Søren Kierkegaard is one of the few philosophers read by people outside the academy. The reason for this is not simply that the substance of his thought has a broad appeal, but that, unlike most philosophers, Kierkegaard has a beautiful prose style. It is still, however, his most explicitly philosophical and theological works that tend to be read. That is a shame, because his more novelistic works, such as The Stages on Life’s Way and Repetition, are among his best in terms of literary style — and yet they still have enough theoretical substance to satisfy people for whom this is the primary concern. Repetition, in particular, offers many delights. It is ostensibly a novel that traces the ill-fated romance of a young man who learns early in the relationship that he is really in love, not with the girl in question, but with the phenomenon of being in love. It is also the story, however, of the narrator, an older man who serves as the young man’s confidant and follows the progress of the latter’s gradual enlightenment and subsequent efforts to disentangle himself. The older man’s interest is in the phenomenon he refers to as “repetition” (hence the title of the book), which he believes to be the converse of the Platonic doctrine of recollection and which, if possible, would be the one thing that could make life meaningful and could presumably rescue the young man from his predicament.
Much of Repetition treats this issue indirectly through a series of amusing digressions on the part of the narrator who muses almost constantly on the meaning of life and the human predicament. Two such digressions are below in a new translation from Oxford University Press (Repetition and Philosophical Crumbs ), which generously gave its permission for them to be reprinted here. The first is a rumination on the nature of farce precipitated by the narrator’s attempt to repeat the pleasures of an earlier trip he had taken to Berlin where he had frequented a theater known for farce. The second is a general rumination on how, sadly, it appears that true contentment is impossible.
• The nature of farce (translated by M.G. Piety)
• The impossibility of contentment (translated by M.G. Piety)
• 2 November 2009