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KSRK: Joy and Danger and 70,000 Fathoms

If the one talking is a more religious speaker, he moves with ease in this difficulty and assists his listener in it. He speaks with the jesting of religiousness about fate and vicissitudes–our lucky Pamphilius becomes a little frightened, and the speaker has not deceived him. Now he is built up by the confidence of faith, and the religiously inspired speaker calls out to himself and to him: A religious person is always joyful. This is the most glorious statement made in the world–that is, if it is true that no one, no one on earth or in heaven knows what it is to be in danger as does the religious person, who knows that he is always in danger. Thus he who truthfully and simultaneously can say that he is always in danger and always joyful is saying simultaneously the most disheartening and the most high-minded words spoken. And I, who am only an observer, poetice et eleganter [in a poetic and refined way] a street inspector, will already count myself lucky in daring to bow before such a person, but to speak about myself in my own categories: even though the gods have denied me greatness, that which is infinitely beyond my capacity, they have given me an uncommon ingenuity in paying attention to people, so that I neither take off my hat before I see the man nor take it off to the wrong one.

There is many a man who has been immer lustig [always merry] and yet stands so low that even esthetics regards him as comic. The question is whether one has not become joyful in the wrong place; and where is the right place? It is–in danger. To be joyful out on 70,000 fathoms of water, many, many miles from all human help–yes, that is something great! To swim the shallows in the company of waders is not the religious.

It is now obvious what must be understood religiously by self-torment. It is a matter of discovering by oneself the full possibility of danger, and by oneself at every moment discovering its actuality (this the esthete would call self-torment, and the esthetic lecture would prevent one from it by imitation religious gilding), but it is simultaneously a matter of being joyous. Where, then, is the self-torment? It is at the halfway point. It is not at the beginning, for then I am speaking esthetically, but it is due to one’s being unable to work one’s way through to joy. And this, declares the religious person, is not comic; neither does it lend itself to evoking esthetic tears, for that is reprehensible and one shall work one’s way through. Anyone who does not make his way through has only himself to blame, for here there are not hard-hearted fathers as with the unhappy lovers in the tragedy; here there is not the superiority of the enemy, before which the hero in the tragic drama falls; here there is not the betrayal by the person one trusted most so that the outstanding person is caught in the trap–here there is only one who can be the betrayer, oneself, and next to him, but infinitely far removed, the speaker who would advise one to leave it alone instead of doing the only thing he can do–helping one out into the depths where there are 70,000 fathoms. And when this has happened and he now perceives that he can do no more, cannot do more to help the person he loved more than his own life (as is possible in the story of the play) but only in this anxiety discovers that he has 140,000 fathoms beneath him, there is still one thing left to do; he can shout to the beloved, “If you do not become happy now, then know this, know that it is your own fault.”

S. Kierkegaard, Stages on Life’s Way, Hong translation, p. 469-71.

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