I have just finished reading Søren Kierkegaard’s 1849 work, The Sickness Unto Death. I read this text in the English translation by Alastair Hannay.
The Sickness Unto Death is a short, strange and sombre work. I will not attempt to offer a review of it here. This is a text that needs to be thought about carefully and with a certain amount of rigour and quiet reflection. If I were to comment on it now, having only just put the book back on the shelf, my comments could only ever be flippant, off the cuff and ill-considered. And it is precisely flippancy and ill-consideration that Kierkegaard is so concerned with in this work, and is so quick to warn us against.
So, to review the work now would be to have not heeded the lessons of the work itself.
Instead, I shall review my reading of the work. In doing so I will really only be reviewing myself as a reviewer, my reading practice and the structure of my reading life.
I started to read The Sickness Unto Death on Wednesday afternoon at precisely the moment when, after several hours of dank and depressing drizzle, the sun burst through the clouds. I could not help smiling. Here was a book whose very title seemed to be suggestive of doom and gloom; and yet here I was picking the most cheerful moment of the week to begin studying it.
However, things changed yesterday morning. The inclement weather set in. The rain struck down hard and fast, pummelling our roof and the courtyard below as though it were trying to flatten out some perceived imperfection in their forms. Then the lightening began, followed by claps of thunder that sounded like thousands of full whiskey barrels being rolled down a hill.
I could not help but think of that most ‘literary’ of thunder claps, the one that sounded out across Dublin on Thursday 16th June 1904 and which James Joyce caused to sound again in his depiction of that day in Ulysses.
I continued to read Kierkegaard, inwardly pleased at this pathetic fallacy.
Today, my reading of the final stages of the book was again accompanied by muted sunshine.
And what of my impressions? This is a book upon which you must concentrate as a reader. Of course, the setting in which we read a text is always important. When I return to this text in the future I will ensure that I read it in the quiet, away from the sound of thunder...