The Secret Note

Soon after the publication of Either - Or in 1843, Søren Kierkegaard wrote in his diary: "After my death no one will find even the least bit of information in my papers (this is my consolation) about what has really filled my life; no one will find that which is written in the core of my being that explains everything, and which often makes what the world would call trifles into exceedingly important events to me, and which I, too, view as insignificance, if I remove the secret note that explains this."
With this note Kierkegaard emphasized, almost demonstratively, something missing as the true interpretative key to his life and thus the writings linked to it. A secret note cannot, by its very nature, be exhibited, and it may indeed seem awkward that such a thing should provide the title for an exhibition. Nevertheless we have used it because we have wished to take Kierkegaard completely literally. If we cannot actually show what really filled his life, we can at least show what also filled it and did so to such a degree that one sometimes wonders to what extent there in his short, incomprehensibly intense life really was room for so terribly much more. In other words, we wish to show his writing, or at least a representative sample of it.
For the same reason, without a quiver worthy of mention, we have chosen not to display the relatively few personal effects otherwise linked to Kierkegaard's life: his engagement ring, key ring, merschaum pipe and other such items which are all at the City Museum of Copenhagen where anyone can view them. Though no rule is without its exception - and especially not as regards Kierkegaard. His writing desk, the place where the writing originated, the specific base for the blessed scratch of pen against paper, is included.
The manuscripts selected for viewing are ordinarily in the Søren Kierkegaard Archive of the Royal Library. No one outside the library and only a very few inside have access to the collective mass of manuscripts, but the will to perseverance glimpsed behind the mountain of papers when brought up to the Reading Room as bits and pieces, seems almost contrary to nature. "Only when I produce do I feel well. Then I forget all the unpleasantnesses of life, all sufferings, then I am in my thoughts and happy," Kierkegaard wrote at a point in 1847, and if the extent of his production is taken into consideration, there is a temptation to suspect that Kierkegaard, who is otherwise often designated as a great victim of melancholia, essentially felt well enough that his condition might positively ressemble happiness.
The samples of drafts and fair copies have been chosen so that they may reflect Kierkegaard's own viewpoint on his works. In the first part there are manuscripts of, e.g. 'Diapsalmata' and 'The Diary of a Seducer' from Either - Or; 'In vino veritas' and 'Guilty - Not Guilty' from Stages on Life's Way; the preface, dated August 9, 1843, to Three Edifying Discourses; The Concept of Anxiety and Philosophical Fragments. At the mid-point (part,2), Concluding Unscientific Postscript establishes the turning point in the body of work.
In part 3 manuscripts have been chosen from e.g. Works of Love, The Sickness unto Death, 'Has a human being the Right to allow himself to be killed for the Truth?' from Two Minor Ethico-Religious Essays, 'Ultimatum' from the second part of Either - Or, Two Discourses at the Communion on Fridays, Practice in Christianity, The Unchangingness of God, as well as The Moment. In among these manuscripts from the works are a series of pages, sheets, notebooks and journals from the papers, which reflect Kierkegaard's running discussion with himself about his works.
Immersed in this material one can read and perhaps for a moment feel like `that individual' - at any rate one is free to do so.
It is not due to an oversight, but intentional that Kierkegaard himself is not visible among the exhibits. As you move through the manuscripts, you will follow a series of individual, never completely identical routes that are not to be repeated. Such movement is, we believe, in time and in harmony with Kierkegaard. Not partial to the all too predictable, the exactly planned, he preferred the changeable, cultivated mystification passionately, invented false names, put on masks, disappeared.
And thus we return to the secret note. It has naturally thrown research into more or less inspired guesses within virtually all subject fields: psychology, theology, literature and other noble genres. From time to time the inspiration creeps below the belt and concentrates perhaps more on the genital than on the genius, but Kierkegaard cannot be denied a certain complicity in this peeping. With a measure of self-consciousness he could thus declare in 1847: "... And therefore not only will just my writings some day, but my very life, the whole intriguing secret of the machinery be studied and studied." And indeed, Kierkegaard was right, he was; his works live to a great extent also by what he never said anything at all about. And this he put - also in 1847 - into an odd formula: "Look, Andersen can tell a fairy tale about the galoshes of fortune- but I can tell a fairy tale about the shoe that pinches, or rather I could tell it, but just because I will not tell it, but hide it in deep silence, I can therefore tell many other things." Is it possible that the works themselves are these "Other things" - a wild welling up of reluctant written variations over one particular and frightful theme, which Kierkegaard from first to last silences or suppresses and in consequence must continually write around? Perhaps, perhaps not. And another possibility is naturally within reach. What if we assume that the secret note was not to be found, not because Kierkegaard had removed it, but because he never wrote it - and never wrote it because the secret in reality was that there was not any secret at all. So what? Kierkegaard would then have lost what he valued so highly, to be interesting, mysterious, inexplicable to himself and others. Therefore the memorandum about the note, that secret that eludes analysis and thus involves the reader in a game that can ressemble a seduction, since, - as it says in the preface to the diary and textbook of the seducer - there is "Nothing so much pervaded by seduction ... as a secret."
Ironically enough, history has on this point showed itself from its more considerate side. The first editor of Kierkegaard's papers, H.P. Barfod, dealt with the materials with great carelessness. Not only did he cut and paste, cross out or over words as it suited him, add commas here and periods there, but in many cases he sent the original manuscripts themselves to the printers, and after typesetting from there they quietly disappeared into the wastebasket. The note about the secret note took the same route. What we have today is Barfod's printed version of Kierkegaard's note about the writing in the core of his being that would explain everything, but which he has allowed to disappear. That the memorandum about the disappearance now also has disappeared is left to the bookkeepers to mourn. Kierkegaard would surely be thrown into a state of high, ironic good humour.

Based on the catalogue of the exhibit "Kierkegaard. The Secret Note", The Round Tower, Copenhagen, May 6 - June 9, 1996, arranged under the auspices of The Søren Kierkegaard Research Center by Niels Jørgen Cappelørn and The Søren Kierkegaard Society by Joakim Garff .

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