…life’s earnestness is in no way to sit on the sofa and pick one’s teeth…
– Søren Kierkegaard
In Repetition Kierkegaard tells the story of two trips to Berlin – one of his attempts to prove the theory of repetition. On the first trip he had a grand time, stayed in a fine apartment, drank good coffee, enjoyed the theatre; the second time, he tried to repeat the experience. He tried to stay in the same apartment, but the landlord had lately married and was living there himself; our narrator was left to a rather dismal room haunted by a disturbing chair. The coffee in his favorite café was foul, the theatre inane, and the streets awhirl with dust, since it was summer on this trip instead of winter. He is frustrated: repetition had failed. But was it repetition? Was not the recollection of that previous trip a snare for which our poor narrator had fallen? One cannot have the same experience twice – this is the pitfall of both hope and remembrance: the desire to step in the same river twice. Repetition enjoys the daily view of the river from the living room window; or is repetition a matter of standing in the river the whole time? I’m not quite sure.1
…he who does not grasp that life is repetition and that this is the beauty of life, has condemned himself and deserves nothing better than what will happen to him – death. Hope is an enticing fruit that fails to satisfy, recollection sorrowful sustenance that fails to satisfy. But repetition is the daily bread that satisfies through blessing. […] He who chooses repetition, he lives. He does not chase after butterflies like a child, or stand on tiptoe in order to glimpse the wonders of the world. He knows them. Neither does he sit like an old woman and spin on the spinning wheel of recollection. He goes calmly about his life, happy in repetition. What would life be without repetition? Who would want to be a table on which life wrote something new every moment, or a memorial to something past?
– Søren Kierkegaard
- Cf. ‘Hope is new attire, stiff and starched and splendid. Still, since it has not yet been tried on, one does not know whether it will suit one, or whether it will fit. Recollection is discarded clothing which, however lovely it might be, no longer suits one because one has outgrown it. Repetition is clothing that never becomes worn, that fits snugly and comfortably, that neither pulls nor hangs too loosely’ (3).