“Repetition” by Søren Kierkegaard

She is the boundary of his being

Kierkegaard met Regine Olsen in Copenhagen in 1837, and, by all appearances, there was a deep attraction between the two. They were engaged in 1840, but Kierkegaard immediately broke off the engagement the following year. Regina married her old tutor in 1847, and the couple left Copenhagen for the Danish West Indies in March 1855. Kierkegaard died in November that same year, having remained a celibate bachelor all his life.

These facts about Kierkegaard’s life can be gathered from Wikipedia, and all the rest from his own writings. I first encountered Kierkegaard three years ago when I read Fear and Trembling. I knew nothing about him except his reputation as a Christian philosopher with a keen intellect. By the time I finished the book, however, I had learned about his affair with Regina and his innermost thoughts about their relationship. Kierkegaard would not divulge his secrets to any living person, yet he pours his heart out in his books, and Regina is in almost every one of them.

Repetition is a companion and prequel to “Fear and Trembling”. A couple of times during reading, I had to keep back sentimental tears from staining the pages (for I borrowed the book from the local library). Kierkegaard wrote that Regina was “the boundary of his being”. I suppose he wasn’t exaggerating, since he died –became completely dissolved as it were, when she left the city where they both lived.

Can an existentialist love?

Heraclitus says that all things are in motion and nothing at rest, and that you cannot go into the same river twice. Plato counters by arguing that if that is the case, knowledge and love would be impossible. “There will be no one to know and nothing to be known”; in the same vein, there would be no one to love and be loved.

The existentialists seem to subscribe to Heraclitus’ view, which makes me wonder whether they can have a normal relationship. If they themselves and the ones they are supposed to love are constantly in the process of becoming, how can they remain in love? As far as I can gather, Nietzsche never had a romantic relationship with woman. (“Suppose truth is a woman, what then?” Then you don’t have it, period.)

I cannot say whether Kierkegaard’s struggles with love also arise from his existentialist view, which leads the Young Man to proclaim, “I stick my finger into existence — it smells of nothing.” He seems to have progressed from the aesthetic sphere to the religious (in the spirit if not in the flesh), when Works of Love was published, fours years after Repetition. In that book, he contrasts the worldly conception of love, as sublimated by the poets, with the Christian ideal.

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9 thoughts on ““Repetition” by Søren Kierkegaard

      1. Thank you, I will… ask. But for this post, as I am quite simple-minded, I think everybody can love, therefore I am puzzled by your question “Can an existentialist love?”.

  1. Great post! There is an intriguing bit at the very end of Repetition, the final writing by Constantinus, where we learn, however, that the Young Man is a construction of Constantinus’ imagination–and the Young Man is criticized for having not made the religious move sooner. While biographical details are helpful in sorting out Kierkegaard, I think we have to be wary of over-estimating their relevance to his works, especially those written under pseudonyms. We might consider the biographical details to be engines or motors for thinking, but this does not necessitate considering the produced work a mirror of those details, or even a working out of those details.

    1. Thank you for the caution against biographical fallacy. Point taken.

      I tend to agree with the ancients that a philosopher’s view of life should be consistent with his way of life. It’s not merely an abstract, intellectual exercise. If I understand Kierkegaard correctly, his notion of “subjective truth” points in the same direction, and so, while his writings don’t necessarily mirror his life, they do reveal a working out of his struggles.

  2. Hi Nemo! I have discovered your blog and have really enjoyed your posts! You are reading many of the books I aspire to read but you are obviously a few levels above me in intellect. 🙂 In any case, I am going to challenge myself and I have Cicero’s Defense Speeches, the Oedipus Trilogy and Le Morte d’Arthur coming up for the new year! Wish me luck!

    Once again, excellent writing and ideas! I will be looking forward to reading more of your posts!

    1. Hi Cleo,

      Welcome to my blog. Thank you for the kind words. I think you’ll enjoy reading the classics, and Cicero and Sophocles are a great place to start. 🙂

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