Two Ages: A Literary Review

book by Søren Kierkegaard

Two Ages: A Literary Review (Danish: En literair Anmeldelse af S. Kierkegaard) is the first book in Søren Kierkegaard's second authorship and was published on March 30, 1846


  • Complaining about disloyalty and faithfulness between man and man is not uncommon in the world, and frequently enough the situation borders on the comic: the relation is not one of difference but, regrettably, of a faithful image of mutual resemblance, two changed persons who in new misunderstanding continue their association, each as the accuser of the other, instead of each one separately accusing himself and finding understanding. However much and however justifiably one person upbraids another for disloyalty, changeableness, and instability, he still guards against accounting for his own instability on those grounds, because he thereby declares himself as one who has the law of existence outside himself-but what is changeableness if not that? If it is true that time changes everything, the changeable, then it is also true that time reveals who it was who did not change. Instead of complaints and accusations and differences and going to court, every faithful and committed person has the hope of vindication, that in time a re-examination reveal whether he was faithful and whether the charge of unfaithfulness had the power to change him or not.
    • Two Ages: The Age of Revolution and the Present Age. A Literary Review. By Soren Kierkegaard, edited and translated by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong 1978 Princeton University Press Introduction P. 7
  • Unlike the wise man, who understands everything as applying to himself and always understands himself as implied, the young man makes the demand and does not understand himself as implied, hardly anyone for that matter-such are the demands he makes. P. 9
  • The author has been faithful to himself. If anyone makes the foolish comment that he has been faithful over little because he has not been engrossed in changing the task, because he has not rambled about in all areas, because he has not played the juggler with an ostentatious variety of themes, I would answer this obviously concocted charge by saying: The considerable richness of the author consists precisely in that. P. 13

I. Survey of the Contents of Both PartsEdit

  • Although part 1 of the novel is called “The Age of Revolution,” attention concentrates on Claudine so that the main motif seems to be forgotten if it is not remembered that in fact C. falls victim to the idea of her age but is also set on her feet again as the one who remained true to the idea in the face of everything. P. 25-26
  • Life in the present age is not disturbed by that energetic passion what has its form in its very energy, yes, even in its violence, does not conceal the strength of a secret forbidden passion. On the contrary, everything is manifestly nondescript, thus trivial, formless, superficial, obsequious, and openly so. P. 29
  • The reflexion in domestic life of the age of revolution is recalled, the reflexion of the present age in domestic life is depicted but not judged, and therefore hope is not denied either. P. 31

II. An Esthetic Interpretation of the Novel and Its DetailsEdit

  • The novel has as its premise the distinctive totality of the age, and the production is the reflexion of this in domestic life; the mind turns from the production back again to the totality of the age that has been so clearly revealed in this reflexion. But (according to the preface) the author did not intend to describe the age itself; his novel lies somewhere between the presupposed distinctive character of the age and the age of reflexion as illustrated by this work. P. 33
  • The ugliest person can make me utterly forget his external appearance by the fascination of the manifestation of his interior being. this was the contradiction that Socrates found so ironically pleasing; when Alcibiades listened to Socrates speak, “his heart pounded violently, more violently than a Corybantic fanatic’s, while tears streamed from his eyes,” and it was forgotten, eternally forgotten that the man speaking was the ugliest man in Greece-until he was silent, and the ugliest man in Greece was pleased with the irony of it all. P. 35-36
  • Part II. Mariane. Frightened out of youthful illusion by her stepmother long, long ago, driven into the busy household tasks of the distressingly workaday world, damaged by the daily insults, she humbly works out the bitter task of being more or less a housemaid in her parents’ house. Her life is not unacquainted with all the haughty disdain and at the other extreme the foppish liberties to which such a servant-person can be subjected, and the bitterness is augmented by her being not only defenseless but excluded-because she is the daughter. P. 48

III. Conclusions from a Consideration of the Two AgesEdit

The Age of RevolutionEdit

  • The age of revolution is essentially passionate, and therefore it essentially has form. The age of revolution is essentially passionate, and therefore it essentially has culture. The age of revolution is essentially passionate; therefore it must be able to be violent, riotous, wild, ruthless toward everything but its idea, but precisely because it still has one motivation, it is less open to the charge of crudeness. P. 61 - 62
  • Remove the relation to oneself, and we have the tumultuous self-relating of the mass to an idea; but remove this as well, and we have crudeness. Then people shove, and press and rub against each other in pointless externality, for there is not deep inward decency that decorously distances the one from the other; thus there is turmoil and commotion that ends in nothing. No one has anything for himself, and united they possess nothing, either: so they become troublesome and wrangle. Then it is not even the gay and lively songs of conviviality that unite friends; then it is not the dithyrambic songs of revolt that collect the crowds; then it is not the sublime rhythms of religious fervor that under divine supervision muster the countless generations to review before the heavenly hosts. No, then gossip and rumor and specious importance and apathetic envy become a surrogate for each and all. P. 63
  • The age of revolution is passionate; therefore it has not nullified the principle of contradiction, and can become either good or evil, and whichever way is chosen, the impetus of passion is such that the trace of an action marking its progress or its taking a wrong direction must be perceptible. It is obliged to make a decision, but this again is the saving factor, for decision is the little magic word that existence respects. P. 66

The Present AgeEdit

  • Not even a suicide these days does away with himself in desperation but deliberates on this step so long and so sensibly that he is strangled by calculation, making it a moot point whether or not he can really be called a suicide; inasmuch as it was in fact the deliberating that took his life. P. 68
  • This is not the loyal citizen who cheerfully does homage to his king and now is embittered by his tyranny, not at all – to be a citizen has come to mean something else, it means to be an outsider. The citizen does not relate himself in the relation but is a spectator computing the problem: the relation of a subject to his king; for there is a period when committee after committee is set up, as long as there still are people who in full passion want to be, each individually, the specific person he is supposed to be, but it all finally ends with the whole age becoming a committee. P. 78-79
  • The individual must first of all break out of the prison in which his own reflection holds him, and if he succeeds, he still does not stand in the open but in the vast penitentiary built by the reflection of his associates-relation in himself, and this can be broken only by religious inwardness, however much he sees through the falseness of the relation. P. 81
  • In antiquity the individual in the crowd had no significance whatsoever; the man of excellence stood for them all. The trend today is in the direction of mathematical equality, so that in all classes about so and so many uniformly make one individual. The individual does not belong to God, to himself, to the beloved, to his art, to his scholarship; no, just as a serf belongs to an estate, so the individual realizes that in every respect he belongs to an abstraction in which reflection subordinates him. P. 85
  • In its eternal truth, the principle of individuality uses the abstraction and equality of the generation as levelers and thereby religiously develops the cooperating individual into an essentially human being. for leveling is just as powerful with respect to the temporary as it is impotent with respect to the eternal. Reflection is a snare in which one is trapped, but in and through the inspired leap of religiousness the situation changes and it is the snare that catapults one into the embrace of the eternal. Reflection is and remains the most persistent, unyielding creditor in existence. P. 89
  • The existential expression of nullifying the principle of contradiction is to be in contradiction to oneself. The creative omnipotence implicit in the passion of absolute disjunction that leads the individual resolutely to make up his mind is transformed into the extensity of prudence and reflection – that is, by knowing and being everything possible to be in contradiction to oneself, that is, to be nothing at all. The principle of contradiction strengthens the individual in faithfulness to himself, so that, just like that constant number three Socrates speaks of so beautifully, which would rather suffer anything and everything than become a number four or even a very large round number, he would rather be something small, if still faithful to himself, than all sorts of things in contradiction to himself. P. 97
  • We demolish “on principle” what we ourselves admire – what nonsense, for whatever creates and produces is always latently polemical, because it must have room, but that which demolishes is indeed nothing and the principle of demolition is emptiness, so for what does it need room? Meanwhile modesty or repentance or responsibility have a hard time getting hold of such behavior, for after all it was done on principle. P. 102
  • It is not up to me to direct attention to the novel; in my own opinion that would be unseemingly presumptive. But if anyone asks me for my advice, I would advise him to read it, and if he has read it, to read it again. P. 112

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