Kierkegaard’s strategies for titles and subtitles: Reading The Concept of Anxiety II

After the pseudonym, we can consider the title, including the subtitle. The title in the Danish  of Kierkegaard’s time is Begrebet Angest, in Danish as it exists now, Begrebet angst (the capitalisation of the fist letter of nouns has been dropped from Danish since Kierkegaard’s time). Kierkegaard’s use of the word foreshadows its use by Martin Heidegger and Sigmund Freud in the twentieth century. Heidegger was clearly aware of Kierkegaard’s text, so there is non-accidental continuity, while in Freud’s case it seems to be a case of a less direct connection. Anxiety in English has a Latin origin (anxietatem), as English language lost the root word from Old German for Angst in modern Danish and German. This is not at issue for Kierkegaard who only knew English texts in translation, but it does display what translation of texts can emphasise by implication.

One implication here is that there is a proto-Indo-European root word for something like what we understand by anxiety/angst, that would be a normal possibility to draw from the existence of words with similar meanings and sound, which exist independently in Ancient Latin and Old German. Those who construct the lost Proto-Indo-European language from these similar roots for words do believe that Proto-Indo-European included a word like angh or anghu, for tightness, constriction and fear. This is not at issue for Kierkegaard, but it is important to note that he was focusing on a word which is one of the oldest in origin in the Indo-European languages.

The subtitle brings together psychological and theological themes: A simple psychologically orienting deliberation on the dogmatic issue of hereditary sin. Reidar Thomte translated and edited The Concept of Anxiety for the Princeton University Press Kierkegaard series, in collaboration with Aibert B. Anderson. In their scholarly apparatus they argue that Arvesynd in Kierkegaard’s Danish is better translated as hereditary sin, than original sin, though the issue of original sin is the normal label for what Kierkegaard discusses from the theological point of view in The Concept of Anxiety. My inspection of the Gyldendal Danish-English dictionary confirms that claim, as arne does refer to the inheritance, the hereditary and so on. It would seem that Kierkegaard wishes to emphasise how sin of Adam in the Fall was passed on down the generations. It seems to me that the main text is arguing that we ‘inherit’ sin from Adam in the sense that we have a shared psychology, which must lead us into fear of our freedom, which seems to undercut the inheritance point. The inheritance is the repetition of psychology rather than the transmission of sin, but we could see it as inheritance of psychology.

We have the psychological issue in Kierkegaard along with the theological issue of dogmatics, referring to the branch of theology which is concerned with the essential beliefs of the religion concerned. Kierkegaard does not write a book on dogmatics though, but a book which pushes us towards dogmatics to have a complete grasp of ethics and of anxiety (as a way of referring to hereditary sin). We can also ask how fat Kierkegaard is writing an invitation of check the basic tenets of Christianity. What he means by dogmatics seems closely connected with his sense that humans are faced with dilemmas which can only be resolved in the absolute unity of opposites in God and faith. In that case dogmatics  could become the instrument of how we try to deal wit contradictions like that between our enduring and momentary selves, in which the possibility of a ‘dogmatic’ solution is more important that the solution itself. That is not how Kierkegaard, or his more conservative theological commentators read the overall purpose o Kierkegaard, but that at least seems to be an element of Kierkegaard’s thought, to define the purpose of the theological solution, rather than discuss the solution.

The other elements of the subtitle are those of ‘deliberation’ and ‘orienting’ (giving a direction), the nature of which are persistent issues for Kierkegaard. The nature of thinking in general, and as philosophical thinking, along with the most concrete individual thinking are issues for Kierkegaard. He also has a constant interest in how the self unifies itself and so orientates itself towards the absolute. The awkwardly long subtitle has a parodic aspect, but we can also se it as Kierkegaard’s way of bringing his interests together. That way of bringing them together is revealing of Kierkegaard’s form of dialectic and of irony.


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