Posts Tagged ‘Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’

George Kline wasn’t just Brodsky’s translator, he was a philosopher and one of America’s leading Hegel scholars.

Friday, April 23rd, 2021

Tomorrow afternoon, at Saturday’s “A Company of Authors” event, I will be speaking about my new book The Man Who Brought Brodsky Into English: Conversations with George L. Kline.

The publication of a book usually invites correspondence, and the emails arrived in my inbox before this book was published. One of the more interesting was from a notable Irish philosopher, William Desmond; his titles are many: David Cook Chair in Philosophy, Villanova University; Thomas A.F. Kelly Visiting Chair in Philosophy, Maynooth University, Ireland; and Professor  of  Philosophy  Emeritus, Institute  of  Philosophy, in Leuven, Belgium.

He knew Kline long before I began corresponding with the unassuming Bryn Mawr scholar: “George Kline was a very good friend of mine over decades from the early 80s, and intellectual companion in relation to my own interests in Russian thought,” he wrote. It is something I note in the introduction to my book: for many of us, George Kline is remembered as the translator of the 1973 Selected Poems – but after his death in 2014, the tributes discussed his his role as a philosopher, with an emphasis on Russian philosophy and religion, and mentioned his Brodsky translations only in passing.

“George’s areas of excellence in philosophy primarily concerned the study of Hegel, works in Russian philosophy and culture, and research in process philosophy, especially Whitehead.” The words are from Desmond’s preface to George L. Kline On Hegel, a posthumous collection of 15 essays “covering forty-five years of work by one of America’s most prominent Hegel scholars,” according to Amazon. The book was published by Gegensatz Press in 2015. “Though this book deals primarily with the first area of study, there are contributions in which the overlap between Hegel and Russian thought, as well as between Hegel and process philosophy, is evident. I knew of his work in all of these areas,” Desmond wrote. Also from his preface: “As a human being, George was a generous, attentive, and engaged person. I was struck by his willingness and ability always to ‘stay in touch,’ even when one did not directly meet him over a long period. If there was something professorial about him on occasion, those who knew him came to appreciate very quickly that there was much more to him, not least a deep, warm, and wise humanity. As a scholar, he excelled in many different spheres of expertise … As a human being, his generosity extended into his academic work, and in my experience, and no doubt in the experience of many more people, he was munificently gracious with the time and the care he offered in support of other scholars.”

According to the volume’s editor Eric v.d. Luft, “Kline was a Socratic ‘midwife’ in the best sense of that term.” He added, “His influence remains subtle but far-reaching, and has met with almost universal respect.”

An excerpt from Luft’s essay:

“Being George Kline’s student was one of the highlights of my life. In a sense, I ‘knew’ him even before I met him. When I was a junior at Bowdoin in 1972-1973, I needed advice about how to choose a graduate school. Professor of Religion William D. Geoghegan spoke with me at length about this problem and – as always – gave me excellent advice. He said that I should not choose a school based on its reputation, its size, or its prestige. Rather, I should pick a professor whose student I would want to be, regardless of whether this person taught at a great, a good, a mediocre, or even a bad school. Going to a great school but suffering under a poor advisor, mentor, or dissertation director would not help me. Geoghegan therefore urged me to delve into the recent journal literature, read as many articles in my chosen field as I could find, and decide which of these authors would be most compatible with my interests. During this conversation he showed me a copy of Christensen’s Hegel and the Philosophy of Religion – which he thought was hideously overpriced – waved it around and slammed it on the huge table in his office among his hundreds of other books – all of which I was sure he had read – and declared: ‘There is only one good article in this whole book, and George Kline wrote it. I think you should consider studying with him.’ He also suggested Louis Dupré, so I applied only to Yale, where Dupré was, and to Bryn Mawr, where Kline was. Yale rejected me and Bryn Mawr accepted me, so my destiny was determined. … With this book, I hope in some small way to honor the memory of Professor Kline and to give something back in return for all he did for me.”

“Kline was the most gracious of gentlemen. He always kept an open mind, did not seek disciples, did not care whether people agreed with him as long as they could cogently defend their own positions, and never, for example, held it against me that I had no interest whatsoever in Soviet studies. He could never say no to any request or favor that any of his friends or colleagues might ask – and this graciousness often got him into trouble with overextension and overcommitment, but he worked like a beaver and thereby produced a prodigious amount of work, both for himself and on behalf of others. As the director of both my master’s thesis and my doctoral dissertation, he devoted much more than the expected time, energy, and involvement to these projects. He and I would spend hours and hours together in his office – sometimes entire afternoons – poring over nuances of meaning that those on the outside might have dismissed as pedantic, but for us were the keys to proper interpretation. We both firmly believed that no one could approach the core of any philosopher’s thought, or grasp it accurately, without studying the text in the original language, and that, accordingly, no translation, even if done with painstaking precision, could ever serve as more than an introduction to any philosophy which had first been expressed in another culture, another set of words, another mode of discourse.”

Geoge Kline on Hegel available here.