Kierkegaard: Jokes, Ideals, Revise and Resubmit

by John Holbo on June 27, 2016

Jokes first. This one is not so funny. Kierkegaard’s life basically was a “Hark! A Vagrant” strip. So what’s there to work with? But this one nails it. I think there should be a good one about “The Seducer’s Diary” and pick-up artistry. Negging and Hegelian negative? Can’t put my finger on it.

This one is ok, but, here again, the trouble with turning Kierkegaard into jokes is that, honestly, it was as funny in the original. Example:

I am strangely alarmed when I note the hypochondriac profundity with which Englishmen of an earlier generation have spotted the ambiguity basic to laughter … What if laughter were completely misunderstood, what if the world were so bad and existence so unhappy that laughter is really weeping? What if it were a misunderstanding – a misunderstanding caused by a compassionate genius or a mocking demon – ? (Either/Or I, 509. This and the following passages are draft bits/Notebook entries. That’s just what I happened to be reading today.)

Kierkegaard on jokes and religion:

Insofar as Hegel was fructified by Christianity, he sought to eliminate the humorous element that is in Christianity … and consequently reconciled himself completely with the world, with quietism as a result. (478)

Good blurb for Hegel’s Phenomenology: “Basically the Bible, but without the jokes.”

(Hint: I’m pretty sure Kierkegaard thinks the only joke in the Bible is the incarnation.)

And here is a further thought on ideals and idealism. (Add it to our collection.)

Alladin is so very refreshing because of the audacity of the child, of the genius, in the wildest wishes. For how many are there in our day who truly dare to wish, dare to desire, dare to demand, dare to address nature neither with a polite child’s “bitte, bitte” nor with the raging franzy of one damned? How many are there who – inspired by what is talked about so much in our age, that man is created in God’s image, is his natural representative – have the authentic voice of command, the authentic, divinely official style, or do we not all stand like Nourredin, bowing and scraping, worrying about asking too much or too little? Or is not this magnificent demanding, gradually diminished to morbid reflecting over the I, from insisting to informing, which from the outset the child is indeed brought up to do? (511)

Here’s a great one on writing:

My ideas suffer the same fate as parents who do indeed bear healthy children but forget to have them baptized in time; along come the subterranean spirits and put a changeling in their place. (482)

And on the pains of proofing (as opposed to proving, which I’m sure K hardly worried about):

One carelessly writes down one’s personal observations. Later, by way of all the various proofs, one eventually acquires a fair number of good ideas. Therefore, take courage, you who have not yet dared to have something printed; do not despise typographical errors, and do not let on that they are typographic errors. Besides, no one can wrench your property away from you, since it really belongs to no one. The only problem is that you must have the help of a good friend who knows how to decide what is witty, so that you do not acquire new stupidities. (508)



M Caswell 06.27.16 at 11:51 am

But there is incarnation in the Phenomenology! I guess he tells it wrong?


oldster 06.27.16 at 12:22 pm

In final excerpt, revise for consistency: either change “typographical” to “typographic” (as at second instance) or change “typographic” to “typographical” (as at first instance).

(I have to assume that the translator was faced with two different Danish words, and did not simply make a typographical error. But what were they, and why are there two Danish words of such similar shape, and how do they differ in meaning? There was a joke there, beyond the obvious one I have been making, but it would take a good knowledge of Danish to recover it. E.g., is one of the two words more like “typological”? Surely K’s reading of the bible depends heavily on typological readings. )


John Holbo 06.27.16 at 12:52 pm

“But there is incarnation in the Phenomenology! I guess he tells it wrong?”

Yeah. What Kierkegaard is getting at is that Hegel wants everything to resolve harmoniously. There’s no unresolved incongruity. Like an eternal, immortal, transcendent God who is mortal, born into the world and dies. “Eternity in time! (Thanks, I’ll be here all week!”


John Holbo 06.27.16 at 12:52 pm

“(I have to assume that the translator was faced with two different Danish words, and did not simply make a typographical error.”

I wondered about that, too. But this is a quite from the Notebooks so, quite likely, it’s a bit rough in the original.


oldster 06.27.16 at 12:57 pm

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it’s “quote likely,” but it’s a possibility. Are the Notebooks on-line yet? Will one of us have to trudge to a physical library? Have we not suffered enough already?


John Holbo 06.27.16 at 1:36 pm

Annoyingly, the Notebooks are very expensive. The Kindle versions are, like, $70 a volume. Likewise, the paper.


SusanC 06.27.16 at 6:59 pm

But Kierkegaard (and Nietzsche) are both intentionally funny, so it’s kind of cheating to turn them into jokes,.

[I wonder if Abraham and Isaaac counts as a joke in the bible too. A kind of candid camera/Dom Joly/Sacha Baron-Cohen kind of thing. “In this week’s episode, God tells Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Hilarity ensues”. cf Fear and Trembling, obviously]


ZM 06.27.16 at 7:31 pm

So so wrong. The jokes about Abraham are all in The Apocalypse of Abraham.

I will tell it as well as I can to the best of my memory from when I studied it for the university subject I once took called Apocalyptic Eschatology.

Abraham has lived happily to a very ripe old age once he didn’t end up mistakenly sacrificing his son due to being a doofus like Homer Simpson who can’t get God’s messages right (yes, once you read this book you will always picture Abraham as a Old Testament version of Homer Simpson and everything in the Bible about him suddenly makes sense, it was probably him who made up the Jewish Sacred Song version of There Was An Old Woman Who Swallowed A Fly ), but as we all know God loves Abraham and God can’t bear the idea of Abraham dying without asking Abraham’s permission about it.

So God sends down an Arch Angel to try to warm up Abraham to the idea that since he is so old aged now he might be at the time of life where he is going to die and would he please agree to dying.

Well, no, actually. Abraham finds the whole idea of dying disagreeable, so the Arch Angel asks Abraham what could he give Abraham to warm him up to the idea of dying, and Abraham thinks a bit and decides what he has always really wanted is a Grand Tour around Space And Time.

Obviously with an Arch Angel this is totally do-able.

So the Arch Angel takes Abraham for a Grand Tour through Space And Time and Abraham sees all sorts of wondrous things. However at one point he sees some people having sex out in the open which he finds utterly scandalous and Abraham then asks the Arch Angel for another wish, and he wishes this couple go to Hell. His wish is, of course, granted.

Abraham gets to tour Hell as well since I guess it must be part of Space And Time somehow or else this was an extra wish, I can’t recall exactly, so later on in his great journey he goes down to Hell, and who does he see there? You guessed it — “Hi there sinful couple I asked the Arch Angel to send to Hell!! Good to see you two again!! It’s very warm in here!! Hmmm, I guess it’s my fault you’re down here being burned eternally and all…”

At this point watching the couple burn eternally Abraham begins to weep.

Abraham is feeling terrible that this couple he saw having sex out in the open on his Grand Tour through Space and Time and then requested they got damned to Hell are now right in front of him being burned for eternity.

After much weeping and lamentations Abraham asks the Arch Angel if maybe he could have another wish, and could this couple he damned to Hell before, be spared from being in Hell and burning for all eternity due to his previous wish. I think Abraham was again granted his wish and the couple were spared, but I can’t remember what happened to them after this.

Afterwards Abraham and the Arch Angel return back to Abraham’s home, and the Arch Angel tells Abraham it is time for him to die now, since he got his wish of a Grand Tour through Space And Time.

Abraham again isn’t fond of the idea of dying, even though he has lived happily to a ripe old age, and he has been granted his wish of touring through Space And Time, and also granted his wish of sending the couple who were having sex out in the open to Hell, and then granted his wish that they didn’t get burned in Hell for all eternity after all.

The Arch Angel returns to God, and says “Abraham still doesn’t want to die, even after I have granted all these wishes for him!! I am so annoyed!! what can I do?”

After discussions with God the Arch Angel returns to Abraham and says he can give Abraham one more wish. Abraham being a total doofus like Homer Simpson considers what he wants for another wish before he agrees to die, and says if he is going to die, then he wants to see the face of Death.

At once the visage of the Arch Angel is changed, and Death looks right into Abraham.

And Abraham recognises the face of Death and he dies.

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