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Kierkegaard – Repetition

December 23, 2010

My holiday reading includes a large pile of Kierkegaard, which I’m steadily working my way through. His style is interesting – he writes using pseudonyms, with different characters providing different points of view. It’s further complicated by layering – Either/Or has four layers, Kierkegaard himself, a fictional editor, authors of the two halves and authors of texts that they include. I think it actually works surprisingly well, as you end up having to think hard to work out what message you can take from his writing.

In Repetition, Kierkegaard contrasts recollection with repetition. Recollection is presented as a Socratic model for gaining knowledge or experience. It is based on the idea that we already have all knowledge, and we “learn” by being helped to remember what we already know. In this model it doesn’t matter who the teacher is, what is important is the knowledge that we gain.

With repetition it might matter. Repetition presents us with the old as new – it may give us something we already know or fell, or it may provide something completely unexpected. The truth can be surprising or unbelievable, and it is this that Kierkegaard wants us to confront. How can we arrive at such truths through recollection?

Kierkegaard’s pseudonymous author tells us that he once went to Berlin. He had wonderful memories of his time there, and wanted to experience them again. So he packed his bags and returned to Berlin. He went to the theatre where we had spent many a fantastic evening, and was disappointed. He could not get the same feelings he had had before. This is a paradigmatic example of recollection. By trying to relive old experiences, he was not open to the new. Repetition tells us to look forward instead of backwards, and to see what live has to offer us anew.

Recollection is a feature in the life on the aesthete. They live for themselves and accumulate good experiences, and in the end, according to Kierkegaard, will end up having nothing but recollection. They are not willing to open themselves up to repetition.

Most people are in such a rush to enjoy themselves that they rush right past it

So Kierkegaard’s first message – don’t rush life, be open to new experiences, and look to the future, not the past.

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