D. Anthony Storm's Commentary on Kierkegaard

Second Period: Indirect Communication (1843-46)

Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses

  • Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses
  • Atten Opbyggelige Taler
  • 1843-45 (published in portions: Two, 1843; Three, 1843; Four, 1843; Two, 1844; Three, 1844; Four, 1844)
  • KW5, SKS5, SV5

In 1843 Kierkegaard began his dual authorship of pseudonymous writings on philosophical and theological subjects, and religious works penned under his own name. While his purpose for the pseudonyms was mainly to undermine the Hegelian "system" and an uncritical and dispassionate view of one's relationship with God, the religious discourses, written to accompany the philosophical works, served to underscore that Kierkegaard was a religious author from the beginning—a fact which was overlooked, and which he was disposed to point out. Though these works are religious in nature, they are not devoid of philosophy. They are a ready antidote for all thoughtless critics who say that Kierkegaard's religious disposition was tacked on, or that it may be easily discarded so as to reach some supposed kernel of thought. In fact, the religious discourses are just as much a part of Kierkegaard's program of composition as the pseudonymous works—perhaps more so. Privately, he had a religious plan from the start. For more on his dual authorship see Kierkegaard's Authorial Method.

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).

In On My Work As An Author, he describes his authorial plan.

But just as that which has been communicated (the idea of the religious) has been cast entirely into reflection and taken back again out of reflection, so also the communication has been decisively marked by reflection, or the form of communication used is that of reflection. "Direct communication" is: to communicate the truth directly; "communication in reflection" is: to deceive into truth. But since the movement is to arrive at the simple, the communication in turn must sooner or later end in direct communication. It began maieutically with esthetic works, and the whole pseudonymous production is maieutic in nature. Therefore, these works were also pseudonymous, whereas the directly religious—which from the beginning was present in the glimmer of an indication—carried my name. The directly religious was present from the very beginning; Two Upbuilding Discourses (1843) are in fact concurrent with Either/Or. And in order to safeguard the concurrence of the directly religious, every pseudonymous work was accompanied concurrently by a little collection of "upbuilding discourses" until Concluding Postscript appeared, which poses the issue, which is "the issue" kat' exochen [in the eminent sense] of the whole authorship: "becoming a Christian" (p. 7f.).

From that same work Kierkegaard says,

From the very beginning, I have stressed and repeated unchanged that I was "without authority." I regard myself rather as a reader of the books, not as the author. "Before God," religiously, I call my whole work as an author (when I speak with myself) my own upbringing and development, but not in the sense as if I were now complete or completely finished with respect to needing upbringing and development (p. 12).

Most of the discourses have common elements. First, they share the same dedication:

To the late Michael Pedersen Kierkegaard formerly a clothing merchant here in the city, my father, these discourses are dedicated.

Secondly, in the prefaces to these works Kierkegaard defines his function and the function of the discourses. They are discourses, not sermons, since he lacked authority. Third, they are meant for the "solitary individual", who is the reader alone before his Maker. It is also a reference to Regine Olsen, his former fiancée. Lastly, as H. Hong points out, Kierkegaard distinguished between a "deliberation" and an "upbuilding discourse". Works of Love, for example, is a deliberation. A deliberation is meant to awaken with the goal of provoking action. A deliberation is a "gadfly". An upbuilding discourse is meant to persuade, move, soften and reassure. I quote the preface to the first set of discourses here in full.

Although this little book (which is called "discourses," not "sermons," because its author does not have authority to preach, "upbuilding discourses," not discourses for upbuilding, because the speaker by no means claims to be a teacher) wishes to be only what it is, a superfluity, and desires only to remain in hiding, just as it came into existence in concealment, I nevertheless have not bidden it farewell without an almost fantastic hope. Inasmuch as in being published it is in a figurative sense starting a journey, I let my eyes follow it for a little while. I saw how it wended its way down solitary paths or walked solitary on public roads. After a few little mistakes, through being deceived by a fleeting resemblance, it finally met that single individual whom I with joy and gratitude call my reader, that single individual it is seeking, to whom, so to speak, it stretches out its arms, that single individual who is favorably enough disposed to allow himself to be found, favorably enough disposed to receive it, whether at the time of the encounter it finds him cheerful and confident or "weary and pensive."—On the other hand, inasmuch as in being published it actually remains quiet without moving from the spot, I let my eyes rest on it for a little while. It stood there like a humble little flower under the cover of the great forest, sought neither for its splendor nor its fragrance nor its food value. But I also saw, or thought I saw, how the bird I call my reader suddenly noticed it, flew down to it, picked it, and took it home, and when I had seen this, I saw no more (p. 5).

In his journals Kierkegaard recorded the following.

A deliberation does not presuppose that the conceptual criteria are given and understood. It must therefore not so much evoke sympathy, assuage, comfort, persuade as arouse and vex people and sharpen their thoughts. So, too, the time for deliberation is before action and is a question, therefore, of putting all the factors properly in motion. The deliberation should be a 'gadfly', its palette therefore quite different from that of the edifying discourse, which rests on mood, whereas the deliberation's own mood should be, in a good sense, impatient and spirited. Here irony is needed and a good portion of the comical. One may even laugh a little now and then, if that helps make the thought clearer and more striking. An edifying discourse on love presupposes that people really know what love is and then seeks to win them for it, to move them. But that, indeed, is not the case. So the 'deliberation' must first fetch them up the narrow cellar stairs, call upon them, and with truth's dialectic turn their convenient ways of thought upside down (VIII I A 299).

For Kierkegaard, there are two types of religiousness, what he calls types A and B, which he later defines in Concluding Unscientific Postscript. D. F. Swenson, as quoted by W. Lowrie, defines these types.

Religion A is characterized by a passive relation to the divine, with the accompanying suffering and sense of guilt. But it is distinguished from religion B, or transcendent religion, in that the tie which binds the individual to the divine is still, in spite of all tension, essentially intact.... The distinctive feature of transcendent religion can be briefly stated. It consists in a transformation or modification of the sense of guilt into the sense of sin, in which all continuity is broken off between the actual self and the ideal self, the temporal self and the eternal. The personality is invalidated, and thus made free from the law of God, because unable to comply with its demands. There is no fundamental point of contact left between the individual and the divine; man has become absolutely different from God (A Short Life of Kierkegaard, p. 173f.).

For all their inherently devout content, Kierkegaard would later classify these discourses as religiousness A, for, again, he was careful to qualify himself as "without authority". His later upbuilding works might be closer to religiousness B.

Here is an except from "To Gain One's Soul in Patience".

In patience, the soul comes to terms with all its possessors, with the life of the world in that it sufferingly gains itself from it, with God in that it sufferingly accepts itself from him, with itself in that it itself retains what it simultaneously gives to both without anyone's being able to deprive the soul of it—patience. The soul can obtain nothing through power; it is in the hands of an alien power. If the soul were free in some other way, it would not be the self-contradiction in the contradiction between the external and the internal, the temporal and the eternal. This self-contradiction is again expressed in the soul's being stronger than the world through its weaknesses, in its being weaker than God through its strength, in its inability to gain anything but itself unless it wants to be deceived, and in its being able to gain itself only by losing itself (p. 172).

Here is an excerpt from "The Expectancy of Eternal Salvation".

Let us, then, foolishly assume that God in heaven resembles a weak human being who does not have the heart to deny eternal salvation to anyone, whether one desires it or not—indeed, so weak that he forces it on everyone, as it were, whether one wishes it or not. Such a weak human being is seen occasionally in life. He possesses some kind of goods, and in the little circle that is the object of his solicitude everyone knows that in time he will distribute these goods to everyone. So they all receive of the goods—this constitutes the commonality, but what is the difference? Some of them become callously indifferent, virtually ridicule the weakling in their hearts; unconcerned about him, they look after their own affairs, exempt themselves from any prior concern about whether they are making themselves worthy of it and are not exploiting his goodness, exempt themselves from any subsequent concern about whether their thankfulness is appreciative of the giver and the gift. Others, however, make the reception doubtful to themselves by wishing for it, and even though they do not think they deserve the gift, such nevertheless is their attitude and goodwill toward the person through whose goodness they receive it; and even though they see that the goodness is a weakness, they conceal this from him and from themselves, feel justified and obligated to act this way, because thankfulness is the only expression of their relation to him, since it is a gift, and a gift it remains.

If the receiving of heaven's salvation were like this, my listener, how would you wish to receive it? Could you wish to receive it as those first persons received the earthly gift? Even if you thought your salvation was ever so secure, you nevertheless would feel deeply ashamed every time you compared your life with theirs for whom concern about this issue time and again filled many a moment, many an hour, whether it was the wish that occupied them now or the heart that was moved in thankfulness or the disposition they formed in order to be, to their best insight and ability, pleasing to the giver, and by which they prepared for the transition (p. 256f.).

Kierkegaard continued writing religious discourses throughout his life. Martin Heidegger, a century later, would remark that "there is more to be learned philosophically" from his upbuilding discourses "than from his theoretical ones—with the exception of his treatise on the concept of anxiety" (from Being and Time, cited by H. Hong.)

(More notes forthcoming).