Ring Out, Wild Bells

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light:
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind
For those that here we see no more;
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

—Lord Alfred Tennyson

Introduction to Kierkegaard

I know that  a few bloggers have recently been interested in reading the works of Søren Kierkegaard. I have been reading his books off and on for almost 4 years, and I find the experience very rewarding. Because he was such a prolific writer, it is hard to give a brief introduction to Kierkegaard’s opus, but I am going to try to do that now:

Who Was Kierkegaard?

Søren Kierkegaard (pronounced ‘Surn Kierkegore’) was born in Copenhagen, Denmark on May 5, 1813 (yes, last year was his 200th birthday), the son of the hosier Michael Pedersen Kierkegaard. Søren was the youngest of seven children, but five of his siblings passed away before reaching adulthood. Michael was a strict pietist; a “very stern man, to all appearances dry and prosaic, but under his ‘rustic cloak’ demeanor he concealed an active imagination which not even his great age could blunt.” There has been much speculation concerning the reason(s) for Michael’s temperament and the extent to which he influenced Søren’s personality and authorship. According to Søren’s journal entries, Michael spent his childhood as a shepherd on the moors of Jutland. His life was hard; he was constantly cold and hungry. One day, in a bout of desperation, Michael stood on a hill and cursed God. In later years, due to the death of his wife and children, Michael became convinced that God had cursed his whole family in punishment for his one great act of defiance. His father’s deathbed confessions caused Søren great anxiety.

Michael wished for his sons to become pastors in the National Church. Søren obeyed his father, studied philosophy at the University of Copenhagen, and eventually was ordained. However, Kierkegaard felt called to a different vocation: writing. He suffered from anxiety and depression principally caused by a knowledge of his own sinfulness. Kierkegaard ultimately felt that he could not fulfill the duties required of a husband and broke up his engagement to a woman named Regine Olsen (pronounced ‘Regina Elsen’ with a hard ‘g’). The breakup was painful for both people because Søren loved his fiancée and Regine never learned the real reason for the breakup.

Although Kierkegaard was ordained in the Danish National Church (full name: Evangelical Lutheran Church of Denmark), he only preached two sermons in his whole life. A profound conversion experience along with an increasing dissatisfaction with the state of Christianity in the National Church prompted Kierkegaard to write a series of books under a variety of pseudonyms. In this so-called first authorship, Kierkegaard employed the Socratic dialectic. The pseudonymous authors of these works do not fully share Kierkegaard’s life views. In fact, it seems to me that Kierkegaard vehemently disagrees with some of the authors. Although he would be upset with me for blowing his cover, I think it is important for you to know that Kierkegaard is trying to deceive the reader into Christianity. In Denmark, where everyone was Christian from birth, Christianity had become nothing more than a label. It was merely a cultural and national identity. He felt that established Christianity (what he called “Christendom”) had “abolished Christianity”. He hoped that people, through his pseudonymous works, would start asking themselves the tough questions about self, life, truth, special revelation, and authority. In addition to his dislike of cultural Protestantism, Kierkegaard was very critical of Hegelianism. Hegel had placed faith as one stage in world history, but it wasn’t the highest stage. The Hegelian system had influenced the Danish theologians and pastors to the detriment of Christian truth.

Kierkegaard’s second authorship was written under his own name and included a series of unspoken sermons which he refers to as “upbuilding discourses”. These are my favorite of Kierkegaard’s works. There is so much more that I could say about his books, but Kierkegaard writes for “that singular individual”. He doesn’t deny objective truth, but truth must become subjective (must be truth for me) otherwise knowing the truth is pointless. I plan on re-reading (or reading for the first time, as the case may be) all of his pseudonymous works this year. Some of his books are reasonably priced on Amazon. Others are quite expensive. Not everyone has access to a research library so I will propose a few lists to get you started. There is no correct reading order. Any order will do; however, always take into account the author. If it is a pseudonymous work remember that Kierkegaard may not completely agree with the author. That work may only explore one side of a debate.

 

What I Will be Reading in 2015

Either/Or Vol. I and II – edited by Victor Eremita (in Latin: “Victorius Hermit”)

Fear and Trembling – Johannes de Silentio (in Latin: Silent John)

Repetition – Constantin Constantius

Prefaces – Nicolaus Notabene

Concept of Anxiety – Vigilius Haufniensis (in Latin: The Watchman)

Philosophical Fragments – Johannes Climacus (in Latin: John of the Ladder)

Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments – Johannes Climacus (5x longer than Philosophical Fragments!)

Sickness Unto Death – Anti-Climacus (the only Christian pseudonym; also the author of Practice in Christianity which I reviewed here)

The Book on Adler by Petrus Minor (Lesser Peter)

 

Recommended Pseudonymous Works 

If you do not have access to a research library, these are the pseudonymous works I recommend:

Either/Or – an abridged version translated by Alastair Hannay (Note: I do not recommend you begin with this work as you can become easily discouraged. He is really deceiving you here.)

Concept of Anxiety – translated by Alastair Hannay or Howard & Edna Hong (arguably his most difficult work; you are introduced to Angst)

Fear and Trembling – translated by Alastair Hannay (I recommend you start with this one. It is an exploration of the story of Abraham and Isaac.)

Practice in Christianity and/or Sickness Unto Death – translated by the Hongs

 

Favorite Upbuilding Discourses

If you are interested in his overtly Christian works (the upbuilding discourses), I recommend:

Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing

Works of Love (this work and Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing are, in my opinion, some of the greatest Christian devotionals of all time)

For Self-Examination/Judge For Yourselves (reminds me so much of Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

Provocations: Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard (an anthology of quotes from Kierkegaard’s works. I warn you that some may come from his pseudonymous works, but it is still a fantastic collection, comparable to Pascal’s Pensées. Incidentally, it is available online here.)

 

Miscellaneous 

A work that doesn’t fit in either authorship is The Present Age: The Death of Rebellion. If you only read one work by Kierkegaard, read this one. It is very prescient.

 

The Translations

And finally, a note on the available translations.

Walter Lowrie was instrumental in introducing Kierkegaard to the English-speaking world in the 1940s. Kierkegaard has influenced so many movements: the Neo-Orthodox and Liberal theological schools, Phenomenology, Christian existentialism, and (to a lesser degree) atheistic existentialism. Lowrie’s contribution to Kierkegaard scholarship is great, but his translations are clumsy and archaic. Kierkegaard is hard to read even in the original language. I don’t want to deceive you. His writing is repetitive and adjective-rich. You need patience, but like I said before, reading his works is rewarding. Many of Lowrie’s translations will make you pull your hair out so avoid him if you can.

David and Lilian Swenson have translated many of Kierkegaard’s upbuilding discourses but almost all of them are out of print. They are a bit easier to read than Lowrie’s translations, so if you are forced to choose between Lowrie and the Swensons, take the Swensons. Walter Lowrie did work with David Swenson for years.

Howard and Edna Hong are the greatest translators. Their translations include extensive endnotes as well as entries from Kierekegaard’s journals. They can be very expensive, but you can sometimes find relatively cheap used copies on Amazon. They are the best.

Alastair Hannay has not translated most of Kierkegaard’s works, but his books are the least expensive. The translations are good although not as excellent as the Hongs’ translations. Last March he published a new translation of Concept of Anxiety. I haven’t read it yet though.

 

A Great Online Resource

This is an extremely long post, but I hope what I wrote is helpful. There is an amazing blog on Kierkegaard that you should reference when you have questions. The blogger made very thorough posts about each and every one of Kierkegaard’s works. Unfortunately, he passed away some years ago.

 

Review of La Nausée (The Nausea)

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After years of traveling the world, Antoine Roquentin returns to France. He stays in Bouville for three years to write a book about a revolutionary figure of the late 18th century (Le Marquis de Rollebon). Antoine spends his days eavesdropping on other people’s conversations, discussing travel with a self-taught man (l’Autodidacte), and attempting to reconstruct the life of the marquis. At times, he thinks of Anny whom he hasn’t seen in years. In general, Antoine experiences a dissatisfaction and boredom which he calls “la nausée” (the nausea). La Nausée by Jean-Paul Sartre is the story of a man who has one existential crisis after another.

What did I think of it?

There are two books that I have difficulty reviewing because I find it hard to justify my feelings toward them. The first is Candide by Voltaire. I have read it at least three times, but I always end up giving it two stars. While I think certain scenes are brilliantly constructed, the story always rubs me the wrong way. And this comes from someone who loves satire and unpolitical correctness. The second book is La Nausée by Jean-Paul Sartre, which I have also read at least three times. But unlike Candide, I actually like La Nausée. My reaction to Sartre’s fiction is surprising as I do not share his philosophical views. This book may be to me what J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye is to other teenagers and young adults. Antoine Roquentin in La Nausée is a hard character to decipher. Is he merely dissatisfied by life or does he have a mental illness? There are certain scenes in the book that make me question Antoine’s sanity.

“Seulement, tout de même, je suis inquiet : voilà une demi-heure que j’évite de regarder ce verre de bière. Je regarde au-dessus, au-dessous, à droite, à gauche : mais lui je ne veux pas le voir.”

[My translation]: “Even so, I am worried: for a half-hour now I have avoided looking at this glass of beer. I look over, under, to the right, to the left: but it, I don’t want to see.”

The narrative style is a blend of stream-of-consciousness and linear action. But I can understand Antoine’s quest to reconstruct the life of Le Marquis de Rollebon. I have spent years trying to reconstruct the life of the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard. After reading hundreds of pages of his journals and letters (in addition to his philosophical/religious works) I have come to the same conclusion that Antoine comes to in La Nausée: I don’t know the individual. But what’s the point of reconstructing the life of a historical figure? How does that have any bearing on my existence? La Nausée follows a character who is imprisoned by the past. When all’s said and done, the only reason I can give for enjoying La Nausée despite Sartre’s  philosophy and the few unpleasant/objectionable scenes is that I can relate to a character who is self-reflective and who seeks to understand his/her place in the world. La Nausée is a good introduction to Sartre’s existentialist philosophy

Favorite quotes

“Mais quand on raconte la vie, tout change; seulement c’est un changement que personne ne remarque: la preuve c’est qu’on parle d’histoires vraies. Comme s’il pouvait y avoir des histoires vraies; les événements se produisent dans un sens et nous les racontons en sens inverse.”

[My translation]: “But when one gives an account of life, everything changes; only it is a change that no one remembers: the proof is that one speaks of true stories. As if there could ever be true stories; events produce themselves in a certain way and we tell them in reverse.”

“Voici ce que j’ai pensé: pour que l’événement le plus banal devienne une aventure, il faut et il suffit qu’on se mette à le raconter. C’est ce qui dupe les gens: un homme, c’est toujours un conteur d’histoires, il vit entouré de ses histoires et des histoires d’autrui, il voit tout ce qui lui arrive à travers elles; et il cherche à vivre sa vie comme s’il la racontait.”

[My translation]: “Here’s what I thought: so that the most ordinary event becomes an adventure, it is necessary and it is enough that one starts telling it. This is what tricks people: a man, he’s always a storyteller, he lives surrounded by his stories and the stories of others, he sees everything that happens to him through them [the stories]; and he tries to live his life like he was telling it.”

Note: If you have ever read Vol. I of Either/Or by Kierkegaard (particularly the Diary of a Seducer), the above quotes should remind you of the aesthete who tries to live in such a way that he can look back at events in his life with great pleasure. He tries to live “interestingly”.

 

In the Bleak Midwinter

 In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

 

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

 

Enough for Him, whom cherubim, worship night and day,
Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.

 

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.
What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.

 

—Christina Rossetti

Top Ten Books of 2014

At the 6 month point, I posted a list of my top 10 favorite books of 2014. Now that the year is drawing to a close, I think it’s a good idea to jump on the Top Ten Tuesday bandwagon and post an updated list. So here it is:

1) Moby-Dick by Herman Melville

This work blew my mind. In addition to the general review linked above, I also wrote three reflection posts on the book (here, here, and here). I now consider Moby-Dick as my second favorite book of all time. Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry is still #1. Some people are hesitant to name books they think everyone should read. I am, however, unashamed to admit that I think every person (at least every American) should read Moby-Dick at least once in his/her lifetime. Read it at your own leisure. I suspect that those who were forced to read it for school didn’t enjoy it. Binge reading Moby-Dick is not a good idea.

2) The HobbitThe Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

These are almost unanimously considered some of the greatest fantasy works of all time. However, I struggled for years to appreciate The Lord of the Rings. People often ask in the blogging world whether rereading a work you didn’t enjoy the first time is a good idea. My answer is yes! If you have only seen the movies, do yourself a favor and read the books. No film can ever do justice to the beautiful prose and dialogue in this trilogy. I am now a fantasy snob. If it is not beautifully written, I just can’t get into it. I expect every fantasy book to read like The Lord of the Rings :D.

A spoiler-free review of The Fellowship of the Ring is here.

3) Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather

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This is a beautifully-constructed work. Willa Cather creates some very memorable but human characters. All people (including religious leaders) are more than their flaws. Fathers Vaillant and Latour learn much about love, generosity, and courage through their work in the mission lands of the American Southwest.

4) Saint Joan by George Bernard Shaw

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Is Joan of Arc a saint, traitor, or heretic? Written four years after her canonization, Saint Joan revisits the events that led up to the execution of the maiden of Orleans. The words of Luke 11:47-51 come to mind: “Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets, and it was your fathers who killed them.  So you are witnesses and approve the deeds of you fathers; because it was they who killed them, and you build their tombs.” I have since read a good portion of the well-chronicled trial of Joan of Arc. It is so hard to read because Joan couldn’t say anything to defend herself. Her accusers decided beforehand that she was a heretic and she couldn’t do anything to defend herself. She is rehabilitated after her death, but isn’t that too late? In Saint Joan, Shaw has a lot to say to those who simply dismiss Bishop Cauchon and the Inquisitor as exceptionally bad individuals. How would we treat Joan today?

5) Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

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This work is notoriously hard to read but very rewarding. Mrs. Dalloway is purely a character study. The work asks (among other questions):”What binds people together?” and “To what degree can one know and understand another person?”

6) Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev

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This is not just a character study, but also a study of the generation gap in pre-Bolshevik Russia. Fathers and Sons is the first Russian work I’ve ever read and I’m dying to read other books by Russian authors. No matter what you may feel about Bazarov the nihilist, you’ve got to admit that he is a compelling character.

7) The Call of the Wild by Jack London

This is not just a book about sled dogs but about the humans who employ them. The line that divides the tame from the wild is not always clear.

8) Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

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This was the biggest surprise of the year. I did not expect to enjoy Anne of Green Gables. I expected Anne Shirley to be Pollyanna-esque, but she is one of the most relatable female characters in all of literature. From page one, I was hooked.

9) Hard Times by Charles Dickens

Dickens does two things really well in this work: 1) He avoids going on random tangents, and 2) His male and female characters are more than mere caricatures. I love Dickens, but I know the common objections to his works. If his other novels have disappointed you, try Hard Times. You will be pleasantly surprised.

10) Le Grand Meaulnes (The Lost Estate) by Alain-Fournier

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This work has a fairy-tale like vibe to it. Augustin Meaulnes’ coming-of-age story is in sharp contrast to the pastoral (verging on the romantic) setting of the novel.

 

Review of Commonplace

What was it about?

Commonplace is a short story collection by Christina Rossetti. The title story explores the struggles of Victorian women through the eyes of three sisters (Catherine, Lucy, and Jane Charlmont). Years earlier, their father had mysteriously disappeared at sea. On her deathbed, the mother asked Catherine (the eldest) to remain always near the sea. That day, Catherine became the keeper of her sisters.

Catherine is stoic, Lucy sentimental, and Jane ambitious. Jane (the youngest), painfully aware of her poverty, longs for financial security. Her only desire is to marry a wealthy man. While Catherine and Lucy do not approve of her marriage plans, they understand Jane’s desire for security.

The short stories in Commonplace have simple plots and are autobiographical in nature. Rossetti’s religious convictions come out strongly in these stories, as in many of her poems. While they are not Rossetti’s best works, the stories in Commonplace witness to the author’s profound understanding of the desires of the human heart.

What did I think of it?

Christina Rossetti is one of my all-time favorite poets. She is best known for having written Goblin Market and Other Poems and the Christmas poem/hymn In the Bleak Midwinter. In Commonplace, Rossetti attempts to write prose fiction. Sometimes, her paragraphs read as lyrically as her poems. At other times, it is painfully clear that she is an amateur at writing fiction. Transitions are clumsy and character development is weak. In the title story, my favorite character was Catherine Charlmont. She is the most “developed”, and her life bears a striking resemblance to the author’s. I generally avoid romance stories, but I enjoyed the title story more than Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility. My favorite story in the book was The Lost Titian, a tale about the betrayal of the famous Titian by one of his close friends. Although I can’t say that I was overly impressed with the collection, I appreciated the stoicism in her stories. Characters who are carried away by their emotions do not get very far. Her stories celebrate self-control and clarity of mind. If you love Rossetti’s poems and/or Victorian romance, you might want to give Commonplace a go.

Favorite Quote

[From the title story]: ” ‘My dear,’ said Miss Drum to her deferential listener; ‘my dear, Sarah’ – and Lucy felt that that offending Sarah could only be the bride – ‘Sarah shall not suffer for Gawkins’ folly and her own. I will not fail to visit her in her own home, and to notice her on all proper occasions, but I cannot save her from being ridiculous. I did not wait till I was sixty to make up my mind against wedlock, though perhaps’ – and the old lady bridled – ‘I also may have endured the preference of some infatuated man. Lucy, my dear, take an old woman’s advice: marry, if you mean to marry, before you are sixty, or else remain like myself; otherwise, you make yourself simply ridiculous.’ “

November in Review

Smileys For BlogThis was definitely a slow reading month for me. I only completed and reviewed two books:

Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather – 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George – 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

 

December Reading Plans

This portion of my “Month in Review” posts are always a joke. I hardly every get to the books I plan to read. I blame Kierkegaard. 😛

Anyway, here are the books I sincerely think I will finish and review in December:

Commonplace by Christina Rossetti (An obscure novella by a well-known poet)

La Nausée (The Nausea) by Jean-Paul Sartre

The Once and Future King by T.H. White (It’s about time I finished it.)