Reprinted from yesterday's late editions
Six works of Soren Kierkegaard have been newly published in America, and the Danes thought it would do no harm at all to have a reception taking note of this event.
The great 19th-century religious philosopher once observed he would be understand only after his death, and as the Danish cultural minister, Niels Matthiasen said in a brief talk Tuesday night, this has proved the case.
The questions that absorbed Kierkegaard-freedom, responsibility, guilt, dread-somehow seem to be preculiarly 20th-century ones.
The honored guests-and incidentally none of the remarkable crystals of the amazing chandeliers fell off Tuesday - were Howard V. Hong, director of the Kierkegaard Library at St. Olaf's College, and Edna Hong, his wife, both of them scholars and writers who won the National Book Award for translation in 1967.
That was for translations of Kierkegaard for the Indiana University Press. They translated Volumes 5, 6 and 7 of the Kierkegaard Journal and Papers, newly issued by that press, and the first two volumes of a 26-volume edition of the Writings, published by the Princeton University Press.
The Princeton series will take until 1988 to complete.
Hong, an affable white-haired man who likes to complain of the shortness of time, but who seems not to have wasted much, said he got interested in the great Dane rougly a half-century ago though the works of Ibsen.
He read somewhere that Kierkegaard was a profound influence on Ibsen's "Peer Gynt," one of Hong's favourite Ibsen works, and decided to poke about into Kierkegaard.
That did it.
"I suppose I started this work 40 years ago," he said pointing to the new volumes on a table.
"I have one academic distinction. I got a leave of absence my first year at my college. A grant of $1,000 took me and my wife to Denmark for a year."
"You must have lived fairly riotously to spend so much," someone said.
"Oh, yes indeed. Money went farther then."
A number of foundations, endowments, the Lutheran Brotherhood (an insurance society), etc, have contributed during the many years of the Hong's work.
Thomas V. Litzenburg Jr., assistant chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, said that as an undergraduate he tried reading Kierkegaard's books at Princeton, but knew at the time he was not making much progress. Later, as a professor, he was grateful to Hong translations for making it easier for later students.
A Dane, Niels Toft, the embassy's cultural counselor, said he understood Kierkegaard much better in the Hong English versions than in the original Danish.
Matthiasen observed that a simple word-for-word translation simply would not do. And yet no undue liberties were taken. As the National Book Award citation put it, the Hongs show "scrupulous self-effacement before the work."
John Vint, director of design for Indiana University Press, confided a few horror stories of flopped frontispieces, duplicated signatures and other hazards of the publisher's trade-none affecting Kierkegaard, mind you-and seemed the dapper polished literate man one likes to think works at fine presses.
Ambassador and Mrs. Otto Borch greeted guests and directed the thirsty one way and the hungry another. Francis B. Sayre, now of the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars at the Smithsonian Institution, but long dean of Washington Cathedral, was among the first to discover and evaluate some pate on a table. He said he was eating seriously, since he had to go on elsewhere and this was his supper, a line promptly adopted by others who lingered a bit long at the buffet.
An embassy staffer said the chandeliers had been behaving well lately. They are among the most remarkable in town, consisting of crystal bells or upside-down tulips suspended from a great metal circle with tiny lights behind them, not in them. There are literally hundreds, and from time to time one falls off. Also some are broken in washing, and there is panic of a small sort when replacements are all used up and more have to be ordered from Denmark.
"It looks as if all the wine glasses in the world flew up there," said a man admiringly. "And stayed upside down."
"Yes," said a Dane, "except when they fall down."
Kierkegaard would have shown us meaning there.