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On Liberating Yourself Using Repetition


Unlike other ways of understanding the concept, with Kierkegaard repetition has a liberating trait.

La création du monde n’a pas eu lieu au début, elle a lieu tous les jours.

Marcel Proust

Repetition is, in some ways, a natural procedure with which we engage with the world. We repeat things to learn, such as with a language; we also repeat in order to memorize, to understand how something works, and also to see over and over again that a cause produces the same effect. Repetition, in this sense, is part of our way of approaching reality in order to understand it. Sometimes, however, repeating implies continuing along the same line. A monotonous exercise that maintains us in the same state. What would our conversations be like if we did no more than repeat the same words that we learned as children?

This close relationship can serve as an example of the routine character of repetition, which is not limited to the elemental circumstances of that type. On the contrary: we repeat more than we would like to and with less awareness than we think. With a certain frequency, the relationships that we form, the way in which we conduct ourselves in determined settings (love, work, family, etc.), our reactions and decisions are a repetition of something that we have always done in the same way. Or at least in one very similar aspect, with minimal variations, and through which perhaps the desire to do things differently filters through.


In October 1843, Søren Kierkegaard published a text to which he gave a singular title: Repetition: An Essay in Experimental Psychology, and which he signed with a no less elegant pseudonym: Constantin Constantius. It is not, however, a philosophical essay as we currently conceive them, but rather a kind of reflexive tale in which Kierkegaard uses the resources of the pseudonym to portray an amorous relationship involving a woman who, having agreed to marry a young man, regrets the decision. That forms the narrative basis of the essay. During the text, however, the Danish philosopher develops philosophical premises regarding repetition, a problem that he sees as unavoidable given his own circumstances of an amorous deception that is repeated, and of which he finds a kind of metaphorical reflection during a trip to Berlin that he undertakes for the second time in his life.

The book, of course, is rich and diverse, but it could be possible to extract its nucleus, the fragment that Kierkegaard surrounds with preambles and defenses but that is, in the end, the most important part, and which could be found in these few lines:

When the Greeks said that all knowing was recollecting, they were also thus saying that all of existence, everything that is, has been. When one says that life is repetition, one also says that that which has existed now comes to be again.

In other conceptions, repetition has a cyclic, uninterrupted character. In Nietzsche, for example, and his idea of the “eternal return.” And also in the Christian worldview, in which the succession of time is one and the same, accorded by the teleology of the divine plan. In Freudian psychoanalytic theory, although repetition is never exactly the same, for the neurotic it is the constant in their suffering.

Kierkegaard, however, provides us with the key to escape from this circular movement. To say, “what has existed now begins to exist again” is to discover that this time we can act differently, as it is as if any one of us could inaugurate a previously untried way of being and of being in the world.

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