MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE IN SØREN KIERKEGAARD'S REPETITION
Authored by Mike Furey
"Fear And Trembling," (F&T), always has been more popular than its twin publication "Repetition," (Rep). It was more popular in sales and reviews in its earliest days.l F&T is still more frequently commented on in current literature than Rep. Which one of the two is more likely to be studied in a classroom setting? One Catholic theologian's first encounter with Kierkegaardian literature consisted of "Either/Or," "Sickness Unto Death," and "Repetition," and the young intellectual almost had given up on Søren Kierkegaard, (S.K.), before he found the oasis of the "Postcript."2 The concrete fact is that Rep is deliberately confusing in order to lure the reader to read and to re-read it in an attempt to understand and experience repetition.3 Rep requires a repetitious reading; once through will simply not do it. Furthermore, despite the "highly complex and confused fashion in the work called 'Repetition,'" the category of repetition is one of the key enduring categories in Existentialism.4 One author pronounces this judgment upon the idea and the book:
This word, repetition, is notorious as one of the most important of the Kierkegaardian categories. It is also legendary as being almost totally unintelligible. And his short "novella" of the same name is notorious as his most elusive book. And most poetic. But it is not surprising that such notoriety should have agglutinated around repetition. Repetition signals that at the ultimate level-- the horizon for the understanding of the meaning of being-- we cannot tell the difference between understanding and nonunderstanding: it is essentially undecidable whether or not we can understand repetition.5
Is it possible to find a contemporary analysis of the book Rep alone? I have not. The literature wants to trace the theme of repetition throughout the literary career of S.K. Such a diachronic approach imposes a meaning of repetition that exceeds the budding message of Rep itself. Mark C. Taylor, for one example, systematizes the theme of repetition.6 But what did S.K. say in this one book? When does S.K. speak of forgiveness of sins in Rep? Taylor's analysis of repetition includes this theology, but Rep itself does not.7 Melville Chaning-Pearce analyzes to some degree the text on its own merits, but he oversimplifies the inconsistencies in Rep. He systematizes Rep and overchristianizes it. For example, he writes:
"Repetition ... affirms that existence which has been now becomes." Essence and existence, being and becoming, are made one in Christ. For Being, the Alpha and the Omega, the eternal Christ, becomes in time and flesh. Thus, in the category of repetition, "we look before and after and pine", not for "what is not" (as for Shelley and in pagan recollection), but for what "was, is and evermore shall be", by virtue of the Incarnation. The category of repetition is thus the category of the incarnate Christ.8
Is this what S.K. said in his book alone? I disagree with such a christological precision of repetition in Rep. Another longitudinal commentator has attempted to define repetition by pulling in all the scattered details from his other works. One such commentator concluded that S.K. is writing about the "born again" process and the redemption process.9 But S.K.'s characters in Rep do not know of or seek a transactional conversion that changes a person forever. S.K.'s personae must seek a rebirth or renewal from God in each particular concrete situation. One does not move into an ideational state. One must live in each situation. Suffering will come again. Faith will need to break through again. Faith will be required for the next pain. Faith does not retire us from reality. If I died today I hope my family cries. Then I hope they experience repetition, or renewal by faith. It is a born again and again and again process. Reading research material on Rep is like reading material about what S.K.'s work, Genesis, shows about Abraham. Most of the commentators keep seeing the Pauline Abraham. I want to see "Genesis"'s Abraham. I want to see "Repetition"'s repetition. In effect, I have just given a brief summation of my experience in "Repetition." I would like to make one final "complaint" about the systemization of repetition and the difficulty of comprehending Rep.
Did S.K. himself understand what he wrote in this early book? One commentator pointed to the fact that the elderly S.K. had to clarify in his later writings what he had meant in Rep. In "Point Of View" S.K. identifies that his messages in the twin publications dealt with the occasion of his decisive conversion.l0 These books do not spell out how one becomes once and for all a believer, but show how one begins to live in faith. More particularly, these books show how S.K. began the journey of faith. When he recognized his need to renounce his marriage and to recognize himself as "the exception to the universal human," he turned decisively to a life of faith. But he did not foresee the total implications of this singular act of faith and this singular act of turning. At that 1843 act of repetition he did not see repetition as a singular decisive new birth experience; yet I would venture he did experience such a new birth but he could only retrospectively identify it as a decisive for-all-times point. In a sense, he experienced the side of salvation Baptists call "justification," but he did not describe his experience in such a term. His life long emphasis was on becoming a Christian ("sanctification?") and he was too humble to declare he was a Christian. In short, Rep reflects a spawning relationship with God. Rep shows S.K. in his earliest psychological dawning as a believer. Rep does not show him as a mature, unwavering believer, but one on his way. The more he understands Christianity the clearer his writing style becomes. As time progressed S.K drops his pseudonymns, his hidden style, his elite audience, and begins to write plainly to the masses in pamphlets.ll He starts out writing as a pre-novelist in the order of Goethel2 and ends up a street preacher in the spirit of Luther. In Rep he was still a novelist, a tight philosopher, a neophyte prophet, a budding but profound theologian, a sensitive poet, even a tyrant for one's attention span. He understood what he wrote, but his understanding of Christianity increased. His understanding of repetition grew. His understanding of his initial repetition grew. He had the right to comment on what he first said in Rep. But, his commenting on Rep becomes an imposition onto the original text. That was my final complaint. I want to know what Rep itself says and not what anyone says it says.
Can my "dear reader" surmise the only possible way that I could continue to study Rep? Paul Holmer bewails that scholarship just heaps pages upon pages of historical and critical explanations of S.K., which has its merits but becomes a form of system building which the Dane would reject.l3 S.K. would prefer that a person translate his language and thought into one's own. In the remainder of this paper I will try a basic reader response. My intention is to understand the basic text itself by summarizing it in my own words. The commentators have baffled me with their systems. I must go for the coach ride myself and let the horn arouse me to consciousness and beyond. I must shout his words out of my window into the night. I must undertake my own personal experience in Søren Kierkegaard's "Repetition." Speak, O Constantin Constantius! Repeat your noble experiment! Question my level of human existence!
"Let everyone form his own judgment with respect to what is said here about repetition."14 In its concluding paragraphs, Constantin Constantius, (C.C.), states that Rep requires a second reading. It was designed to stump the reader to force him or her to re-read, to think again, to recollect, or to repeat. It was a frustrating read for me, indeed. But the light went on in my head at the end of the read. The "aha" experience comes, the frustration abeys as it converts to joy as one experiences the need for repetition. The reader is part of the "psychological experiment." Rep is a mind game, but more than a mind game. Via characterization the author creates an experience in the reader. Recollection or idealism is definitely a necessary part of human experience. But human experience is made of people. S.K. requires people's lives to do philosophy. In his mind game, the reader is surprised to find out that C.C. is not just an impassionate conniving observer- counselor to the young man. C.C. is religious (at a low level) but has made believe he does not understand repetition, and has acted like an intellectual Don Juan.l5 Why? In order to play observer- counselor to his "dear reader."16 S.K. has led the careful reader in his masterful rhetoric to experience a variety of moods and a variety of personalities in order to cause the reader to experience thoughts that would lead to an existential self-appropriating understanding of repetition, especially a repetition of the highest order.
As Rep opens, C.C. is giving a report, which comprises half the book; it is "Part I." He introduces the theme repetition by telling about his future trip to Berlin. Then he contrasts recollection and repetition as opposite philosophical categories. Repetition is what makes one authentically human and is "the actuality and the earnestness of existence."l7 "He who wills repetition is a man, and the more emphatically he is able to realize it, the more profound a human being he is."18 In this opening report he introduces the "young man" who is deeply in love but immediately becomes an old man in recollection. The youth experiences love and melancholy over the potential loss of love. After he becomes an old man, he transforms into a poet. As a poet he is soon overcome with anguish. He goes for counsel to C.C. C.C. recommends fabricating a falsehood to get out of the engagement of marriage. A recollected love is doomed. Soon despair overtakes him and he wants to curse life, love, and the girl. He never appears again, except in a series of letters. Human love in time is bound by recollection. In this first report, C.C. does state a need for transcendence (p. 137), but by the end of the report he concludes in despair, believing there is no repetition. "It may be true that a person's life is over and done with in the first moment, but there must also be the vital force to slay this death and transform it to life."l9 In this report C.C. shows several fallacies of living in an ideological bound existence. For example, the girl's enchantment with a poetic lover would increase her ideological love, but not the real love for the individual.20 Also, the idea is harder to bear than the reality. The idea of rejected love or of waning love is harder to live with than a mad or loving woman herself.21 But most people would rather read about ideas than to experience them. C.C. prefers "the delights of conception to the discomforts of childbirth."22
Next he analyzes the girl's shallow existence within recollection. She is self-loving and does not recognize her lover's need to be free. She does not manifest any move toward repetition. C.C. contrasts her to another girl, who he was staring at from his armchair through a window. He wants to observe her more carefully and proceeds to go outside, but the girl comes knocking on his door. She wants to ride with him in his private coach. The observer is taken aback by her simplicity and trust. Throughout the ride he realizes he could ravish her but also says she is more safe with him than her own brother or father. He concludes, "A girl who wishes for the interesting becomes a trap in which she herself is caught. A girl who does not wish for the interesting believes in repetition."23
He continues the full-blown psychological analysis of the youth. In light of the surprise at the end of the book, C.C. intentionally misdirects and misanalyzes the young man in part I. His present analysis is based on an ethical, quasi religious stage "B" or repetition "B". It is not precisely clear, especially since religion B and repetition B are not identical.24 Only in part II in the "Concluding Letter" does he reveal his true belief in a higher repetition, maybe repetition C. But C.C. must take the reader through the dilemmas of the overlapping categories of religion A and B (types of recollection and connected with levels of repetition) in order to arrive at despair and to check the gloomy impossibilities of the possibilities of non-repetitious, unopened, unbelieving existence.
As S.K. prepares one to see that real life can continue only in repetition, he exposes the weakness of Hegelian philosophy. In Hegel's thought the thesis (positive) and the antithesis (negative) reacted together and in that reactive process out of which the synthesis is born, in that "limbo" one believes in mediation. The process of how the thesis and the antithesis give birth to the synthesis is called mediation. S.K. says Hegel has mistakenly named it so. It should be named repetition. Hegel's pagan ideas live only in a world of recollection in which opposing views could possibly ever merge and mediate into a brand new view. For two opposing ideas to mediate into a third idea discounts reality. The unity of two opposites into a third identity does not explain the movement of transition by which this is brought about.25 Repetition lives in the real world of existence. Mediation is just thought. An idea or a view is only thought, but when the thought occurs again it is never the exact same thought. In repetition, old thoughts become new. Value is gained by repetition, not by mediation. Professor Ussing's speech, the pastor's sermon, the queens's story re-told by the deaf man, or the school teacher's admonition, all of these examples, show that repetition adds value. Mediation is a hoax.
But C.C. is not satisfied with talk and ideation about repetition. He must test it to see if it is possible to live it out. S.K. fleshes out his philosophy by living characterization and not mere fanciful idealism.
Leaving Copenhagen, C.C. goes on an investigative trip to Berlin. Is repetition possible? Can he re-experience the exciting trip he first had at Berlin? This part of the book is so well-written and designed by S.K. that it stands as a masterpiece; my heart races as I feel the shortcoming and injustice that my analysis will incur. S.K. is working at several levels in Rep. He writes to Regina to explain his "young man"-like conduct, to philosophers to expose Hegelian flaws, to all humanity to show the meaning of authentic existence, and to the careful individual re-reader to provoke an experience of repetition or renewal from God by faith. Or, maybe he is writing to console his friend Emil Boesen.26
As he is riding in the coach to Berlin, he compares this ride to the previous one. He deliberately sits in a different seat. There is change, but the entire experience is uncomfortable just like the first ride. All the pain and despair was recollected to him as he heard the driver's horn blow. Now, the recollection of pleasure originally motivated him to attempt to repeat the Berlin journey. Aesthetic motives moved him, but he learns the meaningless- ness and deadendness of such a "philosophy" as he tries to re-experience things in Germany. His landlord changed, i.e. got married. His act of lighting candles did not change. Is this repetition? No. They are inanimate objects. Then he notices the air is full of uncomfortable ashes in Berlin. He did not notice that atmospheric condition his first time in Berlin. In fact, he did not even experience the real Berlin the first time; he only experienced blind infatuation with his idea of Berlin. He is disappointed with the real and dirty city. He decides it is best to keep his mouth shut about his ignorance and appear wise. In this act, he loses his true feelings and self- authenticity. As he entertains the thought of going to the three theaters of Berlin, which he recollects he enjoyed so much the last time, he wrestles with the category of possibility.
As C.C. wrestles with human possibility, he borders on understanding it. He will reject it. He will come close to finding the possibility of real existence as he sits in the theater. His thoughts come close to the truth but he pushes the truth away and prefers a "shadow-existence,"27 an existence that lives its real feelings in the acting of the stage, an existence without responsibility. "In order not to gain an impression of his actual self, the hidden individual needs an environment as superficial and transient as the shapes, as the frothing foam of words that sound without resonance."28 We either hide in comfortable routines (human repetition) to avoid real existence and responsibility or we live only in a world of flittering from one possibility to another via imagination to shun responsibility and self-authenticity. In seeking new patterns, in avoiding real joy because joy dies, in avoiding sorrow and true feelings one is not moved, one does not change, therefore one appears secure. But, then one is not authentic. Persons seek an environment that props up a selfless individual. The real individual remains hidden and cryptic. Individuals experience life vicariously at the theater. Individuals try to see themselves by putting an actor on stage, but we really are not one of them. If we were put on the stage, we would not know how to act truly human or ourselves as humans, and we would be confronted with the reality that our self has not been revealed by the actors. This dissatisfied individual will seek other forms of drama to please him, but will successively find them wanting, except for farce.
Farce forces the individual to be an individual. No one is sure how to laugh, think, feel, or move in response to farce. Farce forces the individual to judge the performance for himself or herself. How is the system of Hegel critiqued by this critique of farce? Hegel is like a dramatic presentation, unlike farce, in which every one knows the rules and how to think and conduct oneself properly. The audience knows how to respond to drama, but not to farce. Drama does not penetrate the barriers to self-awareness, but inoculates the people to life's meanings. It is just a cold misrepresenting mirror. Farce exposes the true individual. In farce actors make the real faces that individuals make when they are alone by themselves. Lunatic acting on stage shows Hegel is wrong; farce uses concrete individuals in actuality to portray high abstract categories. It takes concrete to shape idealism, and not vice versa. Therefore, the concrete is the foundation of truth. Hegel puts existence second and idealism first. No wonder people flock to the theater rather than philosophy halls or even the church. The theater is a place of salvation where the nobody can come to be a somebody. At the theater a person is shown how to exist and to live.
Unfortunately C.C., at this point of his analysis, fails to find himself. The great actor and genius Beckmann caused C.C. to recollect and find "himself" in memories, but this blissfulness led to melancholy and despair. The despair became so great that it gave him cause and justification to continue to live vicariously and not self-authentically. While C.C. sits in the theater box laughing and sorrowing three movements are occurring in his mind. He is laughing at Beckmann, recollecting happy boyhood memories at the stream, and analyzing the improper or out of the ordinary presence of the local girl in the third row of the theater audience. In his analysis she symbolizes his recognition of a self, a real person because she is different from the mob. She is out of place. He wonders about her life and being, but he never makes a connection to his own life except that he hopes no one sees his voyeurist examination of her. Instead he switches to another memory of another girl, i.e. he lives within a recollection of another idea. He recalls how he would spy on a girl in her bedroom window and how he would be amazed by her simple childlike happiness. Children seem to know how to live but soon learn to enjoy life through the stage and its vicarious possibilities.
At another performance, "Der Talisman," C.C. has a horrible experience. At Beckmann's previous performance he sat happily alone, but at this performance he must sit among other people. These people are confused about whether to laugh or be bored. The young girl is not present for his examination, or maybe she is, but she has become one of the others. Then, Beckmann could not even make him laugh. He endures the show for thirty minutes and leaves convinced there is no repetition. He is in a rage. He cannot experience repetition or renewal. His account climaxes as he returns to his room furious. He wants to smash his velvet chair for being the same yet not matching the context of the room. He is seeing repetitions of a wrong kind, a sterile repetition locked in recollection. He goes to the café and is unable to enjoy the coffee he loves because a draft blows through to discomfit him. He goes to the restaurant and finds sameness and boredom in everything to the point he is nagged by it. Next he is at the theater, but "the only repetition was the impossibility of a repetition."29 The minutest changes of the performance irritated him, like a change in the coat color. After several days of this weary repetition, he decides to go home. Empiricism and verification prove there is no true repetition. C.C. cannot wait to get home to Copenhagen where he is certain of finding everything prepared for repetition. He had instructed his house servant before he departed for Berlin not to do any housecleaning, i.e. to change anything. As he arrives and opens the door, he stands in horror at the housecleaning in progress. The servant turns pale as a corpse and slams the door in C.C.'s face. C.C. collapses and understands himself doomed to finitude because there is no repetition.
C.C. understands himself to be in the same predicament as the youth he is counseling, except his predicament is one step worse. C.C. realized he could never re-begin or re-take his life because there is no repetition. Suffering increases the older a person becomes. Dissatisfaction increases with age. He recollects a story about a nursemaid with two children in a baby stroller. The stroller is in danger of being trampled by a runaway cart. The one year old child slept through it. The two year old just sat up during the danger and picked its nose. The nursemaid acted heroically and pushed the stroller out of danger. The babies, however, acted as true selves. They do not act according to what others will think of them. The heroism of the nursemaid was achieved because it was expected by society and not because she acted out of her true nature.
C.C. plunges into "nihilism" or deep despair as he cannot find satisfaction. One morning everything was going well until one o' clock that day. He was having a beautiful, perfectly satisfying day. Then "a speck of something"30 got in his eye and killed his hope. Since then he had abandoned any possibility of permanent satisfaction. He could only hope for momentary satisfaction. There is no repetition. But, then the youth with his love problem came into his life. As he observed and counseled the youth, C.C. became excited about the idea of repetititon, but again to no avail. "He wanted repetition, and he got it all right, and the repetition killed him."31 The youth begins dialoging with C.C. but then disappears; probably he has committed suicide. Life is not a repetition; it is a never ending stream that pours into the never filling sea. C.C. closes his report by recapping the images he brought into his composition earlier. The horn, the coach ride, the drama, existence itself are all vanitas vanita. Only death is meaningful because it is the great persuader. Life succumbs to death because there is no repetition. The observer ends in despair. Life becomes boring so quickly, this life is so unpredictable. Repetition killed his friend. Death is victorious.
Part II begins in a depressed spirit of monotony and calculated movement. The clock ticks orderly like Hegel's machinery. C.C. is convinced there is no repetition and lives as one forgotten person forgetting the world. But, then he receives a letter from the youth he thought had died. C.C. describes the ambiguity of the new relationship between the young man and himself. The youth refuses to treat his observer as an individual; he treats him as being and non-being, as an "odd" even deranged person. The youth writes to him, but he refuses to meet with him or receive any input back from the observer. The observer receives letters about once a month from the departed youth. In the meantime he begins observation of the girl which the youth loves, rather he analyzes the idea of the girl. S.K. provides an analysis of dehumanized love. Then C.C. proceeds to summarize the contents of the letters from the youth. The youth has analyzed his love for the girl and finds love cannot be realized by human power alone. The youth comes to the limits of reason and sees all hope for true love to be in vain. It is entrapment. Only "by virtue of the absurd," i.e. faith, can it be realized.32 The youth then realizes that God used the idea of loving this girl and the idea of the girl as a lure to capture him. At this point C.C. cannot comprehend the youth's religious movement and wishes he could marry the girl himself to rid the young man of this ever increasing pyschological burden. The observer once again abandons his hope of repetition. The youth turns away from philosophy for answers and goes to the biblical character Job. C.C. hopes the youth finds repetition in Job. C.C. ends his thoughts blaming the girl for entraping the youth and causing him melancholy. He satisfies himself knowing she will end in disaster if she is guilty of such charges. C.C. has the same faithless theology of Job's accusers. Thus, C.C. continues to live in his limited world of ideation. He lives in imagination and possibility rather than actuality. Since he believes there is no repetition, he is forced to hop along life guessing, scheming, accusing, irritating, and rapidly hastening toward death even if he does not move.
Part II began with C.C. giving the reader a summary and an analysis of the letters he received from the young man. Now the reader of Rep gets to read the actual letters he heard summarized by C.C.
In this first August letter, the young man only wants his confidant as a catharsistic talking post and an idea peg, just as he was taught to think about people and treat them by C.C. He is happy with his safe monolog, "happy in you."33 He is happy just thinking and talking, but his experience with the girl and poetic love drive him to dissatisfaction and despair. He analyzes the complexities and possibilities of ideation and existence, love as idea and as reality. No matter how dark each possibility turns, he still believes in existence. No matter how the "broken" love affair takes its significance, he prays "God in heaven help her to find her own explanation!"34 In this first letter, the first inklings of faith are born. He believes in existence and the possibility that God helps humans.
In the September letter, he opens with a cry to Job. He begins by turning to religion. His discussion says that people have lost the art of sorrowing. People go to poets and lawyers to express grief or complaint. Job is a real person as he can complain for himself, especially as everyone else stands against him and pressures him to conform to the acknowledged ideas and explanations for sin and sorrow. Job refuses to swallow the ideas of "men," but goes with his gut and belief in himself. The youth identifies his plight with Job. He has analyzed various levels of meaning and possibilities of existence and has found them wanting. He conplains to God. Why is life full of pain? There is no repetition. All I do is self-centered and guiltworthy! I cannot truly love her, leave her, or rejoin her. I'm frozen! But Job experienced what I am now experiencing. How then could suffering Job make such a casual statement?: "The Lord giveth. The Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord." It was not a casual statement. One needs to examine his faith. He lived (in a higher awareness of existence) despite the life he had because inside of Job there was something not bound to this world. Truth is not recollection like Plato said. Job was able to live or to repeat because transcendence came. But the youth has not seen this much yet. He only models Job's passionate complaint and thereby begins to exist. His existence begins because he knows life leads one to dissatisfaction and realization that there has to be more than immanence.
In the October letter, the polarities of existence come to his consciousness. The world is "without salt and meaning" because there is no repetition. He wants to complain about this emptiness. But to whom? Where is the stage manager? Next, he finds guilt and self-contradiction during his existential crisis. But how could guilt be? He ends in despair. He complains for himself in the manner that he learned from Job. But did anyone hear his nameless voice? His observer heard the idea on paper. But the observer is "odd," "deranged," his "idea," and a "non-being." But the youth can find comfort in his idea partner, after all, we may not treat each other as individuals but we do treat each other as "something." There is temporary consolation in being a thing rather than nothing.
In the November letter, the youth describes what Job means to him. He reads and re-reads it. He is living out for himself the drama of Job. He experiences Job vicariously. He screams its (his) words out of his window into the world. Each reading brings new meaning. He begins to experience a level of repetition. He comes to Job with various moods: calmness, passion, muteness, torment, horror, and sickness. He experiences the actual pain and horror that Job experienced. By reading about it he brings about the same situation that Job experienced. Job's complaints to God open up his complaint to God. Job's losses are like his loss of love and meaning. The youth no longer identifies and lives vicariously through Job, the youth has become Job-- almost. He borders on becoming like Job.
In the December letter, the youth is changed. He understands that Job is right, yet God is right. Job's suffering was not caused by sin as everyone swore. Job looked at life rationally and empirically and saw it was insufficient to explain his condition. The youth examines his own rightness and compares it to Job's. He cannot rationally explain how he is right in breaking his love life or in continuing that love life. He appears wrong by every human estimation. Yet Job and the youth believe God can solve their problem. Job understands his illogical condition to be an ordeal or a test. He will love God despite the evidence and his complaints. First, Job knows who he is as a human being. He knows his frailty and his freedom. God gave him both gifts. It is great to be a human being. Job refuses to give in to the mob and confess some idea. He knows what he has done, he has done right. Job's real greatness is that he is willing to fight for his authentic existence. This fight brings him to the boundaries of faith. Job is great because he is a being in which passion fights and resists absorption into generality. At this level of existence, as one lives in passion and wrestling, one lives in the realm of testing, the ordeal. This level opens one to transcendence. It is beyond the rational. This level of existence, ordeal, cannot be categorized as an ideal. As soon as one idealizes and categories it, it slips into the oblivious generality of universalism. This level of existence brings one into relationship with God, but it is a relationship of opposition, a relationship that penetrates the soul of a person and drives one to great pain. It is not just pain, but "my pain." It is a relationship that lies between the category of immanence and transcendence. It ushers one into the sense of eternity, yet does not permit one to leave the temporality of existence. Further, an ordeal is temporary. It passes. But, it serves a purpose of mediating one into transcendence. But, it is not mere category, it is not mere mediation, it is the process of giving new birth, of repetition, of God's renewal. An ordeal requires real pain, real life, real sorrow, real courage to be an individual, real awareness that life leads to despair on a plain aesthete-ethical or pleasure-rational level.
In the January letter, the youth understands that Job's repetition has come. Job held out and received vindication. He got his friends back and double material wealth. He experienced a type of repetition. The real repetition occurs after one has exhausted every possibility. "When every thinkable human certainty and probability were impossible."35 God broke through to Job, rebuked him, judged him, and renewed him. The youth has not yet experienced this for himself. He is glad he has not followed the fraudulent counsel of the observer, and is assured that since he has not given in to his own Bildad, then "perhaps now Governance can all the more easily help me."36 He looks for a transcendent repetition. Yet he awaits too impatiently.
In the February letter, he describes his wait for repetition from God. He has "clean hands" like Job so he expects God has to move. The effect of the repetition will be that he will be made fit to be a husband. He will be able to love. The youth, however, doubts. If God does not come, the youth has made alternative plans. He will live in recollection, he will live craftily, he will live in the mind, he will be a poet. Meanwhile he has not given up hope and is doing all he can to prepare himself to be a husband. The youth here shows he missed the meaning in Job. He is settling for religion B, an ethical repetition, a pyschological repetition. The youth has not understood.
Before the final May letter by the youth, C.C. makes some "incidental observations." C.C. becomes like one of Job's accusers and blames the youth for waiting for repetition from God. He faults the youth for not carrying through his scheme to defraud the girl. The girl is probably in more pain than ever because of his lack of "sagacity" and execution of the plan. C.C. speaks like a rational cynic bound to human wisdom. A little religion is a nice idea, but one must do all one can with his powers. C.C. explains the rationality of love and marriage. A woman will connive and deceive more than a seducer to get herself married, including a deception based on twisting the ideas of "God" and "holiness" to force a man to marry. A man will likewise twist heavenly reality and personal authenticity, "an individual's eternal salvation,"37 to live "safely" in marriage. And why not? If one does not stage one's life in some semi-happy fix and have some control over the theatrical ropes, then sooner or later a less satisfying stage will take the platform anyway. Why not settle for what appears to be love and live the rest of one's life in the recollection of the initial passion? There will be a settling down at some level of existence, so why not be wise and settle at a decent ideal? Why go through an ordeal?
In the final May letter, he no longer has to wait for God to make him a husband. She has become the wife of another man. But he claims to have experienced THE repetition. He has himself again. The split is healed. The entrapment is gone. His accusers are vanished. He has become more sophisticated. He can live in the world of ideas, but he can now separate himself from them. His own being is not as dependent upon other ideas. He can now think to a happy degree; he can feel to a degree. He ends the letter in praise for his experience of despair and joy, for the woman who inspired him, for being able to think and not to think, for the pains and joys of life, for infinity and the darkness of finity, for the polarities of existence through which one experiences the abyssmal despair and the heavenly hope. He ends his letter in a poetic blast. He has not achieved Job's repetition, only a kind after another sort. This man is the same man, but he is not exactly the same. He is still a poet, but not the same poet.
The last section of Rep is a concluding letter by C.C. in which he reveals his mind game with the reader. The youth was just an idea. How disappointing! But first, C.C. describes his fictional reader. He lists about ten types of readers, concluding that each reader will not understand the book, and further concluding that hardly any reader will actually ever read the book. Ironically one must re-read the book. It was written backwards or inversely. Recollection never satisfies. Repetition does. The writer wrote it fron a recollective perspective because in order to experience repetition one has to experience recollection, a tool of repetition. It was written in such a way that one has to re-read it to see how C.C. led and misled the youth. One must repeat the reading to understand. One must experience repetition. However, no amount of human sophistry or creativity can generate the highest level of repetition. The transcendent one is still a necessary one. Yet, S.K. did not fail in his attempt to aid the reader in his spiritual quest for repetition because God works through reason, recollection, and raw experiences.
C.C. says the youth never arrived at repetition C, a spiritual renewal from God, but a psychological renewal from God. The youth only achieves repetition in the sense of "the raising of his consciousness to the second power,"38 or repetition B. The youth definitely has a religious experience, but at a "substratum" because the youth is bound to his poetic-ideal nature. The youth became satisfied too soon. He has drawn closer to God, and closer to himself, but still has deeper levels of authenticity to probe. As the youth began to open to true humanity by faith, he received strength. He got strong too soon and left the quest. When the clouds of despair return, when the ordeal emerges within the solitary soul, when the individual complains again as the polarities of existence strike up the thunderbolts, the thunderstorm may really come for him. Will he ever reach religion C? No, he was an idea. We, the readers, must believe for it. We, as human individuals, are the exception to the universal. We are not Hegelian misfits. As believers, we must realize faith does not empty sorrow of its sorrow. As humans we fear and tremble. We lose. But God renews us. Thus, we repeat the experience. God does not take away our depth of experience, but lets us go down into the depths of pain; he really lets us live. But he comes to us before we are crushed, or, rather as we are crushed. In life the clouds of darkness come and go. By faith we are renewed. By faith transcendence breaks through. In the ordeal, in the hot breath of the complainer, in the complaint to God, God is there. As one yells to God, as the faith that breaks through by virtue of the doubting and question itself, transcendence passes in "mediation."
Such commentary on "Repetition" that I have presented here is based on my own informed interpretation of S.K.'s message. I know it does not penetrate or duplicate his actual understanding, but that hardly matters to S.K. What does matter is that I have found my own meaning and confronted myself as myself in light of transcendence. To do anything else is unkierkegaardian and perhaps unchristian.
1 Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong, ed. and trans., Repetition
(Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1983), pp. xxxiv-xxxv.
2 Paul Sponheim, "America," in Kierkegaard Research, Bibliotheca
Kierkegaardiana, vol. 15 (Copenhagen: C.A. Reitzels Forlag, 1987), p. 23.
3 Frederick Sontag, "The Role Of Repetition," in Concepts And
Alternatives In Kierkegaard, Bibliotheca Kierkegaardiana, vol. 3
(Copenhagen: C.A. Reitzels Boghandel, 1980), p. 292.
4 Jean Wahl, Philosophies Of Existence: An Introduction To The
Thought Of Kierkegaard, Heidegger, Jaspers, Marcel, Sartre, trans. F.M.
Lory (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1969), p. 73.
5 Pat Bigelow, Kierkegaard And The Problem Of Writing
(Tallahassee, FL: Florida State University Press, 1987), p. 117.
6 Mark C. Tavlor, Kierkegaard's Pseudonymous Authorship: A
Study Of Time And Self (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press,
1975), pp. 329-336.
7 Ibid., p. 330.
8 Melville Chaning-Pearce, Søren Kierkegaard: A Study (London:
James Clarke and Co., LTD, 1945), p. 59.
9 Louis Reimer, "Die Erlösung. Die Wiederholung der Ursprünglichkeit,"
in Some Of Kierkegaard's Main Categories, Bibliotheca Kierkegaardiana,
vol. 16 (Copenhagen: C.A. Reitzels Forlag, 1988), pp. 164-172.
10 Walter Lowrie, trans., Repetition: An Essay In Experimental Psychology
(Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1941), pp. ixf.
11 F.J. Billeskov Jansen, "Essai sur l'art de Kierkegaard," in
Kierkegaard Symposion, ed. Steffen Steffensen and Hans Sörensen
(Copenhagen: Munksgaard, 1955), pp. 18-27.
12 Ibid., p. 13
13 Paul Holmer, "On Understanding Kierkegaard," in
Kierkegaard Symposion, ed. Steffen Steffensen and Hans Sörensen
(Copenhagen: Munksgaard, 1955), pp. 43-44.
14 Søren Kierkegaard, Repetition , trans. Howard V. Hong and
Edna H. Hong (Princeton, NJ: Princeton Universtiy Press,
1983), p. 149.
15 Paul Holmer, "Søren Kierkegaard: The Self As Subject,"
speech at The Yale Divinity School, recorded April 12, 1978, AV CA
9463 at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary library.
16 S.K., Rep, p. 225.
17 Ibid., p. 133.
18 Ibid., p. 132.
19 Ibid., p. 137.
20 Ibid., p. 139.
21 Ibid., p. 140-141.
22 Ibid., p. 141.
23 Ibid., p. 148.
24 A.F. Ashbaugh, "Platonism. An Essay On Repetition And
Recollection," in Bibliotheca Kierkegaardiana vol. 6, ed. Neils Thulstrup
and M. Mikulová Thulstrup (Copenhagen: C.A. Reitzels Boghandel,
1981), pp. 18-24.
25 T.H. Croxall, Kierkegaard Commentary (New York, NY:
Harper and Brothers, 1956), p.132.
26 R. Widenmann, "Farinelli," in Kierkegaard: Literary Miscellany,
Bibliotheca Kierkegaardiana, vol. 9 (Copenhagen: C.A. Reitzels Boghandel, 1981), p. 167.
27 S.K., Rep, p. 154.
28 Ibid., p. 156.
29 Ibid., p. 170.
30 Ibid., p. 173.
31 Ibid., p. 174.
32 Ibid., p. 185.
33 Ibid., p. 189.
34 Ibid., p. 193.
35 Ibid., p. 212.
36 Ibid., p. 213.
37 Ibid., p. 218.
38 Ibid., p. 229.