whose life is and remains a jest despite looks and gestures and powerful eloquence and careful theatrical postures, the existence of which means nothing except insofar as with the assistance of irony there can be a little amusement out of it.
    • Prefaces, Nichol, 1997 p. 42-43
  • My frame, my health, my entire constitution do not lend themselves to mediation. It may well be that this is a flaw, but when I myself confess it, surely one might humor me. When the word “mediation” is merely mentioned everything becomes so magnificent and grandiose that I do not feel well but am oppressed and chafed. Have compassion on me in only this one respect; exempt me from mediation and, what is a necessary consequence, from becoming the innocent occasion that would cause one or another philosophical prattler to repeat, like a child at the chancel step, something I indeed know well enough: the history of modern philosophy’s beginning with Descartes, and the philosophical fairy tale about how being and nothing combine their deficiencies so that becoming emerges from it, along with whatever other amazing things happened later in the continuation of the tale, which is very animated and moving although it is not a tale but a purely logical movement.
    • Prefaces, Nichol, 1997 p. 45
  • What I predict will either happen or it will not happen-Apollo has granted me the gift of prophecy. Tiresias
    • Prefaces, Nichol, 1997 p. 45
  • Philosophy makes every theologian into a philosopher and does it so that he can satisfy the demand of the times, which must then be philosophical, which in turn presupposes that the times, that is, the totality of individuals, are philosophical. What a lofty hope for every theological graduate! Now if only the doubt did not remain about whether one actually understood what one said and what was said.
    • Prefaces, Nichol, 1997 p. 51
  • Hegel knew how to formulate the whole of modern philosophy in such a way that it looks as if he brought everything to an end and everything previous tended toward him. Someone else now makes a similar presentation, a presentation that to a hair is inseparable from Hegel’s, that consequently is pervaded at every point by this final thought, and to this is added a concluding paragraph in which one testifies that one has gone beyond Hegel. Here my understanding again comes to a halt, and yet what is all that I need? A triviality, two words are enough, a tiny categorical definition concerning the relation to Hegel.
    • Prefaces, Nichol, 1997 p. 57
  • does not philosophy teach that if the infinite is thought outside the finite, then both become finitudes? Is it not repeated again and again: truth is the criterion of itself and of the false? Then if philosophy excludes something it renders itself finite. In order to prevent this, it must be willing to explain itself more specifically with regard to my obtuseness and what constitutes it.
    • Prefaces, Nichol, 1997 p. 58
  • when the philosopher becomes blessed through his philosophy, this is an accidental blessedness. There is, then, something higher than philosophy. It is higher in that it includes me and similar bunglers. If this is so, then the question is: will philosophy continue to be called the absolute? But if it is not the absolute, then it must be able to state its boundary. If I wanted to be a poet, the esthetician would certainly instruct me about which capacities are required for that. I would then perceive that I am not a poet and would accept my fate. If, on the other hand, poetry wanted to claim to be the absolute, then it would not dare to exclude me, because the absolute cannot be anything that is not common to all.
    • Prefaces, Todd W. Nichol, 1997, p. 59-60
  • But there is still one situation that I want to imagine: that philosophy itself would condescend to speak to me. I do not know whether I should visualize it as a man or as a woman; therefore I think it best to imagine it as an unseen voice that sounds to one as if it were from one’s inner being, although it comes from the clouds, that speaks to one so humanly, although its speech is divine, in such a gentle and friendly way that it is a delight to hear it, because philosophy is always friendly and it is only the philosophers who are ill-tempered. It would speak to me somewhat like this: “You labor under a misunderstanding. It has not been granted to you to understand me; yet you should not for that reason be angry with me since I am not the one who creates humanity. You are not able to comprehend me. This I do not say to affront you, even if you were the only human being who is too limited for it; my quiet, peaceable, blessed life affronts no one. But you are not the only one; what is true of you is true of many others, yes, it is true to the mass of human beings to whom you belong. I am only for the chosen ones, for those who were marked early in their cradles, and in order for those to belong to me, time and diligence and opportunity are required, enthusiastic love, the high-mindedness to venture to love without hope, the renunciation to much that other people regard as beautiful and indeed is in a way. The one in whom I find this I reward also with the kiss of the idea; I make concept’s embrace fruitful for him. I show him what the earthly eye desires, to see the grass grow; I show it to him in a much higher realm; there I make him understand and see how the thoughts grow more and more luxuriantly in one another. What is scattered in the multiplicity of languages, what is universally present in the speech of the simplest as well as in that of the most sagacious, is gathered here and increases its quiet growth. Do not believe it is because I am too proud that I cannot show myself to you, that I cannot be loved by you. No! But this is part of my nature. Farewell! Do not demand the impossible; praise the gods that I exist, because even if you do not comprehend my nature, there nevertheless are those who do comprehend it. Rejoice, then, that the fortunate become happy; do that and you will not regret it.”
    • Prefaces, Nichol, 1997 p. 62-63
  • Whether now in our day there is a probability that philosophy will explain itself in this or in a similar but even better way, I do not know; it does no good to be on the lookout for trouble. If, however, it continues to become more and more a riddle, more and more difficult in its expression, if along this path it continues to want to achieve its lofty goal of being understood by all, then perhaps my lofty expectation can be fulfilled, my pious wish to become a philosopher. So I trustingly address myself to my contemporaries. I have not doubted everything; I address myself to men who have doubted everything. What a lofty hope! Have they attained certainty about everything? If do not know, but surely on some points they must have attained it. Granted that there is some exaggeration in the great amount of talk that is heard concerning the system-that it should amount to nothing at all would be too frightful a contradiction for my weak head to be able to think it. Now, if only it becomes an original Danish system, a completely domestic product, and if only I am included-even if I became nothing but a courier in this Danish system-I shall then be happy and satisfied.
    • Prefaces, Nichol, 1997 p. 65

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