8 Pages

Coach Horn: Kierkegaard’s Ambivalent Valedictory to a Disappearing Instrument

ByWolter Hartog

The coach horn occupies a remarkable position in Kierkegaard’s authorship. At first sight, it might seem a rather trivial object, which only plays a marginal role in his writings. After all, it appears only once in Kierkegaard’s published writings, albeit in a key passage in Repetition, in which Constantin Constantius praises it as his instrument.1 At the same time, however, there are a few additional notes which indicate that the instrument occupies a special place for Kierkegaard himself as well. In one of his notes, he ironically argues that, although he does not consider himself particularly musical, the coach horn is the only instrument he occasionally plays, presumably because it does not require any musical skills.2 In addition, Kierkegaard attributes a number of symbolic meanings to the coach horn, which seem of special interest to him. But then again, in these notes, Kierkegaard is glad to give a valedictory to the coach horn, and the praise is followed by a few sneers at the “perpetual tooting” of the coach horn.3 In addition, most of the symbolic meanings which Kierkegaard attributes to the coach horn do not seem to reflect his own ethical-religious views after all. This ambivalent stance towards the coach horn raises the question of the precise meaning and status of the symbol for Kierkegaard.