Kierkegaard’s Journals and Notebooks

The preternaturally reflective Søren Kierkegaard (1813–1855) had his worries about reflection. He thought that speculation is often a means of evading choice, action, and faith. Nevertheless, when it comes to thinking about what it means to believe in or trust in God, there is no better conversation partner than the Danish author who considered himself not a philosopher, but a poet—or, as he once put it, “the best prose stylist in Denmark.” Kierkegaard was also a depth psychologist with epiphanies about the inner life rivaling those of Augustine, Dostoevsky, and Freud. This we know from his psychological masterworks, The Concept of Anxiety and The Sickness unto Death.

And yet there is another window into Kierkegaard’s mind besides his published works. Like Tolstoy, Thoreau, and Dosto­ev­sky, Kierkegaard was a prolific diarist, and he left behind an immense treasure trove of diaries, drafts, notes, and miscellany. Kierkegaard intended that large portions of his journals would be published, but there were notes, jottings, and even doodles that he did not foresee coming before the public eye. After Kierkegaard’s death, the work of gathering, organizing, and editing his unpublished papers passed in stages from his nephew to his brother and finally to a former newspaper editor, Hans Peter Barfod. Barfod dove into the project, hoping, as he passionately put it, to expose “the colossal and clandestine workshop of the soul, enabling us to hear the hammering and banging, the relentless, unremitting, strenuous and impassioned labor” and to become “the eyewitness and earwitness of this thinker, this melancholy hermit, in his daily suffering and struggle in the service of self-denial and of the ideal.”

But the work of opening up the thrumming factory of Kierkegaard’s inner world became overwhelming for Barfod, and he eventually passed the editorship on to the Kierkegaard devotee Hermann Gottsched. Two volumes of the papers were published in 1869 and 1872, but the editing of these early renditions was less than judicious. The material was arranged chronologically, and during production of the published volumes pages from the original were cut up and lost.