Repetition (Kierkegaard book)

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Repetition, A Venture in Experimental Psychology
AuthorSøren Kierkegaard
Original titleGjentagelsen. Et Forsøg i den experimenterende Psychologi af Constantin Constantius
GenrePhilosophical novel
PublisherC.A. Reitzel's, Printed by Biance Luno Press
Publication date
October 16, 1843
Published in English
1941 - First Translation by Walter Lowrie
Preceded byThree Upbuilding Discourses, 1843 
Followed byFour Upbuilding Discourses, 1843 

Repetition (Danish: Gjentagelsen) is an 1843 book by Søren Kierkegaard and published under the pseudonym Constantin Constantius to mirror its titular theme. Constantin investigates whether repetition is possible, and the book includes his experiments and his relation to a nameless patient known only as the Young Man.[1]

The Young Man has fallen in love with a girl, proposed marriage, the proposal has been accepted, but now he has changed his mind.[2] Constantin becomes the young man's confidant. Coincidentally, the problem that the Young Man had is the same problem Kierkegaard had with Regine Olsen. He had proposed to her, she had accepted but he had changed his mind. Kierkegaard was accused of "experimenting with the affections of his fiancée".[3]

Charles K. Bellinger says Either/Or, Fear and Trembling and Repetition are works of fiction, "novelistic" in character; they focus on the boundaries between different spheres of existence, such as the aesthetic and the ethical, and the ethical and the religious; they often focus on the subject of marriage; they can be traced back to Kierkegaard's relationship with Regine."[4] There is much in this work that is autobiographical in nature. How much is left up to the reader.[note 1] Kierkegaard explores the conscious choices this Young Man makes.[5] He had written about repetition previously in his unpublished book Johannes Climacus.

When ideality and reality touch each other then repetition appears. When, for example, I see something in the moment, ideality intervenes and will explain that it is a repetition. Here is the contradiction, for that which is, is also in another mode. That the eternal is, that I can see, but in that same instant I bring it into relation with something else which also is, something that is the same and which will also explain that the other is the same. Here is a redoubling; here this is the question of repetition. Ideality and reality therefore collide.[6]

Kierkegaard published Fear and Trembling, Three Upbuilding Discourses, 1843 and Repetition all on the same date, October 16, 1843. Abraham was the main character in Fear and Trembling and the Three Upbuilding Discourses were about love. Repetition presents a noticeable contrast between the other two books that is almost comical. He takes up the idea of repetition again in his 1844 work The Concept of Anxiety[7] where he explores the concepts of sin and guilt more directly. The book could be the counterpart of Goethe's Clavigo, which Kierkegaard dealt with in Either/Or.[8]


  • Part One: Report by Constantin Constantius
  • Part Two: Repetition
  • Letters from the Young Man, August 15 – January 13
  • Incidental Observations by Constantin Constantius
  • Letter from the Young Man, May 31
  • Concluding Letter by Constantin Constantius, Copenhagen, August 1843

Report by Constantin Constantius[edit]

Constantin believes that "repetition and recollection are the same movement, except in opposite directions, for what is recollected[9] has been, is repeated backward."[10] An individual can remember some past event or emotional experience with intensity. That individual might try to "repeat pleasure continuously and eternalize the pleasure in the temporal".[11] This is what Constantin is trying to accomplish. He hopes that Repetition will become a new philosophical category. That it will trump Hegel and explain the relation between the Eleatics and Heraclitus. "Mediation” is a foreign word; “repetition” is a good Danish word, according to him.[12]

He reports that he has met a melancholic[13] young man and has decided to become his confidant.[14] He says, "an observer[note 2] fulfills his duties well, he is to be regarded as a secret agent in a higher service, for the observer’s art is to expose what is hidden".[14] During his conversation with the Young Man he comes to understand that he is in love but he talks about his love as though it were just a memory. He says the Young Man "was deeply and fervently in love, that was clear, and yet a few days later he was able to recollect his love. He was essentially through with the entire relationship."[15]

His observations lead him to conclude that the young man really isn't in love, but that the girl (he never calls her a woman) is "the occasion[16][17] that awakened the poetic in him and made him a poet."[18] He calls him the "sorrowful knight of recollection’s only happy love."[19] He has had his first love but that's not anywhere near the experience of marriage. Kierkegaard says the following in Either/Or, "The question, namely, is this: Can this love be actualized? After having conceded everything up to this point, you perhaps will say: Well, it is just as difficult to actualize marriage as to actualize first love. To that I must respond: No, for in marriage there is a law of motion. First love remains an unreal in itself that never acquires inner substance because it moves only in the external medium. In the ethical and religious intention, marital love has the possibility of an inner history and is as different from first love as the historical is from the unhistorical. This love is strong, stronger than the whole world, but the moment it doubts it is annihilated; it is like a sleepwalker who is able to walk in the most dangerous places with the complete security but plunges down when someone calls his name. Marital love is armed, for in the intention not only is attentiveness directed to the surrounding world but the will is directed toward itself, toward the inner world."[20] The Young Man, like Byron, "declares that love is heaven and marriage hell."[21]

"He bit the chain that bound him, but the more his passion seethed, the more ecstatic his song, the more tender his talk, the tighter the chain. It was impossible for him to create a real relationship out of this misunderstanding; it would, in fact, leave her at the mercy of a perpetual fraud. To explain this confusing error to her, that she was merely the visible form, while his thoughts, his soul, sought something else that he attributed to her-this would hurt her so deeply that his pride rose up in mutiny against it. It is contemptible to delude and seduce a girl, but it is even more contemptible to forsake her in such a way that one does not even become a scoundrel but makes a brilliant retreat by palming her off with the explanation that she was not the ideal and by comforting her with the idea that she was one’s muse."[22]

Constantin, "the aesthetic schemer",[23] tells the Young Man he should become a deceiver. He says, "Be inconstant, nonsensical; do one thing one day and another the next, but without passion, in an utterly careless way that does not, however, degenerate into inattention, because, on the contrary, the external attentiveness must be just as great as ever but altered to a formal function lacking all inwardness.[24][note 3]

He then goes to Berlin, because he had been there once before and he wants to see if he can repeat the same experience he had the first time. He goes to the same place he stayed on his first journey and finds that his landlord is now married. “The landlord went on to prove the esthetic validity of marriage.[25] He succeeded marvelously, just as well as he had the last time in proving the perfection of bachelorhood.”.[26][27] He tries to find repetition at the theater but it eludes him, he tries the coffee shop and finally says, "I had discovered that there simply is no repetition and had verified it by having it repeated in every possible way".[28] Stuart Dalton from The University of Hartford regards Repetition essentially as a comedy and there is humor in much of the book.[note 4] Kierkegaard wrote humorously about the idea of repetition in Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments, he said,

There is a story about a sailor who fell from the top of the mast without injuring himself, got up on his feet, and said: Now copy me-but most likely he himself also refrained from doing it again. Likewise, repetition that involves good luck and inspiration is always a daring venture. p. 284-285


Constantin is still pursuing repetition. Now he's seeking a "sameness that has a far more anesthetic power than the most whimsical amusements"[29] when he gets a letter from the Young Man demanding that he keep "unbroken silence" about the whole affair he was speaking to him about and that he will not be seeing him anymore. He will correspond by mail only. Constantin says, "This, then, is the thanks one gets for having trained oneself every day for years to have only an objective theoretical interest in people, in everyone for whom the idea is in motion! At one time, I tried to assist the idea in him; now I am reaping the harvest, namely, I am supposed to be and also not to be both being and nothing, entirely as he so pleases, and not to receive the slightest appreciation for being able to be that and thereby to help him out of the contradiction."[30] He continues to diagnose him.

The split[31] in him caused by his contact with her would be reconciled by his actually having returned to her. So once again the girl was not an actuality but a reflexion (reflex) of motions within him and an incident in them. The girl has enormous importance, and he will never forget her, but her importance lies not in herself but in her relation to him. She is, so to speak, the border of his being, but such a relation is not erotic. From a religious point of view, one could say it is as if God used this girl to capture him, and yet the girl herself is not an actuality but is like the laced-winged fly with which a hook is baited. Repetition p. 185

The Young Man tells him he will be going to Job for help and will write his reports to Constantin.[32]

Letters from the Young Man, August 15 – May 31[edit]

"Two years after the death of his father, in the year 1840, Søren Kierkegaard entered into an engagement of marriage with a young girl living in Copenhagen, whose name was Regine Olsen. However, he was very soon brought to the insight that no marriage was possible for him. He sought to break the engagement, but succeeded only in stirring the heart of his fiancé to a passionate outburst, in which she begged him not to leave her. Moved profoundly by the ardor of her love he sought to emancipate her and himself through the adoption of a very involved and curious method."[33] Journal entries seem to indicate that Kierkegaard was wary of marriage as early as 1838[34] and that he had a definite reason for breaking off the engagement.[35]

Did he use the method endorsed by Constantin and become a deceiver?[36] The letters from the Young Man are either written in relation to Regine or they are a passionate cry for freedom.[note 5] He wanted to find a truth to live and die for.[37] The letters describe his inner struggle against the social norms of his time. Must he keep his pledge because the social order demands that he does it?[38]

First he blames his psychologist but he still needs him. Existential philosophy calls this Ressentiment.

I lack the courage to confess my weakness in your presence; if I ever did, I would be the chief of cowards, because I would think that I had lost everything. Thus do you hold me captive with an indescribable power, and this same power makes me anxious; thus do I admire you, and yet at times I believe that you are mentally disordered. It is not, in fact, a kind of mental disorder to have subjugated to such a degree every passion, every emotion, every mood under the cold regimentation of reflection! Is it not mental disorder to be normal in this way-pure idea, not a human being like the rest of us, flexible and yielding, lost and being lost! Is it not mental disorder always to be alert like this, always conscious, never vague and dreamy! –Right now I do not dare to see you, and yet I cannot get along without you. Repetition p. 189

Then he blames the girl.

To conclude one’s whole life in this way for the sake of one single girl! To make oneself out a scoundrel, a deceiver, simply and solely to prove how highly she is esteemed, because a person does not sacrifice his honor for a triviality! To brand oneself, to throw away one’s life! To take on the task of revenge and fulfill it in a way utterly different from what people are able to do with their empty gossip! To be that kind of hero-not in the eyes of the world but to oneself-to be able to appeal to nothing in defense against men but to live imprisoned within one’s own personality, to have in oneself one’s own witness, one’s own judge, one’s own prosecuting attorney, and in oneself the only one. To abandon one’s future life to the tangle of thoughts that inevitably follow such a step, thereby in a way, humanly speaking, to renounce the understanding! To do all this for the sake of a girl! Repetition p. 190

Job's Comforters by William Blake; The Wrath of Elihu, by William Blake
Eliphas, Bildad Zophar, and, most of all, Elihu, who rises up with renewed vigor when the others are tired out, present versions of the theme that his calamity is a punishment; he must repent, beg forgiveness, and then all will be well again. Meanwhile, Job holds fast to his interpretation. His position is like a permit by which he departs from the world and men. It is a claim that men do not acknowledge, but still Job does not renounce it. ... But this does not influence his friends, they insist that he must see punishment in this. Repetition, pp. 208–209
The Young Man has gone through the same ordeal as Job but neither of them is a Knight of Faith. Repetition, pp. 209–210

Then he appeals to Job.

Why were you silent for seven days and nights? What went on in your soul? When all existence collapsed upon you and lay like broken pottery around you, did you immediately have this superhuman self-possession, did you immediately have this interpretation of love, this cheerful boldness of trust and faith? Is your door then shut to the grief-stricken person, can he hope for no other relief from you than what miserable worldly wisdom poorly affords, lecturing on the perfection of life? Do you know nothing more to say than that? Do you dare to say no more than what professional comforters, measure out to the individual, what professional comforters, like formal masters of ceremonies, lay down for the individual, that in the hour of need it is appropriate to say: “The Lord gave, and the Lord took away; blessed be the name of the Lord-no more, no less, just as they say “God bless you” when one sneezes! No, you who in your prime were the sword of the oppressed, the stave of the old, and the staff of the brokenhearted, you did not disappoint men when everything went to pieces-then you became the voice of the suffering, the cry of the grief-stricken, the shriek of the terrified, and a relief to all who bore their torment in silence, a faithful witness to all the affliction and laceration there can be in a heart, an unfailing spokesman who dared to lament “in bitterness of soul” and to strive with God. Repetition p. 197

Later, in Edifying Discourses in Various Spirits (1847), Kierkegaard discusses Job's guilt again. "Job’s friends did not have any criteria for what it means to suffer as one who is innocent before God. The highest that the Jews knew was a piety such as Job’s, and this is why it was doubly arrogant and doubly unjust of the friends to speak in this way of Job. The Christian, however, knows that there is only one, but also that there is one, who suffered before God as innocent. No one dares to compare himself to him or measure himself by his standard; between him and every human between there is an eternal difference. That is why it now applies with renewed clarity that in relation to God a human being always suffers as guilty."[39] Then he questions his own existence and the concept of guilt. Existential philosophers call this an existential crisis.

One sticks a finger into the ground to smell what country one is in; I stick my finger into the world-it has no smell. Where am I? What does it mean to say: the world? What is the meaning of the world? Who tricked me into this whole thing and leaves me standing here? Who am I? How did I get into the world? Why was I not asked about it, why was I not informed of the rules and regulations and just thrust into the ranks as if I had been bought from a peddling shanghaier of human beings? How did I get involved in the big enterprise called actuality? Why should I be involved? Isn’t it a matter of choice? If I am compelled to be involved, where is the manager-I have something to say about this. Is there no manager? To whom shall I make my complaint? After all, life is a debate-may I ask that my observations be considered? If one has to take life as it is, would it not be best to find out how things go? What does it mean: a deceiver? Does not Cicero say that such a person can be exposed by asking: to whose benefit? Anyone may ask me and I ask everyone whether I have benefited in any way by making myself and a girl unhappy. Guilt-what does it mean? Is it hexing? Is it not positively known how it comes about that a person is guilty? Will no one answer me? Is it not, then, of the utmost importance to all the gentlemen involved? Repetition p. 200

Then he demands his rights. Kierkegaard is developing his concept of individuality. The Young Man wants to stand out from the crowd and make his own decisions about his own life.

What kind of wretched jargon is this human speech called language, which is intelligible only to a clique? Are not the dumb animals wiser in never talking about such things? Am I unfaithful? If she were to go on loving me and never loved anyone else, she would then certainly be faithful to me. If I go on wanting to love only her, am I then unfaithful? Indeed, we are both doing the same thing-how then do I become a deceiver because I manifest my faithfulness by deceiving? Why should she be in the right and I in the wrong? If both of us are faithful, why then is this expressed in human language in such a way that she is faithful and I am a deceiver? Even if the whole world rose up against me, even if all the scholastics argued with me, even if it were a matter of life and death-I am still in the right. Repetition p. 200-201 [note 6]

His question is never what is love, but how do I know I'm in love, how do you know you're in love?[note 7] Too many people want to read about love in order to find out what love is. Kierkegaard says one must act, not just think about acting.[note 8] His letter dated January 13 states he is now married and doing his best to be a husband.[40]

Contrasting Abraham in Fear and Trembling with the Young Man creates an excellent comedy when taken together.[41] Abraham wasn't anxious about the social order, he just followed God but the Young Man is overflowing with anxiety about what his friends will say about him, and he followed Job. Kierkegaard wrote in Fear and Trembling: "It would be altogether desirable if esthetics would sometime attempt to begin where for so many years it has ended-in the illusion of magnanimity. As soon as it did this, it would be working hand in hand with the religious, for this is the only power that can rescue the esthetic from its battle with the ethical."[42] Kierkegaard says, "I perceived that he was a poet-if for no other reason I saw it in the fact that a situation that would have been taken easily in stride by a lesser mortal expanded into a world event for him."[43] On December 6, 1843 Kierkegaard published his Four Upbuilding Discourses, he explains this Young Man's relation to Job in the following way,

In tempestuous times, when the foundation of existence is tottering, when the moment shivers in anxious expectancy of what may come, when every explanation falls silent at the spectacle of the wild tumult, when a person’s innermost being groans in despair and in “bitterness of soul” cries to heaven, then Job still walks along, at the generation’s side and guarantees that there is a victory, guarantees that even if the single individual loses in the struggle, there is still a God who, just as he proportions every temptation humanly, even though the person did not withstand the temptation, will still make a way out such as he can bear it – yes, even more gloriously than any human expectancy. Only the defiant person could wish that Job did not exist, that he could completely divest his soul of the last love still present in the wail of despair, that he could whine about life, indeed curse life in such a way that there would not be even an echo of faith and trust and humility in his words, that in his defiance he could stifle the scream in order not to create the impression that there was anyone whom it provoked. Only a soft person could wish that Job did not exist, that he could instead leave off thinking, the sooner the better, could give up all movement in the most disgusting powerlessness, could blot himself out in the most wretched and miserable forgetfulness. Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses, Four Upbuilding Discourses, The Lord Gave, And The Lord Took Away; Blessed Be The Name Of The Lord. (Job 1:20-21) p. 111

Incidental Observations by Constantin Constantius[edit]

Constantin has renounced all theorizing but still thinks about the Young Man and the girl. As far as he's concerned the Young Man is a poet.[44] He says, "A poet seems to be born to be a fool for the girls. If a girl made a fool of him to his face, he would think of it generous of her."[45]

The Young Man writes once more, on May 31, to let Constantin know that the "girl" is married.[note 9] Kierkegaard-The Young Man says,

"I belong to the idea. When it beckons me, I will follow; when it makes an appointment, I wait for it day and night; no one calls me to dinner, no one expects me for supper. When the idea calls, I abandon everything, or, more correctly, I have nothing to abandon. I defraud no one, I sadden no one by being loyal to it; my spirit is not saddened by my having to make another sad. When I come home, no one reads my face, no one questions my demeanor. No one coaxes out of my being an explanation that not even I myself can give to another, whether I am beatific in joy or dejected in desolation, whether I have won life or lost it." Repetition p. 221[46]

Kierkegaard as well as the other two characters in the story belong to the idea of what a marriage is but not to the actuality of a real marriage.[note 10] Kierkegaard calls the Young Man's behaviour criminal.[47]

Concluding Letter by Constantin Constantius, Copenhagen, August 1843[edit]

Constantin addresses his readers.[48] He says,

My poet now finds legitimation precisely in being absolved by life the moment he in a sense wants to destroy himself. His soul now gains a religious resonance. This is what actually sustains him, although it never attains a breakthrough. His dithyrambic joy in the last letter is an example of this, for beyond a doubt this joy is grounded in a religious mood, which remains something inward, however. He keeps a religious mood as a secret he cannot explain, while at the same time this secret helps him poetically to explain actuality. He explains the universal as repetition, and yet he himself understands repetition in another way, for although actuality becomes the repetition, for him the repetition is the raising of his consciousness to the second power. He has had what essentially belongs to a poet, a love affair, but a very ambivalent one; happy, unhappy, comic, tragic. ... If he had had a deeper religious background[note 11], he would not have become a poet. Then everything would have gained religious meaning." Repetition p. 228-230


August Strindberg referred to Kierkegaard in his book To Damascus (1900). Part 1 is compared to "Kierkegaard's Gentagelse" by Gunnar Ollen who translated the book.

STRANGER. Then what's your view?

MELCHER. We have no views here; we've faith, as I've told you already. And that's why we've only one head--placed exactly above the heart. Pause.) In the meantime let's look at number seven in the catalogue. Ah, Napoleon! The creation of the Revolution itself! The Emperor of the People, the Nero of Freedom, the suppressor of Equality and the 'big brother' of Fraternity. He's the most cunning of all the two-headed, for he could laugh at himself, raise himself above his own contradictions, change his skin and his soul, and yet be quite explicable to himself in every transformation--convinced, self-authorised. There's only one other man who can be compared with him in this; Kierkegaard the Dane. From the beginning he was aware of this parthenogenesis of the soul, whose capacity to multiply by taking cuttings was equivalent to bringing forth young in this life without conception. And for that reason, and so as not to become life's fool, he wrote under a number of pseudonyms, of which each one constituted a 'stage on his life's way.' But did you realise this? The Lord of life, in spite of all these precautions, made a fool of him after all. Kierkegaard, who fought all his life against the priesthood and the professional preachers of the State Church, was eventually forced of necessity to become a professional preacher himself! Oh yes! Such things do happen.

STRANGER. The Powers That Be play tricks.[49]

The Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, 1915, had a short article about Søren Kierkegaard. They wrote,

In Gentagelsen (' Repetition,' October 1843), Kierkegaard sketches an abortive transition to the religious sphere. 'Repetition' is one of his characteristic ideas; it signifies persistence in, and faithfulness to, a chosen course of life, and is thus opposed to the (esthetic standpoint, with constancy only in change. But Kierkegaard also gives the word a more special meaning—that rather of 'resumption' (Gentagelse, 'taking again')—implying that each higher stage of life carries with it the lower in a transfigured form. Gentagelsen tells of a young man who seeks to pass from the (esthetic to the religious sphere, but for want of a true penitence becomes merely a romanticist; i.e., he simply resumes his old self; and his case is contrasted with that of Job, who humbled himself utterly before God, and at last regained all that he had lost, and more—the true ' repetition."[50]

Lev Shestov was a philosopher who wondered how Russia had missed Kierkegaard. He understood Repetition in the following way.

"Here is how Kierkegaard tells of this in his Repetition: "The greatness of Job is therefore not that he said, 'The Lord hath given, the Lord hath taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord' - what he indeed said at first and did not later repeat... The greatness of Job lies in the fact that the passion of freedom is not choked or calmed in him by any false expression... Job demonstrates the compass of his world view through the firmness with which he knows how to eschew all crafty ethical evasions and cunning wiles." Everything that Kierkegaard says of Job can also be said of himself. And here is the closing passage in which Kierkegaard says, "Job is blessed and received everything back again double. This is what people call a repetition... Thus there is a repetition. When does it come? When did it come for Job? When all conceivable human certainty and probability was on the side of impossibility." And, according to Kierkegaard's deep conviction, this repetition will "obtain a very important role in the newer philosophy," for "the new philosophy will teach that all of life is a repetition." Kierkegaard As A Religious Philosopher, by Lev Shestov, 1938

Kierkegaard wrote,

What kind of power is it that wants to deprive me of my honor and my pride and do it in such a meaningless way! Am I inevitably guilty, a deceiver, whatever I do, even if I do nothing? Or have I perhaps gone mad? Then the best thing to do would be to lock me up, for people cravenly fear particularly the utterances of the insane and the dying. What does it mean: mad? What must I do to enjoy civic esteem, to be regarded as sensible? Why does no one answer? I offer a reasonable reward to anyone who invents a new world! I have set forth the alternatives. Is there anyone so clever that he knows more than two? But if he does not know more, then it certainly is nonsense that I am mad, unfaithful, and a deceiver, while the girl is faithful and reasonable and esteemed by the people. Repetition p. 202

He is always asking himself questions just as Johann Gottlieb Fichte had done in his 1800 book, The Destination of Man, also called The Vocation of Man where he wrote against the easy answer for every question by vain repetitions.

The book is therefore not intended for philosophers by profession, who will find in it nothing that may not be found in other writings of the same author. It is intended to be intelligible to all readers who are able really to understand a book at all. Those who have accustomed themselves merely to the repetition of certain sets of phrases in varied order, and who mistake this operation of memory for that of the understanding, will probably find it unintelligible. It ought to exercise on the reader an attractive and animating power, raising him from the sensuous world, to that which is above sense. The author at least has not performed his task without some of this happy inspiration.[51]

Kierkegaard was influential in Martin Buber's 'I and Thou' philosophy and Martin Heidegger's development of the "new philosophical category" Dasein.[52]

Alicia Borinsky of Boston University took up Kierkegaard's Repetition in her 1981-1982 article On Translation and the Art of Repetition.

The two characters talk so they can silence (translate) each other. Kierkegaard imagines still another exchange in his essay, the one between a reader and Constantine Constantinus. There seems to be no escape from the interpretative chain, the police function of the observer. Poetry appears in this essay as the effect of a loss. The two or four characters are linked by a paranoid system of translation that stands -- as Kierkegaard would want us to believe -- for the nature of every human exchange and constitutes the precondition for poetic repetition. … In Repetition Kierkegaard set out an exemplary subject for one of the main concerns of poetry, bringing hidden things to light. His way of inquiry is translation with its connotations of interpretation, betrayal, silencing. On Translation and the Art of Repetition by Alicia Borinsky P. 220 Dispositio Vol VII No. 19-20

Rollo May wrote a history of Existentialism from the psychological point of view.[53] He said,

The existential way of understanding human beings has some illustrious progenitors in Western history, such as Socrates in his dialogues, Augustine in his depth-psychological analysis of the self, Pascal in his struggle to find a place for the “heart’s reasons which the reason knows not of.” But it arose specifically just over a hundred years ago in Kierkegaard’s violent protest against the reigning rationalism of his day Hegel’s “totalitarianism of reason,” to use Maritain’s phrase. Kierkegaard proclaimed that Hegel’s identification of abstract truth with reality was an illusion and amounted to trickery. “Truth exists,” wrote Kierkegaard, “only as the individual himself produces it in action.”[54] Rollo May, The Discovery of Being, 1983 p. 49 See also p. 68ff

Kierkegaard was very concerned about his relationship with God. C. Stephen Evans, says that

"Kierkegaard regarded himself as a psychologist. Three of his books, The Concept of Anxiety, Repetition, and The Sickness Unto Death, are designated as psychological by their subtitles, and he frequently called himself a psychologist in his journal. … Imagine a naïve Christian who knows nothing about psychology as a science-let’s call him “Kirk”-engaged in conversation with a knowledgeable psychologist-“Dr. John.” Dr. John tells Kirk that psychology models itself after the natural sciences and attempts to gain a scientific understanding of human behavior and mental processes. Kirk asks Dr. John what psychologists think about God and God’s relationship to human beings. Dr. John replies that individual psychologists have different beliefs about God. He himself is a Christian, he tells Kirk, and of course, for him any ultimate understanding of human beings requires a theological perspective too. But, he hastens to add, his personal religious beliefs do not enter into psychology as a scientific discipline because science restricts itself to the natural realm, which can be studied by empirical methods.

Dr. John’s answer leaves Kirk dissatisfied. He has a lot of lingering misgivings. Kirk can understand that science may have to limit itself to the empirically observable, but he questions the value, or even the truthfulness, of the knowledge gained by such a science. After all, he thinks, isn’t the most important thing about human beings their relationship to God? Can anyone hope to understand them without understanding them in this light?" Søren Kierkegaard's Christian Psychology: Insight for Counseling and Pastoral Care By C. Stephen Evans, Kierkegaard as a Psychologist, p. 25-26[55]

Clare Carlisle described the internal and external struggle that every existing individual has to go through. "The struggle between philosophy and existence (often a struggle internal to the individual, especially to the intellectual and perhaps academic individual who is this text’s likely reader) is essential to Kierkegaard’s dramatization of his conflict with Hegel. Throughout Kierkegaard’s pseudonymous authorship the ‘abstract thinker’, the ‘pitiful professorial figure is criticized from the perspective of the existing individual. Challenging the Hegelian view that the Concept expresses the highest form of truth, texts such as Repetition constitute ‘a polemic against the truth as knowledge’ and suggest instead that truth must be grasped in terms of ‘subjectivity’ or ‘inwardness’."[56]

Both Constantin and the Young Man had the power to act as single individuals instead of trying to become world historically famous[57] or worrying about the crowd but neither of them used the power. They both just pursued the idea. Kierkegaard says of them,

Is it not something to make one shutter in a period of quiet, to make one feel faint in the odd moment-to have power and not know for what purpose one has it! Civil justice keeps watch so that everyone stays within his bounds, so that each individual may serve the whole. When it discovers a man whose power is attracting everyone’s attention, it demands that he explain for what purpose he uses it, and if he is unable to do so, he is suspected of not being a good citizen but perhaps a thug. Human justice is only a semblance of divine justice, which also directs itself to the single individual, and its scrutiny is more rigorous. If it meets a person who, on being asked for what purpose he has his power, can give no other answer than that he himself does not really know, then justice turns out to cast suspicion on him. Perhaps it does not take the power from him, since he may not have misused it yet, but the suspicion becomes an anxiety in his soul that awakens when he least expects it. What does such a person lack? What else but strengthening in the inner being. Three Upbuilding Discourses, Strengthening in the Inner Being, October 16, 1843, from Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses p. 91

Later, in The Concept of Anxiety, Kierkegaard discusses this power again in terms of the eternal.[58] His idea of the eternal is comparable to Nietzsche's idea of eternal return, only backwards. Niels Nymann Eriksen has written about Kierkegaard's category of repetition. This book explores "the Other" and "Becoming" as well as "Recollection" and "Repetition."[59]


  1. ^ Kierkegaard explained his pseudonymous books in his Unscientific Postscript

    "Repetition was called “an imaginary psychological construction [experiment]". That this was a doubly reflected communication form soon became clear to me. By taking place in the form of an imaginary construction, the communication creates for itself an opposition, and the imaginary construction establishes a chasmic gap between reader and author and fixes the separation of inwardness between them, so that a direct understanding is made impossible. The imaginary construction is the conscious, teasing revocation of the communication, which is always of importance to an existing person who writes for existing persons, lest the relation be changed to that of a rote reciter who writes for rote reciters." Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments Volume I, p. 263-264, 275-283

  2. ^ Kierkegaard described psychological concepts before there were psychological concepts, or he seems to do so.

    "He repeated the same verse that evening when we parted. It will never be possible for me to forget that verse; indeed, I can more easily obliterate the recollection of his disappearance than the memory of that moment, just as the news of his disappearance disturbed me far less than his situation that first day. So I am by nature: with the first shutter of presentiment, my soul has simultaneously run through all the consequences, which frequently take a long time to appear in actuality. Presentiment’s concentration is never forgotten. I believe that an observer should be so constituted, but if he is so constituted, he is also sure to suffer exceedingly. The first moment may overwhelm him almost to the point of swooning, but as he turns pale the idea impregnates him, and from now on he has investigative rapport with actuality. If a person lacks this feminine quality so that the idea cannot establish the proper relation to him, which always means impregnation, then he is not qualified to be an observer, for he who does not discover the totality essentially discovers nothing." Repetition p. 146

  3. ^ Kierkegaard wrote the following,

    "Whether in other respects Fear and Trembling and Repetition have any worth, I shall not decide. If they do have worth, the criterion will not be didactic paragraph-pomposity. If the misfortune of the age is to have forgotten what inwardness is, then one should not write for “paragraph-gobblers,” but existing individualities must be portrayed in their agony when existence is confused for them, which is something different from sitting safely in a corner by the stove and reciting de omnibus dubitandum (everything must be doubted.) Therefore if the production is to be meaningful, it must continually have passion." Concluding Unscientific Postscript p. 264-265 de omnibus dubitandum was the name of Kierkegaard's unpublished book by the pseudonym Johannes Climacus

  4. ^ See Dalton's take on the book in Secondary Sources below: Kierkegaard's Repetition as a Comedy in Two Acts
  5. ^ Kierkegaard says freedom is defined as inclination, practical wisdom, and finally as freedom in relation to itself - these are stages that freedom has to traverse Journals and papers 1843-4 IV B 109, 117, 118:1
  6. ^ Kierekgaard wrote similar thoughts in his Journals.

    "How it does humble my pride not to be able to go back to her. I had so prided myself on remaining true to her, and yet I dare not. I am not in the habit of bringing disgrace on my honor — faithfulness has always been a matter of honor to me. And yet in her eyes I must appear as a deceiver, and it is the only way I can make good my mistake. I have maintained my position with a dreadful consistency, in spite of all my own deepest wishes. As for the external attacks by men who want to pressure me, I do not pay much attention to them. And yet I am still plagued by anxiety. Suppose that she really begins to believe that I am a deceiver, suppose she falls in love with someone else, something which in many respects I naturally wish would happen — suppose that she then suddenly comes to know that I have really loved her, that I did this out of love for her, out of a deep conviction that it would never work, or in any case that with the greatest joy in the world and gratitude to God I would share all my joy with her, but not my sorrow — alas, the last can be worse than the first." Journals IIIA 172

  7. ^ Kierkegaard reused characters from his earlier books in a later book, Stages on Life's Way. In this book his characters include Victor Eremita and Johannes, the Seducer from Either/Or and Constantin and the Young Man from Repetition. The following was said at a feast celebrating love by the Young Man,

    "When a wall is being torn down, a sign is posted, and I make a detour; when a fence is being painted, a warning is put up; when a coachman is about to drive over someone, he shouts: Look out! When there is cholera, a soldier is stationed outside the house, etc. What I mean is that when there is danger the danger can be indicated, and one succeeds in avoiding it by paying attention to the signs. Now, since I am afraid of becoming ludicrous through love, I certainly regard it as a danger-what, then, must I do to avoid it, or what must I do to avoid the danger of having a woman fall in love with me? Far be it from me arrogantly to think myself an Adonis with whom every girl falls in love, for what it means I do not understand, the gods save me; but since I do not know what the lovable is, I simply cannot know how I am to conduct myself in order to avoid this danger. Moreover, since the very opposite can be the lovable, and since ultimately the inexplicable (mysterious) is the lovable, then I am in the same situation as the man Jean Paul tells about-standing on one foot, he reads the following notice: Fox traps are set here, and he does not dare to walk or put his foot to the ground. I shall not love anyone before I have exhausted the idea of erotic love. Stages on Life’s Way, Søren Kierkegaard, April 30, 1845 The Banquet, Edited and Translated by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong 1988, Princeton University Press p.37-78 See also Either/Or Part II p. 122, Repetition p. 214, and Concluding Postscript p. 264

  8. ^ Kierkegaard blamed this kind of reflection on the novels of the past. He wrote,

    "Over the centuries have no knights and adventurers experienced incredible toil and trouble in order finally to find quiet peace in a happy marriage; over the centuries have not writers and readers of novels labored through one volume after the other in order to end with a happy marriage, and has not one generation after the other again and again faithfully endured four acts of troubles and entanglements if only there was any probability of a happy marriage in the fifth act? But through these enormous efforts very little is accomplished for the glorification of marriage, and I doubt very much that any person by reading such books has felt himself made competent to fulfill the task he has set for himself or has felt himself oriented in life, for precisely this is the corruption, the unhealthiness in these books, that they end where they should begin. Having overcome the numerous adversities, the lovers finally fall into each other’s arms, the curtain falls, the book ends; but the reader is no wiser, for it really is no great art, provided that love in its first flash is present, to have the courage and ingenuity to battle with all one’s might for the possession of that good that one regards as the one and only, but on the other hand it certainly takes self-control, wisdom, and patience to overcome the exhaustion that often is wont to follow a fulfilled desire." Either/Or Part II p. 17-18 and p. 45-57

  9. ^ John Updike noted that

    Kierkegaard's "father’s death, in 1838, had made him and Peter Christian, the only surviving children, heirs to a large estate, of a hundred and twenty-five thousand rix-dollars. Each received a quarter outright; the rest was placed in stocks and bonds generating income. Whatever his source of value in Regine’s eyes, the jilted nineteen-year-old, in the words of the jilter, “fought like a lioness” to keep him, breaching decorum by invading his rooms upon receipt of his letter and, in his absence, leaving a “note of utter despair” that pleaded with him, for the sake of Jesus and the memory of his father, not to leave her. It was only two months later, in a face-to-face confrontation, that she accepted his defection: in Kierkegaard’s version of the encounter, she removed from her bosom a “little note on which were some words from me” and slowly tore it to pieces, afterward stating quietly, “You have played a terrible game with me.” Garff underlines the symbolism: “This little gesture was a decisive act: Regine freed herself from the writing; she had given up being a Regine of words on paper and had returned to reality.” Two years later, returned to reality, she became engaged to Johan Frederik Schlegel, her girlhood tutor, whose courtship had been interrupted by Kierkegaard’s intervention in her life."

    Incommensurability, John Updike, New Yorker; 3/28/2005, Vol. 81 Issue 6, p71-76, 6p, Reviews the book "Kierkegaard: A Biography," by Joakim Garff, translated by Bruce H. Kirmmse. Regine and Schlegel married in 1847
  10. ^ Kierkegaard described marriage in his earlier book Either/Or. "The defect in earthly love is the same as its merit-that it is preference. Spiritual love has no preference and moves in the opposite direction, continually sheds all relativities., earthly love, when it is true, goes the opposite way and at its highest is love only for one single human being in the whole world. This is the truth of loving only one and only once. Earthly love begins with loving several-these loves are the preliminary anticipations-and ends with loving one; spiritual love continually opens itself more and more, loves more and more people, has its truth in loving all. Thus marriage is sensuous but also spiritual, free and also necessary, absolute in itself and also within itself points beyond itself. Since marriage is an inner harmony in this way, it of course has its teleology in itself; it is, since it continually presupposes itself, and thus any question about its “why” is a misunderstanding." Either/Or Part II p. 62

    The saying declares that love conquers everything, and this is why the wedding ceremony, which has no festive offering of congratulations but a godly invitation, does not greet the lovers as conquerors but invites them to conflict, fences them in the God-pleasing battleground of the state of marriage, encourages them to fight the good fight, strengthens the contenders by means of the covenant, promises them victory as it accepts their promise, gives them the blessing for the long journey-but then also informs them that the conflict exists: a conflict that must be fought to the finish, toil that must be endured, danger that must be encountered, a curse if it is not jointly borne as a blessing. Three Discourses on Imagined Occasions Hong P. 47-48

  11. ^ Kierkegaard described how it could have been for the Young Man in Either/Or, You happen to restrict your love to a certain age, and love for one person to a very brief time, and thereupon, like all conquering natures, you have to recruit in order to carry out your experiment, but this is the very deepest profaning of the eternal power of erotic love. It is indeed despair. However you twist and turn at this point, you must admit that the task is to preserve love in time. If this is impossible, then love is an impossibility. The source of your unhappiness is that you locate the essence of love simply and solely in these visible symbols. If these are to be repeated again and again and, please note, in the morbid thought whether they continually have the reality they had through the accidental circumstance that it was the first time, then it is no wonder that you are uneasy and that you classify these symbols and “gesticulations” with the things about which one does not dare to say: they will please even when repeated ten times, for if what gave them validity was the condition of being the first time, then a repetition is indeed an impossibility. But true love has an utterly different value; it does its work in time and therefore will be able to renew itself in these external signs and has-this is my main point-a completely different idea of time and of the meaning of repetition. … I have developed the idea that marital love has its struggle in time, its victory in time, its benediction in time. Either/Or II p. 141-142


  1. ^ This Young Man is most likely taken from Johann Goethe's novel Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship and Travels Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship and Travels Carlyle's translation 1824, 1871 Wilhelm wanted to go to plays all the time
  2. ^ Repetition p. 131, 133-136
  3. ^ see pages p.8-12 and 21-24 for information about Regine and Quotes from Repetition. Søren Kierkegaard, by David F. Swenson Scandinavian studies and notes, Volume 6 No. 7 August 1921 Editor George T Flom University of Illinois Published in Menasha, Wisconsin
  4. ^ A Very Short Life of Kierkegaard, by Charles K. Bellinger
  5. ^ Repetition p. 228-229
  6. ^ Johannes Climacus, by Soren Kierkegaard, Edited and Introduced by Jane Chamberlain, Translated by T.H. Croxall 2001 p. 84
  7. ^ The Concept of Anxiety, Nichol p. 15-21, 34-35, 90-95
  8. ^ See Either/Or Part I, Swenson translation 175ff and Goethe's Calvigo on YouTube Clavigo
  9. ^ See Philosophical Fragments p 8-10 link to the text
  10. ^ Repetition p. 131
  11. ^ Historical Dictionary of Kierkegaard’s Philosophy, p. 214 By Julie Watkin, Scarecrow Press, 2001
  12. ^ Repetition p. 149
  13. ^ Repetition p. 135-136
  14. ^ a b Repetition p. 134-135
  15. ^ Repetition p. 136
  16. ^ Either/Or Part 1 The First Love p. 231-244 Swenson
  17. ^ Kierkegaard does see Regine in this way, he wrote, "Strangely enough, Socrates always spoke of having learned from a woman. O, I, too, can say that I owe my best to a girl. I did not learn it from her directly, but she was the occasion." Journals IXA 18
  18. ^ Repetition p.138
  19. ^ Repetition p. 146
  20. ^ Either/Or Part II p. 94
  21. ^ Either/Or Part II p. 22
  22. ^ Repetition p. 141 compare to Either/Or Part 1, Swenson, The Immediate Stages of the Erotic or the Musical Erotic – p. 43-134
  23. ^ Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments Volume I, by Johannes Climacus, edited by Søren Kierkegaard, Copyright 1846 – Edited and Translated by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong 1992 Princeton University Press p, 263
  24. ^ Repetition p. 142
  25. ^ Either /Or Part 2 Hong Esthetic Validity of Marriage 5-154
  26. ^ Either/Or part 1 Diary of the Seducer Swenson p. 297-440. Kierkegaard seems to make marriage an Either and bachelorhood an Or.
  27. ^ Repetition p. 150-176 goes into detail about his trip to Berlin. Repetition 154-158 is about shadow existence and could correspond to Shadowgraphs, Either/Or p. 163-213
  28. ^ Repetition p. 165-173
  29. ^ Repetition p.179
  30. ^ Repetition p. 180-181
  31. ^ See Repetition p. 154-155, 185, 220-221, and Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits, Hong 1993 p. 254
  32. ^ Repetition p. 186-187
  33. ^ Lectures on the Religious Thought of Søren Kierkegaard, Eduard Geismar, Augsburg Publishing Co 1937 p. 4-5 see also p. 35-42 that method was to become the Seducer in Either/Or Part I
  34. ^ Journals & Papers of Søren Kierkegaard IIA 11 August 1838,Soren/JournPapers/II_A.html
  35. ^ Journals & Papers of Søren Kierkegaard IIIA 166
  36. ^ Lectures on the Religious Thought of Søren Kierkegaard p. 4-10
  37. ^ Søren Kierkegaard's Journals & Papers IA Gilleleie, August 1, 1835
  38. ^ Concluding Unscientific Postscript p. 266
  39. ^ Edifying Discourses in Various Spirits (1847) Hong p. 183-188
  40. ^ Repetition p. 114-115
  41. ^ Kierkegaard illustrated the contrast in his introduction to The Concept of Anxiety - note pages 16-19
  42. ^ Fear and Trembling p. 93
  43. ^ Repetition p. 230
  44. ^ Either/Or Part 1 p. 19
  45. ^ Repetition p. 217
  46. ^ She did not love my shapely nose, she did not love my eyes, my small feet — she did not love my good head — she loved just me, and yet she did not understand me. Soren Keirkegaard, Journals IIIA 151
  47. ^ Concluding Unscientific Postscript p. 265-267
  48. ^ Repetition p. 225-227
  49. ^ The Road to Damascus
  50. ^ The Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics Edited by James Hastings Charles Scribner's Sons Edinburgh: T. & T. CLARK 1915 P. 698 See the article in Secondary sources below
  51. ^ The destination of man (1846) English Translation Preface p. 1
  52. ^ Repetition p. 149
  53. ^ Rollo May's book The Discovery of Being is below in Secondary references.
  54. ^ Kierkegaard described this well ~ "The individual has his teleology within himself, has inner teleology, is himself his teleology; his self is then the goal toward which he strives. But this self is not an abstraction but is absolutely concrete. In the movement toward himself, he cannot relate himself negatively to the world around him, for then his self is an abstraction and remains so. His self must open itself according to its total concretion, but part and parcel of this concretion are also the factors whose characteristic is to intervene actively in the world. In this way his movement becomes a movement from himself through the world to himself. Here is movement, and actual movement, for this same movement is an act of freedom; but it is also an immanent teleology, and therefore only here can we speak of beauty. If this is the way things really are, then in a certain sense the individual comes to stand higher than every relationship, but from this it in no way follows that he is not in that relationship; nor does this mean that any despotism is implied here, since the same thing holds true for every individual."Either/Or Part II p. 274-275
  55. ^ See link in Secondary sources
  56. ^ Clare Carlisle, Kierkegaard’s Repetition: The Possibility of Motion, British Journal For The History Of Philosophy 13(3) 2005: 521 – 541 p. 521
  57. ^ Repetition p. 85-87
  58. ^ Either/Or I, Swenson p. 37-38, Either/Or Part II, Hong p. 21-22, 43, 177, 206-207, 270, Fear and Trembling p. 43, Repetition p. 137, Either/Or Part II, Hong p. 348
  59. ^ The book is available online through Google Books so a link to it has been placed in Secondary sources.


Primary sources[edit]

  • Either/Or Part I Edited by Victor Eremita, February 20, 1843, translated by David F. Swenson and Lillian Marvin Swenson Princeton University Press 1971
  • Either/Or Part II. Translated by Howard and Edna Hong. Princeton, 1988, ISBN 978-0-691-02041-9
  • 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
  • Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses, Søren Kierkegaard 1843-1844 Copyright 1990 by Howard V. Hong Princeton University Press
  • Stages on Life's Way, Søren Kierkegaard, April 30, 1845, Edited and Translated by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong 1988, Princeton University Press
  • Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments Volume I, by Johannes Climacus, edited by Søren Kierkegaard, Copyright 1846 – Edited and Translated by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong 1992 Princeton University Press
  • Søren Kierkegaard's Journals & Papers

Secondary sources[edit]

External links[edit]