Kierkegaard on Recollection and Repetition


One fundamental aspect of Kierkegaard’s view of the human is the distinction between recollection and repetition.  Repetition appears as higher than recollection, something made very clear in the text Repetition (Constantine Constantinius, 1843), but recollection itself is a high stage of human existence, or at least it is higher than that of life without recollection.  Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Crumbs (Johannes Climacus, 1846) gives a detailed account of the distinction between repetition and recollection, while Stages on Life’s Way  (Hilarius Bookbinder 1845) argues for the value of recollection, or certainly does in ‘“In Vino Veritas” A Recollection Related by William Afham’.  Afham’s first name echoes the Judge in Either/Or II  (1843, Victor Eremita), though the Judge is more readily identified with The Married Man who narrates ‘Some Reflections on Marriage In Answer to Objections’.  The Judge appears at the end of ‘In Vino Veritas’, presumably referring back to Either/Or and forward to ‘Some Reflections on Marriage’.  Recollection is, at least in part, a reference to anamnesis in Plato’s Meno.  It is the metaphysical looking backwards as opposed to the existential looking forward.  The latter is alluded to, if ironically, in the subtitle of Concluding Unscientific Postscript, ‘A Mimic Pathetic, Dialectic Compilation. An Existential Contribution .   Recollection refers to what is inside us inherited from the past, a foreign body in the mind.  Kierkegaard himself discusses Plato on the problem of knowledge in a way that can lead us to see a problem in Plato’s own theory of recollection.  In the Meno, Plato refers to the paradox that we cannot look for what we do not know, because either we know and that is how we recognise knowledge, or we do not know and therefore cannot recognise knowledge.  A paradox built upon by Sextus Empiricus, presumably referring to earlier Pyrrhonic scepticism, though Plato himself appears to think that knowledge as recollection solves that problem.   Kierkegaard’s account suggests that the paradox of recognition applies to Plato’s theory of recollection.  With regard to William Alfam, there might be a hint that the Judge in Either/Or and Stages on Life’s Way, and the married man in Stages on Life’s Way, are not to be taken as the highest representative of Kierkegaard’s own point of view.  That is because Afham emphasises recollection, while we know from Repetition and Concluding Unscientific Postscript, repetition is to be preferred to recollection.    There is no equivalent to Plato’s theory as a point of view on repetition.  To some degree it draws on Christian ideas of transformation of the self.  There is an implicit notion of grace, but as Kierkegaard does not discuss that much, or not directly, the repetition-grace equivalence is not very clear.  One way we might understand grace is through Works of Love (1847), maybe Kierkegaard’s most significant signed direct communication text, though we should be vert careful about creating a strict demarcation between the pseudonymous and the signed in Kierkegaard’s texts.  Love means finding love for another individual, in friendship and erotic love, and then finding that only God can provide the basis of this love. 


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