And so we continue our Writers Recommend - a newish series where we ask writers to, well, you know.. recommend things. Like the books that they've enjoyed. To you. Because who doesn't like being recommended new and interesting books, right?! Think of it as a PSA. Only it's more like an LSA -Literary Service Announcement.
Schuy R. Weishaar Recommends Kierkegaard's Repetition
". . . to be a good reader is actually an art." --S. Kierkegaard
I tend to read fiction like it is philosophy and philosophy like it is fiction. Soren Kierkegaard's Repetition refuses to be precisely either one. But its subtitle, "An Essay in Experimental Psychology," is misleading, too, because it isn't that either. If the book reminds me of anything else, it would be of some of Jorge Luis Borges's "fictions." This is literature that creates its own categories, that builds a philosophy of images, even as it imagines a philosophy that triumphs only in its own failure to build anything at all. This is a literature of paradox and contradiction, of vortex and rupture.
Kierkegaard's protagonist and mouthpiece in Repetition is Constantine Constantius, an erudite, older Copenhagen man so composedly detached that he is accused of being deranged. He has disciplined himself, he says, "for years to have only an objective interest in human beings." He considers himself, above all else, an "observer," an outsider to human affairs, one interested only in ideas, primarily the idea of repetition. I'll leave the pleasure of deciphering what the hell repetition is exactly to the reader: it occupies the place of "mediation" as paradox: repetition could not be repetition unless it had already occurred, but at the same time, "that it has been, makes repetition something new." Constantine obsesses over this idea and needs a stooge to test it out on, and he finds one in the unnamed "young man."
Constantine the objective observer becomes Constantine the puppet-master as he puts his idea to the test in the young man's life and meddles in his mind, pulling strings of desire, identity, love, dependency. When he fails to get what he's looking for from the young man, he tries his own medicine. By the end of the book, I'm still never sure if Constantine has taken me in as one of his puppets--if he is the ultimate ventriloquist (What else is a narrator after all?), or if he is indeed a deranged philosopher who has built a world of words where paradoxes fashion and refashion one another; where the actuality of love must be demonstrated in its annihilation; where farce is the highest human art; where passion and intellect intersect in suffering; "where the whole thing is a rupture, in which the universal breaks with the exception, breaks with it violently, and strengthens it with this rupture." Or both. And of Kierkegaard, in the shadows of the shadows in the wings, I know even less. I know only that the knotted strings all lead to wherever he is hiding and that he has drawn me in.
Schuy R. Weishaar is author of the novel, Dark of the Center Line, and a book on philosophy and film, Masters of the Grotesque: The Cinema of Tim Burton, Terry Gilliam, the Coen Brothers, and David Lynch. He holds a master’s degree in Theological Studies from Duke University and a Ph.D. in English, with concentrations in critical theory and film studies, from Middle Tennessee State University. He is lyricist and vocalist with the band Manzanita Bones. He teaches writing and literature.