D. Anthony Storm's Commentary on Kierkegaard

Fifth Period: Direct Communication (1848-51)

The Point Of View For My Work As An Author

  • The Point of View for My Work as an Author. A Direct Communication, Report to History
  • Synspunktet for min Forfatter-Virksomhed. En ligefrem Meddelelse, Rapport til Historien
  • 1848, published posthumously (1859)
  • KW22, SKS16, SV13

This is an interesting and important work for at least two reasons: it is a frank account of his process of authorship. It is also, to an extent, an autobiographical document. Kierkegaard left this work unpublished because it seemed to be self-glorifying. His brother Peter published it posthumously. Instead Kierkegaard published the much shorter work On My Work As An Author. Although he considered Either/Or to mark the true beginning of his authorship, Kierkegaard considered his religious works to be of great import. In this work he seeks to explain 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. This might not seem like a long time, but this short period saw the publication of the Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses, Three Discourses on Imagined Occasions, Upbuilding Discourses In Various Spirits, and Christian Discourses, on the one hand, and Either/Or, Fear and Trembling, Repetition, Philosophical Fragments, The Concept of Anxiety, Prefaces, Concluding Unscientific Postscript and The Crisis, on the other hand. This excludes several works written at this time, which were published posthumously.

Kierkegaard first explains his purpose, and the choice between speaking and remaining silent.

There is a time to be silent and a time to speak, So long as I considered the strictest silence my religious duty I strove in every way to preserve it. I have not hesitated to counteract, in a finite sense, my own effort by the enigmatic mystery and double entente which silence favors. What I have done in that way has been misunderstood, has been explained as pride, arrogance, and God knows what. So long as I considered silence my religious duty I would not do the least thing to obviate such a misunderstanding. But the reason I considered silence my duty was that the authorship was not yet at hand in so complete a form that the understanding of it could be anything but misunderstanding.

The contents of this little book affirm, then, what I truly am as an author, That I am and was an author is related to Christianity, to the problem of 'becoming a Christian', with a direct or indirect polemic against the monstrous illusion we call Christendom, or against the illusion that in such a land of ours all are Christians of a sort (p. 5f.).

He further explains that the book is decidedly not meant as a defence, but is meant as a religious document, and as such should be read "devoutly". This is in keeping with the subtitle. It is a public declaration, like the addendum to Concluding Unscientific Postscript (1846), where Kierkegaard first makes a declaration of the pseudonyms. However, a full declaration is impossible "because I cannot make public my God-relationship" (p. 9).

In Part One Kierkegaard explains that his upbuilding (or edifying) works, written under his own name, and his philosophical works, written pseudonymously, were equally part of a plan. Since the former works were almost entirely eclipsed by the latter, this point needs to be emphasized.

I began with Either/Or and two upbuilding discourses; now it ends, after the whole upbuilding series—with a little esthetic essay [The Crisis]. It expresses: that it was the upbuilding, the religious, that should advance, and that now the esthetic has been traversed; they are inversely related, or it is something of an inverse confrontation, to show that the writer was not an esthetic author who in the course of time grew older and for that reason became religious (Journals, IX A 227).

This thought he also pursues here. He did not turn to religion after he had exhausted his philosophical and literary ideas. He was always a religious author. In close proximity with every pseudonymous work, he published a religious work, sometimes on the same day. Thus, Either/Or and Two Upbuilding Discourses were the first pair. To further prove this statement, he reminds us that all of the religious works were under his own name. But Concluding Unscientific Postscript was the turning point, since it appeared under the pseudonym Johannes Climacus, with Kierkegaard listed as editor. Actually, the Philosophical Fragments, which the Postscript completed also listed Kierkegaard as editor. He vacillated over the ascription of both of these works, since they seek to resolve a religious issue. However, Johannes Climacus claims not to be a Christian.

The first group of writings represents esthetic productivity, the last group is exclusively religious: between them, as the turning-point lies the Concluding Postscript. This work concerns itself with and sets 'the Problem', which is the problem of the whole authorship: how to become a Christian.... The Concluding Postscript is not an esthetic work, but neither is it in the strictest sense religious (p. 13).

In a footnote to this Kierkegaard excludes Two Ages, since it is a critique, and not a poetic work with a "religious background". Though this may not be an entirely convincing explanation, the ingenious and sustained plan of authorship is quite evident. This turning-point was to have been the end of Kierkegaard's authorship. In later years, he would call later works "the second authorship".

Having established that his authorship was dual, and religious from the beginning, Kierkegaard adds that it was entirely religious in purpose from the beginning. The esthetic (pseudonymous, philosophical) works were meant to prepare the reader for the religious message. This method he calls a "godly deception,' and elsewhere a "wounding from behind". This is necessary for several reasons. As Christ could not reveal himself in full to all—not even to his disciples—so the religous must remain incognito. This impossibility of direct communication will be covered later in Practice In Christianity. This method of deception is dialectical, and is in part based on the dialectic of Socrates, whose indirectness consisted of irony and the maieutic approach. Here Kierkegaard calls this process "dialectical reduplication". "...the mark of dialectical reduplication is that the ambiguity is maintained (p. 17).

But why deceive? Kierkegaard returns to a theme that he briefly addressed in the Postscript, and would later return to most vehemently and relentlessly in his attack on Official Christianity, namely, that all think they are Christians, while most are not. How does one undo such self-deception? Moreover, his first religious work, Two Upbuilding Discourses, went largely unnoticed.

No, an illusion can never be destroyed directly, and only by indirect means can it be radically removed. If it is an illusion that all are Christians—and if there is anything to be done about it, it must be done indirectly, not by one who vociferously proclaims himself an extraordinary Christian, but by one who, better instructed, is ready to declare that he is not a Christian at all....

If then, according to our assumption, the greater number of people in Christendom only imagine themselves to be Christians, in what categories do they live? They live in esthetic, or, at the most, in esthetic-ethical categories.... There is nothing that requires such gentle handling as an illusion, if one wishes to dispel it. If anyone prompts the prospective captive to set his will in opposition, all is lost. And this is what a direct attack achieves, and it implies moreover the presumption of requiring a man to make to another person, or in his presence, an admission which he can make most profitably to himself privately. This is what is achieved by the indirect method, which, loving and serving the truth, arranges everything dialectically for the prospective captive, and then shyly withdraws (for love is always shy), so as not to witness the admission which he makes to himself alone before God—that he has lived hitherto in an illusion (p. 24ff.).

Kierkegaard moreover affirms that one must find where a man is, and begin there. And if the reader does not follow, he may still take notice (p. 34). These tactics must be "reversed" because of this illusion that people all think they are already Christians. But he yet fears that his reader may misunderstand the word 'deception'.

For there is an immense difference, a dialectical difference, between these two cases: the case of a man who is ignorant and is to have a piece of knowledge imparted to him, so that he is like an empty vessel which is to be filled or a blank sheet of paper upon which something is to be written; and in the case of a man who is under an illusion and must first be delivered from that. Likewise there is a difference between writing on a blank sheet of paper and bringing to light by the application of a caustic fluid a text which is hidden under another text. Assuming then that a person is a victim of an illusion, and that in order to communicate the truth to him the first task, rightly understood, is to remove the illusion—if I do not begin by deceiving him, I must begin with direct communication. But direct communication presupposes that the receiver's ability to receive is undisturbed. But here such is not the case; an illusion stands in the way.

...one does not begin thus: I am a Christian; you are not a Christian. Nor does one begin thus: It is Christianity I am proclaiming and you are living in purely esthetic categories. No, one begins thus: Let us talk about esthetics. The deception consists in the fact that one talks thus merely to get to the religious theme (p. 40f.).

This, in sum, was Kierkegaard's plan for the pseudonymous works until the Postscript. They were designed to lead away from the esthetical. The Postscript itself was designed to lead away from the Hegelian System (p. 42), which was an all-devouring philosophy that sought to encompass all knowledge, including religion. All of this is designed to encourage reflection (p. 43). For a people who are Christians by default no self-examination can take place.

Kierkegaard also addresses the theme of the individual, and the role of the author.

But in our age...one needs not inquire about the communicator, but only about the communication, the objective only—in our age what is an author? An author is often merely an x, even when his name is signed, something quite impersonal, which addresses itself quite abstractly, by the aid of printing, to thousand and thousands, while remaining itself unseen and unknown, living a life as hidden, as anonymous, as it is possible for a life to be, in order, presumably, not to reveal the too obvious and striking contradiction between the prodigious means of communication employed by the fact that the author is the single individual—perhaps also for fear of the control which in practical life must always be exercised over every one who wishes to teach others, to see whether his personal existence comports with his communication (p. 44f.).

The book becomes more autobiographical at this point. He goes on to say that he assisted his literary deception by showing up at the theatre during the intermission, and by taking frequent strolls, chatting with people from all walks of life, all so that he might convince people that he was an idler, and could not possibly have had the time to have composed the massive Either/Or. Next he describes the painful time period known as The Corsair Affair. This was a literary scandal in which Kierkegaard was publicly humiliated in a periodical called The Corsair (see The Activity of a Traveling Esthetician).

One of Kierkegaard's theses is that the truth is always met with a collision, with persecution, because men hate the truth.

The essentially religious author is always polemical, and hence he suffers under or suffers from the opposition which corresponds to whatever in his age must be regarded as the specific evil.... When anyone asks him on what he bases the claim that he is right and that it is the truth he utters, his answer is: I prove it by the fact that I am persecuted; this is the truth, and I can prove it by the fact that I am derided (p. 59).

The last chapter is more openly autobiographical, and is entitled "The Share Divine Governance Had In My Authorship". Kierkegaard explains that the superabundance of creative energy and thoughts could have compelled him to write day and night, but that his body was weak and unfit for the task. Moreover, he felt the hand of God calming this onslaught of ideas. He compares himself to the poet, who typifies the esthete, as one who calls upon a muse to inspire him, while he called upon God to limit him.

From the very beginning I have been as it were under arrest and every instant have sensed the fact that it was not I that played the part of master, but that another was Master. I have sensed that fact with fear and trembling when he let me feel His omnipotence and my nothingness; have sensed it with indescribable bliss when I turned to him and did my work with unconditional obedience. The dialectical factor in this is that whatever extraordinary gift may have been entrusted to me, it was entrusted as a precautionary measure with such elasticity that, if I were not to obey, it would strike me dead (p. 69).

Kierkegaard cautions the reader against understanding that this entire plan of authorship was clear from the beginning. Though it was esthetic and religious from the beginning, and an esthetic and religious work were published simultaneously, the entire plan unfolded later.

What then are we to call Kierkegaard? Is he an apostle? No. He is "without authority". Is he a teacher? No. "I am he who himself has been educated, or whose authorship expresses what it is to be educated to the point of becoming a Christian" (p. 75). After this he describes his "crazy" and melancholy upbringing under his strict father. His childhood was such that he became in his own estimation old before his time. He understood this upbringing to be part of his education from God.

...in every generation there are two or three who are sacrificed for the others, are led by frightful sufferings to discover what redounds to the good of others. So it was that in my melancholy I understood myself as singled out for such a fate (p. 79).

What then prompted Kierkegaard to become a religious author? A factum, that is, a deed, a fact. As he points out, the word implies that he was active.

I cannot elucidate this factum more particularly, telling in what it consisted, how terribly dialectical it was in its combination (although in another sense it was quite simple), or what really constituted the collision. I can only beg the reader not to think of revelations or anything of that sort, for with me everything is dialectical.... I became a poet; but with my predisposition for religion, or rather, I may say, with my decided religiousness, this factum was for me at the same time a religious awakening, so that I came to understand myself in the most decisive sense in the experience of religion, or in religiousness, to which, however, I had already put myself into relation as a possibility.... But just because I was so religiously developed as I was, the factum took far deeper hold of me and, in a sense, nullified what I had become, namely, the poet (p. 83f.).

Thus, Kierkegaard's religiousness was there from the beginning, though his authorial plan was not entirely mapped out from the very beginning.

In a certain sense it was not at all my original intention to become a religious author. My intention was to evacuate as hastily as possible the poetical—and then go out to a country parish (p. 86).

In numerous journal entries Kierkegaard labors over the decision as to whether he should become a pastor. One thing which always held him back was the seeming hypocrisy of making his living off the gospel. How can one make a livelihood based on "deny yourself and take up your cross"?

Lastly, Kierkegaard employs a term to describe his own role in Christendom.

And now I come to an expression about myself which I am accustomed to use of myself when I talk to myself, an expression which is relative to the inverse procedure of the whole productivity (that I did not begin by saying whither I designed to go), and relative to me also in my capacity as observer, along with my consciousness of being one who himself is in need of upbringing. The expression I use is, that in relation to the intellectual and religious fields, and with a view to the concept of existence, and hence to the concept of Christianity, I am like a spy in a higher service, the service of the idea. I have nothing new to proclaim; I am without authority, being myself hidden in a deceit; I do not go to work straightforwardly but with indirect cunning; I am not a holy man; in short, I am a spy who in his spying, in learning to know all about questionable conduct and illusions and suspicious characters, all the while he is making inspection is himself under the closest inspection (p. 87).