D. Anthony Storm's Commentary on Kierkegaard

Fifth Period: Direct Communication (1848-51)

On My Work As An Author

  • On My Work as an Author
  • Om min Forfatter-Virksomhed
  • 1848-49, supplement 1850, published 1851
  • KW22, SKS13, SV13

Kierkegaard wrote three works on his authorship: The Point of View for My Work as an Author, The Single Individual and On My Work as an Author, which is the shortest of the three, and was the only one published in his lifetime since Kierkegaard thought the others might be misunderstood. The work begins under the title "The Accounting", and is dated March, 1849. Added to this is a supplement dated November, 1850, entitled "My Position as a Religious Writer in 'Christendom' and my Strategy".

The Accounting

Although Kierkegaard considered Either/Or to mark the true beginning of his authorship, he considered his religious works to be of great import. In this shorter work he seeks again to explain the plan to his method of authorship. Kierkegaard published philosophical works indirectly, that is, under pseudonyms. At the same time he published religious works directly, that is, under his own name. These latter works were published concurrently with the former works, often released on or near the same day. He did this from 1843 to 1848. He says that this entire process of authorship was accomplished "in one breath" (p. 143). As in the other two works on his authorship, Kierkegaard affirms that it was religious from the start. He describes this authorship as a movement toward directness, toward simplicity.

Moreover, Kierkegaard was sensitive to the claim, sometimes made, that his religious and edifying works were less interesting than his philosophical works. In fact, he claimed that the pseudonymous works were written "without authority" to direct his reader to a more spiritual existence. In considering the plan behind his indirect, pseudonymous works and his direct works, Kierkegaard says that they "have ultimately the same aim: to make aware of the religious, the essentially Christian".

But just as that which has been communicated (the religious thought) has been translated entirely into terms of reflection and again taken back out of reflection, so the form of communication also has been decisively marked by reflection; in other words, use has been made of the kind of communication which is appropriate to reflection. 'Direct communication' means to communicate the truth directly. 'Communication in terms of reflection' means to beguile a person into the truth. But since the aim of the movement is to attain simplicity, the communication, must sooner or later, end in direct communication. It began maieutically with esthetic works and all the pseudonymous works are maieutic. That indeed is the reason why these works were pseudonymous—whereas the direct religious communication (which was present from the very first as a glinting suggestion) bore my own name. Direct communication was present from the first, for the Two Upbuilding Discourses of 1843 were actually simultaneous with Either/Or. And in order to establish this direct religious communication definitely as contemporaneous, each new pseudonym was accompanied almost simultaneously by a little collection of Upbuilding Discourses until the appearance of Concluding Postscript, which set the problem, which is the Problem kat' exochen [in the eminent sense], of the whole authorship, namely, 'how to become a Christian' (p. 7f.).

For more on directness versus indirectness, and the necessity to communicate sublime truth indirectly (subjectively) see Practice In Christianity. In a footnote to this Kierkegaard adds.

The maieutic attitude lies in the relationship between esthetic works as a beginning, and religion as telos. The point of departure was the esthetic, wherein possibly the majority have their being; and then the religious is introduced so unexpectedly that they who were moved to follow along by the attraction of esthetics suddenly find themselves in the midst of the most decisive definitions of Christianity and are obliged at least to take notice.

By "maieutic", Kierkegaard is referring to the Socratic method of learning through asking questions. Just as the characters in a Platonic dialogue converse, and Plato's message is found within the totality of the dialogue and is not thereby limited to the role of Socrates, just so is the method of Kierkegaard found in the interrelationship of his works, which include the direct, religious works. This perhaps gives us the best explanation for the pseudonyms: they set out to create a dialogue that is written very large over a long period of time. Anyone who reads only a work or two is like someone who comes into the middle of a conversation and leaves before it is over; he is misinformed.

At the same time this disposes of the illusion that religion is something one has recourse to as one grows older. 'One begins as an esthetic writer, and then, when one has grown older, and no longer possesses the vigor of youth, one becomes a religious author.' But when an author begins simultaneously as an esthetic and a religious author, it surely is not possible to explain the religious works from the casual circumstance that he has grown older; for simultaneously one surely cannot be older than oneself (p. 8).

Again, Kierkegaard called his indirect authorship "without authority", since he recognized that he was a genius, but lacked apostolic authority. He also called this indirect process "wounding from behind" or "godly deception". In all of his writings from Either/Or onward, Kierkegaard's aim was to reintroduce Christianity into Christendom.

The situation (i. e. to become a Christian in 'Christendom', when one is naturally a 'Christian'), a situation which, as any dialectician can perceive, translating everything into terms of reflection, makes necessary at the same time the use of indirect communication, because the aim in this case is to disabuse men of an illusion which consists in calling themselves Christians, perhaps imagining that they are, without being any such thing. And so the man who set the problem did not describe himself directly as a Christian and the others as not being such; on the contrary, he denied that he was one and conceded it to others. This is what Johannes Climacus does.—Where pure receptivity is concerned, like the empty vessel which is to be filled, direct communication is in place; but where illusion enters in, that is to say, when there is something that must be got rid of, direct communication is out of place (p. 8).

Again, Kierkegaard returns to the theme of the individual versus the crowd, or as he sometimes calls it, the "numeric masses". His entire authorship was geared to the individual, and was "characterized by reflection".

Here...the beginning was made, maieutically, sensationally, and with what naturally accompanies that, namely, the Public—which is always at hand when there is something going on—and the movement was, maieutically, to stir up the 'crowd' in order to get hold of 'the individual', understanding this word in a religious sense (p. 147f.).

But a footnote clarifies further what he means by the crowd.

And in so far as there is, in a religious sense, such a thing as a 'congregation', this is a concept which does not conflict with 'the individual', and which is by no means to be confounded with what may have political importance: the public, the crowd, the numerical, etc. (p. 9).

This point is further clarified in The Single Individual, where Kierkegaard stresses that the crowd is wrong when its mere numeric aspect lends validity to what it says.

Kierkegaard closes the original section by stressing that his religious authorship was "without authority", since he was no apostle or inspired writer. In fact, his authorship was an upbringing and education.

That I was 'without authority' I have from the first moment asserted clearly and repeated as a stereotyped phrase. I regarded myself preferably as a reader of the books, not as the author. 'Before God', religiously, when I talk with myself, I call the whole literary activity my own upbringing and development—not, however, implying that I am now perfect or completely finished so as to need no more upbringing and development (p. 12.).

Supplement: My Position As A Religious Author In 'Christendom' And My Strategy

The supplement is divided into two unequal parts. The first part, entitled "My Position", begins thusly.

I have never fought in such a way as to say: I am the true Christian, others are not Christians. No, my intention has been this: I know what Christianity is, my imperfection as a Christian I myself fully recognize—but I know what Christianity is. And to get this properly recognized must be, I should think, to every man's interest, whether he be a Christian or not, whether his intention is to accept it or reject it (p. 15).

Kierkegaard's authorship itself would seem to bear out this remark. During this year and the previous, before this supplement was written, he used the pseudonym Anti-Climacus (The Sickness Unto Death and Practice In Christianity). This name represents idealized Christianity. Kierkegaard himself could not claim to be such a Christian. Furthermore, the pseudonym Johannes Climacus claimed not to be a Christian, as Kierkegaard points out here.

The second section is entitled "My Strategy".

My tactics were, by God's aid, to employ every means to make it clear what the requirement of Christianity truly is—even though not one single person should be induced to enter into it, and though I myself have to give up being a Christian....

But never, even in the remotest way, have I made as if I wished to develop a pietistic severity, which is a thing alien to my soul and nature. Never have I wanted in the least to over-tax human existences, for that is a thing which would distress the spirit within me. No, I have desired to be instrumental in bringing, if possible, by means of admissions, a little more truth into the imperfect existences which we lead.... What I have desired to prevent is, that one who has limited himself to the easier and lower should thereupon 'go farther' and abolish the higher, go farther and put the lower in its place, go farther and represent the higher as a fantastic and ludicrous exaggeration, the lower as wisdom and true seriousness—to prevent any one in 'Christendom' from taking Luther and the significance of Luther's life in vain. This I have desired to be instrumental, if possible, in preventing (p. 16f).

The expression "go farther" refers to the Hegelian System, which was an all-consuming philosophical mechanism that sought to process everything, including Christianity. Since it is evolutionary in nature, it was not equipped to rest in anything. Since Christianity demands faith in accepted dogma, Hegelianism, true to itself, could only claim to absorb Christianity, and then move to "go farther". Needless to say, Kierkegaard abhorred this devouring nature and elsewhere called it "cud-chewing". Through his own name and his pseudonyms, especially Anti-Climacus (see above), he sought to posit idealized Christianity. But this was not to be understood as difficult in a pietistic sense. Having been raised by a stern and strict pietistic father, he knew the result of that.

Kierkegaard addresses further the use of the pseudonyms.

What was needed among other things was a Godfearing satire. This I have prevented, especially by the aid of the pseudonyms, which have not let me go Scot-free by any means. But in order that there might be no possibility of confusion, that this satire might be confounded with a thing which is not only too prone to give itself out as satire: the profane revolt of the most deeply sunken Power—it was I, I who had presented that godly satire, that flung myself against and exposed myself to that profane satire of slave-revolt (p. 17).

He again returns to the theme of the individual versus the 'crowd'. Kierkegaard's political views are evident here, since he was always politically conservative. He felt that political reform was ineffectual and brought out only superficial change. Moreover, the effect of the French Revolution manifested itself in Denmark in 1848, with its destructive power.

With regard to the 'established order', then, seeing that my special concern was 'the individual', which was the point of my polemic against the numerical, the crowd, etc., I have always done the very opposite of attacking it; I have never been in or with the 'opposition' which wants to get rid of the 'government', nor have I been allied with it; but I have furnished what may be called a 'corrective'... (p. 18).

Though he never "allied" himself with government, he had from his youth been on friendly terms with the king. But the revolution of 1848 converted the absolute monarchy into a constitutional monarchy. But in later years Kierkegaard would speak most directly against the Church. Then he would say that Christendom had strayed so far from the Christianity of the New Testament that it would need to be dismantled and rebuilt, rather than reformed—and certainly not reformed by political means.