Circa 1843, Soren Kierkegaard published a book called Repetition. When one thinks of Kierkegaard, one usually thinks of anxiety, impossible existential dilemmas, and binding of Isaac. These things, by and large, don’t evoke the image of happiness. However, in Repetition, he entertains the possibility of happiness through the idea of repetition.
Today is Kierkegaard’s birthday. Since one usually wishes another a happy birthday, I thought it would be opportune to briefly think about what that would mean for Kierkegaard.
At the outset of his inquiry into repetition, Kierkegaard creates a dialectical contrast between recollection and repetition. Which of the two yields true happiness?
Recollection’s love is the only happy love, according to one author. He is absolutely right about this if one also remembers that it first makes a person unhappy. Repetition’s love is in truth the only happy love. Like recollection, it is not disturbed by hope nor by the marvelous anxiety of discovery, neither, however doesn’t have the sorrow of recollection. It has instead the blissful security of the moment. Hope is new attire, stiff and starched and splendid. Still, since it as 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 never pulls nor hangs too loosely.
Based on this reflection, it would be fair to say that Kierkegaard’s birthday would present a dilemma. On the one hand, it repeats over and over; and in that sense it is the source of happiness. On the other hand, every year one has a birthday one recollects the one’s before. Its both recollection and repetition.
This kind of dilemma reminds me of Larry David in Woody Allen’s film Whatever Works, singing Happy Birthday to himself. Too be sure, as David demonstrates, it’s also a schlemiel’s dilemma.
In contrast, how would Forrest Gump say “Happy Birthday Jenny?” Jenny, the name repeated throughout this film by another, less grumpy, American schlemiel character, evokes happiness and sorrow.
With that, I want to suggest that you take a look at several other posts by Schlemiel Theory on Kierkegaard as a way of….celebrating his birthday.
If you want to read more, check these out: