The Jewel on a Frozen Lake: Kierkegaard on the Meaning of Action (May 2019) CERI-SK Conference, Slovenia and Croatia

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Jasna Koteska: The Jewel on a Frozen Lake, Kierkegaard on the Meaning of Action

Ljubljana, 16 May 2019, 13:00-13:30
Cankarjev Dom, Ljubljana, Slovenia

The Jewel on a Frozen Lake: Kierkegaard on the Meaning of Action

Jasna Koteska

The Parable

On 30 March 1846 Kierkegaard published a book Two Ages, A Literary Review, his first book under second authorship (1846-1855), a period marked by rich literary production. The question about the meaning of action was not his prime interest during these years, but it was closely related to his main concern regarding the religious salvation. Two Ages tried to address the present situation, the responsibility regarding the “divine message”, the question of suffering, the pseudo-Christianity and above all what does the concept of selfhood mean. The question of selfhood was of the highest importance to Kierkegaard, and it was further developed in his book Sickness unto Death (1849), in which, he offered a highly abstract definition of selfhood, writing that self is “a relation that relates itself to itself or is the relations’ relation relating itself to itself in the relation”. Although abstract, for Kierkegaard the definition meant few basic things: a self is a task, a self is not given, a self includes responsibility, and the only medicine against despair of the selfhood is faith. The Two Ages was written as a prelude, as the explanation why the present age obstructs the self from achieving these goals.

The Jewel on Thin Ice parable reads as follows:

If the jewel which everyone desires to possess lay far out on a frozen lake where the ice was very thin, watched over by the danger of death, while, closer in, the ice was perfectly safe, then in a passionate age the crowds would applaud the courage of the man who ventured out, they would tremble for him and with him in the danger of his decisive action, they would grieve over him if he were drowned, they would make a god of him if he secured the prize. But in an age without passion, in a reflective age, it would be otherwise. People would think each other cleaver in agreeing that it was unreasonable and not even worthwhile to venture so far out. And in this way they would transform daring and enthusiasm into a feat of skill, so as to do something, for after all ‘something must be done’. The crowds would go out to watch from a safe place, and with the eyes of connoisseurs appraise the accomplished skater who skate almost to the very edge (i.e. as far as the thin ice was still safe and the danger had not yet begun) and then turn back. The most accomplished skater would manage to go out to the furthermost point and then perform a still more dangerous-looking run, so as to make the spectators hold their breath and say: ‘Ye Gods! How mad; he is risking his life.’[1]

The main idea with this parable for Kierkegaard was to explain the difference between an engaged, passionate age, and the objective spectatorship of modernity. His explanation was simple, if the age is revolutionary, the community celebrates the courage of a person who sacrifices his life for the common goal. And vice versa, if the age is reflective, people consider the hero’s action as unreasonable and meaningless, they ridicule his courage and strength, and they reduce the hero’s sacrifice to a simple display of skills. The passion mobilizes the spirit; enflaming the passion will bring hopes in the possibility of a new form of spiritualized political collective. But for Kierkegaard, the passion is inevitably obstructed by the features of modernity.


The Jewel on a Frozen Lake (2019) Symposium & School of Philosophy, Slovenia & Croatia

7th International Philosophical Symposium, Cankarjev dom & municipality of Cernomelj, Slovenia.

Søren Kierkegaard, 13- 17 May, 2019. 

The Symposium will be attended by 40 Kierkegaard scholars from 20 countries, including Norway, Denmark, Canada, Germany, China, India, Mexico, Iceland, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia and Macedonia.

School of Philosophy at Island Unije, Croatia.
Kierkegaard in Dialogue, 19-24 May, 2019.

Link to the program at the CERI-SK website.

The Jewel on a Frozen Lake: Kierkegaard on the Meaning of Action
 Jasna Koteska


The paper analyses the paradox in Søren Kierkegaard’s interpretation of the meaning of action in his famous 1846 tract “Two Ages: A Literary Review”. As is well-known, to describe the two ages Kierkegaard used a parable of a precious jewel on a frozen lake covered with thin ice. If the age is revolutionary, Kierkegaard writes, the whole community celebrates the courage of a person who will sacrifice his life for the common goal. And vice versa, if the age is reflective, people consider the hero’s action as unreasonable and meaningless, they ridicule his courage and strength, and reduce the hero’s sacrifice to a simple display of skills. The paradox occurs when Kierkegaard describes the revolutionary vigor. Otherwise known for his masterful literary style, Kierkegaard enigmatically avoided the playful, urgent and swift descriptions, which would correspond to the momentum needed for revolutionary action and instead chose repetitive and dull sentences. E.g.: “The age of revolution is essentially passionate and therefore essentially has culture”; “The tension and resilience of the inner being are the measure of essential culture”; “The age of revolution is essentially passionate” and so on. 

The obvious question is why Kierkegaard, who was aware that repetition brings reduction of jouissance, chose to interpret the revolutionary age through repetition, and with the same melancholy and mourning with which he described the present age? Was it because he considered every revolution as essentially a repetitive event? Or, because he believed that each self-sacrifice (the hero on thin ice) is always already a senseless gesture, which cannot get an approval of the community? Or, more radically, what if there is no age which can be called a revolutionary age? What if there is nothing exclusive in history, and each epoch is just a set of practical decisions about what kind of life one wants to commit oneself to? The paper argues that Kierkegaard developed a notion that both pleasure of the aesthetical and the ethical existence - “the life of a poet” and “the life of a judge” are incomplete, the only resolution of human’s destiny must come about in the form of a religious choice. Due to the radical antagonism of human situation, humans are incapable of bypassing the abyss between the finite and the infinite, therefore the action is always conducted without a full meaning, without a rational knowledge of the consequences of that action and with a leap of faith; therefore the true action can come only in the form of a conduct of the single individual directed towards the highest good as it is understood in Kierkegaard.


DOCUMENTARY Still the Spy of God, Søren Kierkegaard in the 21st Century (2019)

Kierkegaard in the 21 Century.
Film stills by Thomas J. Roth

Kierkegaard in the 21 Century.
Film stills by Thomas J. Roth


Still the Spy of God: Søren Kierkegaard in the 21st Century / New Perspectives

Director: Thomas Josef Roth, Germany.
Documentary Film Production: Dok Haus Berlin.
Thomas Josef Roth is author of "The Voice of Nothingness: Zen Buddhism and the Kyoto School Philosophy" link, "Nietzsche in Sils Maria" link.

Watch the trailer for the Kierkegaard documentary here.

Kierkegaard in the 21 Century: New Perspectives
Film stills by Thomas J. Roth


The Ethnologist as Writer: The Writer as Ethnologist (2019)

The Ethnologist as Writer
March 21, 2019

The Writer as Ethnologist
March 21, 2019

The Ethnologist as a Writer: The Writer as Ethnologist
Faculty of Natural Sciences and Mathematics
Faculty of Philology "Blaze Koneski"
University Ss. Cyril and Methodius, Skopje, Macedonia

The interdisciplinary project, with students from the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology (IEA) at the Faculty of Natural Sciences and Mathematics and from the departments of literature and linguistics at the Faculty of Philology, explores the links between literature and ethnography, examines the boundaries between facts and fiction, and the documentary value of ethnological field materials versus the literary imagination. 

Project leaders: 
Prof. Ilina Jakimovska, IEA, Faculty of Natural Sciences and Mathematics. 
Prof. Jasna Koteska, Department of Macedonian and South Slavic Literatures, Faculty of Philology.

Duration: February - June 2019.


Review (2018) "Kierkegaard on Consumerism" by Igor Tavilla (in Italian)

Recensione A: Jasna Koteska, Kierkegaard On Consumerism, Kierkegaard Circle/KUD Apokalipsa, Toronto-Ljubljana 2016, Pp. 132.
Author: Igor Tavilla
Published in: Discipline Filosofiche, Rivista semestrale, Universita di Bologna, Italia, 2018.
Link to the review.

Jasna Koteska (Skopje 1970) è scrittrice e filosofa macedone, docente di letteratura, teoria psicoanalitica e gender studies presso l’Università dei Santi Cirillo e Metodio di Skopje, nonché membro del CERI-SK (Central Europe Research Institute Søren Kierkegaard) di Lubiana. Kierkegaard on Consumerism, uscito nel 2016 per le edizioni KUD Apokalipsa, in collaborazione con il Kierkegaard Circle di Toronto, consta di tre saggi, già pubblicati in altre sedi, concernenti il tema del consumismo nell’opera del filosofo danese Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855).
“Sebbene Kierkegaard non si fosse occupato del capitalismo, egli fu uno dei più autorevoli esponenti dell’esistenzialismo, e il suo contributo alle scienze economiche, oltre che allo studio della psiche umana e della religione, consistette nell’aver sottolineato l’importanza delle scelte e delle decisioni individuali” (p. 17). Data questa premessa, l’autrice intende affermare che Kierkegaard avrebbe messo a tema della propria riflessione il cosiddetto “rischio d’investimento”, negli anni in cui la moderna economia occidentale prendeva forma, constatando, con profetica lungimiranza, come gli esseri umani si trovino quasi sempre a dover compiere delle scelte sulla scorta di informazioni parziali e di una conoscenza del reale che non è mai completa.


Exit, foreword (2018)

Published in:
Jasna Koteska, “Boro Rudić, Exit”, Boro Rudić, Exit (photography monograph), Propoint, Skopje, 2018, p. 2-5.

ISBN 978-608-66095-0-4


Jasna Koteska

[...] Rudic’s territory is linked to vectors of departure, which is why this book is called Exit. Still, this does not mean leaving the territory. Leaving it just means entry into a new territory. This is the reason why his photographs are full of signs, emissions of signals, railway tracks, paths, steps, streets, entrances, fences, all being there as signals intended for seekers. The objective of these signals is to be aux aguets, lookouts for the observant eye, the camera never looks in panic in the hands of Rudic. He catches the folds of the landscape, the line of the rock in order to discover the new syntax of the space. The photographs from Exit are not there as portraits of culture, but aim to capture a specific spectral dimension of reality, akin to the yellow sky or field in Van Gogh or the grass in Munch. This does not mean that Rudic is stepping over into another form of art, that of painting. He remains within the realm of photography, but at the same time he is always with one foot in the world of painting.


The Body as a Philological Map (2018) in Macedonian

Published in:
Jasna Koteska, “The Body as a Philological Map: The Clinical Cases of Sigmund Freud as a Literary Genre”, in: Critical Methods and Interpretations, edited by Katica Kjulafkova, Macedonian Academy of Sciences and Arts, Vol. 1, Skopje, 2018, pp. 67-95.

ISBN: 978-608-203-230-6

The Body as a Philological Map: 
The Clinical Cases of Sigmund Freud as a Literary Genre

Jasna Koteska

The study offers a reading of five clinical cases from the Ur-book of psychoanalysis Studies on Hysteria by Sigmund Freud and Josef Breuer from 1895. By applying semantic analysis in the clinical cases of Anna O., Emmy von N., Cäcilie M., and Elisabeth von R., Sigmund Freud for the first time in humanities tried to prove the existence of the so-called linguistic unconscious. He unveiled that the hysteria could be interpreted with philological means. This operation altered and transformed the clinical studies (which, up until his work, were recognized as mere medical documents) into complex literary hybrids of psychological and belletristic studies. 

In the clinical cases, the patient is transformed into a main character; the studies contain most of the elements of the literary texts: composition, fabula (the chronological order of events), sujet (the order events are told in), the plot, the outcome, the motivation, the secret, the narrative dynamic, the dialogical form, the literalization of events, the change of focalisation (the perspectives through which a narrative is presented). By applying the hermeneutical approaches, Freud claimed that the symptoms are specific semantic hieroglyphics, that the subject’s unconscious “speaks”, and that the hysteric is using his or her body to express a certain contradictory idea. By interpreting the symptoms as an “older language of humanity”, Freud opened the possibility of using the psychoanalysis as a hermeneutical method in the literary science.

Freud's Session.
Photo by Marko Markoski (2013)


2017 Goce Delčev Award for Outstanding Contribution in the Field of Science

Goce Delchev Science Award, 4 May, 2017
The "Goce Delčev" awards for outstanding contribution in the field of science in the interest of the Republic of Macedonia were presented in the Macedonian Academy of Science and Arts on Thursday, 4th of May 2017 in Skopje, the Republic of Macedonia.

This year’s state award for scientific achievements were presented to three recipients, among them to professor Jasna Koteska, for her book Kierkegaard on Consumerism (The Aesthetic, the Ethical, and the Religious Reading. The book was published in September 2016 by the Kierkegaard Circle, Trinity College, University of Toronto, and the Central European Research Institute Soeren Kierkegaard, Ljubljana.

Д-р Јасна Котеска за делото „Киркегард за консумеризмот (етичко естетско и религиозно читање)“, Д-р Ванчо Спиров за „Форензичка ДНК-анализа на забите“, Д-р Трајче Стафилов и Д-р Роберт Шајн за „Геохемиски атлас на Република Македонија“ се добитниците на државната награда „Гоце Делчев“ за оствраувања во областа на науката во 2016 година. 

Links to the media announcements:

2017 Goce Delcev Award for Science


Kierkegaard on Consumerism. Review by Eric Ziolkowski (2017)

“Kierkegaard on Consumerism by Jasna Koteska”, review by Eric Ziolkowski, Helen H. P. Manson Professor of Bible and Co-Chair of the Medieval, Renaissance, and Early Modern Studies Program, Lafayette College, Easton, Pennsylvania.

Published in Toronto Journal of Theology, 33(1), 2017, pp. 149–150 here as "Kierkegaard on Consumerism by Jasna Koteska." 

Part of the review available on Project Muse

Jasna Koteska. Kierkegaard on Consumerism. Toronto and Ljubljana: Kierkegaard Circle and kud, Apokalipsa, 2016. Pp. 130. Paper, $15.00. 
isbn 978-1-988129-02-0.

A professor of literature, theoretical psychoanalysis, and gender studies at the University of Sts. Cyril and Methodius in Skopje, Jasna Koteska is a prolific Macedonian philosopher and writer with a special interest in nineteenth-century literature and philosophy. This latest of her monographs is an inaugural volume in the new series, Collection Aut, published by Apokalipsa (Ljubljana) and Kierkegaard Circle (Toronto). 

In her Introduction, Koteska asserts that this volume is meant to fill the gap resulting from the scarcity of books on Kierkegaard and economics, particularly his views regarding consumerism. She does not mention Eliseo Pérez-Álvarez's A Vexing Gadfly. However, aside from the [End Page 149] fact that Pérez-Álvarez's work is almost twice the length of Koteska's, the two books differ significantly in their approach. 

Arguing that Kierkegaard not only attended to economic matters, but did so in a way that can shed light on our current socioeconomic and political situation, Pérez-Álvarez limits his study to the ''second authorship'' of Kierkegaard, namely, his published writings from after Concluding Unscientific Postscript (1846) to his death (1855), and also his unpublished writings (most notably the journals and papers) from the same period. In contrast, Koteska concentrates mainly upon Repetition, though she also makes lesser use of a number of other writings from all periods of Kierkegaard's authorship: Either/Or (1843), Fear and Trembling (1843), Concluding Unscientific Postscript, Works of Love (1847), Christian Discourses (1848), as well as some of the late, signed polemics against ''Christendom'' (1854–1855).

Koteska's engaging book divides into three essays (''parts''), focusing respectively on the three existential stages whose psychological, emotional, and other dynamics and contours Kierkegaard's entire oeuvre charts: the aesthetic, the ethical, and the religious. Drawing upon thinkers such as Hegel, Marx, Freud (above all), Agamben, and Žižek, as well as certain contemporary pop-culture figures (e.g., Marilyn Manson, on the power of television and religion [49]), Koteska approaches Kierkegaard as a witness to the dawn of modernity, who strongly ''oppose[d] the modern view that humans crave only agitation and desiring'' and contended with the question, ''How to resolve the paradox of accepting the world as changeable, yet avoiding the wrong choices which may amount to [the] piling up of the desire-based consumption, and vice versa, how to avoid the traps of automatization without freezing the world flux?'' (17). 


Balkans at the Crossroads: Between Democratisation and Authoritarian Tendencies (2015)

Panel: Balkans at the Crossroads: Between Democratisation and Authoritarian Tendencies (28 May, 2015)

Balkans at the Crossroads: Between Democratisation and Authoritarian Tendencies, RRPP. 

Please, consider the following two appearances in the video at 00:11:31 and at 01:33:01.

Moderator: Andreas Ernst, Neue Zürcher Zeitung


Florian Bieber, Professor of Southeast European Studies, Director of the Centre for Southeast European Studies at the University of Graz, Austria

Danijela Majstorovic, Associate Professor of Linguistics and Cultural Studies at the University of Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Jasna Koteska, Professor of Literature, Gender Studies and Theoretical Psychoanalysis at the University Ss. Cyril and Methodius, Skopje, Macedonia

Dimitar Bechev, Adjunct, London School of Economics, European Institute

Marko Kmezic, Senior researcher at the Centre for Southeast European Studies at the University of Graz, Austria


Interview - Problem moderneg človeka in več strah, temveč anksioznost (2016) in Slovenian

Interview – Jasna Koteska, Univerza Cirila in Metoda, Skopje

Robi Šabec, Primorski dnevnik, št. 221 (21.761), leto LXXXII, Trst, 20 septembra, 2016, p. 13.

Problem modernega človeka in več strah, temveč anksioznost

Vznemirljiva stvar, ki jo je Kierkegaard odkril že v 19. stoljetju je, da je modernega človeka prenehalo biti strah. In zato je prenehal biti tudi pogumen. Kierkegaard je namreč opazil, da je strah v upadu in da na njegovo mesto stopa anksioznost. To sta dve povsem različni občutenji. Pri strahu vem, česa se bojjim, lahko celo pokažem s prstom na neki objekt in rečem: “Evo, tega se bojim.” To je prvi pogoj, da postanem pogumen. V anksioznosti pa sam ne vem, zaradi česa se počutim slabo, anksioznost nima svojega objekta. 


Kierkegaard on Farce (2017)

Vermilion Journal of Literature and Arts, Sydney, Australia, is biannual, open-access, peer reviewed academic journal dedicated to publishing scientific research in the areas of literature and arts.

ISSN 2545-4277
Published in the 2nd issue (2017)
Free download pdf here 


Dual Nature of the Social Order

In 1840s Kierkegaard developed the idea that humans cannot even be sure if they believe at all. Ultimately they only believe that they believe.

Kierkegaard noticed the strange power of performativity in religious practices. Something strange happens when religion materializes, as it regularly sort of appears as a form of theater, or performance, or Posse (“I perform that I believe, therefore I believe”). Such performativity seems to be imbedded in social reality as well. Kierkegaard noticed that the social order, that maintains social harmony, is based on the dual nature of the laws: there is one publicly articulated law, but behind it, as a shadow, there is always the opposite obscene “law”. For example, a person spits on the street when no one is looking, runs a red traffic light, etc., in other words, a person would violate the law here and there, not as an act of resistance to the community, but paradoxically, in the name of the desire for imaginary identification with the “communal spirit.” Notice how no one believes that a family man is sexually satisfied; he must find a lover to convince the community that he has finally started enjoying himself. 


A conversation with Jasna Koteska on surveillance in Macedonia. Privacy International, London (2016)

A conversation with Jasna Koteska on state relations and surveillance in Macedonia.

This is a guest post by Jasna Koteska. Read Privacy International’s full report documenting stories of mass surveillance in Macedonia here.

What are the main similarities and differences between modern surveillance methods in Macedonia and those of the socialist period?

In all 46 years of communist Macedonia, the total official number of personal communist surveillance files is 14,572. Unofficial sources report more than 50,000 files. The number of direct ‘snitches’ in communist Macedonia was estimated between 12,000 and 40,000. In the present mass surveillance scandal, between 20,000 and 26,000 people were secretly wiretapped in the period of just several years since 2007.

Yugoslavia was a soft regime, but it was nonetheless built around subtle permanent political censorship. Prohibition was performed via the mechanisms of threat, and not as direct conflict. The bureaucratic apparatus in Yugoslavia was far more chaotic and far less thought through than is commonly believed. Much/all depended on the local small-town interpretations of the ideology. The ideological-police nomenclature of Yugoslavia functioned in such a way that people were object and a target of the State, you had to know how to represent your socialist ideology, and the entire small town mentality was used to evaluate the ones who seemed suspicious.


Kierkegaard on Consumerism (2016)

Author: Jasna Koteska
Title: Kierkegaard on Consumerism (The Aesthetic, the Ethical, and the Religious Reading)
Publishers: Kierkegaard Circle, Trinity College, University of Toronto
Toronto, Canada MSS THB
Central European Research Institute Soeren Kierkegaard, Ljubljana
KUD Apokalipsa

Date of Publication: September 2016
Language: English.

Copyright © Kierkegaard Circle, Central European Research Institute Soeren Kierkegaard Ljubljana, KUD Apokalipsa 2016
© Jasna Koteska
6 Hoskin Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, CANADA
Central European Research Institute Soeren Kierkegaard Ljubljana
Ul. Lili Novy 25, SI-1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia

Number of pages: 130
20 x 12,5 cm, 142 g

ISBN: 978-1-988129-02-0

Where to buy it?
Go to this link

If you are in Canada, you can borrow the book at the Library of Trinity College, University of Toronto. Go to this linkThe book is indexed as B4378. E8 2016

Kierkegaard on Consumerism (The Aesthetic, the Ethical, and the Religious Reading) by the Macedonian author, Jasna Koteska, consists of three essays about consumerism in the works of the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard (1813–1855), most notably in his book Repetition (1843). Each of the essays deals with the three stages of life according to Kierkegaard: the aesthetic, the ethical and the religious. There are few books about Kierkegaard and economics, and even fewer on Kierkegaard’s views about consumerism. This book is intended to fulfill that gap. Kierkegaard witnessed the beginnings of modernity and although he did not write about the capitalist issues, his greatest contribution to economics,besides his contributions to human psyche and religion, was his elaboration on the importance of individual choices and decisions, as he strongly disagreed with the modern view that humans crave only agitation and desiring.

Kierkegaard on Consumerism

Acknowledgements 7
Introduction 9

First Part: The Aesthetic 13
Second Part: The Ethical 29
Third Part: The Religious 83

Abstract 115
About the Author 117
Literature 120
Index 127