Repetition (Kierkegaard)

book by Søren Kierkegaard

Repetition, A Venture in Experimental Psychology (1843) by Søren Kierkegaard, is a story of an unhappy love affair in which a young man struggles with his own conscience over a decision he made.

The young girl was not his beloved: she was the occasion that awakened the poetic in him and made him a poet. This is why he could love only her, never forget her, never want to love another, and yet continually only long for her.

Part One: Report by Constantin Constantius

  • Repetition and recollection are the same movement, except in opposite directions, for what is recollected has been, is repeated backward. Repetition, therefore, if it is possible makes a person happy, whereas recollection makes him unhappy — assuming of course, that he gives himself time to live and does not promptly at birth find an excuse to sneak out of life again, for example, that he has forgotten something. p. 131
  • Hope is a new garment, stiff and starched and lustrous, but it has never been tried on, and therefore one odes not know how becoming it will be or how it will fit. Recollection is a discarded garment that does not fit, however beautiful it is, for one has outgrown it. p. 132
  • Repetition is an indestructible garment that fits closely and tenderly, neither binds nor sags. Hope is a lovely maiden who slips away between one’s fingers; recollection is a beautiful old woman with whom one is never satisfied at the moment; repetition is a beloved wife of whom one never wearies, for one only becomes weary of what is new. One never grows weary of the old, and when one has that, one is happy. p. 132
  • About a year ago, I became very much aware of a young man … [who was] at the captivating age in which spiritual maturity, just like physical maturity at a far earlier age, announces itself by a frequent breaking of the voice. … he told me he had fallen in love, I involuntarily thought that the girl who was loved in this way was indeed fortunate. He had been in love for some time now, concealing it even from me, but now the object of his desire was within reach; he had confessed his love and found love in return. p. 133-134
  • I shall proceed to speak a little of the investigative journey I made to test the possibility and meaning of repetition. Without anyone knowing about it I went by steamship to Berlin. p. 150
  • For a cultured person, seeing a farce is similar to playing the lottery, except that one does not have the annoyance of winning money. p. 159
  • The experience of watching Beckmann perform — he’s full of hilarity and joy – then notices a young girl. “When I had watched Beckmann and let myself be convulsed with laughter, when I sank back in exhaustion and let myself be carried away on the current of jubilation and hilarity and then climbed out of the pool and returned to myself again, my eyes sought her, and the sight of her refreshed my whole being with its friendly gentleness. Or when in the farce itself a feeling of greater pathos burst forth, I looked at her, and her presence helped me to yield to it, for she sat composed in the midst of it all, quietly smiling in childlike wonder. She came there, as I did, every evening. p. 167

Part Two: Repetition

  • A monotonous and unvarying order was established in my whole economy. Everything unable to move stood in its appointed place, and everything that moved went its calculated course: my clock, my servant, and I, myself, who with measured pace walked up and down the floor. Although I had convinced myself that there is no repetition, it nevertheless is always certain and that by being inflexible and also by dulling one’s powers of observation a person can achieve a sameness that has a far more anesthetic power than the most whimsical amusements and that, like a magical formulary, in the course of time also become more and more powerful. p. 179

Letters from the Young Man, August 15 – January 13

  • I can imagine that you will promptly take out my case history, as it were, and say: Right! It’s the fellow with the unhappy love affair. Where did we leave off? p. 188
  • If I did not have Job I do not read him as one read another book, with the eyes, but I lay the book on my heart and read it with the eyes of the heart, in a clairvoyance interpreting ,,, Have you really read Job? Read him, read him again and again. I do not even have the heart to write one single outcry from him in a letter to you, even though I find my joy in transcribing over and over everything he has said, sometimes in Danish script and sometimes in Latin script, transcription of this kind is laid upon my sick heart as a God’s hand — plaster. Indeed, on whom did God lay his hand as on Job! But quote him — That I cannot do. That would be wanting to put my own pittance, wanting to make his words my own in the presence of another. p. 204
  • I am doing my best to make myself into a husband. I sit and clip myself, take away everything that is incommensurable in order to become commensurable. Every morning I discard all the impatience and infinite striving of my soul — but it does not help, for the next moment it is there again. Every morning I shave off the beard of all my ludicrousness — but it does not help, for the next morning my beard is just as long again. I recall myself, just as the bank calls in its paper money in order to put new money in circulation — but it does not work. I convert my whole wealth of ideas, my mortgages, into matrimonial pocket money — alas! alas! In that kind of coin my wealth amounts to very little. p. 214-215

Incidental Observations by Constantin Constantius

  • Although I forsook the world long ago and renounced all theorizing, I nevertheless cannot deny that because of my interest in the young man he set me off my pendulum beat somewhat. It is easy to see that he is caught in a total misunderstanding. He is suffering from a misplaced melancholy high-minded that belongs nowhere except in a poet’s brain. He is waiting for a thunderstorm that is supposed to make him into a husband, a nervous breakdown perhaps. It is completely the reverse. In fact, he is one of those who say: Battalion, about-face! — instead of turning around himself. This can be expressed in another way: the girl must go. p. 216

Letter from the Young Man, May 31

  • She is married — to whom I do not know, for when I read it in the newspaper I was so stunned that I dropped the paper and have not had the patience since then to check in detail. I am myself again. Here I have repetition; I understand everything, and life seems more beautiful to me than ever. It did indeed come like a thunderstorm, although I am indebted to her generosity for its coming. Whoever it is she has chosen — I will not even say preferred, because in the capacity of a husband any one is preferred to me — she has certainly shown generosity toward me. p. 220

Concluding Letter by Constantin Constanius, Copenhagen, August 1843

  • If it is assumed that anyone who reads a book for one or another superficial reason unrelated to the book is not a genuine reader, then there perhaps are not many genuine readers left even for authors with a large reading public. Who in our day thinks of wasting any time on the curious idea that it is an art to be a good reader, not to mention spending time to become that? Of course, this deplorable state has its effect on an author who, in my opinion, very properly joins Clement of Alexandria in writing in such a way that the heretics are unable to understand it. p. 225
  • In the course of time one grows weary of the perpetual patter about the universal, always universal, repeated to the most tedious extreme of insipidity. There are exceptions. If one cannot explain them, neither can one explain the universal.
    • Repetition, Lowrie translation 1941, 1964 Harper and Row p. 134

Primary source

  • Repetition, A Venture in Experimental Psychology, by Constantin Constantius, October 16, 1843, by Søren Kierkegaard, edited and translated by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong, 1983, Princeton University Press
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