The Illusions of the Young and Old

There are essentially two forms of illusion: that of hope and that of recollection. The adolescent’s illusion is that of hope, that of the adult recollection. But precisely because the adult suffers from this illusion, his conception of illusion itself is also quite the one-sided one that the only illusion is the illusion of hope. And that is understandable. What afflicts the adult is not so much the illusion of hope as, no doubt among other things, the grotesque illusion of looking down from some supposedly higher vantage-point, free from illusion, upon the illusions of the young.

The young person is illuded: he hopes for the extraordinary both from life and from himself. While as far as adult illusion is concerned, on the other hand, this is often found in the adult’s recollection of youth.

An older woman who has supposedly left all illusion behind is often found to be fantastically illuded, as much as any young girl, in her own recollections of herself as a young girl, of how happy she was then, how beautiful, etc. This fuimus [we have been] we so often hear from older people, is just as great an illusion as the young person’s illusions of the future; they lie or invent, both of them

Kierkegaard, The Sickness Unto Death

For Kierkegaard, this habit of self-delusion is a way of escaping the reality of our selves. Selfhood, or personhood, or existence are important questions for him and he challenges his reader to quit escaping from the self into the realm of fantasy, which is hope or recollection, and begin to explore existence as it really is.


Add yours →

  1. Ah Ian – and I was so looking forward to a message from God’s Word from you – what a disappointment.

    he challenges his reader to quit escaping from the self into the realm of fantasy, which is hope or recollection, and begin to explore existence as it really is. …..

    Doesn’t the bible tell us to do exactly the opposite – to have a positive imagination – a positive hope – Hebrews 11 v 1. We cannot conceive a thought (good or bad) until we have imagined it. We can bring nothing into “existence” to use his terminology until we have used a positive imagination.

    The hebrew word for imagination literarly means conception – and we know from James 1 we conceive sin before we act on it – so we can assume that this works positively as well – as Hebrews 11 would confirm.

    So far from quitting escaping into the world of hope – I choose to actively hope in order that I can bring into existance (do appear) things that are not.
    Let’s use our faith to produce the substance of things hoped for – this is God’s plan – let’s not listen to human philosophy – that tends to lead us up the garden path.

    Hope is also one of the three most important things according to1 Cor 13 so why on earth would anyone seek to get people to stop living in it?

    For an excellent explanation of this – see


    • I don’t think SK would disagree with you. He typically draws a distinction from common human thought/life, and Christianity.

      The point he is making here is that human beings are in despair of themselves, and escape from their existence in hope, or in recollection. The only way for the self to be reconciled, and thus no longer despair, is for the self to be found in God through Christ.

      In that context, I think hope and recollection would be transformed into something grounded in the truth of God’s plan for the future, and God’s faithfulness in the past.


  2. Kelsey Westerhof March 8, 2013 — 12:27 am

    I’m writing a paper on the Christology of Kierkegaard! Any good resources you’d recommend?


    • Can you get a copy of Training in Christianity? (Sometimes called Practice in Christianity). The opening chapters of that is an exposition of Matthew 11:28, and thus is a great example of Kierkegaard’s Christology.

      Sickness Unto Death is really about becoming a Christian (or, becoming a self, which is inseparable for SK).


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: