Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

Kierkegaard in America: An Interview with Howard and Edna Hong

Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

Kierkegaard in America: An Interview with Howard and Edna Hong

Article excerpt

Howard V. Hong (B.1912) for forty years, until his retirement in 1978, was a professor of philosophy at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota. He graduated from St. Olaf College in 1934 and received at Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota in 1938. That same year he went to Denmark for the first time in order to study Soren Kierkegaard. Together with his wife, author Edna H. Hong, he has edited and translated Kierkegaard's Journals and Papers I-VII (1967-78). In 1968 couple the received the National Book Award for Translation for volume I. Howard V Hong is general editor of the monumental twenty-six volume Kierkegaard's Writings, which is being published by Princeton University Press. Their highly extolled translations are distinguished by a conscious attempt to convey Kierkegaard's special language and style in English. The couple has also established a unique center for Kierkegaard research at St. Olaf College The Howard and Edna Hong Kierkegaard Library with its associated Study and Publication Center. In 1978 they were named Knights of Dannebrog. On several occasions, then, have both worked at the Royal Library and the Soren Kierkegaard Library at the University of Copenhagen. Upon the recommendation of Its theological faculty, an honorary, doctorate was bestowed upon Howard V Hong in 1992 for his lifelong dedication to spreading knowledge of Soren Kierkegaard's passionate thought in the English-speaking world. Besides their large-scale and lifelong translation project, which has provided a new and solid foundation for all further Kierkegaard research in English, they have been fully engaged in teaching and literary activity. Here their creation of a positive, secure, and stimulating home that enriched the lives of their children, the rest of their family, and friends must not least of all be mentioned. In life and vocation, they have been an "up building" example. They have not only written but in truth lived "a complete human life," and accomplished their life's work or destiny in the most beautiful way. "Purity of heart is to will one thing."

BEB: Your interest in Kierkegaard began very early in life. How did it start?

HH: Well, it started simply with the reading of Ibsen's Peer Gynt and Brand. I still think they are great plays, and I've reread them many times. But then in that same year -- this was 1932 -- the place where I was living had a copy of Halvdan Koht's Life of Ibsen. In that work, he has a few pages on Ibsen and Kierkegaard -- that is, the historical question: to what, if any, extent had Ibsen been influenced by Kierkegaard? Koht points out various things. First of all, Ibsen's denial: I don't read Kierkegaard; I haven't read Kierkegaard, but my wife reads Kierkegaard. He also mentions Ibsen's mother-in-law, who taunts him, scolds him, saying: Why don't you write your own plays instead of dramatizing that Danish philosopher? So Koht leaves the issue as an historical issue.

But I thought there might be some substance related to Kierkegaard, maybe no historical connection whatsoever, perhaps a kind of cultural dualism, that the same thing can appear independently in different places. I pursued that -- which wasn't easy, however, because the only thing in English by Kierkegaard was a little volume translated by Lee Hollander, at the University of Texas at Austin. But there was that little paperback -- 25 cents - a volume of selections. That was my first Kierkegaard reading.

But I do remember that there was an earlier time when I heard the name Kierkegaard. My father had borrowed a book from a farmer at Norway Lake. When I asked him about the book, he said, "Its by a Dane named Kierkegaard." I remembered that later, that name; at least it had a little familiarity. That was the beginning.

So with me it was the same as with the Spanish philosopher Unamuno, who said, "I learned Norwegian-Danish in order to read Ibsen and was rewarded by reading Kierkegaard. …

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