1st published work of S. Kierkegaard (pen name Victor Eremita) in 2 volumes in 1843; outlines a theory of human existence, marked by the distinction between a hedonistic, aesthetic mode of life and the ethical life predicated upon commitment

Either/Or (1843) (original Danish title: Enten-Eller) is an influential book written by the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, in which he explores the aesthetic and ethical "phases" or "stages" of existence. The book's central concern is the question asked by Aristotle, "How should we live?"

What is a poet? An unhappy man who conceals profound anguish in his heart, but whose lips are so fashioned that when sighs and groans pass over them they sound like beautiful music.

Part One: Either


Quotes often from the following translations:

  • Swenson, 1959: Either/Or Volume I Edited by Victor Eremita, February 20, 1843, translated by David F. Swenson and Lillian Marvin Swenson Princeton University Press 1959
  • Hong: Either/or, Vol. 1, Søren Kierkegaard, ‎Howard Vincent Hong, ‎Edna Hatlestad Hong, Princeton University Press, 1987/2013


  • Dear Reader: I wonder if you may not sometimes have felt inclined to doubt a little the correctness of the familiar philosophic maxim that the external is the internal and the internal the external. … For my part I have always been heretically-minded on this point in philosophy, and have therefore early accustomed myself, as far as possible, to institute observations and inquiries concerning it. I have sought guidance from those authors whose views I shared on this matter; in short, I have done everything in my power to remedy the deficiency in the philosophical works. Gradually the sense of hearing came to be my favorite sense; for just as the voice is the revelation of the inwardness incommensurable with the outer, so the ear is the instrument by which this inwardness is apprehended, hearing found a contradiction between what I saw and what I heard, then I found my doubt confirmed, and my enthusiasm for the investigation stimulated.”
    • Swenson, 1959, p. 3
  • These papers have afforded me an insight into the lives of two men, which has confirmed my hunch that the external is not the internal. This was especially true about one of them. His external mode of life has been in complete contradiction to his inner life. The same was true to a certain extent with the other also, inasmuch as he concealed a more significant inwardness under a somewhat commonplace exterior.
    • Swenson, 1959, p. 4
  • A’s papers contain a number of attempts to formulate an aesthetic philosophy of life. A single, coherent, aesthetic view of life can scarcely be carried out. B’s papers contain an ethical view of life. As I let this thought sink into my soul, it became clear to me that I might make use of it in choosing a title. The one I have selected precisely expresses this. The reader cannot lose very much because of this title, for while reading the book he may perfectly well forget the title. Then, when he has read the book, he may perhaps reflect upon the title. This will free him from all finite questions as to whether A was really convinced of his error and repented, whether B conquered, or if it perhaps ended by B going over to A’s opinion. In this respect these papers have no ending.
    • Swenson, 1959, p. 13


Online text at CCEL : Online text on Danish Wikisource
Let others complain that the times are wicked. I complain that they are paltry; for they are without passion.
Most men pursue pleasure with such breathless haste that they hurry past it.
  • What is a poet? An unhappy man who conceals profound anguish in his heart, but whose lips are so fashioned that when sighs and groans pass over them they sound like beautiful music.
    • In: Bulletin: Comparative literature series. Nr. 3, Texas University (1912), p. 43
  • People flock about the poet and say to him: do sing again; Which means, would that new sufferings tormented your soul, and: would that your lips stayed fashioned as before, for your cries would only terrify us, but your music is delightful. And the critics join them, saying: well done, thus must it be according to the laws of aesthetics. Why, to be sure, a critic resembles a poet as one pea another, the only difference being that he has no anguish in his heart and no music on his lips. Behold, therefore would I rather be a swineherd on Amager, and be understood by the swine than a poet, and misunderstood by men.
    • In: Bulletin: Comparative literature series. Nr. 3, Texas University (1912), p. 43
  • My view of life is utterly meaningless. I suppose an evil spirit has set a pair of spectacles upon my nose of which one lens is a tremendously powerful magnifying glass, the other an equally powerful reducing glass
    • pp. 24, Princeton University Press
  • Life has become a bitter drink to me, and yet I must take it like medicine, slowly, drop by drop.
    • pp.25, Princeton University Press
  • No one ever comes back from the dead, no one ever enters the world without weeping; no one is asked when he wishes to enter life, no one is asked when he wishes to leave.
    • pp. 25, Princeton University Press
  • Alas, the doors of fortune do not open inward, so that by storming them one can force them open; but they open outward, and therefore nothing can be done.
    • pp. 23 Princeton University Press
  • Time flows, life is a stream, people say, and so on. I do not notice it. Time stands still, and I with it. All the plans I make fly right back upon myself; when I would spit, I even spit into my own face.
    • pp. 25, Princeton University Press
  • What am I good for? For nothing or for everything. That is a rare talent; I wonder if the world will appreciate it! God knows whether those servant girls find a place, who seek a position as maid of all work or, failing that, as anything whatsoever.
    • pp.26, Princeton University Press
  • The magician Virgil has himself cut into pieces and put into a kettle to be boiled for a week, in order to renew his youth. He hired a man to stand watch so that no intruder would peep into the caldron. But the watchman could not resist the temptation; it was too early, Virgil vanished with a cry like a little child. I, too, have doubtless peeped to soon into the kettle, the title of life and its historical development, and will probably never be able to become anything more than a child.
    • pp. 26, Princeton University Press
  • I divide my time as follows: half the time I sleep, the other half I dream. I never dream when I sleep, for that would be a pity, for the sleeping is the highest accomplishment of genius.
    • pp. 27, Princeton University Press
  • Let others complain that the age is wicked; my complaint is that it is paltry; for it lacks passion. Men's thoughts are thin and flimsy like lace, they are themselves pitiable like the lacemakers. The thoughts of their hearts are too paltry to be sinful. For a worm it might be regarded as a sin to harbor such thoughts, but not for a being made in the image of God. Their lusts are dull and sluggish, their passions sleepy. They do their duty, these shopkeeping souls, but they clip the coin a trifle, like the Jews; they think that even if the Lord keeps ever careful a set of books, they may still cheat him Him a little. Out upon Them! This is the reason my soul always turns back to the Old Testament and to Shakespeare. I feel that those who speak there are at least human: they hate, they love, they murder their enemies, and surse their descendants throughout all generations, they sin.
    • pp. 27, Princeton University Press
  • My soul is so heavy that thought can no more sustain it, no wingbeat life it up into ether. If it moves, it sweeps along the ground like the low flight of birds when a thunder storm is approaching. Over my inmost being there broods a depression, an anxiety, that, they presages an earthquake.
    • pp. 28, Princeton University Press
  • Life is so empty and meaningless.- We bury a man; we follow him to the grave, we throw three spadefuls of each over him; we ride out to the cemetery in a carriage, we ride home in a carriage; we take we take comfort in thinking that a long life less before us. How long is seven times ten years? Why do we not finish it at once, why do we not stay and step down into the grave with him, and draw lots to see who shall happen to be the last unhappy living being to throw the last three spadefuls of earth over the last of the dead?
  • pp.28, Princeton University Press
  • Everything is to be acquired in stillness, and in the silence of the divine. It is not only of Psyche's future child it holds that its future depends on her silence.
    • pp.31, Princeton University Press
  • There is nothing more dangerous to me than remembering. The moment I have remembered some life-relationship that moment it ceased to exist. People say that separation, tends to revive love. Quite true, but it revives it in a purely poetic manner. The life that is lived wholly in memory is the most perfect conceivable, the satisfactions of memory are richer than any reality, and have a security that in no reality possesses. A remembered life-relations has already passed into eternity, and ha no more temporal interest.
    • pp.32, Princeton University Press
  • To be a perfect man is after all the highest human ideal. Now I have got corns, which ought to help some.
    • pp.27, Princeton University Press
  • One must be very naive to believe that it will do any good to cry out and shout in the world, as if that would change one's fate. Better take things as they come, and make no fuss.
    • pp.32, Princeton University Press
  • My life is like an eternal night; when at lat I die, then I can say with Achilles:

Du bist vollbrachy, Nachtwache meines Daseyns. [Thou art fulfilled, thou nightwatch of my life]

  • In addition to my numerous other acquaintances I have still one more intimate friend — my melancholy. In the midst of pleasure, in the midst of work, he beckons to me, calls me aside, even though I remain present bodily. My melancholy is the most faithful sweetheart I have had — no wonder that I return the love!
    • In: Bulletin: Comparative literature series. Nr. 3, Texas University (1912), p. 43
    • Variant: My depression is the most faithful mistress I have known — no wonder, then, that I return the love.
  • Let others complain that the age is wicked; my complaint is that it is paltry; for it lacks passion. Men’s thoughts are thin and flimsy like lace, they are themselves pitiable like the lacemakers. The thoughts of their hearts are too paltry to be sinful. For a worm it might be regarded as a sin to harbor such thoughts, but not for a being made in the image of God. Their lusts are dull and sluggish, their passions sleepy. They do their duty, these shopkeeping souls, but they clip the coin a trifle, like the Jews; they think that even if the Lord keeps ever so careful a set of books, they may still cheat Him a little. Out upon them! This is the reason my soul always turns back to the Old Testament and to Shakespeare. I feel that those who speak there are at least human beings; they hate, they love, they murder their enemies, and curse their descendants throughout all generations, they sin.
    • Swenson, 1959, p. 27
      • Variant translation:
        Let others complain that the times are wicked. I complain that they are paltry; for they are without passion. The thoughts of men are thin and frail like lace, and they themselves are feeble like girl lace-makers. The thoughts of their hearts are too puny to be sinful. For a worm it might conceivably be regarded a sin to harbor thoughts such as theirs, not for a man who is formed in the image of God.
        • Variant translation in: Bulletin: Comparative literature series. Nr. 3, Texas University (1912), p. 44
  • Of all ridiculous things the most ridiculous seems to me, to be busy — to be a man who is brisk about his food and his work. Therefore, whenever I see a fly settling, in the decisive moment, on the nose of such a person of affairs; or if he is spattered with mud from a carriage which drives past him in still greater haste; or the drawbridge opens up before him; or a tile falls down and knocks him dead, then I laugh heartily.
    • In: Bulletin: Comparative literature series. Nr. 3, Texas University (1912), p. 45
  • A strange thing happened to me in my dream. I was rapt into the Seventh Heaven. There sat all the gods assembled. As a special dispensation I was granted the favor to have one wish. "Do you wish for youth," said Mercury, "or for beauty, or power, or a long life; or do you wish for the most beautiful woman, or any other of the many fine things we have in our treasure trove? Choose, but only one thing!" For a moment I was at a loss. Then I addressed the gods in this wise: "Most honorable contemporaries, I choose one thing — that I may always have the laughs on my side." Not one god made answer, but all began to laugh. From this I concluded that my wish had been granted and thought that the gods knew how to express themselves with good taste: for it would surely have been inappropriate to answer gravely: your wish has been granted.
    • In: Bulletin: Comparative literature series. Nr. 3, Texas University (1912), p. 45
  • How absurd men are! They never use the liberties they have, they demand those they do not have. They have freedom of thought, they demand freedom of speech.
    • Swenson, 1959, p. 19
  • There are, as is known, insects that die in the moment of fertilization. So it is with all joy: life's highest, most splendid moment of enjoyment is accompanied by death.
    • Hong, 1987, p. 20
  • Old age realizes the dreams of youth: look at Dean Swift; in his youth he built an asylum for the insane, in his old age he was himself an inmate.
    • Swenson, 1959, p. 21
  • Most men pursue pleasure with such breathless haste that they hurry past it.
    • Swenson, 1959, p. 28
  • When I was young, I forgot how to laugh in the cave of Trophonius; when I was older, I opened my eyes and beheld reality, at which I began to laugh, and since then, I have not stopped laughing. I saw that the meaning of life was to secure a livelihood, and that its goal was to attain a high position; that love’s rich dream was marriage with an heiress; that friendship’s blessing was help in financial difficulties; that wisdom was what the majority assumed it to be; that enthusiasm consisted in making a speech; that it was courage to risk the loss of ten dollars; that kindness consisted in saying, “You are welcome,” at the dinner table; that piety consisted in going to communion once a year. This I saw, and I laughed.
    • Swenson, 1959, p. 33: Swenson, p. 33
    • Variant translation: When I was very young I forgot in the Trophonian cave how to laugh; but when I grew older and opened my eyes and contemplated the real world, I had to laugh, and have not ceased laughing, ever since.
  • A fire broke out backstage in a theatre. The clown came out to warn the public; they thought it was a joke and applauded. He repeated it; the acclaim was even greater. I think that's just how the world will come to an end: to the general applause of wits who believe it's a joke.
    • Quoted in: Robert L. Perkins (2010) The Point of View, p. 241
  • If you marry, you will regret it; if you do not marry, you will also regret it; if you marry or do not marry, you will regret both; Laugh at the world’s follies, you will regret it, weep over them, you will also regret that; laugh at the world’s follies or weep over them, you will regret both; whether you laugh at the world’s follies or weep over them, you will regret both. Believe a woman, you will regret it, believe her not, you will also regret that; believe a woman or believe her not, you will regret both; whether you believe a woman or believe her not, you will regret both. Hang yourself, you will regret it; do not hang yourself, and you will also regret that; hang yourself or do not hang yourself, you will regret both; whether you hang yourself or do not hang yourself, you will regret both. This, gentlemen, is the sum and substance of all philosophy.
    • Swenson, 1959, p. 37 : An ecstatic lecture:
    • Gift Dig, Du vil fortryde det; gift Dig ikke, Du vil ogsaa fortryde det; gift Dig eller gift Dig ikke, Du vil fortryde begge Dele; enten Du gifter Dig, eller Du ikke gifter Dig, Du fortryder begge Dele. Lee ad Verdens Daarskaber, Du vil fortryde det; græd over dem, Du vil ogsaa fortryde det; lee ad Verdens Daarskaber eller græd over dem, Du vil fortryde begge Dele; enten Du leer ad Verdens Daarskaber, eller Du græder over dem, Du fortryder begge Dele. Troe en Pige, Du vil fortryde det; troe hende ikke, Du vil ogsaa fortryde det; troe en Pige eller troe hende ikke, Du vil fortryde begge Dele; enten Du troer en Pige eller Du ikke troer hende, Du vil fortryde begge Dele. Hæng Dig, Du vil fortryde det; hæng Dig ikke, Du vil ogsaa fortryde det; hæng Dig eller hæng Dig ikke, Du vil fortryde begge Dele; enten Du hænger Dig, eller Du ikke hænger Dig, Du vil fortryde begge Dele. Dette, mine Herrer, er Indbegrebet af al Leve-Viisdom.
      • From 'Enten - Eller', »Diapsalmata«, »Enten - Eller. Et exstatisk Foredrag«, SKS vol. 2, p. 47

The Immediate Stages of the Erotic, or Musical Erotic

  • While the preceding argument has tried in every possible manner, conceivable and inconceivable, to have it recognized that Mozart’s Don Juan takes the highest place among all classical works, it has made practically no attempt to prove that this work is really a classic; for the suggestions found here and there, precisely as being only suggestions, show that they are not intended to furnish proof, but only to afford an opportunity for enlightenment. This procedure may seem more than peculiar. The proof that Don Juan is a classic work is in the strictest sense a problem for thought; while, on the contrary, the other attempt, with regard to the exact sphere of thought, is quite irrelevant. The movement of thought is satisfied with having it recognized that Don Juan is a classic, and that every classic production is equally perfect; to desire to do more than that is for thought a thing of evil.
    • Swenson, 1959, p. 56
  • If I imagined two kingdoms adjoining one another, with one of which I was fairly well acquainted, and although unfamiliar with the other, and I was not allowed to enter the unknown realm, however much I desired to do so, I should still be able to form some conception of its nature. I could go to the limits of the kingdom with which I was acquainted and follow its boundaries, and as I did so, I should in this way describe the boundaries, and as I did so I should in this way describe the boundaries of this unknown country, and thus without ever having set foot in it, obtain a general conception of it. And if this was a task that engrossed my energies, and if I was indefatigable in my desire to be accurate, it would doubtless sometimes happen that, as I stood sadly at my country’s boundary and looked longingly into the unknown country, which was so near me and yet so far away, some little revelation might be vouchsafed to me. And though I feel that music is an art which to the highest degree requires experience to justify one in having an opinion about it, still I comfort myself, as I have so often done before, with the paradox that, even in ignorance and mere intimations, there is also a kind of experience. I comfort myself by remembering that Diana, who had not herself given birth, nevertheless came to the assistance of the child-bearing; moreover, that she had this as a native gift from childhood, so that she came to the assistance of Latona in her labor, when she herself was born. The kingdom known to me, to whose utmost boundaries I intend to go in order to discover music, is language.
    • Swenson, 1959, p. 64-65

Ancient Tragical Motif

  • Should anyone be called upon to say that the tragic always remains the tragic, I should in a sense have no objection to make, in so far as every historical evolution always remains in the sphere of the concept. On the supposition that his statement has meaning, and that the two-fold repetition of the word tragic is not to be regarded as constituting a meaningless parenthesis enclosing an empty nothing, then the meaning must be this, that the content of the concept does not dethrone the concept but enriches it.
    • Swenson, 1959, p. 137
  • If an old aesthetician has said that comedy presupposes character and situation, and has for its purpose the arousal of laughter, one might indeed turn back to this again and again; but when one reflects upon how widely different are the things which can make a human being laugh, then one soon becomes convinced of how tremendously inclusive this requirement was. Whoever has at any time made his own laughter and that of others the subject of his observation; whoever, in this study, has had his eye no so much on the accidental as on the general; whoever has observed with psychological interest how different are the things which in each generation arouse laughter, will readily be convinced that the invariable requirement that comedy ought to arouse laughter contains a high degree of variability relative to the different conceptions of the ridiculous entertained in the world consciousness, without the variability becoming so diffuse that the corresponding somatic expression would be that laughter expressed itself in tears. So also in relation to the tragic.
    • Swenson, 1959, p. 138; Partly quoted in: Robert Willoughby Corrigan (1981) Tragedy, vision and form. p. 351


  • It is of the essence of joy to reveal itself, while grief tries to hide, sometimes even to deceive. Joy is communicative, social, open-hearted, and desires expression; grief is secretive, silent, solitary, and seeks to retire into itself. The truth of this remark will surely not be denied by anyone who has even a moderate acquaintance with life. There are men so constituted that under the stress of emotion, the blood rushes to the surface, making the inner emotion outwardly visible; others are so constituted that the blood flows backward, seeking the inner parts of the chambers of the heart. A somewhat similar relation exists as to the mode of expression, between joy and grief.
    • Swenson, 1959, p. 167
  • Reflective grief cannot be represented artistically partly because it never is, but is always in the process of becoming, and partly it is indifferent to and unconcerned with the external and visible. Hence, unless the artist is satisfied with the naïveté sometimes found in old books, where a figure is drawn that could represent almost anything, which bears on its breast a plate in the form of a heart or the like, to which it points or otherwise calls attention, whereupon one may read a description of the picture, an effect the artist could just as well have produced by writing above the picture: Please note-he will have to renounce the idea of portraying reflective grief, leaving it to be dealt with by poets or psychologists. It is this reflective grief which I now propose to bring before you and, as far as possible, render visible by means of some pictures. I call these sketches Shadowgraphs, partly by the designation to remind you at once that they derive from the darker side of life, partly because like other shadowgraphs they are not directly visible.
    • Swenson, 1959, p. 170-171
  • Sometimes when you have scrutinized a face long and persistently, you seem to discover a second face hidden behind the one you see. This is generally an unmistakable sign that this soul harbors an emigrant who has withdrawn from the world in order to watch over secret treasure, and the path for the investigator is indicated by the fact that one face lies beneath the other, as it were, from which he understands that he must attempt to penetrate within if he wishes to discover anything. The face, which ordinarily is the mirror of the soul, here takes on, though it be bur for an instant, an ambiguity that resists artistic production. An exceptional eye is needed to see it, and trained powers of observation to follow this infallible index of a secret grief. This eye is eager, and yet to solicitous; anxious and compelling, and yet so sympathetic; persistent and shrewd, and yet sincere and benevolent. It lulls the individual into a certain pleasant languor, in which he finds an almost voluptuous pleasure in pouring forth his grief, like the pleasure said to accompany blood-letting. The present is forgotten, the external is broken through, the past is resurrected, grief breathes easily. The sorrowing soul finds relief, and sorrow’s sympathetic knight errant rejoices that he has found the object of his search; for we seek not the present, but sorrow whose nature is to pass by. In the present it manifests itself only for a fleeting instant, like the glimpse one may have of a man turning a corner and vanishing from sight.
    • Swenson, 1959, p. 173
  • ... only he who has been bitten by a serpent knows the suffering of one who has been bitten by a serpent.
    • Swenson, 1959, p. 213

The First Love

  • When the muse summoned them, she beckoned them away from the world, and they now listen only to her voice, and the wealth of thought lies open before them, but so overpoweringly that although every word stands out clearly and vividly, it seems to them as if it were not their own property. When, then, consciousness has so come to itself that it possesses the entire content, then the moment has arrived which contains the possibility of real creation; and yet something is missing; missing is the occasion, which one might say is equally necessary, although in another sense, it is infinitely insignificant. Thus it has pleased the gods to join the greatest contradictions together. This is a mystery in which reality abounds, a stumbling block to the Jews, and to the Greeks foolishness. The occasion is always the accidental, and thus is the tremendous paradox, that the accidental is just as absolutely necessary as the necessary. The occasion is not in the ideal sense the accidental, as when I logically think the accidental; but the occasion is, irrationally regarded, the accidental, and yet in this accidentality, the necessary.
    • Swenson, 1959, p. 231-232

The Unhappiest Man

  • The unhappy person is one who has his ideal, the content of his life, the fullness of his consciousness, the essence of his being, in some manner outside of himself. He is always absent, never present to himself. But it is evident that it is possible to absent from one’s self either in the past or in the future. This, then, at once circumscribes the entire territory of the unhappy consciousness. For this rigid limitation we are grateful to Hegel; and now, since we are not merely philosophers beholding the kingdom from afar, we shall as native inhabitants give our attention in detail to the various types which are implied herein. The unhappy person is consequently absent. But one is absent when living either in the past or in the future. The form of expression must here be carefully noted; for it is clear, as philology also teaches us, that there is a tense which expresses presence in the past, and a tense which expresses presence in the future; but the same science also teaches us that there is a tense which is plus quam perfectum, in which there is no present, as well as a futurum exactum of an analogous character. Now there are some individuals who live in hope, and others who live in memory. These are indeed in a sense unhappy individuals; in so far, namely as they live solely in hope or in memory, if ordinarily only he is happy who is present to himself. However, one cannot in a strict sense be called an unhappy individual, now is present in hope or in memory. That which here must be emphasized is that he is present to himself in one or the other of these forms of consciousness. We shall also see from this that a single blow, be it ever so heavy, cannot possibly make a man the unhappiest of all. For one blow can either deprive him of hope, thereby leaving him present in memory, or of memory, thus leaving him present in hope.
    • Swenson, 1959, p. 220-221
  • A young woman sits here of thoughtful mien. Her lover was faithless-but this we cannot take into consideration. Young woman, observe the serious countenances of this society; it has heard of more terrible misfortunes, its daring soul demands something greater still.-Yes, but I love him and him only in all the world; I loved him with all my soul, and with all my heart, and with all my mind.-You merely repeat what we have already heard before, do not weary our impatient longing; you can remember and grieve.-No, I cannot grieve, for he was perhaps not a deceiver, he was perhaps not faithless.-Why, then, can you not grieve? Come nearer, elect among women; forgive the strict censor who sought for a moment to exclude you. You cannot sorrow. Then why not hope?-No, I cannot hope; for he was a riddle.-Well, my girl, I understand you. You stand high in the ranks of the unhappy; behold her, dear Symparanekromenoi, she stands almost at the pinnacle of unhappiness. But you must divide yourself, you must hope by day and grieve by night, or grieve by day and hope by night. Be proud; for happiness is no real ground for pride, but only unhappiness. You are not indeed the unhappiest of all; but it is your opinion, dear Symparanekromenoi, is it not, that we ought to offer her an honorable accessit (mention)? The tomb we cannot offer her, but the place adjoining shall be hers. ... For there he stands, the ambassador from the kingdom of sighs, the chosen favorite of the realm of suffering, the apostle of grief, the silent friend of pain, the unhappy lover of memory, in his memories confounded by the light of hope, in his hope deceived by the shadows of memory. His head hangs heavy, his knees are weak; and yet he seeks no support save in himself. He is faint, and yet how powerful: his eyes seem not to have wept, but to have drunk many tears; and yet there is a fire in them strong enough to destroy the world, but not one splinter of the grief within his breast. He is bent, and yet his youth presages a long life; his lips smile at a world that misunderstands him. Stand up, dear Symparanekromenoi, bow before him, ye witnesses of grief, in this most solemn hour! I hail thee with thy title of honor: The Unhappiest Man!
    • Swenson, 1959, p. 226-227

Crop Rotation

  • Since boredom advances and boredom is the root of all evil, no wonder, then, that the world goes backwards, that evil spreads. This can be traced back to the very beginning of the world. The gods were bored; therefore they created human beings. Adam was bored because he was alone; therefore Eve was created. Since that moment, boredom entered the world and grew in quantity in exact proportion to the growth of population. Adam was bored alone; then Adam and Eve were bored en famille. After that, the population of the world increased and the nations were bored en masse. To amuse themselves, they hit upon the notion of building a tower so high that it would reach the sky. This notion is just as boring as the tower was high and is a terrible demonstration of how boredom had gained the upper hand. Then they were dispersed around the world, just as people now travel abroad, but they continued to be bored. And what consequences this boredom had: humankind stood tall and fell far, first through Eve, then from the Babylonian tower.
    • Hong, 1987/2013. p. 286
  • To forget — this is the desire of all people, and when they encounter something unpleasant, they always say: If only I could forget! But to forget is an art that must be practiced in advance. To be able to forget always depends upon how one experiences actuality.
    • Hong, 1987. p. 293
  • Married people pledge love for each other throughout eternity. Well, now, that is easy enough but does not mean very much, for if one is finished with time one is probably finished with eternity. If, instead of saying "throughout eternity," the couple would say, "until Easter, until next May Day," then what they say would make some sense, for then they would be saying something and also something they perhaps could carry out.
    • Hong, 1987/2013. p. 296
  • Never take any official post. If one does that, one becomes just a plain John Anyman, a tiny little cog in the machine of the body politic. The individual ceases to be himself the manager of the operation, and then theories can be of little help. One acquires a title, and implicit in that are all the consequences of sin and evil. The law under which one slaves is equally boring no matter whether advancement is swift or slow. A title can never be disposed of, it would take a criminal act for that, which would incur a public whipping, and even then one cannot be sure of not being pardoned by royal decree and acquiring the title again.
    • Hong, 1987. p. 298
  • There are men who have an extraordinary talent for transforming everything into a matter of business, whose whole life is business, who fall in love, marry, listen to a joke, and admire a picture with the same industrious zeal with which they labor during business hours.
    • Swenson, 1959,, p. 285

Part Two: Or


Most quotes originate from the following translation:

  • Hong : Either/Or: Part II, Søren Kierkegaard Edited and translated by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong, Princeton University Press, 1988/2013

Esthetic Validity of Marriage

  • There is a restlessness in you over which consciousness nevertheless hovers, bright and clear; your whole soul is concentrated upon this single point, your understanding contrives a hundred plans; you arrange everything for the attack, but it miscarries at a single point, and then your almost diabolical dialectic is instantly ready to explain what happened in such a way that it will benefit the new plan of operation.
    • Hong, p. 11
  • How often do we have an urge to go beyond the historical consciousness, a longing, a homesickness for the primeval forest that lies behind us, and does not this longing acquire a double significance when it joins to itself the conception of another being whose home is also in that region? Therefore, every marriage, even one that is entered into after sober consideration, has an urge, at least in particular moments, to imagine such a foreground. And how beautiful it is that the God who is spirit also loves the earthly love. That there is much lying among married people on this score, I readily admit to you, and that your observations along this line have frequently amused me, but the truth in it ought not to be forgotten. Perhaps someone thinks it is better to have complete authority in the choice of “one’s life-partner,” but such an expression as that betrays an extreme narrowness of mind and foolish self-importance of understanding and has no intimation that in its genius romantic love is free and that precisely this genius constitutes its greatness.
    • Hong, p. 20-21
  • It is beautiful and healthy if a person has been unfortunate in his first love, has learned to know the pain of it but nevertheless remains faithful to his love, has kept his faith in this first love; it is beautiful if in the course of the years he at times very vividly recalls it, and even though his soul has been sufficiently healthy to bid farewell, as it were, to that kind of life in order to dedicate himself to something higher; it is beautiful if he then sadly remember it as something that was admittedly not perfect but yet was so very beautiful. And then sadness is far more beautiful and healthy and noble than the prosaic common sense that has long since finished with all such childishness, this devilish prudence of choir director Basil that fancies itself to be healthy but which is the most penetratingly wasting illness; for what does it profit a man if he gained the whole world but lost his soul? For me the phrase “the first love” has no sadness at all, or at least only a little admixture of sweet sadness; for me it is a password, and although I have been a married man for several years, I have the honor fight to under the victorious banner of the first love.
    • Hong, p. 37
  • A religiously developed person makes a practice of referring everything to God, of permeating and saturating every finite relation with the thought of God, and thereby consecrating and ennobling it.
    • Hong, p. 43
  • What kind of authority is it that dares to thrust itself between me and my bride, the bride I myself have chosen and who has chosen me. And this authority will command her to be faithful to me-does she need, then, a command-and what if she would be faithful to me only because a third party, whom she loved more than me, commanded it! And it orders me to be faithful to her-do I need to be ordered, I who belong to her with my whole soul! And this authority determines our relation to each other; it says that I am to order and she to obey; but what if I do not want to order, what if I feel too inferior for that? No, her I will obey; for me her hint is my command but I will not submit to an alien authority.
    • Hong, p. 52
  • Alone in his kayak, a person is sufficient unto himself, has nothing to do with any person except when he himself so wishes. Alone in his kayak, a person is sufficient unto himself-but I cannot really understand how this emptiness can be filled … but you do have a person who can help fill up the time. You should say, therefore: Alone in one’s boat, alone with one’s sorrow, alone with one’s despair-which one is cowardly enough to prefer to keep rather than to submit to the pain of healing. Allow me to point out the dark side of your life … think of the pain, sadness, and humiliation involved in being in this sense a stranger and an alien in the world. ... think of family life in its beauty, founded on a deep and intimate community in such a way that what joins it all together is still mysteriously hidden, the one relationship ingeniously entwined with the other so that one has only an intimation of the coherence; think of this family’s concealed internal life, clad in such beautiful external form that one nowhere encounters the hardness of the joints-and now contemplate your relationship to such a family.
    • Hong, p. 84-85
  • In my insisting that adversity is part of marriage, I by no means permit you to identify marriage with a retinue of adversities. It is already implicit in the resignation contained in the resolution that there will be accompanying adversities, except that these have not as yet assumed a definite shape and are not alarming, since on the contrary they are already seen as overcome in the resolution. Furthermore, adversity is not seen externally but internally in its reflection in the individual, but this belongs to the shared history of marital love. Secretiveness becomes a contradiction when it has nothing to keep secret, a childishness when it is only amorous bric-a-brac that constitutes its deposit. Not until the individual’s love has truly opened his heart, made him eloquent in a much profounder sense than that in which one usually says that love makes one eloquent (for even the seducer may have that kind of eloquence), not until the individual has deposited everything in the shared consciousness, not until then does secretiveness gain its strength, life and meaning. But a decisive step is required for this, and consequently courage is also required; yet marital love collapses into nothing if this does not take place, for only thereby does one show that one loves not oneself but another.
    • Hong, p. 109
  • When you are sitting in a theater, intoxicated with esthetic pleasure, then you have the courage to require of the poet that he let the esthetic win out over all wretchedness. It is the only consolation that remains, and, what is even more unmanly, it is the consolation that you take, you to whom life has not provided the occasion to test your strength. You, then, are impoverished and unhappy, just like the hero and the heroine in the play, but you also have pathos, courage, a round mouth from which eloquence gushes, and a vigorous arm. You and your kind conquer, you applaud the actor, and the actor is yourselves and the applause from the pit is for you, for you are indeed the hero and the actor. In dreams, in the nebulous world of esthetics, there you are heroes. I do not care very much for the theater, and as far as I am concerned you and your kind can mock as much as you like. Just let the histrionic heroes succumb or let them be victorious, sink through the floor or vanish through the ceiling-I am not greatly moved. But if it is true, as you teach and declaim to life, that it takes far fewer adversities to make a person a slave so that he walks with his head hanging down and forgets that he, too, is created in God’s image, then may it be your just punishment. God grant, that all playwrights compose nothing but tearjerking plays, full of all possible anxiety and horror that would not allow your flabbiness to rest on the cushioned theater seats and let you be perfumed with supranatural power but would horrify you until in the world of actuality you learn to believe in that which you want to believe in only in poetry.
    • Hong, p. 122
  • And in truth, he who has humility and courage enough to let himself be esthetically transformed, he who feels himself present as a character in a drama the deity is writing, in which the poet and prompter are not different persons, in which the individual, as the experienced actor who has lived into his character and his lines is not disturbed by the prompter but feels that he himself becomes a question whether he is putting the words in the prompter’s mouth or the prompter in his, he who in the most profound sense feels himself creating and created, who in the moment he feels himself creating has the original pathos of the lines and the moment he feels himself created has the erotic ear that picks up every sound-he and he alone has brought into actual existence the highest in esthetics. But this history that proves to be incommensurable even for poetry is the inner history. This has the idea within itself and precisely therefore is the esthetic. Therefore it begins, as I expressed it with the possession, and its progress is the acquiring of this possession. It is an eternity in which the temporal has not disappeared as an ideal element, but in which it is continually present as a real element. Thus, when patience acquires itself in patience, it is inner history.
    • Hong, p. 137-138
  • … what does it mean to commit oneself to love? Where is the boundary? When have I fulfilled my duty? In what, more closely defined, does my duty consist? In case of doubt, to what council can I apply? And if I cannot fulfill my duty, where is the authority to compel me? State and Church have indeed set a certain limit, but even though I do not go to the extreme, can I not therefore be a bad husband? Who will punish me? Who will stand up for her who is the victim? Answer: you yourself.
    • Hong, p. 150-151

Balance between Aesthetic and Ethical

Also translated as "Equilibrium between the Aesthetic and the Ethical in the Development of Personality"
  • This is what is sad when one contemplates human life, that so many live out their lives in quiet lostness; they outlive themselves, not in the sense that life's content successively unfolds and is now possessed in the unfolding, but they live, as it were, away from themselves and vanish like shadows. Their immortal souls are blown away, and they are not disquieted by the question of its immortality, because they are already disintegrated before they die.
    • Hong, p. 168
  • ... take care that the great things to which you are really sacrificing your life do not deceive you.
    • Hong, p. 170
  • So the richest personality is nothing before he has chosen himself; and … the poorest personality is everything when he has chosen himself, for the greatness is not to be this or that but to be oneself, and every human being can be this if he so wills it.
    • Hong, p. 177
  • What, then, is depression? It is hysteria of the spirit. There comes a moment in a person’s life when immediacy is ripe, so to speak, and when the spirit requires a higher form, when it wants to lay hold of itself as spirit. As immediate spirit, a person is bound up with all the earthly life, and now spirit wants to gather itself together out of this dispersion, so to speak, and to transfigure itself in itself; the personality wants to become conscious in its eternal validity. If this does not happen, if the movement is halted, if it is repressed, then depression sets in.
    • Hong, p. 188-189
  • What intoxication is as beautiful as despair … It gives a slight flourish to the hat and to the whole body; it gives a proud, defiant look. The lips smile haughtily. It provides an indescribable lightness to life, a regal outlook on everything.
    • Hong, p. 195
  • You see, there is an Either/Or here. … if you want to go on amusing your soul with the trifling of wittiness and the vainglory of the intellect, then do so. Leave your home, emigrate, go to Paris, devote yourself to journalism, court the smiles of languid women, cool their hot blood with the chill of your wit, let it be your life’s proud task to dispel an idle woman’s boredom or the gloomy thoughts of a burned out sensualist; forget that you were a child, that there was piety in your soul and innocence in your thoughts; muffle every lofty voice in your heart, loaf your life away in the glittering wretchedness of social gatherings; forget that there is an immortal spirit within you, torture the last farthing out of you soul; … But if you cannot do that, if you do not want to do that-and that you neither can not will-then pull yourself together, stifle every rebellious thought that would have the audacity to commit high treason against your better nature, disdain all that paltriness that would envy your intellectual gifts and desire them for itself in order to put them to even worse use; disdain the hypocritical virtue that is unwilling to carry the burdens of life and yet wants to be eulogized for carrying it; but do not therefore distain life, respect every decent effort, every modest activity that humbly conceals itself, and above all have a little more respect for women…. if you cannot control yourself, you will scarcely find anyone else who is able to do it.
    • Hong, p. 206-207
  • Anyone who refuses to struggle with actualities acquires phantoms to struggle against.
    • Hong, p. 223 (??); Cited in: Robert L. Perkins (2008) The Book on Adler, p. 69
  • It is curious that the word “duty” can prompt one to think of an external relation, since the very derivation of the word suggests an internal one: for that which is incumbent upon me, not as an individual with accidental characteristics bit in accordance with my true being, certainly has the most intimate relation with myself. That is, duty is not something laid upon one but something that lies upon. When duty is regarded in this way, it is a sign that the individual is oriented within himself. Then duty will not split up for him into a multiplicity of particular stipulations, for this always indicates that he has only an external relation to duty. He has put on duty; for him it is the expression of his innermost being. When he is thus oriented within himself, he has immersed himself in the ethical, and will not run around performing duties. Therefore, the truly ethical person has an inner serenity and sense of security, for he does not have duty outside himself but within himself. the more deeply a man has structured his life ethically, the less he will feel compelled to talk about duty every moment, to worry every moment whether he is performing it, every moment to seek the advice of others about what his duty is. When the ethical is viewed properly, it makes the individual infinitely secure within himself; when it is viewed improperly, it makes the individual utterly insecure, and I cannot imagine an unhappier or more tormented life then when a person has his duty outside himself and yet continually wants to carry it out.
    • Hong, p. 254-255
  • When a person considers himself esthetically his soul is like soil out of which grow all sorts of herbs, all with equal claim to flourish; his self consists of this multiplicity, and he has no self that is higher than this,
    • p. 260 (??)


  • Do not interrupt the flight of your soul; do not distress what is best in you; do not enfeeble your spirit with half wishes and half thoughts. Ask yourself and keep on asking until you find the answer, for one may have known something many times, acknowledged it; one may have willed something many times, attempted it — and yet, only the deep inner motion, only the heart's indescribable emotion, only that will convince you that what you have acknowledged belongs to you, that no power can take it from you — for only the truth that builds up is truth for you.
    • Quoted in: D.R. Ellison (2001) Ethics and Aesthetics in European Modernist Literature. p. 51
  • Father in heaven! Teach us to pray rightly so that our hearts may open up to you in prayer and supplication and hide no furtive desire that we know is not acceptable to you, nor any secret fear that you will deny us anything that will truly be for our good, so that the labouring thoughts, the restless mind, the fearful heart may find rest in and through that alone in which and through which it can be found-by always joyfully thanking you as we gladly confess that in relation to you we are always in the wrong. Amen.
    • Hong, p. 341
  • Only man is wrong; to him alone is reserved what is denied to everything else-to be in the wrong in relation to God.
    • Hong, p. 344
  • If a person is sometimes in the right, sometimes in the wrong, to some degree in the right, to some degree in the wrong, who, then, is the one who makes that decision except the person himself, but in the decision may he not again be to some degree to the right and to some degree in the wrong? Or is he a different person when he judges his act then when he acts? Is doubt to rule, then, continually to discover new difficulties, and is care to accompany the anguished soul and drum past experiences into it? Or would we prefer continually to be in the right in the way irrational creatures are? Then we have only the choice between being nothing in relation to God or having to begin all over again every moment in eternal torment, yet without being able to begin, for if we are able to decide definitely with regard to the previous moment, and so further and further back. Doubt is again set in motion, care again aroused; let us try to calm it by deliberating on: The Upbuilding That Lies In The Thought That In Relation To God We Are Always In The Wrong.
    • Hong, p. 346
  • As the Pastor puts it, "Therefore, wishing to be in the wrong is an expression of an infinite relationship, and wanting to be in the right, or finding it painful to be in the wrong, is an expression of a finite relationship! Hence, it is upbuilding always to be in the wrong-because only the infinite builds up; the finite does not!"
    • Perkins (1995), p. 243
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