I’ve been reading quite a bit and feel like I’m inches away from cracking this slippery concept. A lot of my conclusions seem elementary now, but I’m glad to have gotten here. Here are some further developments I’m noting:
In What Ways Repetition is Impossible:
- Reality can never have an exact repetition because every thing and every event is uniquely and necessarily singular. Incredibly enlightening on this is the very brief mention of Liebniz in Repetition, assuming this might refer to his notion of singular monads. Monads can never be exactly the same but must be distinctly different, simply because if they were exactly the same they would occupy the same place and time, rendering them actually undifferentiated. Indeed, even if they did occupy the same place and time and we simply asserted them to be different, the existence of another identical monad would necessarily change the existence of both monads. They would have to relate differently to the whole of reality no matter what. With this in mind, anytime there appears to be a repeated act, even in the natural world (the sun coming up, for example), each act is always fundamentally new. A repetition in the banal sense of the term is literally impossible, because if the sun rises and sets a second time, this is still different simply because there was a first time. Gaining history necessitates difference, even in the midst of continuity and constancy.
- Repetition cannot be willed in any way. This observation germinated from some help from Ed Mooney on a previous post, where he commented with the following:
How about this: in addition to the flaws you catalog, there’s a mistaken assumption both the Young Man and Constantine hold: that the occurrence of repetition is something they can effect, or strive to attain. But Job doesn’t strive strategically to make the whirlwind happen or appear (however much he wants a hearing). Of course for those in need, it’s also a matter of preparation, readying, receptivity. But when it happens, it just bursts forth as new life. Constantine thinks he can do a controlled experiment; the Young Man pines and pleads. Neither have the trustful receptivity to the unknown that is a precondition of receiving a saving repetition.
Following this, I have come across other resources (including more of Ed’s work) that have confirmed the insight. Thanks a lot for the lead, Ed!
- Repetition is impossible in theory. This does not mean it is impossible in practice, but the opposite–it is only possible in practice, which is precisely why it can’t be theorized. This frustrates both Constantin and the Young Man, and it ultimately shows repetition is so slippery because it is actually not conceptual, at bottom. This further confirms the observation from Eriksen (see post linked above in previous bullet) that Repetition proceeds via negativa.
Suspicious Appropriations of Repetition
- John D. Caputo (and the hermeneutics crowd). In Radical Hermeneutics, Caputo employs Kierkegaard’s categories to develop a new theory of reading and text. While Caputo does seem to grasp the metaphysical issues at work in Repetition, I wonder if he has failed to actually understand repetition. If it cannot be conceptualized but only lived, I have a hard time swallowing the idea that it could make for an interpretive apparatus. Now, I’m not making a hard accusation just yet, but I’m thinking there’s a chance that Caputo’s interpretation is possibly a deceptive betrayal of repetition, translating it back into the very thing it tries to escape from–reading.
- Slavoj Zizek. Zizek’s discussion of Kierkegaard in the context of repeating Lenin is possibly closer than Caputo, but nonetheless it remains outside the purview of Kierkegaard’s repetition. It transcends Caputo because it does place the focus on action rather than thinking or reading. It fails, however, because it cannot appreciate the religious dimension which would necessarily eliminate a violent revolution. We might construe the relationships in this way: Caputo presents an aesthetic repetition, Zizek an ethical repetition, and thus far no one employs it religiously because, frankly, it could not be discussed.
What Are the Qualities of Repetition
- It must be religious in nature. This confounds Constantinus and the Young Man. I might argue it further confounds Climacus–see the discussion of transcendence and immanence below.
- It must be received.
- It is future-oriented but present-bound.
Is Repetition Transcendent or Immanent
- At the end of Repetition, Constantinus declares that repetition is “too transcendent” for him.
- Climacus affirms repetition as a fundamentally immanent category, however. He suggests the Young Man goes further than Constantinus. The Young Man’s “thunderstorm” comes from something transcendent to his self, that is, a woman, and in that sense it is transcendent, yet it remains immanent in source–the woman is still an immanent thing.
- I wonder if Climacus is unable to consider repetition as transcendent because he, himself, is unable to make the transcendent move–he is by self-admission not converted. As such, his discussion of repetition remains in an area of authorship that is not actually religious. A religious repetition would require a transcendent transcendence (as opposed to the immanent transcendence of the Young Man), wherein God is the source. If, as Kierkegaard writes, repetition will “come to mean atonement,” it must come from God.
Current Questions for Research
- What is the conceptual apparatus of repetition? This includes a closer look at the metaphysical issues at stake in the concept (freedom, selfhood, etc.)
- Can it be a philosophical category at all or does its existential necessity eliminate philosophy? It is, after all, the area upon which metaphysics “comes to grief.”
- Is repetition like “sin” in Sickness Unto Death, that is, paradoxical and incomprehensible? Incomprehensible in that it cannot be understood logically but only via appropriation, only in life itself.
- Does Repetition function to prove the impossibility of theorizing the concept, therefore eliminating its possibility for use in other aspects of philosophy like metaphysics or ontology? If so, this has severe implications for Derrida, Deleuze, Caputo, and other who depend on the concept to build a theoretical framework. It may also get in the way of Rosenzweig’s ontology, which would be unfortunate.
That’s all I’ve got so far, but I’m considerably further than I was at the beginning of my analysis. Thanks for all the help!